One of the most compelling things about the series Mad Men is its success as a period piece. But unlike treatments of the more distant past, this is a period many of us remember. We remember it so well, that the series reminds us of how much we’ve forgotten — styles, attitudes, cigarette smoke, to name some of the obvious few.
Before we had moving pictures, there were tableaux vivants, a French phrase meaning “living pictures” in which costumed actors posed frozen in time without speaking, re-enacting a scene that painters and photographers could memorialize.
Meet Glen Ridge resident Ron Travisano. He is one of the vivants who steps out of the Mad Men tableau, except for two things: 1) he’s the real thing, not an actor; and 2) he had a major role in creating the era, not just participating in it.
It’s impossible to squeeze a career this large into a space this small, but let’s try. After a mere seven years in the ad business at various name agencies, Ron founded Della Femina, Travisano and Partners with eventual outspoken industry spokesman Jerry Della Femina. Two years later, the agency reached $20 million in billings, a number that rose to $250 million annually in the next 10 years.
The saga of how they got there is told in Della Femina’s iconoclastic book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor.” Travisano’s name appears on nearly every page. He is the art side of the equation. The key to their success was a combination of creativity and calculated risk-taking.
Travisano and his partner broke barriers. Creativity can be a kind of meritocracy. Two guys with names that ended in vowels were able to leap over the impenetrable walls that defined the industry because of soaring creativity. Blue Nun Wine, which featured talents Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara was their first account, followed by memorable campaigns for Isuzu (lying “Joey Isuzu”), Beck’s Beer, Chemical Bank, Dow Brands and many others, including their most famous commercial for Meow-Mix, spearheaded by Ron.
After his agency work, Ron moved on to create award-winning trailers and short films. He teaches advertising at Pratt Institute where he explains to his students that to be creative in a meaningful way you must immerse yourself in all kinds of creativity which is why he explores everything from opera to painting to ballet in his classes.
Mad Men may be going away, but not this man, mad with creativity. Meet him in Fitzgerald’s 1928 and ask him about how it was, is, and how it will continue to be. He’s the real thing