Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Blast From The Past

Lately I have been on a clean-out and throw-away spree. Gone are many samples left over from my old career. Hard to part with them but they do me no good anymore. When cleaning out the closet some long forgotten items can be a big jolt for the old memory and get a pardon from the trash bin. This old photo I found took me back a few years. Although it was nearly twenty years ago I recall that time as well as any. It was that special.

It was mid-March in the early 90's. Someone phoned from the Orange County office in need of assistance. One of their clients was the the Oroweat Bread Company. It was a brand of bread sold only on the west coast (here in the Midwest it was known as Brownberry Ovens). The west coast office lacked a creative department and we serviced them for over fifteen years on many client relationships.

Our office there along with the Oroweat client had a relationship with the LA Dodgers. Together they placed sponsorship signs at the stadium, raffled off tickets, handed out coupons, supported the Dodgers with co-branded advertising and gave away items at Dodger Stadium. That year they were going to promote a Sweepstakes where customers/fans could win a trip to spring training to spend four days and nights in Vero Beach FL the following season. All expenses paid, tickets to games, access to coaches and players and all the usual sweepstakes schtick.

In need of someone to create retail displays, advertisements and stadium signage they came to us in the Chicago office where we had a full-service creative and production department. I designed an emblem to identify the contest and used in the ads. We were given the rights to use manager and Hollywood bon vivant Tommy Lasorda, since he was being paid by Oroweat to appear in their television spots.

In the printed graphics we showed Tommy enjoying a sandwich on location in Dodgertown using his favorite, Oroweat bread. I hired a top location photographer (who was a close friend) and along with his assistant we booked a flight for a two day trip to Orlando.

After arriving in Orlando and renting a van for the photography equipment we beat it for Vero Beach. I had no clue what I was in for. John the photographer sat in the passenger's seat swigging from a bottle of Crown Royal (his favorite) while I drove. OK, I took a swig or two. Michael his assistant sat on a folding chair in the center. When we hit town it was nighty-nite since we had a 7am start time for set-up.

Dodgertown USA was the long standing spring training facility for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It had an 18-hole golf course, swimming pools, hotel and a meeting/convention center. Much more than the usual spring training facility, it was open all year.

Note: The Dodgers abandoned Dodgertown for Arizona a few years ago.

After a hotel breakfast in Vero we headed over to Dodgertown. It was a sprawling campus like setting with orange trees, palms and lush green grass. A far cry from the winter we left behind a day ago. The weather was very chilly and windy by Florida standards in early March. John doubted we would be able to get shots of Tommy outdoors that day so we made alternative plans as we drove. Our trip ended near a long trailer that served as the team administrative office. Inside an extremely attractive middle aged lady named Barb welcomed us. We explained our adjusted plan.

Since the wind was so strong and temps in the 40's we were going to create a set indoors. Against a white sweep, or backdrop, we would photograph Tommy eating his Oroweat sandwich. John would also take some grab shots around the diamonds. Later we would strip together (before Photoshop) the image of Tommy on top of the outdoor background. Retouchers would smooth the edges to make it believable and John was careful to light Tommy to match the angle of the sun outdoors. John always came prepared for location obstacles and that's why I liked working with him. He also brought plenty of Crown Royal and picked up the tab for our fine dining after the wrap up.

Barb allowed us a spot to set up. Michael got the lighting ready in a large room while John headed out with his Hasselblad to scout locations. A food stylist brought in from Miami began preparing the sandwiches to be used in the shots. As we were setting up Barb got on the radio and called Tommy.

In the office I flirted with Barb for a while, she was a tanned California knockout and I couldn't help myself. Soon the door opened and there was Tommy Lasorda himself. Festooned in the familiar baseball pants and socks with that satin Dodger blue jacket and ball cap. Nobody but me seemed all that impressed. He came up to me and treated me as if I were a relative. He grabbed me by the shoulder and told me he was giving me a tour of the facility. After disappearing into his office for a minute he emerged and led me outside to his personal golf cart. Tommy treated me as if I were an old friend.

"Siddown and relax" he said as we sped off to one of the four of five diamonds where players were warming up. He made small talk asking me where I was from and about my Polish background. Soon I felt a soft backhanded punch in the stomach. In his hand was a Snickers bar. "Here, eat!" he smiled as we drove off, "You're too skinny for a Polack kid, what did your mom feedja?" All during the day he would do that to me. I ate enough candy bars to give most people a tummy ache. Tommy drove that golf cart like he stole it and told me a lot of jokes, stories and inside stuff about Hollywood people who were always expecting him to give them V.I.P. treatment. He loved being a celebrity and played that role with class.

Tommy took a turn onto the main diamond where an intrasquad practice game was beginning in about an hour. He drove up to an old man in a wheelchair. "Roy, hey Roy, meet Gerry. He's from Oroweat". It was Roy Campenella. He shook my hand and handed me a baseball. Too bad I didn't think of having it autographed (Tommy gave me an autographed ball, maybe I will find it in another box in another closet). Roy was a lifelong ambassador for the team. Then we drove to the mound. "Orel, Orel, c'mere and meet Gerry." It was Orel Hersheiser warming up. We spoke briefly. Tommy barked a few orders and tips to him. This went on for a while. Soon I had met just about the entire team, all because of Tommy and the kind of guy he was. Soon we headed back to the office trailer where Tommy went back in to load his satin jacket pockets with candy bars and I don't mean those tiny "fun size" ones either.

When the game began Tommy headed for the dugout and allowed me to drive around in his personal golf cart. I picked up John who was busy snapping shots of the outfield hill topped with orange trees that had oranges growing on them.

Here I was driving Tommy Lasorda's golf cart. I was just beaming because everyone there treated me as his special guest.

Game over. I picked up Tommy and we drove to the hall where the photo set was in operation. Outside a man, woman and two children awaited. They were personal friends of Tommy. We met and he asked if they could watch the photo session. Wait a minute, he asked me?

The food stylist took great care of making about four dozen sandwiches. They were perfect with the meat folded over once and all in a neat little row with leafy lettuce and cheese corners poking out of (of course) Oroweat Bread. She handed Tommy a sandwich and he immediately bit into it. John mentioned that the sandwiches may have little toothpicks in them to hold the meat in place. Tommy opened the sandwich and took out the toothpicks, then instantly devoured the entire thing. He asked his friends to come over and grab a sandwich. John politely asked Tommy to allow him to take the photos and they could eat all the sandwiches they desired. Tommy sat on a stool and did the traditional advertising "bite-and-smile". He was a pro. About 100 images and ten minutes later we had a wrap.

Tommy and friends proceeded to eat all the prepared sandwiches after adding more sloppy condiments. Soon it was time to go but I had John snap a few shots of me and Tommy. The image above is the only evidence I have of that episode in my professional career. All images that day were taken on what was called 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" Kodak Ektachrome transparency film through a Hasselblad camera system. At the time it was state-of-the-art professional camera equipment. A transparency was similar to a film negative but held a positive color image instead. That scan is bad because I have no light source behind the film.

We parted ways, packed up all the gear in the rental van and headed for Orlando for a steak dinner.

As I drove John polished a pint bottle of Crown. I behaved myself. We were headed to Charlie's Steak House in Orlando. John had been there before, he claimed he had dined there once with the Florida Governor after a photo assignment with the him and it was the Gov's favorite steak place.

We drove up to Charlie's and outside was a huge woodpile holding mesquite logs. Through a window a large indoor wood-fired grill with chefs cooking the steaks could be seen. Of course I began with a double Crown Royal on the rocks. It had a clubby atmosphere and a lot of guys wearing suits getting wasted at the bar.

The steaks were nothing less than fabulous! They were thick, rare, tender and soon I was quite pickled.

Oddly, the following year Tommy had lost a lot of weight. Seems his Oroweat bread contract had run out and he began to shill for Slim Fast diet shakes. So it goes with sports celebrity endorsements.

1 comment:

Carl from Chicago said...

That is a great post! Exactly why we have the category "Famous People Gerry Has Met" ha ha.