Lunch at the Four Seasons With Andy Warhol
"The first time I met Jean-Paul Goude [Esquire's art director after the Lois era], I took him to the Four Seasons. We sat in the corner booth in the Grill Room, where you first go up the stairs. I ate there every day for four years, and Philip Johnson sat in the other booth. Jacob Javits used to eat there too. And Andy came in with that crazy son of a bitch Paul Morrissey and says, 'Oh, George Lois, can I sit over there?' And I say, 'Yeah, sure.' He'd just gotten a new Polaroid and he says, 'Oh, George, let me take the first picture of you two because you're both so good-looking.' So he took it, and back then he used to [sign his snapshots]—he said to me once, 'I don't like my signature. What should I do?' And I said, 'Well, Napoleon used to do this.' [Mimes signing.] I said, 'Do a W—you're taller than Napoleon.' And he said, 'You think so?' He had almost no sense of humor. If you made a joke, it took two seconds and then when he got it, he'd go, 'Ohhh, I get it.' "
An iconic Esquire cover: Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell's soup.
Making an Ad With Dr. Spock
"The first week of 1960, we opened an agency [PKL] in the Seagram Building—which at the time was not getting rented. You believe that? Too pristine. In any case, we went successful in a week. Our first client, Ladies' Home Journal, gave us a monthly ad to do. They said, 'We need an ad in two days, but you can do it for next month.' I said, 'No, two days, that's a lot of time.' Okay. We have to do an ad about why every woman in America revered Dr. Spock . . . The only argument I ever had with my wife was when we had our first kid and the kid cries and, I don't give a shit, I'll rock the kid all night if I have to. And she said, 'You can't do that.' That [the cry-it-out method] was Spock, you know? And I said to my wife, 'Fuck Dr. Spock. I'm Dr. Lois.' But the point is, he was God. So I go see him—he was in New York—and I said, 'Dr. Spock, I want a picture of you when you were a baby.' And he said, 'That's very smart, young man.' And he finds a picture where he looks like a girl—the little dress and a hat and everything. I say, 'Thanks.' It's one of those times when you say, 'Maybe there is a God.' I said, 'What kind of baby was Dr. Spock?' and then a little hunk of copy. Full page picture in the Times."
Why Tricky Dick Wouldn't Give Up the Ship
"For 40, 50 years, Cutty Sark had done an ad, a painting of the Cutty Sark [clipper ship]. They announced that they were looking for a new agency, and the question was 'Should they keep the ship or do something else?' So I did a campaign—'Don't Give Up the Ship'—and they doubled their business. Then they said, 'Okay, every year we do a live show for the sales guys to boost business and it's got to be raunchy.' And I said, 'Well, instead of a live show, let me do a film.' And they said, 'But the guys like it raunchy.' Okay. I know how to do raunchy. I grew up in the Bronx. Anyway, so I did this incredible film thing—this was before Watergate—and there's a scene where I have Nixon in the White House pouring shots of Cutty Sark and saying, 'I don't give up the ship. Presidents don't give up ships.' It was so prophetic . . . And at the end of the film, I got a beautiful black woman, just sensational-looking, and she says, 'There's two things I know: Don't give up the ship, and black is beautiful.' She's nude. The most beautiful woman you ever saw in your life, with the most beautiful breasts, like, bronze . . . Anyway, we showed it in New York, and a week later we went to Chicago and we set it up in the projection booth. Then we went out, and when we came back, it was broken into and stolen by the Secret Service."
Lending a Hand to a Model in a Moment of Need
"When I was at Doyle Dane Bernbach [in the 1950s], a guy comes in and says, 'George, we need an ad for Women's Wear Daily tomorrow afternoon.' It was like nine o'clock at night. 'They got all the manufacturers screaming and yelling they can't sell leotards, it's not in fashion anymore. They gotta do something.' So I said, 'Okay, I'll have something by two, three in the morning. Can I have a production guy stay?' They say, 'Yeah, what are you going to do?' I say, 'I'm gonna do a fucking ad.' They say, 'We gotta okay it with the client.' I say, 'There's no time to okay it with the client. Let's just do the fucking ad. Okay? I'll take the responsibility.' So I call up a photographer and say, 'Get a woman, like a gymnast, get her in the studio right away. All I need is her. Can we get a male hand model?' He said, 'It's too late, George.' I said, 'Okay, I'll be the hand model.' It's a spread, and you see her ass and her legs, bent, like, in a seated position but not sitting, and I go behind her and put my hand on her ass, and the headline is we're pushing leotards. I had to volunteer to do it—somebody had to. My wife laughed her ass off. I got the engraving at five o'clock in the morning, went home, took a shower. It got printed that morning. Boom, lunch. The account guy comes in and says, 'The client really should have okayed this.' I say, 'Hey, fuck face, you wanted the ad in there, you were desperate for it, and I did a great ad.' [Agency founder] Bill Bernbach was away that week. When he gets back, all the ads are laid out on his desk. He comes down and says, 'George, you know you're going to be the greatest art director that ever lived, but doesn't that go too far?' I said, 'Bill, the client just called up and said everybody's gone crazy, they're selling the shit out of leotards. Women's Wear Daily said it was the most successful ad that they ever ran.' Bill says, 'That's a great ad.' "
Lois' "We're Pushing Leotards" campaign. That's Lois' hand.
Calling the Patterson-Liston Fight on the Cover of Esquire
"The day Harold Hayes was given the full editorship at Esquire, he called me up to have lunch. By the way, he wore a pure white suit before Tom Wolfe. Tom Wolfe ripped off the pure white suit. And he said—beautiful southern accent—'Can you help me figure out how to do better covers than we do them now?' So I started to give him some names, mainly—and he said, 'Wait a minute, pal, you gotta do me a favor: Can you do me one cover?' I said, 'I'll do you one cover. When's the next cover that you need?' 'Tuesday.' I said, 'Tell me what the issue's about.' He says, 'There's a story about this and a story about this, and oh yeah, there's a photograph of Floyd Patterson, who's the Heavyweight Champion of the World, and Sonny Liston.' I knew when he said the two guys I had the cover. It wasn't a big part of the book, it was just two pages. But I ain't looking to make one of the stories important, I'm looking for people to come and say, 'Holy shit.' I knew that Patterson was an eight-to-one favorite, but I knew that Liston would kill him. The sportswriters had it all the other way around. They're full of shit. I was a big fight fan. I knew Floyd. I was the only white kid allowed in the Bed-Stuy Community Center—you know, I had to fight my way in there. So I called a photographer: 'Get a guy who looks like Floyd Patterson, not overly muscled, a smooth body—you gotta get the right color black.' I wanted to take a shot of Floyd laying dead in the middle of the ring. Everybody's gone. Left by his handlers, left by the press, the crowd left. Liston kicked the shit out of him, killed him, and everybody left him for dead, which is a great metaphor for life. I sent the photographs to Harold. He calls me up an hour later: 'Hey, George, I never saw a cover like this in my life." I said, 'Yeah?' 'You're calling the fight." I said, 'Yeah!' 'But nobody agrees with you.' 'Yeah!' He said, 'But suppose you're wrong.' 'I'm right." He said, 'You're crazy." I said, "No, no, you're crazy.' He said, 'Why?' 'Because you're gonna run it. Because you got a 50-50 chance I'm right, and if I'm right you're a fucking genius. And if I'm wrong, people will still talk.' He ran it. Cover comes out. The issue comes out terrific. People were going, 'Wow, what an image.' You go up to the publisher's page, it says, 'You see that cover? We had nothing to do with it. It was a young designer named George Lois. We don't agree with him.' I come to find out later what happened is the publisher told Harold, 'No way we're going to run that,' and Harold said, 'I'm going to quit if you don't run it.' People say I've got cajones. He's got the cajones."
How He Wound Up With Muhammad Ali's Punching Bag
"He was a saintly man. We'd talk shit together. Now he can't talk, but he'd say, 'George, how's my nigger?' I'd say, 'I'm your good nigger.' Then I'd say to him, 'Muhammad, how's my cracker?' He'd say, 'I'm your good cracker.' I'd say, Muhammad, there are no good crackers.' And his wife, who is a real Muslim, would say, 'What is wrong with you two people?' . . . He had a camp called Deer Lake in Pennsylvania, and they were getting rid of everything, and I was saying, 'Muhammad, what the fuck are you doing—don't throw away that stuff. It's all memorabilia.' He said, 'What's memorabilia?' I said, 'Your punching bag. Twenty years from now it's going to be worth a hundred thousand dollars.' Two weeks later, someone delivered it to me."
Lois and his wife Rosie with Muhammad Ali at a 1975 protest rally to free Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. They're standing side by side at the back left of the group in front.
What's So Maddening About Mad Men
"I hate the show. When they first announced it, I got about a hundred phone calls going, 'Hey, George, is that show about you?' That went on for a month or more. Then finally I get a phone call from the guy right under the top guy, and he said, 'Mr. Lois'—I love when they call you Mr. Lois—'Mr. Lois, we're rounding up real mad men of that period and everyone we talk to says, "Did you get George Lois?" ' And I said, 'Time out. You're doing a show on advertising in the sixties and you've never heard of me?' He said, 'No, no, I've heard of you.' I said, 'You're full of shit. Look, if you want to know about advertising in the sixties, get a book called George, Be Careful'—my first book. 'It's out of print. Get it on Amazon.' So he bought it on Amazon for $80, and he calls back in three days and said, 'Oh my God. We could have done a show just based on your book. That story where you threatened to jump out the window if the client didn't buy—what a scene!' And I said, 'Yeah . . . Hello . . .' Anyway, so, Mad Men—you know how influential that show has been? The School of the Visual Arts probably doubled their enrollment. People say, 'Wow, that's glamorous.' But they're looking at scumbags. They're looking at guys who all they want to do is schtup their secretaries. I mean, these are terrible people who don't care about their work . . . And understand, that still goes on. There's always agencies like that."
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men; Lois during the Mad Men era.
A Pugilist to the End
"I never ducked a fight in my life. You know, I'm 80, and when I set a pick on young guys [playing basketball], 25- to 30-year-old guys—I could be 80, but if I'm setting a pick on a guy coming over, coming around, driving, and I'm standing there and they come into me—I don't get hurt and they go to the ground. The guy coming at me gets hurt. They come up fighting. Well, that's basketball, fuck face."