Bob and his son, Ben
A few weeks ago in New York, I met Ben Dion, the 17-year-old son of one of the most legendary creative directors in Chiat/Day's history, Bob Dion. I had not seen Ben since he was about nine years old. As I told Ben about how much Bob had meant to us back in the good old days, he seemed just a little amazed to be hearing stories about what an influential person Bob had been in my life, as well the lives of those who worked for Bob. I mean, after all, sons almost always know that their fathers are gods, but Ben was too young back in the 1980s to know that we all thought Bob was a god, as well.
So Ben, this is for you and your father.
In 1997, Bob was serious injured in a car accident on the way home from work. Gratefully, he recovered. He is now retired and lives in the Napa Valley, where he paints and plays golf.
Bob, we love you and miss you. You led us magnificently through some of the best years of all of our lives. And I am so pleased to be able to publish what is the longest, and most star-studded posting in the history of this website.
Your jayday website host
From Ken Segall
Steve, I know you said to keep this brief, but since I've ignored your request to write something for the jayday website for so many years, I figured that I have a lot of unused credits.
Bob was my first creative director (Chiat/Day NY) back in the early 80s. At that time, Chiat/Day was throwing a huge anniversary party (15th?) by renting one night aboard client Holland America's newest super-luxury cruise ship on its maiden voyage. Just about every Chiat/Day dignitary was invited, as was every celebrity who ever made a Chiat/Day commercial. Showing infinite trust, Bob gave me (the junior copywriter) the job of writing the invitation, and I submitted it proudly as I left on vacation. Upon my return, I found a box of finished invitations, elegantly printed on the most expensive card stock available and hand-addressed in perfect calligraphy -- all prepared on a super-rush timetable to meet an impossible deadline for mailing.
Eager to savor my handiwork, I peeked into one envelope -- and my heart fell to the floor. Quite clearly, it called for all invitees to board the ship at "Pier 22, NY, NY." Good idea, except that Pier 22 was something I made up as a placeholder before I went on vacation. Oops.
My choices were suicide or turning myself in to Bob. So I nervously made my way into Bob's office and confessed. You know the way Ralph Kramden used to do those slow eruptions, when his eyes glazed over, he turned a few colors, his face twitched and a major blow-up was obviously seconds away? That was Bob. I don't know how, but somehow he suppressed the outburst. It could have been fear of criminal charges, but I like to think that it was just Bob, understanding that I was only a scared junior copywriter who made a mistake he'd never make again. A little mistake that was going to cost us a lot of money, possibly torpedo the whole party and leave Bob exposed to the wrath of Jay. What did Bob do? He actually took the time to make me feel better. And only then did he go about the business of somehow making everything alright again.
This silly story illustrates why Bob was such a great guy to work with and work for. (And why you should think twice before trusting me with your next party invitation.) Bob is both a good example of a true Chiat/Day creative director and a true human being. He only needs to work on the driving thing a little bit more...
From Jamie Seltzer ...
I have so many fond memories of Bob Dion. The one thing that stands out is the support he always gave me when I was about to flip out. I would say to Bob, regarding Jay, Tell me, Bob. Is it me, or him? He would always put his arms around me and say, him. He might have been saying it just to make me feel better but I would like him to know....it worked.
From Sharon Teal Conklin
Bob was one of the most talented creative guys I ever worked with but perhaps more importantly, he was one of the most supportive and gracious (especially to us "suits"). He was so incredibly kind and without ego, but on the rare occasion when he did get pissed off, it was so out of character that everyone sat up and listened. I thought of him often after I left C/D especially when I'd run across some young turk creative type who couldn't have carried Bob's portfolio.
From David Thall
I'm writing this account of my experience at Chiat/Day and meeting Bob because I don't believe Bob Dion ever heard it from my point of view and I thought perhaps he might find it revealing.
I was hired by Bob Dion in 1982 at the first Chiat/Day New York office at 666 Fifth Avenue. Three months later Jay fired me. I later learned several art directors and writers had the same fate at 666. I'm not superstitious... but, hey. Bob hired 'em and Jay fired 'em. Which may help explain their relationship.
Despite the neurotic environment Jay promoted I have to say Bob Dion was always a gentleman, always courteous both professionally and personally, and frankly it impressed me how easy going he remained despite the mercurial behavior that went on there.
Interestingly, I remain friends to this day with some of the people I met there during my brief indoctrination, including Evert Cilliers, Geoffrey Roche and John Salvati.
Years later, I returned to freelance at Chiat/Day New York five more times under different creative directors, down at the 79 Fifth Avenue offices. I recall running into Bob again during one of my tours, under Bill Hamilton I believe. Bob was still warm and friendly, greeting me as if I was an old friend he hadn't seen in a while. Bob may not have realized it at the time but it was actually a bit awkward for me, because back in '82 I had such high expectations for a career there, and felt let down. I recall very vividly Bob calling me in the middle of a casting session for a New York Air TV commercial I was about to produce telling me I had to return to the office right away. I told him I couldn't because I was the only one from the agency there, and that the young producer... Jay's future son-in-law... hadn't shown up. Again Bob strongly asked me to return to the office anyway because Jay wanted to see me. My gut told me it wasn't good. In a conference room alone with Jay I was told if it had been the L.A. office he probably wouldn't want to let me go. He also said he'd fired one art director five times and then hired him back. I told Jay that I had come to Chiat/Day expecting to have a career, and that I was disappointed at what was happening. He suddenly changed his demeanor and offered to allow me to stay a couple of weeks more and produce the TV spot. I declined the offer and told him I couldn't stay there under those conditions. Later, Bob gave a me a copy of the TV campaign with a very reassuring attitude, as if to say, don't worry we didn't screw it up... it was produced well. He knew I cared, and he obviously gave a damn about other people's feelings toward their work. I later learned how rare this is in the business.
My feeling about Bob are that I wish I could have gotten to know him better and really become friends, rather than just professional acquaintances, because he really was one of the few generous people who worked there, or anywhere in this business for that matter.
From Jackie End
I had just started at Chiat and Bob and I were working on the Revlon pitch. I loved working with him and we did some really nice stuff that Jay liked and so we all went to present to Perlman and the other Revlon management. Dion had done these really beautiful layouts with I think 9 or 10 point type. Maybe it was even 8. The Revlon people really liked the concepts but the President of Revlon pointed out to us that they had a rule about type size nothing smaller than 12 point. Dion and I had no idea how to respond to this. But Jay did. He said; I've got a rule, too. I only come three times a night. Not two. Not six. Three. There was a stunned silence. I glanced over at Bob. His eyes were twinkling and his mouth was twitching as he tried not to laugh. Jay then said; That's how stupid rules are. Later, Dion asked if I was OK. He was afraid Jay had been a little raw and that I would be offended. Because besides all the other wonderful things about Bob, he was always sensitive to other people. (Of course, for weeks after, we riffed on what Jay had said and laughed ourselves silly.)
From Adelaide Horton
Bob Dion is the BEST. He cared about everyone; gave everyone a hug and kiss before it was considered sexual harassment; and coaxed some wonderful work from the agency. Apropos to the latest Christo exhibit in Central Park, Bob wanted Christo to wrap Holland America's new ocean liner, the New Amsterdam, for its arrival in New York Harbor. Christo refused as he does not do any commercial projects but can you imagine how cool it would have been? And that was in the mid-eighties. And besides having great creative taste, Bob threw the best parties. What more could you ask for?
From Tom Carroll
Bob Dion is still the best guy I have ever worked with in 25 years. After Bob, I've spent years of working with self involved, marginally talented assholes who couldn't carry Bob's bag. Plus Bob is the only creative guy I know who can golf, drink beer and remember anything about Chicago that doesn't involve a 2 hour explanation. Tell him to call me.
From Steve Mitgang (and Ellen Sunshine Mitgang!)
As I recall, my entre into C/D was actually through Bob. I sent him a 16x20 story board with photographs and a paragraph about how the business side of advertising needs to be just as creative as the folks actually coming up with the ads themselves. He met with me for 30 minutes, and then hooked me up with Mr. Carroll and Mr. Palladino. By the way my follow-ups on status of the job were with Mr. Palladino's assistant-Ellen Sunshine. Bob always let me have a voice in a variety of meetings, and set the tone for an extraordinarily collaborative relationship for me in acct management and his teams on the creative side.
From Sharon and Brad Stanley
I remember those early days when you were working in LA...and then you agreed to go to NY and make it a success! Thank goodness you made the right decision.
Glad to hear you are enjoying your life in Napa. Must be beautiful there now..sun on those rolling hills, the fresh smell of grapes growing.....with a glass of wine in your hand. Maybe Brad and I should come visit!
From Nat Whitten
When I came to Chiat NY in 1984 as an advertising wanna-be, Bob was the first person I met who had what I considered the real "California vibe" that I'd read about in the magazines. Meaning he was laid-back and talented as hell, but didn't act like the Big Kahuna that he was. He embraced me as a colleague even though he was a top dog creative and I was a human word processor. That made me feel good, and continued to make me feel good as he helped teach me the groove of what smart copywriters and art directors actually did for a living. As a freelancer for the past eight years (minus one), I've been inside a lot of agencies. I don't think any have the vibe of Chiat NY in the mid 80s, and Bob was a standout in creating that good energy. Napa Valley is lucky to have him in residence, and please let me know of any guest rooms available.
From Bruce Ascher
I remember Bob as a fun and talented man to work with. I also remember a kick-ass party July 4, 1987 at his place upstate.
From Peter Franke
We were just settled in @ 79 Fifth Ave, I'm running around working on a Holland America ad and I bully my way into Bob's Cube (which was perennially jammed) and interrupt him to ask where the layouts are. Bob calmly stops talking to, I think, Kenny Segal and just stares at me.I barely even notice his hand moving on the sketch pad he's holding while I wait for an answer. About 10 seconds pass and he rips off the piece of vellum and holds it up for everyone to see. It was a PERFECT line drawing of me with a thought bubble demanding my layouts. Everyone laughed out loud in amazement at how wonderfully he captured the moment and me. I still have the drawing on my fridge at home and think of him every-time I have to explain it. It really was a perfect moment at Chiat/Day NY. I miss you Bob, I really do need those layouts soon. All the best, Peter Franke
From Eve Luppert
Bob was one of the first people I met at Chiat/Day. He treated me like a real team member when I was "just" the office floater. I had a lot of fun working with Bob and playing with him too. I have many blurry memories of parties at the Dion's apartment in Chelsea. He is just plain classy!
The lesson that I learned from Bob has served me well, and informed my own behavior as well as how I respond to others. Bob demonstrated every day that real talent and being a temperamental butthead had absolutely nothing to do with each other. He was great at his job and a wonderful, respectful person. When ever I run across some "talent" having a hissy fit, I think of Bob and feel smug, because I know the truth.
From Evert Cilliers
Bob Dion was the best art director I ever worked with. Also the best guy I ever worked with. Nice, kind, funny, warm, generous, great, smart, supportive, everything you want in a working partner. We did almost two years together, and it was advertising heaven. Except for the fact that a great deal of it was wasted on giving our best blood to GE, which Chiat/Day NY needed at the time to stay solvent. Fuck me if I remember why we broke up. Wish we hadn't. Another two years, and we might've conquered the world.
From Jane Newman
I worked with Dion for 4 years in the New York office. He was instrumental in getting that office off the ground. We worked very closely on GE Factory Automation and we did one of the best commercials I have ever worked on for them. It was called Uncle Sam and always gave you goose bumps no matter how often you saw it. It never saw the light of day (or a trinitron
tube) but it was on the new business reel as the grand finale and helped get us lots of other business.
Hi there Dion!