Real Madmen Make Even Reagan Look Good

ART & COPY at Sundance 2009

ART & COPY is a slick documentary about the genuis ad men and women who created such iconic campaigns as “Got Milk?”, “Think Different” (Apple), and Nike’s “Just Do It.”

“Sundance gets a lot of grief about getting too commercial and selling out,” director Doug Pray said in introducing the film. “I just want to warn you guys–there’s ads in my movie.”

As fate would have it, I was sitting next to one of the “stars” of the film, advertising and design genuis George Lois. He’s not only the creator of legendary Esquire magazine covers featuring the likes of Andy Warhol and Mohammad Ali, he’s also the man behind a campaign that turned Tommy Hilfiger into a celebrity overnight. And he’s one of the sharpest and most irreverant talkers in the film.

Among the ads shown in ART & COPY was the famous, treacly “Morning in America” commercial that worked so well for Ronald Reagan–the creation of the late Hal Riney (who is in the film but died last year). Just as the movie ended, Lois started telling me that he had called Riney after that ad came out and said…

But at that moment, Lois was called on stage to take his bows and answer questions. He and the other ad men talked about the contribution that artists made in creating materials that promoted Obama–and how all right-thinking artists are really lefties.

That made me all the more curious to hear what Lois had told Riney about that Morning in America ad. Meanwhile, Robert Redford had turned up on stage to congratulate the filmmaker and to say hello to his old friend George Lois, making Lois that much harder to chase.

Though momentarily distracted (and depressed) as the lady in the row behind me tried to explain to her young teen daughter who Redford is, I was so determined to hear the end of the story that I marched up to the stage and tapped Lois on the shoulder. So what did he tell Riney about that Reagan ad?

“I said, `Great job, but I hate you, you motherfucker.” “