George Lois, 60s Ad Man
I was born with balls. I grew up in the Bronx, in a racist Irish Catholic neighborhood. I was Greek, so they treated me like I was black. I felt like an outsider, but I kicked the shit out of every Irish kid in my neighborhood — I didn’t take shit from anybody.
When I was 14, I was lucky enough to have a teacher, Miss Engel, who sent me to the High School of Music and Art. One of the classes was a design course, where you’d cut out triangles or squares and make a design out of them. It was kind of mindless. The last class of the term, we were given a big rectangular piece of paper and told to make a design of rectangles out of it. Everyone was working frantically, and I just stared out the window. When the teacher, Mr. Patterson, came to collect the assignment, I signed the lower corner of my blank sheet of paper: G. Lois. I wondered if he understood: I’d just given him one pure rectangle.
The next day, three teachers told me how much they loved it. It really was an epiphany. It made me understand that you haven’t accomplished anything if your answer to any design or advertising problem isn’t a surprise. Everything you do has to be memorable. It’s not enough just to do great work — it’s about talent, salesmanship, and a sense of theater.