Young Creatives & Old Production Guys

shoes on the line

I remember the day the light went on. I’d figured out the ad industry wanted young creatives and seasoned, experienced production people.

The ad biz wasn’t looking for another 49 year old art director. Especially one with less than 2 years in a B2B shop. The business looks for, and gets, 25 year olds; who are typically beaten with a stick for 60-80 hrs a week, and are paid a lot less than a senior guy or gal makes. Everyone hopes they make their bones before they fall over from complete burn-out.

However—a senior production guy/gal who knows their game is a different proposition. I went home that afternoon and rewrote my resume to say boldly “25 Years of Print Production Experience”. I started working regularly after that.


I didn’t set out to have a career in print production. Honest. But here I am.

Long before I was a junior art director I was a disgruntled print-production guy. I tolerated it as it enabled me to pursue other things like running 100-mile mountain races and other outdoor pursuits.

Late one August night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up and started back to school. Foreplay was Art Center At Night for a couple of semesters. There was a pause. I was still looking.

In late 1998 I lucked out and found out about Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. I sat in on a class and realized that the Bookshop was the real deal. This became my after-hours MFA. It took 2-1/2 years, and when I had my book, I was wrung out. But it got me a job as an art director in a small B2B shop,

Our primary client was Aon Insurance. I got laid off after 9/11. Aon’s New York office had been on the 105th floor of the South Tower. Aon and my agency went into vapor-lock along with the rest of the economy.

I spent the next 18 months looking for art direction gigs. The job market was not good. The sky was raining art directors. I reluctantly went back to freelance print-production.

One day in 2003 I was down at a huge direct mail shop in Marina del Rey. Looking around me, I saw men, mostly; guys who’d been group creative heads, creative directors, guys with TV reels. They were doing direct mail. And the tanks were rolling across the Iraqi sand, hotf00ting it to Baghdad.

And that’s when I got it. Something else also happened. Being an art director didn’t define my entire creative existence. And not being one was a relief. Didn’t have to stay up nights and weekends agonizing over things I didn’t care about. Being a Lee Clow whose sole life was advertising struck me as being a monocultural retard, like genetically modified corn.

I’d begun to allocate energy in a different way. And that freed up considerable calories to deal with both print production and my photography in two different capacities. I became a happier guy in the process.

But Wait, There’s Always More

The starting line is continually redrawn. Nobody can afford not to stay engaged. Or in a more cruel vein, the rest of you can go back to sleep while I pursue my studies. Don’t mind me if I eat your lunch.

While working at Grey Advertising in the mid-90’s I met Ben Worthing. Underestimate Ben, but only at your own peril. Yes, he wore powder-blue polyester suits, and looked like the kindly grand-dad you wished you’d had. But he never missed an opportunity to look ahead and learn.

Ben was officially kept on the payroll well after the mandatory 65 retirement age because he was too valuable to let go. He’d schooled the young whelps who later on ran the agency in his print estimating office when they were fresh out of school and useless.

One evening I asked Ben a FileMakerPro question which had been bothering me. His answer was straight to the point. I then asked him how come he “got” computers when many in middle and upper management simply didn’t.

He quietly told me that it went back to his flying days in the Army Air Force in 1942. He was trained as a navigator on a B-17. He didn’t get sent to England because one of his original crew got sick, and the crew was pulled from the flight line. This probably saved him from being shot down over Germany somewhere. He was reassigned to Fort Bliss as an instructor.

By the end of the war in 1945 he was training crews in B-29s. The transition was from an unpressurized, manually controlled, 3-ton payload bomber; to a fully-pressurized, high-altitude heavy bomber that had electro-servo motors for flaps, landing gear, bomb-bay doors that unleashed 10 tons of destruction.

So when the first Macs appeared in the late 80’s he saw a tool that would change his work life for the better. He could now turn estimates for outdoor boards in three locations and four sizes in less than an hour, instead of four hours using an assistant riding a crank-calculator and a pencil on an estimating sheet.

He smiled gently, and walked slowly back to his office on bad knees. I saw him in a completely different light. Ben had remained engaged and curious when his peers resisted. An open engaged mind is a powerful thing. That’s the kind of grand-dad we could all use.

You’ll excuse me—one of my cameras needs to be exercised.

9 responses to “Young Creatives & Old Production Guys

  1. This is SO true and SO smart.

    You are a zen teacher in disguise. (Well, pretty thinly veiled disguise, but most people wouldn’t come to a blog on print production looking for zen teachings.)

    Keep it up. The pups always need guidance.


  2. Thanks for your wonderful homage to Ben. I wrote a letter to his son John over a year ago that I never mailed. I can’t locate his address. If you have it, can you send it to me?

    I am publishing the letter here as anyone who knew Ben may be amused by it. Or maybe someone out there has his son John’s email address so he can read it?

    Perhaps others can share their own Ben stories. I miss him.

    Dear John,

    I have been meaning to write you a letter since your father died years back, but haven’t sat down to put words on paper until now. And I was unable to make the funeral.

    Ben Worthing was my boss at Grey Advertising from 1992-1994. I was one of the many management trainees that he supervised and we shared an office for about a year. I would like to say that I was one of his favorites, but I don’t know for sure!

    I just wanted you to know how much Ben meant to me and continues to mean to me to this day. He was the best mentor I have ever had and a good friend. He brought so much daily joy and pure fun to the workplace. Here are some of the funny stories and things that he did that I can remember at the moment:

    • He daily looked out the window with his binoculars scouting out the neighborhood. He even knew where Madonna lived at the time and could show me. We teased him that he was just out looking for girls!
    • He regularly took me out for nice lunches with the print vendors – this was a huge treat for me on a meager salary, plus great fun to hear his (and his friends’) stories from working in advertising in the 60s.
    • Helen Gurley Brown (formerly of Cosmo) used to be a secretary at Grey. He would write her regularly. I told him I was a huge fan of hers and he wrote her about me. She responded back with a nice letter referencing me, and I of course was thrilled!
    • SUPER DAVE also worked at Grey Adverting – many stories about him as well.
    • Then of course, he had nicknames for everyone – one was called “Shaky Dick” because he worked on Shaky’s Pizza, but also because he really was “shaky”!
    • He also frequently came into the office early and would update my screen saver with a funny face graphic that said something like “I hate account executives”. I think I still have every one that he created for me in hard copy somewhere.
    • As a boss, he had my back when it came down to mistakes I made or in one particular incident, how an AE was abusive to me.

    He did talk about his family. He loved his wife, your mother, deeply. That was clear. I was not living in LA when she died and cannot imagine the heartache and shock that I imagine it was for him and for you.

    He was proud of you and your work at Anderson Litho (or maybe you were somewhere else then?). But, his great loves were his grandchildren. Your red-headed daughter in particular seemed to capture his heart. He liked telling stories about them.

    When I got married in 2003, Ben was starting to get sick and couldn’t make it to the wedding. I was pregnant when Ben died and was unable to make it to the funeral.

    Ben meant the world to me and still does. I think of him often.

    Just wanted you to know.
    Kelly Callahan


  3. Art Director?

    My friend, you should’ve been a writer.

    Hey, maybe that’s what you’re really leading up to with this whole “blog” thing!

    Cheers. Congrats. Happy Holidays.

    And good seeing you last night at the
    Aquent Holiday Gala.



  4. This comes almost a year after the original posts so I hope this is still checked from time to time as I would hate for this posting to go unread.

    My name is Cynthia Ross, and prior to me being married my maiden was Worthing. The Ben Worthing you speak of is my beloved grandpa. The red-headed granddaughter that captured his heart is yours truly.

    It is so wonderful to read the stories that have been posted about my grandpa, especially on this day, the day he died. What a serendipitous moment to come across this blog on this day. It has been five years since I last spoke to my grandpa, his last words before he drifted off to a painless sleep–telling me he loved me.

    I wanted to comment on a few things that I have read here today. The granddad that everyone wished they had that Mr. Pre-Press spoke of happened to be mine and I would like to share what it was like to actually have him for a granddad. Just as it was for you and for Kelly, Ben Worthing was my mentor. The one who was always there to offer a guiding hand, but never force you down a path. He had this incredible way of leading you where you needed to go when life gave you a dilemma without you knowing he helped. He was the most generous man I have ever met, whether it be with his money, his time, or his spirit. I have yet to meet another person like him, and I fear I never will. It’s bittersweet to think. It means my grandpa was unique, a real precious gem that only comes along once in a lifetime. But this also saddens me that there are not more people like him in this world. His character has shown me what I think a truly model human being is, and I strive to be like him in my own life. My grandpa changed people’s lives. I know this much from the amount of love I felt at his funeral from everyone who knew him. I eulogized him. It was the perfect way for me to say goodbye and I feel a fitting tribute to a man that accomplished so much in his life professionally to have all his colleagues know how much he would be missed on the home front, as well. He always encouraged me to follow what made me happy, and I do not think it is a coincidence that I stumbled upon my passion in life–teaching. I must have inherited from him a desire to help others and to never stop learning. Here I am a history teacher working towards her Master’s. And every day I am with my students I am learning from them. Does this all sound familiar? My hope is that in my life I will grow as an individual and never stop learning, and I attribute this want in me to my grandpa. We may have chosen different paths in our lives but our makeup is the same.

    I loved reading Kelly’s stories because they are the stories I heard over and over again growing up. Now I know a little more about the person who those screensavers belonged to (by the way, he always chuckled when he told that story). Super Dave was another topic he enjoyed discussing. And those Helen Gurley Brown letters? They now belong to me and I cherish them, along with so many other things that I keep close to remind me of my special grandpa. His WWII stories always fascinated the historian in me (one day I will compile his stories with my other grandfathers as they both led amazing lives as soldiers).

    But what I loved most about these posts was knowing that I was not alone, that my grandpa’s memory was not lost. And thank you Kelly for speaking of me in the way that you did. To know that I captured my grandpa’s heart, a man I respect above all others, is more of an honor than you will ever know. Thank you, thank you.

    I wish he could have known his great-granddaughter who was born in 2004, he would have loved her. I wish he was still here to guide me when I need it most. I know in a way he always is, because he gave me the skills to help myself but it would be nice to sit and chat for a while. I would like to let him know how much he means to me and how much I appreciate all the things he did to help me grow as an individual. I want him to know that Danny kept his promise that he demanded of him while my grandpa laid on his deathbed–to take care of me when he was gone because even though I was strong I was stubborn and would need someone there for me (even if I didn’t think I needed it). I think he knew what a great husband and father Danny would be. He really liked Danny, and I am glad because his opinion mattered more than anyone else’s. I believe my grandpa would be proud of us, and that makes me feel great.

    Lastly, I would like to say thank you for your appreciation of my grandpa. And thank you for allowing me a space to write down my thoughts in a place where I know my grandpa was appreciated.


    If you want to get in touch with my father please email me.


    • Kelly Callahan

      Cynthia – How can I get ahold of you via email? I want to search through my files for other photos of Ben and momentos to send to you. I was so surprised that this posting found it’s way to you and happy to read your response. You are a great link to Ben for all of us so I would love to stay in touch and see photos of you grown up and your daughter. Kelly Callahan (


  5. Cynthia Cruikshank Peterson

    I’m surprised I found my way to this site, but I just wanted to say that I am certainly in the Ben Worthing Fan Club as well. My first job in advertising was at Grey from 1990 till 1994, and I learned a tremendous amount from Ben. I was working my way toward becoming an art director. He was the most unique, firm, yet soft spoken, patient and kind hearted person I ever met in the business. And so funny too. I was so sad to hear of his passing. I have really enjoyed reminiscing about Ben through your writings Chris, Kelly and Cynthia. I hope you are good Kelly. It’s been a long time!

    -Cynthia Cruikshank Peterson


    • Kelly Callahan

      Where are you these days Cynthia? I am in DC now, married with 3 kids, consulting for Pulsar Advertising working for Alberto Gonzalez and Arline Vezina. It all comes full circle!


  6. Cynthia Cruikshank Peterson

    I am still close with Louise and see Alberto occasionally, and I think she told me you were working with him a while ago. I have 2 kids that keep me really busy… I will e-mail you to catch up further…..


  7. John Van de Brooke

    I, too, am not sure how I came across this site but am very glad I did. I worked at Grey from ’87-’94. As an account guy. Two strikes right there as far as Ben was concerned. However, underneath his disdain for “suits” was one of the kindest men I ever met. Someone above likened him to a grandfather you wish you had. Fortunately, I had a couple like that and Ben often reminded me of them.

    Kelly said he was a mentor. I agree. Ben taught me more about the advertising business than any of my bosses ever did. Ben helped me out of more jams than I can remember. He’d grumble a little bit but always had a twinkle in his eye to let you know it wasn’t as bad as you thought.

    Almost 20 years later, I know there’s one thing this world needs and that’s more Ben Worthings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s