Anne O. broke glass ceilings before the term was even invented.
When she casually drops names of some of the most iconic advertising firms in the annals of advertising history — like Doyle Dane Bernbach, McCann Erickson and Young & Rubicam — it’s not to impress, but rather to address that period of life when she was one of the very few female art directors on New York City’s storied Madison Avenue.
What was supposed to be a three-week summer internship at an advertising firm (a job her father helped arrange because he was a client of the advertising agency) became a notable career.
“I was like Eve Harrington,” she said half-kiddingly, comparing herself to the ambitious “All About Eve” protagonist. “I wanted everybody to like me.”
They ended up liking her and her work, and the fact that she was a quick learner like her role model Eve. While she may have started in the advertising bullpen — where they put advertising newbies — she was soon taking on larger roles, fusing her aesthetic vision with the words of her creative copywriters.
Her career ascent corresponded with advertising’s creative revolution in the 1960s, when firms began defying conventions and embracing eccentricity, symbolized by Doyle Dane Bernbach’s “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen. The “Think Small” advertisement was voted the No. 1 campaign of all time in Advertising Age’s 1999 The Century of Advertising issue.
One of her mentors was Helmut Krone, considered a pioneer of modern advertising, who was not only the creative lead on the “Think Small” campaign but also Avis’ “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder” breakout ad.
“From Helmut Krone, I learned about layout and design and how to conceptualize,” Anne said.
Over the years, her career took her many places and opened many doors. At Twickenham Studios in London, she worked with Ridley Scott, who directed more than 2,000 television commercials before he went on to “Alien” and “Blade Runner” cinematic fame. She also worked with Muhammad Ali to shoot a commercial for Toyota in Saudi Arabia.
To stay ahead of the youth curve, and the shampoo, acne, and cosmetics commercials that would most likely appeal to them, she made it a point to hang out at disco clubs.
Anne said, “Be it surf, turf, or goth, I created the right look to fit in.”
As much as Anne knew how to change, the advertising business changed even more — and not always in a good way, in her opinion. Massive advertising campaigns for pharmaceutical companies began replacing ads about beauty and fashion, which were Anne’s specialties. According to Anne, the ads became boring and predictable — a sea of sameness, where somebody would be happily running on the beach along seagulls after they had taken a little pink pill to cure whatever ailed them.
Anne finally escaped to the famous Hamptons on Long Island, bought a little cottage, and studied landscape design. Her new outlet was creating and maintaining containerized flower plantings that adorned the walkways, balconies, patios, and poolside terraces of her upscale clients.
Although advertising’s golden age had passed, Anne stayed golden, ready for new adventures. Well educated and traveled, always with a bohemian flair, she decided to move to the coast of perpetual sunshine, finally purchasing a charming little (about 1,000 square feet) Spanish bungalow in West Los Angeles, paying homage to her “Think Small” days.
No longer pulling in the six-figure salaries of her heyday, Anne decided to take in roommates for extra income. Her place was ideal for sharing because it featured a private entrance. While most of her roommates worked out, a couple didn’t. Anne noted that while references can be helpful, they never paint a complete picture of a person’s true character or behavior until that individual is actually living under your roof.
“It was a nightmare,” Anne said. “When there’s somebody in your kitchen you don’t want to see, it’s unpleasant, it’s awful.”
To further supplement her income, Anne had earlier taken out a reverse mortgage, but she thought her payout had likely been based on the lower end of her home’s valuation range. She hadn’t considered taking out another reverse mortgage because she honestly didn’t think she had enough equity to make it worth her while.
Then through friends she was referred to Brad, an AAG mortgage loan professional. The two immediately clicked.
“It was truly a professional, positive, and pleasant experience from the start,” Anne said. “Brad was kind, courteous, and caring. He was a prince.”
She painted and “spiffed up the place,” accenting her 1928, vintage cottage with her signature flower arrangements that helped transform her home into an Italian villa with a dash of the Hamptons and a splash of southern charm, worthy of an Elle or House and Garden magazine cover. She also made a couple other strategic household fixes to maximize the home’s value.
Anne and Brad’s collaboration impressed the appraiser, who gave Anne’s home a true-to-market appraisal that left her bedazzled.
Anne’s new reverse mortgage* has since made all the difference. Anne is being Anne again. Foremost, she feels she has regained her independence.
“When I come home now, my kitchen is as perfect as I left it,” she said, acknowledging that wasn’t always the case when she had a roommate. “I’m the mistress of my domain.”
She is also allowing herself little extravagances that she had denied herself for far too long, including occasional purchases at some of her favorite retailers like Trader Joe’s and sportswear company H&M.
“I’m enjoying some of the little luxuries I didn’t let myself have before,” she said.
She is also looking forward to a visit from a mobile carwash, where the auto detailer shows up on her doorstep. “I can now afford it,” Anne said.
Although Anne’s birth certificate will confirm she is 84, you wonder if the numbers weren’t accidently reversed and she’s really 48.
With her relentless verve and energy, Anne is a force of nature, a Westside whirlwind, and a ray of sunshine bringing warmth to all those in her aura. Forever the art director, she lives life by her design.
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*Refinancing an existing reverse mortgage may lead to higher costs over the term of the new loan.