The scene? The Cafe in the dining room. The time? Usually 5pm. Across from our table I often notice a man who appears very distinguished, almost resembling the artist, Degas, but quiet in nature. I hear from others that this man is most interesting, I can’t resist being inquisitive and curious, and I set up an interview. Our Villager for December is Gene Grayson.
Gene, an only child, was born in New York City. He attended public school until 5th grade, and then went to the Ethical Culture School, New York City. After high school, Gene entered Cornell University; but in 1942, at age 19, Gene was drafted into the Army, taking basic training at Columbia, South Carolina. He discovered most of the men there were also nineteen years old. Gene was assigned to the 87th Infantry Division (3rd Army – Patton’s Army) and served as a forward observer and radio operator with the 912 Field Artillery. Today, Gene attributes his bad back to the 40-pound radio he carried on his back during WWII. He fought from the Saar Valley to the Battle of the Bulge to the German surrender. One day riding in the back of a jeep, Gene turned on his radio, and heard another infantry company calling for help. Their backup could not hear them, but he did. Gene called their artillery unit, relayed their distress, and let them know their outfit was in trouble, and where they were. Gene saved many lives improvising this communication, and for his quick action, was awarded a Bronze Star. He stayed until the end of the war, and was discharged in 1945, with the rank of Corporal.
After the war, Gene returned to Cornell to finish his education. He earned a B.A. in English Literature, and then, not knowing where to go for a job, stumbled into Advertising. In the beginning of his career he worked for Grey and Ted Bates Advertising. At Grey, he met Florence, who also worked there, and they married in 1953. Gene and Florence had one daughter, Laura, who lives in Perkasie, PA. Gene later took a job at Ogilvy and Mather, working there for sixteen years as Creative Director, Senior Vice President and became a member of the Board. He wrote, or supervised, 28 million dollars worth of TV advertising for Rolls Royce, KLM, General Foods, Hershey, Dove, Pepperidge Farms and International Paper to name a few.
Gene tells a story of doing a TV commercial for Dove for dishes. He wrote a funny story that needed an actual dove to fly through a window. Hidden on the other side of the window was a cage of female doves. The male dove was being enticed with female doves, bird food and bird trainers: all to no avail. The filming began at 9 AM, and finally at 6 PM, one dove flew through the set.
Gene hired Danny Thomas for the commercial for Maxwell House. Danny was in the show, MAKE WAY FOR DADDY. They became good friends and often had dinner together. Gene also used Danny’s daughter, Terre, for his commercials.
Gene lived in Tenafly, New Jersey for many years and came to Pine Run after his wife passed away. At 91 years old he is truly glad to be here. Although Gene is basically a quiet and reserved individual, I found him most charming, thoughtful and funny once I got to know him.
— Elinor Cohen