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POTOMAC PLACE

The Preferred Seat Cover

 

Stewart Greene, one of the founders of the highly successful Madison Avenue advertising agency, Wells, Rich, & Greene, died this month at the age of 91. The commercials created by the firm were catchy and resulted in record sales of the products pitched, such as Alka-Seltzer, Samsonite Luggage, and Benson & Hedges cigarettes, among others.

 

   Perhaps the most successful campaign the firm launched was for Braniff Airlines. It involved a total remake of the airline's image, including the eye-catching redesign of the flight attendant uniforms by Emilio Pucci featuring blue, yellow, and red colors, the radical and snazzy interior design of its airplanes and the standout exterior colors of the planes. Each flight attendant wore a different colored uniform and the passenger seats were covered with different colored leather. The resulting ad campaign helped Braniff immensely. Its passenger growth was phonemical, resulting in increased flights, and considerable added revenue.  It was flying high, but unfortunately, Braniff, like other airlines, became the victim of the deregulation of the airline industry and record high jet fuel prices which made it uncompetitive, resulting in its ceasing operations on May 12, 1982. I was one of the many passengers affected that day. Fortunately, I was at Washington National Airport waiting for a flight to Austin, Texas, and was not stranded at an airport far away from home.

 

   Braniff's creative redesign and unique pizazz motivated some of its competitors, including TWA, American Airlines, and Delta to make themselves over. Among those who chose not to go that route was Eastern Airlines. Rickenbacker was reluctant to change his airline's stripes and strongly resisted efforts by his staff to do so. 

 

   Two people who recruited me to the cotton industry, General Everett R. Cook and his son Edward W. "Ned" Cook, were then serving as members of Eastern Airlines' board, headed by the famed World War I ace fighter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. General Cook, also a World War I ace, served with Rickenbacker, each commanding different flight squadrons.  

 

     At lunch in Cook Industries' dining room in its Memphis headquarters a week after both Ned and his father had attended an Eastern board meeting in New York City, Ned told a group of us about Rickenbacker's reaction to a redesign proposal. As Ned told it, as the board meeting was coming to a conclusion the double doors of the room opened and a team of employees rolled a platform into the room with three rows of airline seats affixed to it. Each seat was covered in one of the airline's colors of white, light blue, and dark blue or a combination of the three colors. When the public relations director finished his presentation pushing for the interior design makeover, Rickenbacker nodded his head a few times and said, "Young man, the only thing I want to see covering those seats are assholes," and the meeting adjourned.

 

   Eastern Airlines went out of business in 1991.

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Doris Day

 

During my long career as an attorney and executive in the cotton industry I often travelled from Washington, D.C. to interesting venues around the U.S. and to many foreign countries for meetings. From time-to-time I met famous people in airport VIP lounges including Richard Widmark and Mia Farrow in the American Airlines Admiral's Club in Los Angeles. I encountered Raquel Welch on the inter-terminal train at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Henry "Hank" Aaron in the Atlanta Airport, and many more celebrities, sports stars, and politicians in my travels.

 

   One such occasion stands out in my memory. On April 19, 1997, I was attending the meeting of the Western Cotton Shippers Association at the resort hotel, the Quail Lodge in California's Carmel Valley.  

 

   It was a beautiful day. Late that afternoon the association's board gathered to meet in the hotel's Garden Room, which led out to wide steps down into a patio bordered by shops on each side. Given the beautiful weather someone opened the French doors leading to the patio steps to let in the fresh breeze and to provide a better view to the surrounding green hills.

 

   While each of us at the meeting was doing his or her best to attend to the business agenda, to a person we would sometimes gaze out at the beauty of the Carmel Valley and wish that we were out there rather than being confined to that room.

 

   It was midway through the meeting when an apparition seemingly appeared on the patio that caught our attention. Our eyes widened to see a person we were in awe of in our younger days -- Doris Day. She was dressed in loosely fitting linen pants, and a long-sleeved shirt topped by a floppy straw hat to protect her from the sun. We had no doubt it was she, and before anyone said a word, we all spontaneously began to sing, Que Sera Sera, one of Ms. Day's many hit songs. She looked up at us with a mischievous smile, a smile that melted your heart, put her head down and then raised it as she did her opened right hand. She shook her head back and forth and with her hand motioned for us to stop as she mouthed the words, "Now, stop it."

 

   Her appearance made our day. She was 75 at the time and had been out of the public eye for about 30-years. Here she was out shopping, not wearing makeup, and she still looked like the beautiful actress and singer we had all grown up watching in countless motion pictures and listening to on the radio or seeing her on television during the 1940's through the mid 1960's.

 

   She died recently at the age of 97 at her home in Carmel by the Sea, where she maintained an animal sanctuary on her large ranch. In her private life she had become an acclaimed animal welfare activist. She also owned a pet-friendly hotel in Carmel, the Cypress Inn. 

 

 

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