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Thursday, March 7, 2013

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING AND SOMETHING

In early 1983, GAM's technical editor Earl Wilken came into my office and asked if I'd like to come with him to see the demonstration of a new computer from Apple. So I tagged along to keep him company. We cabbed to a lab on Sixth Avenue, and who would have believed it? Steve Jobs was on hand. I was kind of surprised. I had read that he was off  the Lisa project. I whispered to Earl, "Think he's  curious?"  He shrugged his shoulders. As I always did, I introduced myself to the others in the room, giving those who didn't know me a business card. Jobs thanked me and gave me his card. The head of the lab told us this was one of the first demonstrations of the Lisa, the newest computer in the Apple line. It was the first model to include a graphical users interface, (GUI) and had an external hard drive sitting on top of the terminal. There were 12 editors and publishers in attendance, and four computers with technicians sitting on swivel chairs ready to show us how the new product could perform.  It didn't go well..

Steve Jobs wore a jacket and bow tie and his face was clean shaven, though he had longish hair. I had read that he had abandoned his "hippie" period  He about 30 years old and a true genius. Apple's  IPO  had raised more than one billion dollars in 1980, but IBM was picking up share of market. Over the years I watched Steve give dozens of presentation to maniacal audiences who screamed with rapture as stood on the stage in a black tee shirt and jeans. More than 15 years later David Dinnin, then president of Linotype-Hell, invited Steve and his wife to a company dinner. It was the only other time I saw him in jacket and tie. He stood behind my group as the computer was turned on.. The technicians were evidently having trouble with the sluggish pace  at which the Lisa scrolled. Earl gave me a look of frustration as the techs struggled with the  equipment. At one point I turned around and said, "Looks like you have to go back to the drawing board," to which Steve responded, "No it just needs some tweaking". As most people know the Mac was introduced the next year and dominated the printing industry. The Lisa was scrapped a couple of years later. As we left the lab, I said to Earl, "Much ado about nothing."

Several months later, we were invited by Gannett,  the newspaper publisher, to visit their Arlington VA offices to observe the first electronic transmission of a newspaper page from Beijing to the U.S. Peter Johnston and Carol came along to witness the historic event. Approximately 20 other members of the press were there along with an old friend, George H.W. Bush, who was, at the time, Vice President of the United States. My first meeting with him was in 1970. I was visiting  Bruce Gelb, the president of Clairol, the premier manufacturer of hair coloring products.  The chairman of its parent company, Bristol Myers, was his brother, Dick Gelb. Bruce was outlining Clairol's future marketing plan, when Dick walked in with a tall good looking guy, It was George Bush. Dick introduced us, and told George that I was with the top five marketing people in the salon industry. Then he said to me, "Dick, remember this guy. He's going to be president in ten years." Dick Gelb's prediction was a bit off. It would take 18 years for George and Barbara Bush to move into the White House.

 Dick and George had been friends since prep school and at Yale. We spent a couple of hours sipping coffee out of china (not the styrofoam cups you got in my office). George explained that he had resigned his congressional seat to run for the Senate against a politician named Lloyd Bentsen.  Bentsen won, and later became known for his line during the 1988 vice presidential debate, at which he told Dan Quayle, Bush's running mate, "You're no Jack Kennedy." We talked politics and baseball and business. Noting he was left-handed, I said, "I'm guessing you were a first baseman".. He was impressed at my observation. I also recounted my meeting Richard Nixon during the 1968 campaign, and that I had arranged for Pat Nixon to be photographed for the September, 1968 Modern Salon cover. Both Gelbs remembered that issue. At the time I had no idea that five years later, I'd be attending White House briefings each year through the efforts of our association, the American Business Press and in 1975 have cocktails at the White House during Gerald Ford's term. It was an extraordinary afternoon and I never forgot it.

When he saw me at Gannett, he came over, put his arm around my shoulders, leaned over, and whispered, "How have you been? You know Dick Gelb has cancer, but he's a real fighter."  Dick battled it, but passed away 24 years later at  age 80. His brother, Bruce, was named ambassador  to Belgium during the Bush administration. After our tete-a-tete, several members of the press corps came over the me and asked how I knew the Veep. "We're old friends. Every time they have a problem in the White House, he calls for advice." It was much ado about something special. The next time I saw him I called him, "Mr President".