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The "Genius"

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"Occasionally," replied Summerfield guardedly, for his impression was that Mr. Baker Bates knew very little of art directors or anything else in connection with the art side of advertising life. He might have heard of his present need and be trying to palm off some friend of his, an incompetent, of course, on him. "What makes you ask?"

"Why, Hudson Dula, the manager of the Triple Lithographic Company, was telling me of a man who is connected with the World who might make a good one for you. I know something of him. He painted some rather remarkable views of New York and Paris here a few years ago. Dula tells me they were very good."

"Is he young?" interrupted Summerfield, calculating.

"Yes, comparatively. Thirty-one or two, I should say."

"And he wants to be an art director, does he. Where is he?"

"He's down on the World, and I understand he wants to get out of there. I heard you say last year that you were looking for a man, and I thought this might interest you."

"What's he doing down on the World?"

"He's been sick, I understand, and is just getting on his feet again."

The explanation sounded sincere enough to Summerfield.

"What's his name?" he asked.

"Witla, Eugene Witla. He had an exhibition at one of the galleries here a few years ago."

"I'm afraid of these regular high-brow artists," observed Summerfield suspiciously. "They're usually so set up about their art that there's no living with them. I have to have someone with hard, practical sense in my work. Someone that isn't a plain damn fool. He has to be a good manager – a good administrator, mere talent for drawing won't do – though he has to have that, or know it when he sees it. You might send this fellow around sometime if you know him. I wouldn't mind looking at him. I may need a man pretty soon. I'm thinking of making certain changes."

"If I see him I will," said Baker indifferently and dropped the matter. Summerfield, however, for some psychological reason was impressed with the name. Where had he heard it? Somewhere apparently. Perhaps he had better find out something about him.

"If you send him you'd better give him a letter of introduction," he added thoughtfully, before Bates should have forgotten the matter. "So many people try to get in to see me, and I may forget."

Baker knew at once that Summerfield wished to look at Witla. He dictated a letter of introduction that afternoon to his stenographer and mailed it to Eugene.

"I find Mr. Summerfield apparently disposed to see you," he wrote. "You had better go and see him if you are interested. Present this letter. Very truly yours."

Eugene looked at it with astonishment and a sense of foregoneness so far as what was to follow. Fate was fixing this for him. He was going to get it. How strange life was! Here he was down on the World working for fifty dollars a week, and suddenly an art directorship, a thing he had thought of for years, was coming to him out of nowhere! Then he decided to telephone Mr. Daniel Summerfield, saying that he had a letter from Mr. Baker Bates and asking when he could see him. Later he decided to waste no time, but to present the letter direct without phoning. At three in the afternoon he received permission from Benedict to be away from the office between three and five, and at three-thirty he was in the anteroom of the general offices of the Summerfield Advertising Company, waiting for a much desired permission to enter.

CHAPTER XXXIII

When Eugene called, Mr. Daniel C. Summerfield was in no great rush about any particular matter, but he had decided in this case as he had in many others that it was very important that anyone who wanted anything from him should be made to wait. Eugene was made to wait a solid hour before he was informed by an underling that he was very sorry but that other matters had so detained Mr. Summerfield that it was now impossible for him to see him at all this day, but that tomorrow at twelve he would be glad to see him. Eugene was finally admitted on the morrow, however, and then, at the first glance, Mr. Summerfield liked him. "A man of intelligence," he thought, as he leaned back in his chair and stared at him. "A man of force. Young still, wide-eyed, quick, clean looking. Perhaps I have found someone in this man who will make a good art director." He smiled, for Summerfield was always good-natured in his opening relationships – usually so in all of them, and took most people (his employees and prospective employees particularly) with an air of superior but genial condescension.

"Sit down! Sit down!" he exclaimed cheerfully and Eugene did so, looking about at the handsomely decorated walls, the floor which was laid with a wide, soft, light brown rug, and the mahogany desk, flat-topped, glass covered, on which lay handsome ornaments of silver, ivory and bronze. This man looked so keen, so dynamic, like a polished Japanese carving, hard and smooth.

"Now tell me all about yourself," began Summerfield. "Where do you come from? Who are you? What have you done?"

"Hold! Hold!" said Eugene easily and tolerantly. "Not so fast. My history isn't so much. The short and simple annals of the poor. I'll tell you in two or three sentences."

Summerfield was a little taken back at this abruptness which was generated by his own attitude; still he liked it. This was something new to him. His applicant wasn't frightened or apparently even nervous so far as he could judge. "He is droll," he thought, "sufficiently so – a man who has seen a number of things evidently. He is easy in manner, too, and kindly."

"Well," he said smilingly, for Eugene's slowness appealed to him. His humor was something new in art directors. So far as he could recall, his predecessors had never had any to speak of.

"Well, I'm an artist," said Eugene, "working on the World. Let's hope that don't militate against me very much."

"It don't," said Summerfield.

"And I want to become an art director because I think I'd make a good one."

"Why?" asked Summerfield, his even teeth showing amiably.

"Well, because I like to manage men, or I think I do. And they take to me."

"You know that?"

"I do. In the next place I know too much about art to want to do the little things that I'm doing. I can do bigger things."

"I like that also," applauded Summerfield. He was thinking that Eugene was nice and good looking, a little pale and thin to be wholly forceful, perhaps, he wasn't sure. His hair a little too long. His manner, perhaps, a bit too deliberate. Still he was nice. Why did he wear a soft hat? Why did artists always insist on wearing soft hats, most of them? It was so ridiculous, so unbusinesslike.

"How much do you get?" he added, "if it's a fair question."

"Less than I'm worth," said Eugene. "Only fifty dollars. But I took it as a sort of health cure. I had a nervous breakdown several years ago – better now, as Mulvaney used to say – and I don't want to stay at that. I'm an art director by temperament, or I think I am. Anyhow, here I am."

"You mean," said Summerfield, "you never ran an art department before?"

"Never."

"Know anything about advertising?"

"I used to think so."

"How long ago was that?"

"When I worked on the Alexandria, Illinois, Daily Appeal."

Summerfield smiled. He couldn't help it.

"That's almost as important as the Wickham Union, I fancy. It sounds as if it might have the same wide influence."

"Oh, much more, much more," returned Eugene quietly. "The Alexandria Appeal had the largest exclusively country circulation of any county south of the Sangamon."

"I see! I see!" replied Summerfield good-humoredly. "It's all day with the Wickham Union. Well, how was it you came to change your mind?"

"Well, I got a few years older for one thing," said Eugene. "And then I decided that I was cut out to be the greatest living artist, and then I came to New York, and in the excitement I almost lost the idea."

"I see."

"But I have it again, thank heaven, tied up back of the house, and here I am."

"Well, Witla, to tell you the truth you don't look like a real live, every day, sure-enough art director, but you might make good. You're not quite art-y enough according to the standards that prevail around this office. Still I might be willing to take one gosh-awful chance. I suppose if I do I'll get stung as usual, but I've been stung so often that I ought to be used to it by now. I feel sort of spotted at times from the hornets I've hired in the past. But, be that as it may, what do you think you could do with a real live art directorship if you had it?"

Eugene mused. This persiflage entertained him. He thought Summerfield would hire him now that they were together.

"Oh, I'd draw my salary first and then I'd see that I had the proper system of approach so that any one who came to see me would think I was the King of England, and then I'd – "

"I was really busy yesterday," interpolated Summerfield apologetically.

"I'm satisfied of that," replied Eugene gaily. "And finally I might condescend, if I were coaxed enough, to do a little work."

This speech at once irritated and amused Mr. Summerfield. He liked a man of spirit. You could do something with someone who wasn't afraid, even if he didn't know so much to begin with. And Eugene knew a good deal, he fancied. Besides, his talk was precisely in his own sarcastic, semi-humorous vein. Coming from Eugene it did not sound so hard as it would have coming from himself, but it had his own gay, bantering attitude of mind in it. He believed Eugene could make good. He wanted to try him, instanter, anyhow.

"Well, I'll tell you what, Witla," he finally observed. "I don't know whether you can run this thing or not – the probabilities are all against you as I have said, but you seem to have some ideas or what might be made some under my direction, and I think I'll give you a chance. Mind you, I haven't much confidence. My personal likes usually prove very fatal to me. Still, you're here, and I like your looks and I haven't seen anyone else, and so – "

 

"Thanks," said Eugene.

"Don't thank me. You have a hard job ahead of you if I take you. It's no child's play. You'd better come with me first and look over the place," and he led the way out into the great central room where, because it was still noon time, there were few people working, but where one could see just how imposing this business really was.

"Seventy-two stenographers, book-keepers, canvassers and writers and trade-aid people at their desks," he observed with an easy wave of his hand, and moved on into the art department, which was in another wing of the building where a north and east light could be secured. "Here's where you come in," he observed, throwing open the door where thirty-two artists' desks and easels were ranged. Eugene was astonished.

"You don't employ that many, do you?" he asked interestedly. Most of the men were out to lunch.

"From twenty to twenty-five all the time, sometimes more," he said. "Some on the outside. It depends on the condition of business."

"And how much do you pay them, as a rule?"

"Well, that depends. I think I'll give you seventy-five dollars a week to begin with, if we come to an understanding. If you make good I'll make it a hundred dollars a week inside of three months. It all depends. The others we don't pay so much. The business manager can tell you."

Eugene noticed the evasion. His eyes narrowed. Still there was a good chance here. Seventy-five dollars was considerably better than fifty and it might lead to more. He would be his own boss – a man of some consequence. He could not help stiffening with pride a little as he looked at the room which Summerfield pointed out to him as his own if he came – a room where a large, highly polished oak desk was placed and where some of the Summerfield Advertising Company's art products were hung on the walls. There was a nice rug on the floor and some leather-backed chairs.

"Here's where you will be if you come here," said Summerfield.

Eugene gazed round. Certainly life was looking up. How was he to get this place? On what did it depend? His mind was running forward to various improvements in his affairs, a better apartment for Angela, better clothes for her, more entertainment for both of them, freedom from worry over the future; for a little bank account would soon result from a place like this.

"Do you do much business a year?" Eugene asked curiously.

"Oh, about two million dollars' worth."

"And you have to make drawings for every ad?"

"Exactly, not one but six or eight sometimes. It depends upon the ability of the art director. If he does his work right I save money."

Eugene saw the point.

"What became of the other man?" he asked, noting the name of Older Freeman on the door.

"Oh, he quit," said Summerville, "or rather he saw what was coming and got out of the way. He was no good. He was too weak. He was turning out work here which was a joke – some things had to be done over eight and nine times."

Eugene discovered the wrath and difficulties and opposition which went with this. Summerfield was a hard man, plainly. He might smile and joke now, but anyone who took that chair would hear from him constantly. For a moment Eugene felt as though he could not do it, as though he had better not try it, and then he thought, "Why shouldn't I? It can't hurt me. If worst comes to worst, I have my art to fall back on."

"Well, so it goes," he said. "If I don't make good, the door for mine, I suppose?"

"No, no, nothing so easy," chuckled Summerfield; "the coal chute."

Eugene noticed that he champed his teeth like a nervous horse, and that he seemed fairly to radiate waves of energy. For himself he winced the least bit. This was a grim, fighting atmosphere he was coming into. He would have to fight for his life here – no doubt of that.

"Now," said Summerfield, when they were strolling back to his own office. "I'll tell you what you might do. I have two propositions, one from the Sand Perfume Company and another from the American Crystal Sugar Refining Company which may mean big contracts for me if I can present them the right line of ideas for advertising. They want to advertise. The Sand Company wants suggestions for bottles, labels, car ads, newspaper ads, posters, and so on. The American Crystal Company wants to sell its sugar in small packages, powdered, grained, cubed, hexagoned. We want package forms, labels, posters ads, and so on for that. It's a question of how much novelty, simplicity and force we can put in the smallest possible space. Now I depend upon my art director to tell me something about these things. I don't expect him to do everything. I'm here and I'll help him. I have men in the trade aid department out there who are wonders at making suggestions along this line, but the art director is supposed to help. He's the man who is supposed to have the taste and can execute the proposition in its last form. Now suppose you take these two ideas and see what you can do with them. Bring me some suggestions. If they suit me and I think you have the right note, I'll hire you. If not, well then I won't, and no harm done. Is that all right?"

"That's all right," said Eugene.

Mr. Summerfield handed him a bundle of papers, catalogues, prospectuses, communications. "You can look these over if you want to. Take them along and then bring them back."

Eugene rose.

"I'd like to have two or three days for this," he said. "It's a new proposition to me. I think I can give you some ideas – I'm not sure. Anyhow, I'd like to try."

"Go ahead! Go ahead!" said Summerfield, "the more the merrier. And I'll see you any time you're ready. I have a man out there – Freeman's assistant – who's running things for me temporarily. Here's luck," and he waved his hand indifferently.

Eugene went out. Was there ever such a man, so hard, so cold, so practical! It was a new note to him. He was simply astonished, largely because he was inexperienced. He had not yet gone up against the business world as those who try to do anything in a big way commercially must. This man was getting on his nerves already, making him feel that he had a tremendous problem before him, making him think that the quiet realms of art were merely the backwaters of oblivion. Those who did anything, who were out in the front row of effort, were fighters such as this man was, raw products of the soil, ruthless, superior, indifferent. If only he could be that way, he thought. If he could be strong, defiant, commanding, what a thing it would be. Not to wince, not to quail, but to stand up firm, square to the world and make people obey. Oh, what a splendid vision of empire was here before him.

CHAPTER XXXIV

The designs or suggestions which Eugene offered his prospective employer for the advertising of the products of M. Sand et Cie and the American Crystal Sugar Refining Company, were peculiar. As has been indicated, Eugene had one of those large, effervescent intelligences which when he was in good physical condition fairly bubbled ideas. His imaginings, without any effort on his part, naturally took all forms and shapes. The call of Mr. Summerfield was for street car cards, posters and newspaper ads of various sizes, and what he wanted Eugene specifically to supply was not so much the lettering or rather wording of the ads as it was their artistic form and illustrative point: what one particular suggestion in the form of a drawing or design could be made in each case which would arrest public attention. Eugene went home and took the sugar proposition under consideration first. He did not say anything of what he was really doing to Angela, because he did not want to disappoint her. He pretended that he was making sketches which he might offer to some company for a little money and because it amused him. By the light of his green shaded working lamp at home he sketched designs of hands holding squares of sugar, either in the fingers or by silver and gold sugar tongs, urns piled high with crystalline concoctions, a blue and gold after-dinner cup with one lump of the new form on the side against a section of snow white table cloth, and things of that character. He worked rapidly and with ease until he had some thirty-five suggestions on this one proposition alone, and then he turned his attention to the matter of the perfumery.

His first thought was that he did not know all the designs of the company's bottles, but he originated peculiar and delightful shapes of his own, some of which were afterwards adopted by the company. He designed boxes and labels to amuse himself and then made various still-life compositions such as a box, a bottle, a dainty handkerchief and a small white hand all showing in a row. His mind slipped to the manufacture of perfume, the growing of flowers, the gathering of blossoms, the type of girls and men that might possibly be employed, and then he hurried to the great public library the next day to see if he could find a book or magazine article which would tell him something about it. He found this and several articles on sugar growing and refining which gave him new ideas in that direction. He decided that in each case he would put a beautifully designed bottle of perfume or a handsome package of sugar, say, in the upper right or lower left-hand corner of the design, and then for the rest show some scene in the process of its manufacture. He began to think of men who could carry out his ideas brilliantly if they were not already on his staff, letterers, character artists, men with a keen sense of color combination whom he might possibly hire cheaply. He thought of Jerry Mathews of the old Chicago Globe days – where was he now? – and Philip Shotmeyer, who would be almost ideal to work under his direction, for he was a splendid letterer, and Henry Hare, still of the World, with whom he had frequently talked on the subject of ads and posters. Then there was young Morgenbau, who was a most excellent character man, looking to him for some opportunity, and eight or ten men whose work he had admired in the magazines – the best known ones. He decided first to see what could be done with the staff that he had, and then to eliminate and fill in as rapidly as possible until he had a capable working group. He had already caught by contact with Summerfield some of that eager personage's ruthlessness and began to manifest it in his own attitude. He was most impressionable to things advantageous to himself, and this chance to rise to a higher level out of the slough of poverty in which he had so greatly suffered nerved him to the utmost effort. In two days he had a most impressive mass of material to show his prospective employer, and he returned to his presence with considerable confidence. The latter looked over his ideas carefully and then began to warm to his attitude of mind.

"I should say!" he said generously, "there's some life to this stuff. I can see you getting the five thousand a year all right if you keep on. You're a little new, but you've caught the drift." And he sat down to show him where some improvements from a practical point of view could be made.

"Now, professor," he said finally when he was satisfied that Eugene was the man he wanted, "you and I might as well call this a deal. It's pretty plain to me that you've got something that I want. Some of these things are fine. I don't know how you're going to make out as a master of men, but you might as well take that desk out there and we'll begin right now. I wish you luck. I really do. You're a live wire, I think."

Eugene thrilled with satisfaction. This was the result he wanted. No half-hearted commendation, but enthusiastic praise. He must have it. He always felt that he could command it. People naturally ran after him. He was getting used to it by now – taking it as a matter of course. If he hadn't broken down, curse the luck, think where he could have been today. He had lost five years and he was not quite well yet, but thank God he was getting steadily better, and he would try and hold himself in check from now on. The world demanded it.

He went out with Summerfield into the art room and was there introduced by him to the various men employed. "Mr. Davis, Mr. Witla; Mr. Hart, Mr. Witla; Mr. Clemens, Mr. Witla," so it went, and the staff was soon aware of who he was. Summerfield then took him into the next room and introduced him to the various heads of departments, the business manager who fixed his and his artists' salaries, the cashier who paid him, the manager of the ad writing department, the manager of the trade aid department, and the head of the stenographic department, a woman. Eugene was a little disgusted with what he considered the crassness of these people. After the quality of the art atmosphere in which he had moved these people seemed to him somewhat raw and voracious, like fish. They had no refinement. Their looks and manners were unduly aggressive. He resented particularly the fact that one canvasser with whom he shook hands wore a bright red tie and had on yellow shoes. The insistence on department store models for suits and floor-walker manners pained him.

 

"To hell with such cattle," he thought, but on the surface he smiled and shook hands and said how glad he would be to work with them. Finally when all the introductions were over he went back to his own department, to take up the work which rushed through here like a living stream, pellmell. His own staff was, of course, much more agreeable to him. These artists who worked for him interested him, for they were as he suspected men very much like himself, in poor health probably, or down on their luck and compelled to do this. He called for his assistant, Mr. Davis, whom Summerfield had introduced to him as such, and asked him to let him see how the work stood.

"Have you a schedule of the work in hand?" he asked easily.

"Yes, sir," said his new attendant.

"Let me see it."

The latter brought what he called his order book and showed him just how things worked. Each particular piece of work, or order as it was called, was given a number when it came in, the time of its entry marked on the slip, the name of the artist to whom it was assigned, the time taken to execute it, and so forth. If one artist only put two hours on it and another took it and put four, this was noted. If the first drawing was a failure and a second begun, the records would show all, the slips and errors of the office as well as its speed and capacity. Eugene perceived that he must see to it that his men did not make many mistakes.

After this order book had been carefully inspected by him, he rose and strolled about among the men to see how they were getting on. He wanted to familiarize himself at once with the styles and methods of his men. Some were working on clothing ads, some on designs illustrative of the beef industry, some on a railroad travel series for the street cars, and so forth. Eugene bent over each one graciously, for he wanted to make friends with these people and win their confidence. He knew from experience how sensitive artists were – how they could be bound by feelings of good fellowship. He had a soft, easy, smiling manner which he hoped would smooth his way for him. He leaned over this man's shoulder and that asking what the point was, how long a piece of work of that character ought to take, suggesting where a man appeared to be in doubt what he thought would be advisable. He was not at all certain of himself – this line of work being so new – but he was hopeful and eager. It was a fine sensation, this being a boss, if one could only triumph at it. He hoped to help these men to help themselves; to make them make good in ways which would bring them and him more money. He wanted more money – that five thousand, no less.

"I think you have the right idea there," he said to one pale, anæmic worker who looked as though he might have a lot of talent.

The man, whose name was Dillon, responded to the soothing, caressing tone of his voice. He liked Eugene's appearance, though he was not at all disposed to pass favorable judgment as yet. It was already rumored that he had had an exceptional career as an artist. Summerfield had attended to that. He looked up and smiled and said, "Do you think so?"

"I certainly do," said Eugene cheerfully. "Try a touch of yellow next to that blue. See if you don't like that."

The artist did as requested and squinted at it narrowly. "It helps it a lot, don't it," he observed, as though it were his own.

"It certainly does," said Eugene, "that's a good idea," and somehow Dillon felt as though he had thought of it. Inside of twenty minutes the whole staff was agreeing with itself that he was a nice man to all outward appearances and that he might make good. He appeared to be so sure. They little knew how perturbed he was inwardly, how anxious he was to get all the threads of this in his hand and to see that everything came to an ideal fruition. He dreaded the hour when he might have something to contend with which was not quite right.

Days passed at this new work and then weeks, and by degrees he grew moderately sure of himself and comparatively easy in his seat, though he realized that he had not stepped into a bed of roses. He found this a most tempestuous office to work in, for Summerfield was, as he expressed it, "on the job" early and late, and tireless in his insistence and enthusiasm. He came down from his residence in the upper portion of the city at eight-fifty in the morning and remained almost invariably until six-thirty and seven and not infrequently until eight and nine in the evening. He had the inconsiderate habit of keeping such of his staff as happened to be working upon the thing in which he was interested until all hours of the night; sometimes transferring his deliberations to his own home and that without dinner or the proffer of it to those whom he made to work. He would talk advertising with one big merchant or another until it was time to go home, and would then call in the weary members of his staff before they had time to escape and begin a long and important discussion of something he wanted done. At times, when anything went wrong, he would fly into an insane fury, rave and curse and finally, perhaps, discharge the one who was really not to blame. There were no end of labored and irritating conferences in which hard words and sarcastic references would fly about, for he had no respect for the ability or personality of anyone who worked for him. They were all more or less machines in his estimation and rather poorly constructed ones at that. Their ideas were not good enough unless for the time being they happened to be new, or as in Eugene's case displaying pronounced talent.

He could not fathom Eugene so readily, for he had never met anyone of his kind. He was looking closely in his case, as he was in that of all the others, to see if he could not find some weakness in his ideas. He had a gleaming, insistent, almost demoniac eye, a habit of chewing incessantly and even violently the stub end of a cigar, the habit of twitching, getting up and walking about, stirring things on his desk, doing anything and everything to give his restless, generative energy a chance to escape.

"Now, professor," he would say when Eugene came in and seated himself quietly and unobtrusively in some corner, "we have a very difficult thing here to solve today. I want to know what you think could be done in such and such a case," describing a particular condition.

Eugene would brace himself up and begin to consider, but rumination was not what Summerfield wanted from anyone.

"Well, professor! well! well!" he would exclaim.

Eugene would stir irritably. This was so embarrassing – in a way so degrading to him.

"Come to life, professor," Summerfield would go on. He seemed to have concluded long before that the gad was the most effective commercial weapon.

Eugene would then make some polite suggestion, wishing instead that he could tell him to go to the devil, but that was not the end of it. Before all the old writers, canvassers, trade aid men – sometimes one or two of his own artists who might be working upon the particular task in question, he would exclaim: "Lord! what a poor suggestion!" or "can't you do any better than that, professor?" or "good heavens, I have three or four ideas better than that myself." The best he would ever say in conference was, "Well, there may be something in that," though privately, afterwards, he might possibly express great pleasure. Past achievements counted for nothing; that was so plain. One might bring in gold and silver all day long; the next day there must be more gold and silver and in larger quantities. There was no end to the man's appetite. There was no limit to the speed at which he wished to drive his men. There was no limit to the venomous commercial idea as an idea. Summerfield set an example of nagging and irritating insistence, and he urged all his employees to the same policy. The result was a bear-garden, a den of prize-fighters, liars, cutthroats and thieves in which every man was for himself openly and avowedly and the devil take the hindmost.