“Give it to the monkeys in the back!”

eVERYONE should have somebody like Adie Marks as their first boss.

Adie, to whom only death brought retirement (last week, at the age of 91), was one of the great ad men of the 20th century.

Forget about Doyle, Dane and Bernbach. It’s all about Adie. With Seymour “Slugger” Cohen, he started Gulf State Advertising in Houston, and for 30 years he was the go-to guy for anyone in town who had something to sell.

For example, when a local shoe retailer realized, with horror, that his son had ordered too many children’s shoes by a factor of 10, he went to Adie’s office, and sat in chair while Adie pumped him for details. Marks ran the place like a doctor’s office, with one appointment after another. He did house calls, but most clients enjoyed going there.

Adie would sketch on a big pad while listening to the client, and when he was happy with an idea he’d turn the pad around, and watch the client’s reaction. The headline was written, the type was comped, and the illustration was drawn well enough anyone could get the point. Adie would keep sketching until the ad was approved. On the spot. Then he would walk the client to the door, and drop the sketch off in the art department on the way back to his office. The art director, usually Harry, the chief of the department, would do a finished drawing himself or grab some stock photos out of the filing cabinet, call the type into the typesetter, and by the end of the day have the artwork ready for engraving—or, better, in Adie’s view, for the silkscreen printer to run up billboards.

Adie loved media that didn’t have the high market cost of TV time and newspaper space. (Later, he loved the Internet.) A big campaign might include bus placards, sidewalk benches, sides of milk cartons, even dry cleaner hanger wrappers. As Houston’s new freeways began clogging up with cars in the 60s boom, billboards were perfect local advertising.

For the shoe retailer, overnight, billboards appeared all over Houston with a cute cartoon of a chorus line of children’s feet wearing all different styles of shoes, and the big headline, "Bless Their Little Soles." Corny, but it made the store the children’s shoes market leader for a decade.

*     *     *

Adie’s wife, Jo, is an actress and theater impresario who I met while volunteering on the launch of the Pacifica radio station in 1970. I was 21, and since have aged horribly. Jo, however, has not changed at all, and led, with fire in her eyes, the station’s advisory board through two bombings by the Ku Klux Klan (I am not making this up). The Klan hated Jo for among other things, bringing a delegation from Houston to join in the historic civil rights march in Selma, in 1965. I am not sure Adie was on that march, but he was a great proponent of equality. Equal rights for all.

Jo showed him the posters I did for KPFT, with big underground cartoons of armadillos and things on one side, and the monthly program guide on the other. And evidently he liked them. When I got back from a summer job at KPFA, the original Pacifica station in Berkeley, redesigning their program guide (and then finding them a new editor, after the original editor quit over the design), Adie called me and asked me to come down to his ad agency to talk about a job. It was the last thing I was looking for, advertising, but after failing to start a magazine or stop the war in Vietnam, I needed a job.

I put together a portfolio, gluing pages I’d designed onto colored Arches paper. It was horrible, and I’ve never made another portfolio, but when I showed it Adie, he kind of liked it. He asked me why I wanted to be a designer, and I gave him a song-and-dance about the joy I derived from putting type and pictures together on a page and seeing it printed and sent out to hundreds and thousands of people.

Adie said, “That’s funny, I’m in it for the money”

I took a job for $113 a week, which seemed like enough. When I mentioned that number to another Gulf State Advertising alumnus from the era, she said that was a lot more than she made, which made me feel bad. Adie was sweet and smart, but oh so cheap, except for the horses.

His sharp sense of economy was built during the lean years of the depression, and the war, and the early post-war years when, everyone has forgotten, middle-class children drank their milk out of old jelly jars.

His family moved from Waco to Houston when he was a kid, and to make some money of his own, Adie started hand-lettering posters for local stores. He made enough to buy some silk screen frames and he would cut out the friskets by hand and print one- and two-color posters. The managers at the race track, Alameda Downs, now long gone, saw some of them, and tracked down Adie and hired him to print 500 four-color posters—a rush order.

Adie took the advance and bought paper and more frames, and he printed through the night before he ran out of drying racks. In the morning he grabbed a couple of neighbor kids and asked them if they would carry the posters, walking them around the block until each coat dried. He paid them a penny a poster, but for a young boy in the late 1930s, it must have been real money because soon a couple of dozen of them were marching around the block.

And this was where the genius of Adie Marks was first revealed. He watched the little parade, and then went inside and called a photographer he knew at the Houston Post. The picture of the line of cute young kids with the horse racing posters appeared on the front page of the Saturday paper, the opening day of the meeting. When Adie went down to collect the balance of his bill, he got a hundred dollar bonus and a pass to the track.

You might guess the rest of the story. Adie lost it all at the track, but became a horse racing fanatic, eventually keeping a number of Houston bookies, ran his own horses, won big, lost big. In the end, he won.

*     *     *

Adie was the guy who pushed the Astrodome into global consciousness by willing it to be called, “the eighth wonder of the world.” If you Google that phrase, you get about 50,000 links. Of course the client, Astrodome developer Judge Hofeinz gets the credit, but Adie said it.

*     *     *

One day, the secretary ushered into his office the makers of Bark dog food, a regional brand that sold to breeders and vets. Adie heard their story, and picked up the phone to the arena in Dallas where the next big dog show was going to be held. “Get me the back cover of the program, and I won’t forget it,” he said.

Meanwhile he sketched a big can on his pad, and a headline in Futura Ultra Bold Condensed. It was immediately approved and Bark was a hit at the show. The headline:


*     *     *

Later, Adie met with a big manufacturer of cardboard cartons who wanted to increase his sales nationally. Adie couldn't think of any media buys that would pay for themselves. He said, “What you need is a publicity stunt.”

This time he called an old buddy who was a Texas animal trainer for television. “Do you have any chimpanzees?” he asked.

The trainer said, “What do you want them to do?”

“Could they fold some cardboard boxes?”

“Well, they could learn, I guess.”

So Adie hired as many chimps as he could get, and set them working at the carton factory, passing boxes on down the line. He called his friends at the press. And then he thought for a minute, and made an anonymous phone call to the ASPCA. Animal slavery at a factory in East Houston.

The TV cameras were there for the press conference, and animal rights demonstrators picketed outside. Reporters toured the plant, and everyone got a big laugh. The story hit the wires, and the regional salesmen got a way to introduce.

When the press left the carton factory, there was a big banner on the front of the building. “Acme Cartons. ‘Give it to the monkeys in the back!’”

*     *     *

After less than a year at Gulf State, I went in to see Adie about some more money. The first gas crisis was under way, and I couldn’t afford to fill the tank of my 1967 Fury I.

Adie shook his head. No raise. He said, “Gee, Roger, I thought you were in it for the joy of the printed page.”

Your Thoughts (11 comments)

2006-09-11 by Claire Hyland

A spirit that lives on

You're right. Everyone should have somebody like Adie as their first boss. What a funny, sincere and exceptionally revealing tribute to a man who was unquestionably a creative inspiration. The thought of creating an entire campaign in the first meeting with the client, is near laughable today, but it's so refreshing to think that it's entirely possible - we just have to make sure the best brains are on the case. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but as a friend of his granddaughter, I can say for certainty his spirit lives on. Judging by your work, it also lives on in all those that had the pleasure of working with him.

2006-09-11 by Dena Marks


Roger: Thanks so much for such a loving tribute to my Dad. Thank you for being a friend to Dad all these years (and even after his death) and thank you for such a lovely tribute. I agree with the person who says his work lives on through you...and aren't we lucky he had such a talented employee and friend!

2006-09-11 by Kathryn Spitzberg

Great tribute

I really enjoyed hearing some of your stories at the funeral, and the ones here are such a good representation of my grandfather's character, talent and quick wit. Thank you for remembering him in this way. I know he'd love it as much as I do!

2006-09-11 by Paul Marks


Roger: You really did "hit the nail on the head" about both my Father (Adie) and my Mother (Jo). He spoke of you often to family, friends and business associates, and when he spoke of you, he did so with great pride and admiration. My Mother is quite the dynamic and creative person as well which is one reason that they were married for over 50 years. I am so proud to have them as my parents and believe me, there was rarely a dull moment in our house. I vividly remember when the Klan made phone calls and death threats to our home during the Pacifica days, as well as Joan Baez dining at our house after a fund raising concert for KPFT. Because of my parents creativity, and their desire to be help right wrongs, it certainly made for an interesting childhood. Thank you so much for the lovely tribute and for attending the service. I am so sorry that I did not get to speak with you more.

2006-09-11 by Jo Marks


2006-09-11 by Jo Marks


Roger, you brought back such wonderful memories that we shared ... and laughter. Adie was so very proud of your accomplishments and told many people about you. Thanks for your lovely tribute to him. Come back soon. Love ... Jo

2006-09-11 by Ron Marks

Thank you!

You know you were only in it for the type! Add me to the chorus of Marks's who loved this article and appreciate the tribute to my grandfather Adie. The line of Adie's that always sticks with me: "When you buy a full-page ad, the deadline is whenever it gets there." Keep up your excellent work, Mr. Black. I know Adie took some measure of pride and joy in your career and success.

2006-09-11 by Michael Raileanu

I am a Marks by association only (oft I have wished it were more). This tribute is touching and funny. I wish I could have met him.

2006-09-11 by Irv Kauffman

The Most Creative Mind I Ever Met

I too heard all the 'Roger Black' stories from my dear friend Adie Marks. I officed next door to Adie for 18 years, until he left to open Adie Marks Advertising, "The legitimate son of Gulf State Advertising." For those 18 years, Adie, Slugger and I shared lunch every day. The lunches continued after he left, after Slugger died, until last year when he had a stroke. He taught me so very much how to do a lot of things his way. 'He taught me that there was more money to be made in buying than selling.' His death creates a tremendous void in my life. I will miss him so very much.

2006-09-14 by David Levy

One of a kind

I had the pleasure of working for Adie in my first job, at Gulf State Advertising. I'm thankful to Adie and his family for taking care of me when I lived in Houston. I've never forgotten how smart, creative and kind he was, nor will I.

2006-09-28 by MIKE HIRSCH

I remember when Adie gave me my very first job at Gulf State back in 1987 (wow). He was a friend of my dad, Jay Hirsch, and I think he let me in because my dad raced horses too. I had no idea about making money back then since all I was thinking about was skateboarding and drawing! I remember Adie as being this old wise guy (no, not a gangster, even though he could scare some of those guys with his brain if he wanted to) who seemed like nothing phased him and could come up with an idea with such ease. He was such a good guy and stood his ground and for what he believed in, even if it was making more money! And he gave me a great start in the ad business. --- So, Adie, thanks for everything and may you rest in peace. My condolences go out to the family. I will always remember. - Mike

Featured Post

Go to post.

Go OnDemand With MediaBistro