When his Huntington basement got wet after a storm last winter, Anthony Sarchiapone went down to rearrange some boxes and ended up reliving a pivotal period of his late father's work life.
Sarchiapone, 49, had found a trove of letters and materials associated with his dad Robert's career as a Mad (Madison Avenue) Man at Young & Rubicam, which remains one of the advertising industry's largest agencies. With his coke-bottle glasses and red hair, the senior Sarchiapone didn't resemble Don Draper, the dashing fictional character played by Jon Hamm in the AMC series "Mad Men," which ended on May 17. However, like Draper, he did create his own identity while struggling and thriving in a competitive, cutthroat business.
The elder Sarchiapone died in 1997 from emphysema at the age of 72, the result of a pack-a-day smoking habit. Shortly after his father's death, Sarchiapone found three boxes and three drawers' worth of his father's work in his parents' house in Malverne. He brought them home but never really took the time to go through them until last year.
"Nobody else wanted this stuff," said Sarchiapone, the fourth of five children. "Nobody else even knew it was there."
His Italian father was a rarity in a business then dominated by Ivy League blue bloods who lived in Westchester or Fairfield County (think Pete Campbell, the elitist account man in "Mad Men").
Like Draper, when the elder Sarchiapone went into advertising, he changed his name -- or at least his first name. "Augustine sounded too ethnic," his son said. "So he went by Bob."
Sarchiapone can relate to his father's world -- he is a senior marketing director for McGraw Hill Education in Manhattan and is the only one of his siblings to make a career in an advertising-related field. When his father learned his son was joining the industry, he was thrilled. He died eight months later.
A 19-year career
Bob Sarchiapone was born in 1925 to immigrant parents and grew up in the gritty Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. He served in the Army during World War II and attended New York University on the G.I. Bill after the war. He and his wife, Catherine, now 88, moved to Long Island in the late 1950s.
The highlight of his career was his 19-year stint at Young & Rubicam, where he won awards for his work on such accounts as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Bristol-Meyers and General Foods. After being hired as a copywriter in 1956, Bob Sarchiapone rose to creative supervisor, working on TV commercials with celebrities such as Vincent Price, Lucille Ball and Mel Brooks.
The material that his son found is a window into that world: Ads in a bound portfolio and several of his commercials in rough, storyboard form. Notepads with ideas for ads that Bob Sarchiapone was working on. Business cards and Young & Rubicam stationery. His employee ID and his weekly desk calendars from the years 1967 and 1968.
There are about 90 pages of typewritten, interoffice memos and other internal correspondence, some of which are in a folder Bob Sarchiapone labeled "Love Letters." Agency co-founder Harry Rubicam scrawled "Good job, Bob!" on a yellowed, 1957 memo acknowledging his work on a General Foods project. A 1967 note cited the impact of a food ad campaign Bob Sarchiapone helped create. Thanks to his work, "current production of soft margarine cannot keep up with consumer demand."
Not all the correspondence his son found was love letters. One 1975 memo reports in grave tones that Milton Bradley was dropping Young & Rubicam as its agency. Bob Sarchiapone had worked on the company's account, and shortly after they left the agency so did he. "Eased out" in the words of his wife, Catherine.
Job takes its toll
Working in such an insecure environment kept many men at their desks late into the night and on weekends. Bob Sarchiapone was in the office most Saturdays, and sometimes brought work home to Malverne his son recalled.
"After dinner, he'd spread out his papers on the table and work through the night," Sarchiapone said, adding that he would watch, listen and learn.
"My siblings all loved my dad, but I was the one most drawn to him and his world," he said.
That later changed.
"By the time I was in college, I realized how much the business had taken out of my dad," he said. "The stress, the smoking, the drinking, the long hours. Much as he loved advertising, it really ate him up."
At Hofstra University in Hempstead, Sarchiapone majored in English. But after he graduated and pondered the realities of a career as an English professor, his anti-advertising stance softened. When he heard about a job opening as a copywriter in the in-house ad department for the publisher Penguin, he applied and got the job.
Even long after her husband left Young & Rubicam, he was still an inveterate tinkerer with words, his wife recalled.
"He'd walk into a store and suggest a better slogan to the owner," she said.
Bob Sarchiapone's creations
During his nearly 20-year career at Young & Rubicam in Manhattan, the late Bob Sarchiapone helped create memorable tag lines and slogans for several products. Here are some of the lines he created or developed as part of a team:
For the Italian restaurant chain Sbarro:
"No kings, no crowns, no colonels, just great Italian food."
For a then-popular weekly magazine:
"Life: Consider the alternative."
For Spic and Span:
"Gets the dirt liquid cleaners leave behind."
For Ballantine Beer:
"There's more spirit to it."
For the game Connect Four:
Sarchiapone wrote a commercial in which two siblings play this checkers-like game from Milton Bradley. The line, uttered by the brother after being beaten by his sister, has entered pop culture and is referenced, among other places, on the TV show "Family Guy:"
"Pretty sneaky, sis."
-- John Hanc