NEW YORK – George Lois, the legendary Greek-American ad man, was in Greece to promote the Greek edition of his latest book Damn Good Advice, which was published by Key Books, and was reviewed by TNH (“From my Bookshelf”) in the Sept. 14, 2013 edition.
The Greek title is Exo apo ta Dontia, meaning, “straight talk,” and includes new stories and advice geared to Greek audiences.
An ardent Greek virtually from the moment of his birth in the Bronx on June 26, 1931 and a passionate conversationalist, Lois invited TNH to his hotel room for a wide-ranging discussion that only ended because his young publisher politely announced that it was time to leave for an appointment.
He still has so much to say beyond his 10 highly-successful books, and when he speaks to a fellow Greek his words and body language strongly convey his Greekness and the experience of growing up in a tough Irish neighborhood notwithstanding.
Lois liked bothering Greek-Americans who changed their name, so he was taken aback – likely for just half a second – when Aristotle Onassis asked what his family name was before it was changed. “Loi” he said. The Greek tycoon, who was impressed with the young genius, promised to find out the name’s roots, which his aides confirmed was Greek and tracked back to the 13th century.
Lois told TNH the story of the great “I’m going home…to Greece – where it all began” advertising campaign, which he said was prompted by the potentially- crippling travel advisory Ronald Reagan slapped on Greece “because he did not like Andreas Papandreou.”
When Muhammad Ali came under massive media attack for converting to Islam, Lois conceived the iconic Esquire magazine cover depicting the great boxer pierced by persecutory arrows, like St. Sebastian.
The imagination and passion of the Greek ad man to whom celebrities could not say “no” lifted numerous brands to prominence, including Esquire, MTV and ESPN.
When Lois was asked if there was ever a moment during his high octane life when he thought he might have been better off taking over the family florist, he recalled the day when his father shook him awake and told him he was late. “I am not coming to work today. I am starting college,” he told Haralampos Lois.
He told TNH how he saved his tips from flower deliveries all over New York’s five boroughs and opened a bank account at Atlantic Bank to pay for tuition at Pratt Institute.
He was going to become an artist.
Indeed, his 92 Esquire covers from 1962 to 1972 are now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
He remained at Pratt for only one year, however. He left to work for advertising pioneer Reba Sochis, and then he was drafted and sent to Korea. “Two wasted years. I don’t like war,” he told TNH.
When he returned to the states, he worked for CBS and in 1959 joined the advertising firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach. He then established Papert Koenig Lois with Fred Papert and Julian Koenig. In 1967 he left to create Lois, Holland, Callaway. His last firm Lois/USA, produced many noteworthy campaigns through 1999.
Lois now works with his son Luke’s firm, Good Karma Creative.
Lois is the only person to have been inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame, the One Club Creative Hall of Fame and to receive lifetime achievement awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Clio and the Society of Publication Designers. He was also the subject of the Master Series of the School of Visual Arts.
He summed up his personal and creative life to TNH: “The well-trodden path is not for me. I want to awaken and influence people, to open new paths, to strive for excellence.”