In 1979 I was hired as a writer by a well-known and flamboyant marketing-and-sales-management consultant named Stanley Arnold, who over a long career had created many a successful promotional campaign for various blue-chip companies, such as: “Win Your Height in Dollar Bills” for Lever Brothers, “Win a Bathtub Full of Cash” for Dove Soap, and “Win a Mattress Full of Money” for Simmons.
One of Arnold’s more memorable promotions helped introduce a new line of specialty foods from General Foods, and the unveiling of the “horse-of-a-different-color” theme to marketing executives featured just that—a white horse dyed a bright blue. Another client of his—a man seeking a high-paid position at an advertising agency—brought a belly dancer along to the job interview…his resume written on her undulating abdomen. The list goes on and on.
Arnold, 65, was short, slight, and somewhat long-faced, and he wore glasses and favored thin ties that usually extended well below his belt—probably the kind of kid who got “Kick Me” signs taped to his back.
There were five of us writers—as compared to many more in years past—and we spent our days dreaming up promos for Arnold to present to clients. We saw very little of him, and I assumed he was winding down his career. Until, one day, he called me into his office to discuss his next major undertaking.
Arnold’s large, carpeted inner sanctum had the feel of a museum room—the walls were lined with plaques and framed photos of him with various clients and dignitaries and celeb-types…Bernard Baruch, Cardinal Spellman, Arthur Murray. He presided imperiously from behind a huge, elegant, wooden desk, whereas you, for your part, sat in a soft, pillowy chair that slowly sucked you downward into the depths of its folds until your eyes were about level with the top of the desk.
Because of my experience writing for magazines, Arnold explained, he wanted me to help with his autobiography, to be self-published. “It will play an important part in my run for the Presidency,” he said.
“The United States.”
I said something innocuous like “no kidding,” which carried many levels of meaning, and he plunged on, as if I weren’t there.
I managed to avoid working on the book, (which was eventually published), but from then on, I followed Arnold’s campaign with interest. He somehow got himself entered in the New Hampshire primary, as I recall, and occasionally appeared on local TV talk shows, as in…
Moderator: “What will you do if elected President, Mr. Arnold?”
SA: “The last four letters of “American” are ‘I can,’ and that principle will guide my every step. I’ll comb this great country for the most brilliant minds out there and bring them to Washington, and we’ll put our heads together and tackle the problems we face until—you know what (pounding table or knee)— WE SOLVE THEM!”
When pressed for specifics, he’d say things like, “If every company hired just one more worker, we’d have zero unemployment within a month!” A part of you’d think: “By golly, this guy’s really on to something. He’s a doer, not a talker!”
But…those of us who worked for Arnold rolled our eyes when he launched into his stump-speech mode. He professed to care deeply for the little guy, but that solicitude didn’t extend to his staff. We were all paid paltry salaries, and Arnold made no attempt to foster a congenial working environment. He seemed distrustful of everybody too. If you took a sick day, the phone was sure to ring at least once—you’d pick up, and there’d be a click at the other end.
How fortunate, I felt, that no one like him could actually ever become President.
One day I happened to be in Arnold’s office when he took a call that, within minutes, had him in a very excited state. After about 20 minutes, he hung up and leaned forward, face flushed: “That was Norman Vincent Peale inviting me to a small luncheon for Ronald Reagan. This could be the break I’ve been waiting for. I go to the lunch, meet Reagan, we hit it off, he picks me as his running mate, we make a great team, we win, he dies in office, and I’M IT!”—and he slammed the desk.
Then, seeming to hear the words that had come out of his mouth, he stopped talking and leaned back—still beaming, though. Later, I thought—in a feeble attempt to make sense of the man: Who knew where the private Arnold left off and the public one took over–or whether somewhere along the way the two selves had become one.
Whatever—I decided to get the hell out of there and quit a month later. A bit conflicted, I must admit, because I had a slogan all ready–“Stan’s My Man”–that might have helped send him to The Oval Office, me clinging to his coattails.
Instead, I now had to dust off my resume—and find a belly dancer.
Robert Strozier’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications including Atlantic, Esquire, The New Times Magazine, and The NYT Book Review. He’s had plays produced in NYC, and a musical he wrote (book and lyrics) has had five concert readings. He also helped launch five national magazines, then served as Editor-in-Chief of two and a senior editor at the others. And he reminds you that if you are reading this before the polls close, please vote!