Oral History Cover Sheet
Interviewee: Donald Bright Buckley
Narrator: Jean McMillen
Tape #: 124 A & B
Place of Interview: 84 Main Street, Salisbury, CT
Date of Interview: Sept. 27, 2011
Summary of talk: Family background, career as ad man, environmentalist, model builder, diorama of Salisbury & Lakeville, antique dealer, Warner House 84 Main St., Salisbury, CT, Congregational Church, and author
Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, CT 06068
JM: May I have your full name?
DB: Donald Bright Buckley, 440423 Lieutenant Jr. Grade, United States Navy
JM: Where were you born and the date?
DB: February 4, 1924, in Memphis, Tennessee, by complete accident. My family was on a business trip.
JM: Could you give me a thumbnail sketch of your background?
DB: Well, that’s going to take a bit of thought. My family was in Washington, DC for five generations. My granddad was publisher of the United States Supreme Court. That meant that the Justices would send him their handwritten opinions; he would put them into type before the time that they were delivered on the floor of the court. My great grandfather got the Congressional Medal at the Second Battle at Bull Run.
At the age of six, my total life revolved around music. That’s all I wanted to do. I practiced not because I had to, but because I loved it. By the time I was twelve, I had my own band, “Don Buckley and His Buccaneers.” We first started playing at high school proms. But we got pretty good; the next thing we knew I was playing at the Sharm, the Willard, and for Treasury Department dances. I kept music as my prime life and a couple times where other kids of my generation ran away with the circus, I ran away with the big bands. Finally Granddad made peace with me and said, “Look, I’ll stop having the Pinkerton men bring you home, if you’ll agree to go to college and get a degree.”
I said, “That’s fine, but the thing I want to do is to go to Duke, because the Duke Ambassadors is the number one college jazz band by the Downbeat Magazine Poll year after year. I’ll go to Duke and get your degree; then I want to go to Julliard and get mine.” “Fair enough.” So I managed to land the feature tenor sax role with the Ambassadors. We were courted by quite a few schools as well as Duke. MCA heard us and offered us a guaranteed billed contract as soon as we all came home because all of us were in one form of the reserve or another. I was a Naval ROTC Cadet. While I was at Duke I also wrote two musical comedies: one called “Stand By” and the other “Too Many Goodbyes”. They were both wartime romance themes. Anyway, we graduated. We all went to war; out of 16 of us only 8 came back. That ended my love for music as a performer.
At any rate, I did serve in the Pacific on a Destroyer as a Fighter Director Officer. It was very fortunate that BUPERS, Bureau of Personnel, decided that orchestral musicians were best qualified for intercept officer, aircraft intercept, because they simultaneously could sense melody, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and lyrics. The many facets of an air intercept to get an enemy airplane required the ability to address many things at once. So I lucked out. Instead of my class getting Amphibs, I got Destroyer duty on a great ship. We were the first ship into Nagoya in Japan. My favorite story is that my Commanding Officer, Norman Smith, was a great guy. His wife sent him a scrambled egg hat when he got his promotion from Lieutenant Commander to Full Commander. He opened the package one night in the Ward Room and said, “Gentlemen, I will not wear this hat until we sail into Tokyo Bay!”
Finally the magic day came; I was on the Bridge with Frank Zamboni, the Gun Boss, and out came Norman Smith in his dress up blues with all of his ribbons and his beautiful scrambled egg hat. There we were sailing into the dawn with Fujiyama in the distance and every hair on his head was standing straight. A gull came up over the bow of the Destroyer on an air current. It came up over the Bridge and suddenly there stood Commander Smith with gull drippings all over the front of his scrambled egg hat. He said, “Mr. Slaymaker, relieve me and take the con.” He went below and came back in a little while in his dirty old steaming khakis and his tattooed old steaming hat. He said “Full speed ahead. Steady as you go, and gentlemen, that was the last damn Jap kamikaze!”
JM: What a wonderful story!
DB: Well, he was quite a guy. So I came home and it turned out that the six offers I had for jobs had all been withdrawn because America was on strike. I did have a chance to cut the umbilical cord and move to Wilmington, Delaware, as a public relations guy at the Blue Cross Plan. I wrote all of their letters, brochures and things of this sort. That was just a sampling of what I wanted to do. Then a job opened up with a tiny little advertising agency in Wilmington: I got the job as “the copy department.” I had to bring in business. It was a stop-gap situation. My resumé went out all over the place. Finally BINGO! I got an offer from Vansant, Dugdale in Baltimore which was a very well-known regional advertising agency.
Three wonderful things happened to me there. First, I learned from one client about true patriotism, from the boss, about being a gentleman and ethics, and from a man I worked with, a new technique that I had no idea I would ever master. First guy was Steve Wilson; he was President of the FRAM Corporation. When war broke out Pearl Harbor Day, he called the White House and said, the facilities of the FRAM Corporation are available to the United States Government for the duration, at no profit.” On VJ Day he called in his accountants and said “I want a summation of all of our activities during the war.” It turned out they made about $250,000 profit. He wrote out a check for that amount and drove down to Washington and presented it in person to Harry Truman.
JM: Oh my word!
DB: Wilbur Vansant was the traditional Maryland gentleman, owner of Vansant, Dugdale. He was offered a tobacco account, and he said, “Gentlemen, I believe in the power of my business: I don’t believe in your product. Were I to accept your statement, your account, it would make us a lot of money, but I would have to lie to you or to me. I’m sorry. I can’t take your business.”
JM: A gentleman with ethics.
DB: Exactly. The other thing was I had the Fram Oil Filter account. In those days it was not standard equipment on a car. You had to add it and it was quite an after-market advertised commodity. The problem was, in those days, there were no self-service gas stations. Kids from high school or college had jobs pumping gas. They were not learning very fast on how to install oil filters. So I had this crazy idea – let’s give them training manuals that look like comic books. There was a very famous cartoonist, Will Eisner, who had a strip called “The Spirit” which was in all the Sunday papers. So I made a contract with Will; we made this series of comic books just like his Spirit comic characters, called “Hoods Up.” In the narrative of pretty blondes coming into the service station and all that sort of stuff, it taught the kids how to put on an oil filter. Well later in my career that was going to be more than I ever dreamed it could be.
Anyway, I was in Baltimore and loved it for four years until I discovered that the Executive Vice President was earning only a couple thousand dollars more than I, and I was barely making it. So, again I started a job search. Stockton, West, Burkhart in Cincinnati was a very good agency. They doubled my salary but the big thing was I could understudy the copy chief there, named Ran West, who was an absolute genius and great teacher in the art of persuasion and copy. So I went out there as Assistant Copy Chief. I worked on Hude pohl Beer, Red Cross Shoes, Chun King Chow Mein, all sorts of things and enjoyed it immensely.
Another great story…Gino Palluchi was the President of Chun King Chow Mein. He and I got to know each other pretty well and he loved to gamble. Well, across the river in Cincinnati was the Beverly Hills Country Club. It was a great casino. Gino was coming into town, and I was going to take him to dinner after a meeting and go across the river. The night before he arrived I dreamed all night long “black 17, black 17, black 17.” So Gino arrived and we had a very successful business meeting. We went across the river to Beverly Hills, went into the casino, bought $100 worth of chips. In those days that was a lot of money. I kept playing black 17, black 17 – not once. I gave up and was leaving the table and a croupier came to me and said “Monsieur, I am so sorry you were not here last night. It came for me every time – black 17, black 17.” That’s when I learned that ESP is good but timing is better.
JM: So true!
DB: At any rate, it turned out that, just as when I was in Wilmington, “Do you work for the company?” and if you didn’t work for Dupont you were nobody. In Cincinnati, “Do you work for the company?” and if you didn’t work for Proctor & Gamble you just weren’t quite acceptable.
I loved Cincinnati. I joined the Masons there. I was doing very well with the agency but I knew that it was time for me to move on because my dream had always been Madison Avenue. Well, I went to New York on an interview trip and through a friend that I had developed at Vansant, Dugdale who was now working in New York, he sent me to several people and I ended up talking to Charlie Brower who was the first American with the title of “Vice President In Charge Of All Creation.” Charlie decided that since I knew music, I knew theater, I knew copy – he wanted a shock team lead by one copy group head that was unassigned to a definite account but only worked with him on troubles and would I like the job? I said, “You betcha my life!” And with a certain doubling of salary again.
By the time I had moved out of Cincinnati and sold the house, rented an apartment on 63rd Street, the copy chief on the Schenley account was rushed to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. So guess who had to take over the Schenley Account. I learned very quickly how he got his bleeding ulcer. Lou Rosenthial was the man who was addressed only as “Mr. Chairman”. He was quite a bombastic and pushy man who had the unfortunate belief in magic. He had heard that the Nazis had talking dogs so he sent a Vice President to Europe to investigate what had happened. It turns out that they had an amplifying thing in their collars so that when they barked it sounded like it. The Vice President came back and told him and was immediately fired because he hadn’t done a good job.
So he then sent the account executive from BBDO to Latin America to bring him back 100 parrots. The reason being that there was a law in New York that you could not have a brand advertisement in a liquor store. You could say “Gin makes nice summer coolers” but you couldn’t say whose. However, he had a B-blend, that’s a second level blend, called Corby. The trademark of Corby’s was a parrot. His primary advertising vehicle up to then had been the asbestos curtain on every birdless theater in the East had an ad for Corby’s with a picture of the parrot. But he thought if he could get parrots back, they could teach them to say “Corby’s”. Then he could put one in the liquor store, he could get around the law and push his brand.
JM: That was a clever idea.
DB: Well, it was totally against the law. One morning we discovered that at the Empire State Building a whole floor of the Schenley offices had been cleared. There were 100 cages in there with parrots, a trainer walking around in there with puttees and a crop saying “Corby’s, bawk, Corby’s”. Well nothing happened for a week. Rosenthial was a very impatient man. He said “Gentlemen they’re going to talk Corby’s in another week or you gotta go!” One morning we discovered that the Empire State Building on that floor, all the windows were open and all the cages were empty. All the parrots had flown out over New York. That is why for years thereafter you saw sightings of parrots in Central Park. Well I had to go from there.
Warwick & Legler was trying to solicit the Revlon Account. They decided that since I knew how to make comic books, I could make storyboards. This was in the infancy of television; it was an art that nobody knew how to do. Well, I did. I made it with Charles Revson who was one of the toughest guys in the world to work for. I had the world’s record of survival on the Revlon Account for eight years.
JM: That’s remarkable.
DB: But the problem was when I was on the Schenley Account they had a sales manager named Irwin Swann. We had a chemical problem; he kept screaming at us at meetings and swearing at us in Yiddish. In one meeting I’d had it, and I answered him in Yiddish. By the time I walked back to BBDO I said “I think I’m in trouble.” He said, “Yes, you are. So why don’t you get your resumé out. Take your time and do a little work, you know.” The owner of the Schenley Account, Charles Brower, hired Irwin Swann as his leading account executive: I knew right then and there I couldn’t stay at Warwick & Legler. I went to this important flesh peddler in New York, Jerry Fields, a job head hunter and I presented my problem. He said, “I know just what we’re going to do. You’re gonna go to Grey as Associate Creative Director on the Revlon Account.” I said, “I can’t do that! There’s a non-compete clause. They can’t hire me because I’m working on it with all these other agencies.” He said, “Nope. You’re gonna resign and go to Jamaica for a month with all expenses paid and come back and miraculously get a job with Grey.” I said, “How do I know this is gonna work?” and he said, “Because you’ve got my guarantee.” Well that’s how I got to Grey. Grey was wonderful. I had the full reign of the Revlon Account, but I had three live television shows a week. I was working incredible hours and into the night because all of the commercials then were live. It was the $64,000 Question and the $64,000 Challenge and the Walter Winchell File and then the Big Party which was one of the first variety shows.
So when they were going to launch the Big Party, Charles wanted an ad saying that the first performance had been a huge success. So I took in an ad that showed a bunch of people blurred clapping their hands against the night skyline of New York and it said “The show that umpteen thousands have applauded.” He said, “That’s great! I want to see photographs on Monday.” I said, “Charles I can’t get a guy to do this over the weekend.” “I said I want to see photographs on Monday!” Well I’ve been a hobbyist photographer for some time; I had a dark room in my apartment at Sutton Place. I got a bunch of friends in, got them a few drinks. I had some black seamless paper and punched holes in it and put lights behind it so it looked like a skyline. I got them down on their knees and had them clap their hands over their heads. I shot it with a tenth of second to give it a little blur, printed that, and took it to him Monday morning. He said, “Fine. Print it.” But I had to bill him. How could I bill him without it being a conflict of interest in the agency? So I went down to City Hall and found a disbarred lawyer who was helping people get licenses. Suddenly I was Jon Bright, Photographer. I ran it as a sideline from thereafter, and I made quite a little bit of money on the side.
JM: Good for you!
DB: But finally I had it with Revlon; I just had to get off of it. Grey wanted me to stay so they took me off and made me Associate Creative Director of the whole agency. And I did Proctor & Gamble, I did General Foods and a lot of big accounts including Milk Wave Lilt for Proctor & Gamble. The commercials were done on the Miss Universe Pageant which meant I had to go to Florida every July.
JM: Perfect timing.
DB: Oh boy. I remember one time the commercial was starring, uh…I can’t remember her name…a Julius Caruso hairdresser…Ida Lupino! Well she was five inches taller than Julius so we had to build a runway that he could walk down so that they would look the same height. He also couldn’t say permanent, it was “permanent.” It was a disaster but we managed to get through the shows. At one point then one of the top headhunters in New York began talking to me about wanting me to go to Foot, Cone, Belding as Executive Vice President Creative Director. I said “No way. I’m happy at Grey.” Well the meetings went on, the stock went up, and the cash went up. Finally it got to the point where you couldn’t say no. I hated to leave Bernie because we were the closest of friends, we were like brothers, but we talked it over. He said, “Buck, you gotta do it!” So I did. I found that my predecessor had not been told he was fired and that I was coming in to replace him. It was very difficult because he was also a friend of mine.
JM: Oh my.
DB: But that was a lesson on Madison Avenue.
JM: Now what brought you up here?
DB: I’ll get to that shortly.
DB: At any rate, we worked that out and I said to them “I cannot rebuild the agency without firing the dead wood. But if you do it, you’ve got to take care of them with good pensions.” So I got rid of 30 people and I hired 50. Suddenly we’re winning awards, we’re winning Cleos. We did the Contac time pills, we did the Frito Bandito. I was really loving it, but the pressure was unbelievable. So I bought a stone farmhouse in Woodstock, New York, as a weekend retreat. I spent every weekend there a long time. I worked out a deal where I would commute in every Monday morning and out on Friday at noon.
But we had Savarin Coffee, I did the el Eccejenti Campaign. Foot, Cone, Belding was a strange outfit that had three different offices. New York was Emerson Foot, Chicago was Fairfax Cone and Los Angeles was Don Belding. There was a strange interrelationship but the idea was that the New York agency could have an account that was competitive to one that could be in Chicago or LA. We had Savarin Coffee in New York and LA had Hills Coffee. So Fairfax Cone who was a legendary difficult man, came in to have a conference on how I had restructured the creative department to bring it up to the hot agencies in town. We went over the plan and he said, “Well tell me about Savarin.” I said, “I don’t think I should because what am I going to tell our clients if I am talking to you about Savarin and you’re talking about Hills? That’s a conflict of interest and I would rather not sir.” He got up, said, “Thank you” and I knew at that moment I was dead.
We were threatened with the loss of the TWA account because it was a hip-pocket thing where they were not getting good advertising. I went to the President of the New York office, a great guy and said “I want $350,000 I alone I can spend. We are going to put together the damnedest airline campaign that’s ever been done. We’re going to save this account.” He agreed; I bought the rights to “Up, up and away” and did the campaign. We produced every commercial and every print ad in advance. I rented the Ritzolli Theatre and turned the lobby part, the lounge portion, into looking like an aircraft interior. Their whole Board of Directors came, and we said, “Gentlemen, you entertain us on your flights, now we are going to entertain you on one of ours.” The presentation went for four hours including being served lunch with the stewardesses from the New York office.
DB: Tillinghast, the President, came up and said, “I have two questions.” I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “Do you have a pen and a contract?” 17 Million Bucks!
DB: And that was a lot of money then.
JM: Oh yes. It still is.
DB: Well a year later, TWA was having real internal problems because of the competitiveness of various different departments. They hired an efficiency expert who said “Well the first thing you gotta do is to get rid of the agency.” We were fired. Fairfax Cone chose that as an opportunity to fire me and one hundred of my people – on the street by five o’clock losing all benefits, all stocks, all pensions.
JM: Oh my.
DB: So I went to my Woodstock retreat and I finished the parts of the textbook that I wrote for McGraw-Hill on Advertising Management. Bernie, my old pal from Grey, who had left Grey and started his own consulting firm said, “Come on – let’s make it Cohn Buckley Associates.” So we did. We were the first boutique working only with top management on the creation of new products and the doctoring of sick advertising campaigns.
So Bernie and I, with a good art director and two good secretaries, were doing all kinds of things on heavy retainers, having a ball and working for big time clients – General Foods, Proctor & Gamble, etc & etc. Bernie was way out on margin in the stock mess, just about 1970, a little before that. Then to get out of it, he wanted to expand. I said, “Bernie, what you’re doing is recreating the advertising business and that’s what we tried to get out of. “Well, Buck, I’ve got to. I need the money.” I said, “Look, if you want to do it I’m not gonna stand in your way, but I ain’t going with ya.”
So I went to my farm in Woodstock having just been divorced after a twenty year marriage to an alcoholic narcissist. I started the Bucks Foundation for the Survival of Man which was an environmental research organization with a small organic farm as a learning experience for the stewardship of the planet. I was writing stories for Mother Earth News and doing all kinds of wonderful experiments in organic farming but became terribly alarmed at our inability to store nuclear waste. I set out there to make a dent in it.
Well the American Federation of Advertising Agencies asked me to come out to Hawaii and speak to their convention with the subject the environment or the economy or both? I was pointing out things that American business could do. I was green before Kermit. Well, it got me into all kinds of trouble. Then the Woodstock Festival happened: It totally changed the town. It had been a town of writers, musicians, artists, legitimate. The festival actually happened sixty miles away but ever since then you’d find these junked up guys running around town looking for where it happened. It just changed the town and I said, “That’s it!”
I was also on Nixon’s list, the FBI list, the CIA list as a malcontent about nuclear energy. I said, “Well, I’ll shut up now.” But I took a compass and I drew a fifty mile circle around every single place that there was an existing or a proposed plant and I said “I want to move beyond where that is.” The only place in Southern New England is the northwest corner of Connecticut because I stopped the nuclear reactor at Cementon on the Hudson River by getting the Bard students all upset and that’s what brought me here.
The Sand Road which had been a kennel and started a small farm there which continued the work of the Foundation. I had an idea with a friend of mine at Woodstock who was a builder. We were going to start a community that was totally solar powered mini-farms and we knew that with this land and he had the plans for the houses and I went over to have a meeting with him about it and he said, “How’s the divorce going?” and I said, “Ugh! She keeps not showing up and my accounts are frozen and it just goes on and on! I just want it over with!” And he said, “That’s what I hear from everybody. He says so and so and so and so and Gloria Jennings” and I said “What?!” Well, she was an old friend of mine from Woodstock. She and her husband and my former wife and I socialized together and I taught her daughter to shoot a bow and arrow when she was three. She was a very intelligent, attractive, nice lady and I called her up and said, “Now that we’re both single, how would you like to have lunch with an old friend?”
JM: Well, good for you!
DB: Well, I didn’t know what fireworks were going to happen because that’s when it all happened and it’s been thirty some years of a very great marriage.
JM: And how wonderful for both of you!
DB: Yeah, well, we both got bailed on. Anyway, I thought it was time to get the hell out of the environmental business and we wanted an encore career that we could share together and we were both antiques collectors and she had had a very exclusive women’s shop and I had been in the advertising business so between her merchandising experience and my advertising experience we took a year off and we studied colonial American antiques. And opened Buckley & Buckley Antiques.
JM: A business made in Heaven.
DB: Yup! At the same time, I was trying to study Wallace Nutting – he was one of our all-time experts – who believed that you didn’t really understand an antique until you tried to duplicate it. Then if you went through the procedures and understood the nuances and the whys, then you knew about the antique. He had a big shop, but I didn’t. Having been a model builder all my life, I started copying antiques in miniature. Bingo! We had a second business – Don Buckley Custom Miniatures. I became a Fellow of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. I taught at their summer seminars in Castine, Maine. We were doing miniature shows and antique shows. Gloria said “We can’t keep this up on Sand Road in Canaan. We gotta have a place that has a … Let’s move.” Well Bingo! Here’s this house on Main Street in Salisbury that was built by Captain Coffing and was previously occupied by Judge Warner and it’s on the market!
We looked at it, and we got a contractor who said, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! So much has to be done!” We passed. Then a binder got signed on it and we died! The binder fell through, and we went back to Ginny Borden and said “Could we go take a look again?” She said, “Well here are the keys, but you’re crazy!” At any rate we did buy it with another contractor and had major, major restorations done to it. We have been here for 32 years. Of all the 10 places I have lived in this world of mine, this is where I am the happiest and most at home.
So that’s how we got here where we are. I was a founding member of the Housatonics. Dave Heck and I both started a thing called the “Iron Yankees of the CNE.” We were trying to build an entire model of the CNE Railroad operation. We had some helpers at first, but it ended up that Dave built the Lakeville model and I built the Salisbury model both of which are in the Library.
Then I was Chairman of the Deacons at the Congregational Church and Gloria was head of the Ushers Committee. We have been fairly active in the town affairs, but the pressure of the business for most of those 30 years kept us having to work more than seniors perhaps should. At this point, the antiques business is absolutely dead. It’s not merely the economy, it’s the “Road Show.” What once was the custom of the antiques business being knowledgeable dealers assisting dedicated collectors to build collections is now some guy that lucked out at a tag sale and got something like a Rock Star’s underpants for a million dollars.
JM: Tell me a little bit more about the Salisbury Diarama.
DB: Well, uh, you remember Jimmy Dubois?
JM: Oh definitely!
DB: Well, Jimmy was like my walking source of what really was going on prior to World War I. I found it fascinating that Shagroy, which is now Labonne’s, was an immense stable. We learned what buildings were here, what buildings weren’t here, and I tried then to reconstruct from old photographs and from Jimmy’s description each of the buildings that existed. I am told that there is some glaring error there – that I am 50 years off on this or on that, but for the most part it’s what Salisbury looked like before it became really gentrified. The model of the Town Hall is the one with pillars, thank you, the original one with pillars.
JM: And what year would that be? The town that you created?
DB: I tried to make it late 19th century.
JM: So it would be the same time frame as when Judge Warner…?
DB: Yeah, yeah. I never really knew Judge Warner. It’s just that he had owned this house before we had. He had left it in the care of his spinster sisters who lived in smaller and smaller portions of it closing the house down which is why it was in such need of work. It had also been Victorianized. We wanted to try to bring it back to its true look of the late 18th century. The first thing was that it had gigantic cast-iron radiators everywhere! So we took them out and with Frank Perotti, worked out a rather unique heating system, whereby we put in a hot water boiler system in the basement and then ran piping to air handlers so that we didn’t have to have duct work going through an 18th century structure. The air handlers in the basement supply the heat in the first floor and the air handlers in the attic supply the heat in the second floor. There was a tremendous Victorian arch between the living room and the dining room. We ripped that out, I designed a wall for the living room of raised paneling and it looks like it’s been here forever. We are sitting right now in the Keeping Room which was the Judge’s Library. When we were doing restoration here, ripping out a lot of the things, people would come here and say, “You’re not changing the mantel!” Because everybody had tea or coffee or something with the Judge in this room, by this bookcase. So the cherry mantel has this motto on it “Old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust.” I think it is a reproduction of what was there before the fire in 1918.
DB: But nevertheless, that is the original cooking fireplace of the Keeping Room. We designed the kitchen around it. All of the cabinetry is cherry, matching the fire mantel. We spend a majority of our time in this room.
JM: I can see why.
DB: Well it’s comfortable and it’s got a lot of possibilities. You can do a lot of different things in it.
JM: A multipurpose room!
DB: Yes. Yes. John Mulville was the builder who helped us do a majority of the work. I remember I looked and it’s a center chimney here. The center chimney had one in this room, one in the living room, and one in what is now the library which was sealed when the oil burner was put in so they could use that flue. Then there’s one in the master bedroom and one in the guest bedroom. So there were five fireplaces on the center chimney. It’s like 18 feet square in the basement with an Indian room.
JM: Now what is an Indian room?
DB: It’s so they could crawl in there when the houses burned down. Not very comfortable – I mean you gotta get on your hands and knees and your belly. Well, at any rate, I looked at this stach which was kind of a mess. I got a guy in to look at it and I said, “Well, can you fix it?” He said, “Oh yeah.” I said, “Can you do it without hurting the roof?” He said, “It doesn’t matter – you need a new roof anyway.”
DB: So a new roof, a new heating system, a total, total rewiring, and new floors, but they are 18th century lumber which is sold by the inch.
JM: Yes, it would be.
DB: They have no polyurethane on them. They have only Butcher’s wax. Twice a year it gets a coat.
JM: Is it a stone foundation?
DB: The house?
JM: Um huh.
DB: It is carved into stone. Half of it is into a cliff and the rest of it is laid up stone. We had a so-called expert come in to try to help us determine the true age of the house. She concluded that the new wing built in 1813 was the original house, and this was added to it. She was totally, totally wrong. We do know that that wing was added in 1813, and this house Captain Coffing built in the late 18th century.
So I don’t know how much longer we are going to operate the antiques business. Both of us have survived cancer twice. I am 87 and Gloria is 79. I had an old war injury – bone chips in my right wrist and it started to grow a cyst around it so I decided to have something done about it. He decided to give me a carpal tunnel syndrome freebie while he was at it. It was a total failure; I was in utter agony and unable to use my hand. They put me on heavy doses of ibuprofen and I hemorrhaged. They took me to the hospital. They said “Guess what? You have colon cancer!”
JM: Oh lovely!
DB: But since we found it fast and first instead of …
JM: Later and longer…
DB: Instead of revenge I sent him a thank-you note for the early detection. Gloria had advanced Hodgkins 20 years ago. She went through 15 months of chemotherapy and then a couple years ago she had lung cancer and had surgery. But both of us are fairly religious people, and we think where the medicine didn’t work, He did.
JM: God is watching over special people. That makes a lot of sense.
JM: Speaking of religion, tell us a little bit about the Congregational Church and your activities there.
DB: Well, I was a Christian Scientist as a child. As I matured I had differences with the degree of dependence solely on religion and the rejection of gifts that He had given to people – like medical knowledge. I couldn’t accept the fact that beauty wasn’t real. So for a long time I became unaffiliated. In World War II BUPERS failed to assign a chaplain to our Destroyer. Because I was the only officer on his ship who made the crew pray before going into General Quarters, I was appointed the Chaplain. I had to bury men at sea. In Baltimore, I decided I wanted to get involved so I joined the Unitarian Church there and found out that I was fronting, because I was our communications director, I was fronting the largest communist cell in Baltimore.
JM: Oh lucky you!
DB: So I dropped out of that and continued to be unaffiliated until we got here. Just at about the time that Dick came, I thought the whole Pilgrim concept of a self-governing congregation appeals to me.
JM: And you mean Dick Taber?
DB: Yup. The fact that you don’t have no Pope, you don’t have no Vatican, you don’t have no Deacons…
JM: You don’t have a hierarchy.
DB: I liked that. So we tried it. Dick and I immediately had a relationship, and the first thing I know I was a Freshman Deacon. There was a powerful and wealthy member of the Church who wanted to replace Dick with a crony of his own. He waited until Dick was on his first sabbatical to attack him and even Joanne in her Sunday School. I got a letter of endorsement from the Board of Deacons and Board of Trustees and 50 members of the congregation. The gentleman withdrew and left the church and Dick survived.
JM: And he has just been made..
DB: He served the church for 27 years. So then I got a second term as Chairman of the Deacons. I did some things that he and I had been trying to accomplish for a long time. It used to be that Communion was prepared and cleaned up by the women and served by the men. I said, “No way! We are going to equally prepare, we are going to equally serve it and we are going to equally clean it up.” That was considered highly controversial.
JM: It would be.
DB: The Family album for the church was a terrible job done by a commercial outfit. Dick was unhappy with it. I said “OK.” Old ad man goes to work. I wrote it, I laid it out, I set up a photo studio in the Sunday School area, and anybody who couldn’t make it to the commercial, I did it and I produced that. I was working pretty much full time with the church and very much as Dick’s right-hand.
DB: I missed him terribly. I have misgivings about some of the functions of the UCC. It’s as though we have invented our own Vatican. I think we are giving up too much of our own control of the church. In that he was not allowed any contact with the church when he retired. It’s a rule to allow the interim or new pastor to be settled without competition.
JM: But that’s the United Church of Christ. That’s not the Congregational Church as it was originally.
DB: No, but
JM: But you are now part of the…
DB: The Congregational Church is now the same thing. At any rate, there was an interim Pastor, Steve (Austin),
JM: Steve who?
DB: Uh…I can’t think of his last name. He was openly gay and kind of opinionated but he did a good job as an interim until we got Diane Monte-Contania and she is wonderful! She is absolutely great! Her enthusiasm and her love of what she’s doing. Dick was a great pastor in the way he did things other than the pulpit. He was not a spellbinding preacher.
JM: No he was not, but he was a wonderful comforter.
DB: Exactly! Now that he has been made Pastor Emeritus, he is back within the family of the church, and I think that his ability to back Diane is a wonderful, wonderful…
JM: It’s a good combination.
DB: Great combination. Great combination.
JM: Is there anything that you would like to add this interview that we haven’t covered because we’ve got about 10 minutes left.
DB: Gee I can’t think of anything really that’s uh…I think I’ve covered a lot. You know, I’ve done so much in my life. I was a musician, I was an ad man, I was an environmentalist, I was an organic farmer, I was an antiques dealer, I was a miniaturist and I was an author! I forgot! I wrote a book!
JM: Tell us about the book.
DB: I wrote a book called Ad Man in the Garden of Eden: it’s a tell-all about the Golden Age in the advertising business. I do not dare self-publish it because I blow the whistle on some very important people. I’ve got to have a major publishing house behind me with a legal department. Some of the leading families of New York are involved.
JM: Ah! That would be a little dicey!
DB: It’s a little dicey. At any rate, it’s all done about the story from the beginning of when I got out of the service until I left the business and did the farming. But the thing that I like about it, in the first chapter, is the similarity between the Ad Man and Adam that they both would have been a lot better off if they had read the sign “Watch out for snakes!”
JM: We’ll leave it there and thank you so very much for your time.
DB: Well thank you very much. I appreciate it.