Category Archives: Looking back

Harvey Gabor Helped Teach The World To Sing. The Rest Is History.

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

The whole world. Even the make-believe world of “Mad Men.”

It took me a while, but I finally tracked down Westport’s real-life connection with the make-believe Don Draper.

Coke ad 3On the heels of last Sunday’s much-talked-about, social media-saturated series finale, new light has been shined on the once-beloved, now-super-syrupy Coke commercial.

Coke adCoke adCoke adCoke ad Thanks to the interwebs, everyone who wants to know now does know that Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, scribbled “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin after his London flight was diverted to Shannon, Ireland.

And — 44 years after the fact — once again the New Seekers’ song has burrowed its way into our brain.

But few folks remember that it was McCann-Erickson art director Harvey Gabor’s idea to bring 500 multi-colored, joyful, blue jeans-and-dashiki-and-sari-clad, Coked-out faces onto an Italian hillside, for a phenomenally expensive (at the time) $250,000-plus shoot. Without that visual, the song — and commercial — would have been about as memorable as anything Pepsi did at the time.

And fewer still know that Harvey Gabor was — ta da! — a Westporter. (Okay, he only lived here from 1983 to ’91 — working for a local agency that no longer exists — but this is still a great story.)

Though the “Hilltop” ad is a classic, it took a ton of work. Bad weather — first in London, then in the new site of Rome — caused frustrating delays. Gabor had to find a new “lead female” (a British governess pushing a baby carriage in the Piazza Navona). Some of the best shots came as his crew dodged power and telephone lines.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the "Hilltop" ad in Tuscany.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the “Hilltop” ad in Italy.

Gabor — who is now 81 years old, retired and living with his wife Barbara in Michigan — went on to win 4 gold medals, 5 Clios and over 100 certificate awards for print and TV ads.

The “Hilltop” commercial, meanwhile, has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s the real thing.


Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Click below for a fascinating video of Harvey Gabor visiting — and talking with, teaching at and learning from — Google’s New York headquarters, on an updated Coke campaign:

(For Harvey Gabor’s website — including information about his book Peeing With David Ogilvy, click hereFor the official Coca-Cola version of the making of the ad — including great details like how Harvey discovered the lead female role pushing a baby carriage — click here. Hat tip: Neil Brickley)

This Old House #14

The main clue to last week’s mystery house was its former location: “on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.” That identification, of course, dates from the 1930s, when WPA photographers took shots of a number of already-very-old Westport houses.

Dan Herman, Jill Turner Odice and Morley Boyd said that its current location is 23 Jesup Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten confirms the site. (Click here to see a photo of the house, and read comments about it.)

It was not easy to do. Boyd says that a 2005 renovation — illegal, because the house sits in a historic district — “drained it of its historic integrity.”

Here is this week’s unidentified home:

This Old House - May 20, 2015

All we know is that it’s somewhere in Green’s Farms.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Remembering Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett — a member of that great generation who settled in Westport soon after World War II, raised a family here and spent decades contributing to civic life — died today. He was 93 years old, and had moved with his beloved wife Lou to Pennsylvania several years ago, to be near his children.

George Barrett — one of Herb and Lou’s 5 children — writes:

My dad liked to describe himself as unremarkable, but  he was far from that. He was a gifted therapist, possessed of a special capacity to see the unique qualities in all people – and able to help people to see those things in themselves.

Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett

He was a very talented writer, a skill very few of us had the opportunity to enjoy, but so very obvious when reading though his journals and his letters to my mom from the war.

He had a raw musical aptitude which he never fully appreciated, but which his children were encouraged to polish. He could burst into song any time, and no microphone was off limits if it were in reaching distance.

He had a wicked sense of humor and an impish grin.

He was a proud veteran of the US Army – Signal Intelligence  Company, attached to the 5th Army headquarters. He spent 2 1/2 years abroad, in North Africa, Sicily and other parts of Italy. He lived through Anzio, which he rarely discussed.

He was married to my mom Lucille for more than 73 years. He was father to 5, grandfather to 10, and great-grandfather to 3 (with another on the way).

He loved Westport, and everything and everyone associated with Westport. At Compo Beach, he taught all of us to climb the cannons. Along with my mom, he lived and breathed the public school system, which drew him there in the first place. I’m not sure that he ever missed a Staples Candlelight concert when he was healthy.

He had a deep desire to see the walls between people dissolve. That is clear through his deep commitment to civil rights, his clear messaging to his children, and this classic section from a journal I found where he discussed his war experience:

I developed some wonderful friendships with the gang of fellows who shared the same tent…Neils O. Blackburn from Moroni, Utah; Kenny Biggs from Townsend, Montana; Charlie Sheehan from Cheyenne, Wyomingl Lou Ambort of Little Rock, Arkansas and Johnny Abs from Chicago.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

I recall a discussion the night we pitched camp outside Santa Maria ( near Caserta). It was a bone chilling rainy night, and we piled together for warmth inside the buffeted pyramidal. How or why I can’t say, but we discussed religion — a Mormon, a Catholic, a Jew, a Lutheran, a Methodist and a Presbyterian.

We were no scholars. We just compared experiences. And when all was said and done, we felt that what we had in common ran deeper than our specific beliefs.

(Friends are invited to attend a service for Herb Barrett this Thursday (May 21), 11 a.m. at Temple Israel. Following burial, the family will receive visitors at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer, 138 Imperial Avenue. Contributions in Herb Barrett’s name may be made to Congregation Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027.)

Brian Keane Honors B.B. King

Brian Keane has spent 40 years in the music industry. The Staples High School Class of 1971 grad has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and won a ton of Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. He’s earned fame scoring television documentaries (including Ric Burns’ “New York,” “The Donner Party” “Ansel Adams” and “Andy Warhol.”

Brian Keane in his home studio, in Monroe.

Brian Keane in his home studio, in Monroe.

But in 1980, all that lay ahead. He was playing guitar one week night at the Village Gate, backing up jazz legend Larry Coryell. John Scofield, John McLaughlin and George Benson were also there. Brian was excited, anticipating a “shootout” between so many great guitarists.

After his set, he went backstage. There, in the dressing room, was B.B. King. He was on tour in the area, had the night off, and Benson asked him to sit in.

Brian recalls:

“B.B. was very kind, welcoming, and sweet to me. I don’t know if he actually heard me play, but he was complimentary. I was a cocky 29-year-old kid, and still considered technique and harmonic sophistication as the true measures of musicianship. I was polite and respectful, but in my mind B.B. King was not what I considered a player of high awareness music at the time.

B.B. King died Thursday, age 89.

B.B. King died Thursday, age 89.

“After I played with Larry and met B.B., I listened in the wings as guitarist after guitarist took amazing solos, trying to outdo each other. I was at a stage in my musical development where I thought of music almost like a competition. Towards the end of the night they did a blues with all the name guitarists (not me), and brought B.B. King out as a special guest.

“I was astounded that B.B. King played a more effective solo using about 3 notes than all these other great guitarists played, using about 3000 per second!

“B.B. King taught me that night that the emotion a musician conveys in his music, even if simple, can be far more powerful than I had considered — and more profound. I never looked at guitar solos, or music, in quite the same way again.

“Thank you B.B.King for your music, and for being a messenger of love, compassion and empathy to so many, for so long.”

Concours d’Caffeine Cruises Into Saugatuck Sunday

Two weeks ago, the train station was filled with electric vehicles. A road rally highlighted what proponents hope is the automotive wave of the future.

This Sunday (May 17, 8-11 a.m.), the station’s parking lots will again be filled with cars and their admirers. This time though, the focus is on the past.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a “Concours d’Caffeine.” It’s a morning to admire cars, in a relaxed, non-traffic-filled setting.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

But the press release announcing the event buried the lead. Near the end, it said that Railroad Place will feature an exhibit of “Connecticut’s significant role” in US automotive history — “as well as the role Saugatuck played” in it.

In 1905, Saugatuck-based Toquet Motor Car and Construction Company built 5-seater touring cars. Who knew Westport once coulda been Detroit?

A dozen classic vehicles designed or manufactured in Connecticut will be on display. They include “the classic Pope Hartford, the exciting Bridgeport Locomobiles, classic Trumbulls (and) the more recent Fitch Phoenix and Sprint.”

Plus — here’s another buried gem — “the Cunningham C3, designed by Briggs Cunningham, a race car driver and sportsman from Westport.”

Briggs Cunningham's 1953 C-3 Cabriolet.

Briggs Cunningham’s 1953 C-3 Cabriolet. (Photo/Dan Savinelli)

Briggs Cunningham was, of course, much more than that. He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America’s Cup race; he invented an eponymous device (the Cunningham) to increase the speed of racing sailboats — and he competed in the 24-hour race at Le Mans. To read more about him, click here.

But wait! There’s another buried lead! Also on display is a 720-horse Trans Am Camaro driven by Westport’s famous race car driver/actor/salad dressing purveyor, Paul Newman.

Paul Newman's race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Paul Newman’s race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Next to it will be a Volvo wagon (with a 405-horse Corvette engine). Newman built it himself, so he could grab groceries unnoticed (but with plenty of power).

The Concours d’Caffeine is the brainchild of Bill Scheffler, John Shuck, Tim Walsh and Frank Taylor. They organized its predecessor, the Concours d’Elegance, held at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

CdC-logo-rgbEveryone is invited to bring their own cars. When the event is over, many participants will set out on a rally around Fairfield County, ending in Redding.

Gentlemen, start your (non-electric) engines!

(To learn more about the Concours d’Caffeine, click here.)

This Old House #13

Trust your instincts.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten thought that last week’s “mystery house” was the current site of Dream Spa — the handsome building at the entrance to the Crate & Barrel shopping center, between Green’s Farms Elementary School and Fortuna’s.

Then he thought it wasn’t. But research by the inestimable Wendy Crowther and others convinced him he was right all along. (Click here to see a 1930s photo of the house, and comments.)

This week’s house is a great one.

This Old House May 13, 2015

We know exactly where this very handsome home once stood. According to a state database of WPA photos, the house — built around 1823, and owned originally by “Wheeler or Capt. Gresham Bradley” — was “formerly situated on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.”

That’s great. But the Fine Arts Theatre opened around 1920 — more than a decade before the photo was taken. It closed in 1999, and is now Restoration Hardware. And State Street has been renamed the Post Road.

So where was this house when the photo was taken?

Hopefully it has not been torn down in the interim.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Bonus photo: Here is what the Fine Arts Theatre looked like, a decade or 2 after it opened.

Fine Arts theatre black and white

Unearthing A Mosquitoes-And-Malaria Mystery At Burying Hill Beach

As beach season barrels down upon us, alert “06880” reader Rob Schmidt asked a question that has vexed him since the 1950s:

All along the salt marshes at Burying Hill and Sherwood Island, a perfectly laid out grid of small canals is apparent at high tide. I’m guessing they where dug in the 1930s by the WPA or some conservation group. I have not seen them maintained for 60 years, and have never figured out their purpose except drainage of some sort. Do you know the history behind them?

An aerial view of the

An aerial view of the “canals” (faintly seen above the inlet; click or hover over photo to enlarge). The inlet running from Long Island Sound separates Burying Hill Beach (right) from Sherwood Island State Park (left).

I not only did not know the answer; I’d never even thought about them. Although our junior high posse played there back in the day, I’d always thought they were natural.

But I knew who would have the answer. I contacted an engineer friend I grew up with. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to Green’s Farms (and a desire for anonymity).

He replied almost instantly:

I’ve seen these since I was a kid in the Burying Hill and New Creek Road area. I’ve also seen extensive evidence of this in Branford and Guilford.

My understanding is that these are hand-dug “mosquito ditches.” The idea was to better drain low-lying salt marshes where mosquito larvae thrived due to stagnant pools.

They were started after the Civil War, when there was a serious malaria outbreak. Long after malaria was controlled we continued the practice because mosquitoes were a nuisance. The practice continued slowly to 1900, but blossomed in the 1930s. It became a WPA effort in the Depression. By 1940 virtually all of Connecticut’s coastal salt marshes were ditched for mosquito control.

Hand-digging ditches during the Great Depression.

Hand-digging ditches during the Great Depression.

In 1970, when we became much more environmentally aware, we figured out that the practice caused more harm than good. In 1985 the DEP stopped the practice altogether. When feasible they seek to fill in these ditches and let the natural flooding process take place.

Nowadays the Connecticut DEEP encourages the development of a minnow population that feeds on mosquito larvae to control mosquito populations.

The next time you’re at Burying Hill or Sherwood Island — or Branford or Guilford — think about the hand-dug “mosquito ditches.”

Be thankful you didn’t live during the 1800s, when mosquitoes were a nuisance.

And malaria was deadly.

The Great Race: From Disco Days To Ducks

For a number of years, Sunrise Rotary has sponsored a Great Duck Race. It’s a fun fundraiser — you bet on rubber duckies that are dumped into the Saugatuck River. The day is filled with kids’ activities like a bouncy house, a climbing wall and dunk tank.

This year’s event — on Saturday, June 13 — will be preceded by a 5K run, sponsored by Staples High School’s Interact community service club.

It’s a wonderful town event — something that makes money for good causes, and brings plenty of Westporters together.

But those who were here back in the day remember its predecessor: the Great Race. That was to the current incarnation as Gloria Gaynor is to Taylor Swift.

You don’t believe me? Check out this video.

You can see a lot of bizarre stuff on YouTube. But this ranks right up there.

In tones befitting Marlon Perkins on “Wild Kingdom” — or, this century, an endangered-species documentary on the National Geographic Channel — a narrator breathlessly describes what seems to be a very odd tradition in our coastal community.

“Just another lazy day along the river in Westport, Connecticut,” the 1977* video begins. “Except that this is the day of the Great Race.”

After describing the event — a 1-mile run, a 3-mile row or paddle out to Cockenoe Island, picking up 1 pound of garbage, then rowing or paddling back for a 1st-place prize of $1,000 — the narrator declares that on Great Race Day, Westport is the center of “high international drama.” (Cut to an interview with an Australian guy.)

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

There are classic quotes — “We run to the liquor store to get our bodies in shape” — interspersed with vintage shots of downtown, and the not-sure-if-it’s-tongue-in-cheek-or-not description of a team that trained “in a handmade aluminum craft for an entire year, just for this race.”

In fact, I’m not sure if the entire video is serious, a satire, or just a goof. When you see 2 teams fighting over a piece of garbage on Cockenoe, you’ll wonder too.

Running down Taylor Place, to the start at the Post Road bridge.

Running down Taylor Place, to the boat launch at the Post Road bridge.

But — as the narrator notes — “constant seamanship and vigilance” were keys to winning the Great Race.

And, at the end, “the townspeople have come together with their picnic lunches to cheer and debate their favorites. The memories will keep for a whole year.”

See you June 13 at the Great Duck Race!

Paddling ...

Paddling …

...and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

…and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

*YouTube says the video is from 1977. However, the bicentennial flag, and several comments, would indicate it is actually from 1976.

(Hat tips: Jack Whittle, Ted Friedman, Rich Stein)


Stuck Inside Of Mobile

Erika Carter has lived in Westport for 6 years. She’s from Mobile, Alabama though, and last month was down home visiting family.

Her mother took her to an estate sale. A picture hanging on a warehouse wall caught her eye. She recognized it instantly: Westport.

For $5, it was hers.

WHS print

Erika thought its rightful place was the Westport Historical Society. They were happy to accept the gift.

Archives director Sven Selander was particularly pleased. He’d never seen that image of Westport before.

A bit of digging revealed that the scene came from a book with the catchy title of Connecticut Historical Collections, containing a general colleciton of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, &c. Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Connecticut, with Geographical Descriptions: Illustrated by 190 Engravings.”

The book was published in 1836, in New Haven.

Archives volunteer Sara Krasne says that a page from the book with the scene of Westport was removed. Someone then hand-colored the engraving, and framed it. How it migrated south to Mobile is anyone’s guess.

Now it’s “home” — thanks to an eagle-eyed Southerner-turned-Yankee.

PS: The Historical Society does not have a complete edition of the book from which the engraving was taken. If anyone has a copy to donate, they’re happy to accept it too.

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

This Old House #10

Tom Ryan and Dan Herman were the 1st readers to identify last week’s house as #5 Old Hill Road.

They’re right — sort of. The present structure at that site — opposite the old patriot “training ground” at the intersection of Kings Highway North and Old Hill — was built in 1944. The structure in the photo — part of a 1930s WPA project to document century-old homes — burned almost to the ground in 1943. It was rebuilt looking as much as possible like the original. Click here for the photo, then scroll down for comments.

Here is this week’s house. Like the others, this WPA image will be part of a Westport Historical Society exhibit on the changing face of Westport’s homes. But organizers need to find out where it is.

This Old House - May 6, 2015

The back of the photo gives no location. It says only: “Known as ‘William Lanier Washington House'; Squire  David Coley.”

Coley is a famous name in Westport. Washington is a famous name everywhere.

If you think you know where this house stands (or stood — it may have been torn down), click “Comments.” The more information you can provide, the better.