Cecil Hoge, My Father

Dad by treeCecil Hoge, My Father

by Cecil C. Hoge, Jr.

My father was a much different guy than me. For one thing he was a tall, thin man. I am not tall and I am not thin, but I am also not fat. So much for our differences.

My father married a lady he was fated to divorce. She was, if I may say so, one of the most beautiful women on the planet…at the time. We must condition all statements about ladies on the time that they exist in. It could be said that all ladies are beautiful in their own way and in their own time, but my mother was just plain beautiful. Whether you look at a painting of her when she sat in her crib at the age of 5 or a picture of her sitting on a dock in her 1920s bathing suit, you would know instantly that she was a beauty.

I do not know what attracted my mother to my father and my father to my mother. It must have been a chemistry that no one could see because in truth they were the original odd couple. My mother came from a family of immense wealth and of little family background. My father came from a family of immense respectability and little wealth. Let me say first and foremost that was not the essence of their relationship. There was something more to it.

My father always wanted to make his mark in the world. My mother, whose father had done the repairs for the Atlantic Fleet during World War I, saw little benefit in anyone making more money. She had it and she saw little reason why anyone would want it. My father, on the other hand, thought that the greatest good was to make money. His family had respect and pedigree, but they did not have wealth. He was determined that they should have money.

So you can imagine that there was some tension as to what their life goals should be. As I said I do not know what glance, what introduction, what instant set my father on the path to marry my mother, but marry her he did.

My Mom and Dad in the early days of their marriage

My Mom and Dad in the early days of their marriage

Once married, they had to learn to live together. What that meant for them I do not know, but I am guessing it was not easy for either party. My mother was an Olympic class swimmer and my father was a pioneer in direct marketing. To be sure, each had their own good and loving opinion of the other. At the time my father had an advertising agency that was promoting everything from Arthur Murray Dance Lessons to Jackson and Perkins Roses to Doubleday Books to Kajar the Magician.

My mother’s view of all this was somewhat distant. Let me interpret for my mother some fifty years later. Why bother, she would have said. Let me try to explain. She grew up in 5 houses around the globe. She had a house on Fifth Avenue, she had a house in Southampton, she had a house in Scottsdale, AZ, she had a house in Paris. She had a house in Greenwich. These were all big, grand houses, so what difference did it make to have an apartment in NYC and have a medium size ad agency. I mean it was OK, but it was not the end all for my mother it was for my father.

My mother and father dancing in the early days

My mother and father dancing in the early days

About the only compensating benefit for my mother was that the Gabor sisters had a jewelry shop downstairs from my father’s advertising agency. So when my father brought me and his wife to the ad agency, inevitably my mother and I would end up migrating downstairs to look at the new gaudy jewelry on offer from the Gabor sisters. By this time, all three Gabor sisters had married wealthy men, although inevitably one of the three was in the process of disengaging one of their men from their money. As far as I could figure out the real profession of the Gabor sisters was divorce. They were best of best when it came to divorce.

I am pretty sure by the end of their marital careers, they knew considerably more than the lawyers who did their bidding. Personally, I was not the least bit interested in their gaudy jewelry which could be summed up in the phrase, “Flash is everything.” The bosomy Gabor sisters were, on the other hand, a source of endless fascination. Most the time, they were not present in their own store, but on the lucky days when one or another was in, it was a source perpetual wonder to me. Eva was my hands down favorite. In my humble opinion, the other two never held a candle to her. But this could be my pre-adolescent mind running away with itself. In any case, I loved it when Eva happened to be around.

“Barbara dahling, I got just the thing for you.” and Eva would pull out this gigantic rock on top of a thin band of gold that looked like it needed re-inforcement to carry the weight. Modesty was not in Eva’s vocabulary.

“Dahling, this is you. It the perfect thing to get that nincompoop of husband on the path to prosperity,” Eva happily warbled on, “I always say that a man needs to go in debt in order to learn the value of money. And you know Dahling, I am awfully good at getting men to spend money on me. Just one look and they have to buy me the big rock. Is it the hair, is the breasts, it is the legs, God never gave me any money, but he did give me the material to acquire money.”

“Eva, you know that’s not my style.” my mother would interrupt, “I like nice things, good clothes, nice jewelry, but really it is all so meaningless.”

“Dahling, you are going to have to come over to the apartment and have dinner with me and Edward.” Edward was Eva’s current husband or love interest or day job…I am not sure which.

The Gabor sisters had come over to the States just after the Hungarian Revolution, the one the got squashed by what was then known as the Soviet Union. They came with some stage experience and drop dead beautiful bodies. They hit Manhattan like an A bomb attack. A significant portion gross national wealth of New York City got siphoned off to the Gabor sisters.

“Eva, you know Cecil is a complete boor. He has an absolute blindness to fashion and he is supposed to be in the advertising world. My God, he would better off if he just got reborn again and started again.”

Eva nodded sympathetically, “Well, I know he is brilliant, but brilliant doesn’t make the beans. You got to be brilliantly stupid. And being a sonuva bitch doesn’t hurt either. All my husbands were sons of bitches and they all gave me rock after rock. You know it’s the only thing a girl can depend on.”

It was no co-incidence that Marilyn Monroe was extremely popular at the time. And who influenced who the most is anyone’s bet, but surely Eva had both feet in game.

Anyway, my mother had many a tearful and impassioned conversation with Gabor sisters. I got to ogle the blond Hungarian ladies and look at endless pieces of gaudy jewelry. Inevitably, whenever my mother got outside of the Gabor sister’s jewelry store, she would immediately announce how terrible most of it was. I can’t really say, given the fact that as a 9 year’s old, my jewelry sense left a little bit to be desired. One thing I could agree on and that was what a knock-out Eva Gabor was, although my mother was a strong second.

The advertising agency that my father ran was a chaotic and infectious place. People were running around with layouts, sticking things in front of my father’s face and he would say yes, no, go back and redo it. Mostly, he said go back and redo it. My father had assorted advertising crazies working for him. Many of these men and women went on to have significant careers of their own.

At its height, Huber Hoge and Sons Advertising, my father’s agency, had about 120 people working for it. These people lived, breathed and bathed in advertising. But if you thinking about some pretty up brand kind of advertising that was not the stuff my father dealt in. My father and his father before him were into “Direct Marketing” Or to be more precise my father was a pioneer of what was then called “mail order”.

Originally my grandfather did mail order style advertising in the early 1900s for large staid companies, such as Standard Oil, Good Housekeeping Magazine and DoubleDay Books. These ads were pretty stuffy and while they were meant to get orders, they were elegant, staid and respectful.

As they say, things change. In the Depression my grandfather’s advertising agency went bust and the family fell on hard times, working any job that came along, moving from apartment to apartment as the rent inevitably came due, always finding elegant apartment buildings willing to take in down on their luck tenants because that was all that was available to them…down on their luck tenants.

My father, who had been going gaily to the University of Virginia where he had position as chief moonshine requisitioner for his fraternity, found himself out of college, looking for a job in the depths of the Depression, trying to support his extended family of mother, father, 3 other brothers and one sister.

His brothers had been a little luckier in that they got to complete their college educations. I am not quite sure what they did when they finally graduated, maybe they had jobs, maybe not.

It must have been a terrible time to come from a family of wealthy pretensions, knowing that pretensions were the only dreams they could realize. My father described The Depression as 10 years taken out of his life. A kind of black hole that existed from his mid twenties to his mid thirties.

I am told at that time my father was literally the life of the party, an eternally optimistic idealist, utterly convinced in the right of the world. He saw the good side to every event. And in particular he believed in the game. I refer of course to the game of making money. For him, it was a kind competition. Added to this, he was born with a relentless ambition to make his way in the world.

His wife never quite saw things the same way. She came into to this world with enormous wealth and she did not have the slightest respect for all the things that wealth could buy. For her wealth was an empty box. Yes, she liked certain luxuries. I was brought up on artichokes hearts, consommé, champagne, turtle soup and the Stork Club. And yes, occasionally my mother would let herself splurge on a $2500 ring from the Gabor jewelry store, but most of the time, she really could care less about the things that money could buy.

Strangely, my father had much the same attitude about making money. It was not the money he cared for, it was the game of making money. My father loved activity. He loved starting businesses, going into ventures, creating sales where no sales ever existed. He also had a kind of a genius in recognizing things that could be brought from zero sales to millions of dollars of sales.

Over time my father moved away from advertising as a profession to mail order as a profession. He concluded, quite logically, that advertising agencies only earned a commission on advertising placed while mail order allowed, if the product was right, one to profit from advertising. Advertising created the sales that would create the profits from selling things that were advertised.

This is true to an extent, but what it doesn’t include is the aspect of risk. What my father saw was that he made millions for DoubleDay Books, for Jackson and Perkins Roses, for Arthur Murray Studios. What my father did not consider was the fact that when you spent money on your own products, you could make a lot of money, but you could also lose a lot of money.

Anyway, no matter the risks and the rewards, my father determined to sell his own products. And this new direction led to flurry of different businesses, some of which made a lot of money, some of which lost a lot of money. One can’t guess what would have happened if my father had just stuck to his model of an advertising agency because that is not the way he went.

The mail order business proved to be nothing if not exciting. My father sold a bewildering mix of products – paint brushes, pocket adding machines, TV repair books, dance lessons, fishing lures, painting courses, piano lessons, magician courses, toys, dress forms. Let me assure you this is just a partial list. My father had only one rule, if he thought it could be sold by mail order, try it. Most of these businesses came and went in flurry of activity.

When my father branched out into selling garden fertilizer by mail order, my mother said

“Well, he has finally done it. I always knew he would, Now he is selling shit for money. Can you believe it?” she would ask anyone willing to listen, “Yes, he has finally done it. He is selling shit for money. And you know what, people are actually paying money for this shit. I married the God Damned Pied Piper of Shit.”

My mother actually thought it was hilarious. My father was not amused. He thought of the fertilizer business as quite respectable. In truth, the product that my father sold, RX-15 Fertilizer (my father billed it as a scientific breakthrough), is still on sale in Canada, so that proved to be a business with true legs. Unfortunately, along the way, my father got into an unfortunate lawsuit with the company that made the product, who decided to take back the sales of the said RX-15 after my father had created a business doing 20 million dollars in a time when 20 million dollars was, well, 20 million dollars.

Anyway, the selling of mail order products turned out to be quite a wild and woolly ride, with my father making tons of money some years and losing tons of money other years. Today, we still sell things by direct marketing, but I must say my methods are considerably calmer, less brilliant and more reliable.

Along the way, my father divorced his wife, I went to a slew of private boarding schools, my mother became sick with cancer and died. My father, in a strange twist of fate, went off to Berlin to negotiate a better deal on the pocket adding machines he was selling (eventually, he got up to selling 50,000 a week and sold literally tens of millions of what at the time was the world’s first pocket calculator). In Berlin, he hired a young lady from the Chamber of Commerce to translate his wish to get a better price for pocket adding machines now that volume had soared. I suppose he did get a better price, but in the process, he acquired a second wife. As fate would have it, a fog rolled in, his flight back to the States was canceled and my father used the time profitably to fall in love and get married.

Within in few weeks this resulted in me finding myself on one of the first 707 jets back to Berlin to meet my new mother’s family. I got to meet my new extended family, to tool around Berlin in Messerschmidt car (it had 3 wheels and looked like a plane without wings), to go through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin, to visit a Soviet Museum in East Berlin where I learned Vladmir Solitzin had invented the light bulb, Igor Muscoff had invented airplanes and Ivan Putinsky had manufactured the first cars on earth. After my Soviet education, I got to go around the other side of Stalin Alley (the main street in East Berlin), see about 3 miles of open rubble and, in the background the gleaming white new buildings of West Berlin. Even then, I had the idea that the Soviet Dream was not going to last.

Later on that same trip, I got to go to a Bach Music concert in a half bombed out church and a groovy new German nightclub which had telephones on ever table each with a number boldly displayed. Dial that number and you could speak to the beautiful German Frauleins who might be sitting at the next table. While I can’t say that I was on my feet clapping at the Bach Music concert, I can say I enthusiastically embraced the new German nightclub and tried my best to communicate with a few of young German Frauleins. But I digress, this story is about my father.

Many years later, several years after I started to work for my father’s business, my father did something almost no father would ever do. He retired from the business in order to give me chance to find my own way in the business. At the time, I disagreed with the way both my father and my step mother ran the business. If I had been my father, I doubt I ever would have done such an altruistic deed. But my father could see the writing on wall. He knew if I did not become my own man in the business I would never be very happy and I would never evolve into the kind of business person I could be.

He was right and wrong. He was right that I needed the space in order to make my own decisions. He was wrong in thinking this would make me instantly happy. What ended up happening is that he gave his ownership to both my step mother and myself – 50/50. This in turn led to a 20 year battle over the direction and course of the business because my step mother and I disagreed on everything. She wanted to save, I wanted spend, she wanted to downsize, I wanted to expand, she wanted us to have a big margin on every product we sold, I wanted to have low margin on every product we sold.

Well, there were many fights, many spats, many arguments for a period of 20 years, but you know what, the business was better off for it. In the end, as much I hated the reality of having to make a good margin, this was the only way we made money because, like many businesses we had something called costs – costs for inventory, costs for labor, costs for advertising, costs for interest, cost for electricity, cost for rent, cost for taxes. My step mother, who grew up in the rubble of Berlin, knew this. I did not.

In the end, the business was better off with the two diametrically opposed points of view. Perhaps, my father knew this. I am not sure. I think actually he simply hoped we’d come together, warm and fuzzy, and it would work out. But it did not work that way. It was rough and tumble, it was up and down, it was violent and peaceful. In the end, we both came to respect each other’s views, much as we disagreed, much as we sometimes hated what the other was doing. I know that was not what my father really wanted, but that was what really happened.

And what did my father do? He was in his business prime when he announced his retirement to us. You would think he might go off and play golf, but my father liked the game of business, not the game of golf. And so he, like any robust 58 year old, decided to change his career and become a writer. That was what I wanted to become when I graduated from college. I never did it, but he did. He went off and wrote a book called “Mail Order Moonlighting”. It was about starting businesses from scratch using mail order advertising techniques.

I had a cousin who said something once that I agreed with at the time. He said that my father had a bigger mind than the problems that he applied it to. What he meant by this was that his oversize brain should apply itself to problems worthy of its capacity. As I said, at the time, I agreed with my cousin.

It seemed to me that mail order, as it was known then, and direct marketing as it is known today, was not a very important thing. But today I think my cousin and I were wrong. Why you might ask?

Well, for sure, mail order or direct marketing is a crass form of marketing. I know better than most. I practice it. But there is something else to this pursuit and it cuts straight to the American genius of marketing and sales. It goes to the creation of enterprises from little or nothing to something that sometimes become grand and great institutions. I will not say that applies to our company, our institution. But I would not object if you disagreed. We, my father’s business, have been in business for over 50 years. That is impressive for any company, but that is not what I am talking about.

My father started businesses from NOTHING. Sometimes, he started businesses based on idea, from something else or from him alone. From these nothing ideas he formed something, created businesses, sold things, bought things, employed people. I did this myself. I started businesses from nothing but getting an idea. I know it can be done.

Now my father was interested in the game. This never interested me until I had my first hint of success. I was interested in longevity, in continuation, in the gradual buildup of nothing to something. And I saw this happen time after time. In fact, I made this happen time after time. But that didn’t interest my father. What interested him, was the noise, the commotion, the turmoil of creating something from nothing. He created businesses from ideas to substance where hundreds of people could be employed. Employing people did not interest my father specifically. No, it was the turnover, the commotion, explosion of activity that interested him.

As I said at the beginning of this story my father was tall and thin, but I am not. I am not so tall and not so thin. So all people are different in one way or another.

My father became quite well known in his field. He ended up writing four books…all on direct marketing. He, in his late 50s started a new career as writer and as technical expert on direct marketing. He was a kind visionary person. In the 1990s when people began to talk about the Internet, he got idea the we had to set up websites showing our products.

I said that he retired from the business in mid 1970s, but that did not prevent my father from having very hard opinions on what we should do. And when the Internet started to happen, he became hysterical about it. We had to get up and running, he told my brother and myself. It was the future. If you have seen an angry 80 year old, you would know what my father was like on the subject of the Internet. We had to get on it and that was all there was to it.

We did get on the Internet and it did turn out to be our future. Today it is the majority of our business.

That was what my father was like. He was a man with dreams and a vision of the world. Even in his 80s he was never interested in the old ways of doing things. He was only interested in the new ways of doing things. He knew that new media were coming around every few years and it was always the new media that interested him. He advertised things in newspapers, in magazines, on radio, on TV, on cable. My father simply saw the Internet as the new way to market things.

My father was a reader and lover of history. And I guess one of the lessons he took from history was those that adapted to new developments in the world went ahead and those who did not were left behind. This is something he tried to instill in me in brother and over time, in every person he met. For my father, it was not the last war you fought, it was the future war you fought. And that was always my father’s focus.

You could say that my father was simply a man of commerce, a man who was interested in the game, a man who was not interested in building something for the long run. That would be true. But there was another side to my father. He had a genuine noble and altruistic streak in him. He was always trying to get relatives to improve themselves. He told my some of my cousins something that should be self-evident – that the world was unkind to people who did not complete their college education. He knew this because he did not complete his college education. I knew it because I did complete my college education. Some of my cousins considered this and simply concluded it was bullshit.

But my father never gave up. Weekly, monthly, he would tell them to get an education, to finish their education and to go on. Some did, some didn’t. But my father altruistic genes did not end there. He would help out family members who got cancer with all sorts of practical information, not the least of which was to find suitable hospitals for treatment and locate some of the best doctors in the world.

In the end my father was not nearly so good in protecting his own health. After 50 years of skin cancer and various minor surgeries to remove, he failed to recognize that he finally contracted a truly serious form of skin cancer. If it had been a cousin, a brother or a sister, he would have had them in the hospital instantly with the best doctor on planet earth tending. But it was only himself and he had to depend on his two sons and simply put we did not force him to go to the doctor in time to contain his cancer.

Really, in the end, it does not matter. People do what they think is best and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. My father lived until he was 83. He did not surpass the age of his eldest brother, who despite a lifelong love of cocktail parties and cigarettes, outlived him by one whole year. Go figure.

What I will say is that my father was more than he appeared. He had noble mind and maybe it occupied some of the time by figuring new crass ways to make money, but he also understood that the genius of America was starting something from nothing. More than that he was fanatically interested that other people do as well as they could. He spent a large amount of his time showing people new ways to do things or leading people out of their problems or trying to lead people out of their problems – frankly, I am not sure there is much of a difference. Whatever his efforts, they were for the benefit of other people and I am one of the people who benefited most from his love, his genius and his understanding.

About Cecil Hoge

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1 Response to Cecil Hoge, My Father

  1. Louie Lerner says:

    Lots of years gone by. It was good to run across this blog. I started with the Rich Miller episode and have read a few more. The thought process for me locating you was an article on The Gaslight restaurant in Charlottesville. My recollection was you having frequented the place often and regaining the Lodge with stories of your misadventures there. Send me an email address and I will attempt to forward the article.
    I hope you are well.
    Louie Lerner

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