Stage Mother for a Day

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‘The Child was a Star. Just not a Child Star.’

I must miss the Ad World. Or maybe I just like writing about it.

Just last week I wrote about how the client hated a brilliant idea for a bra commercial so much that I was yanked off the Playtex account. Which wasn’t really so disappointing — except that I was put on the Kimberly-Clark account.

Kimberly-Clark (or KC, as we called it informally, if not fondly) is a paper products company based in Neenah, Wisconsin. I’ve written about KC before, most notably in “HooHah Time is Story Time,” but, trust me, when it comes to tales from the Paper Valley, I’ve got reams and reams of them.

Over my years at Ogilvy, I worked on Hershey and the British Tourist Authority, Q-Tips and Swanson, General Foods and American Express (See “Karl Malden’s Nose”), among others. I even “helped” on Shake ‘N Bake.

I don’t have many shoot photos, but this is one of my faves. I don’t remember what the shoot was for — except that it wasn’t for KC

But no matter what else I was assigned to, I seemed always to have a KC brand in my quiver. Turns out I had an indefinable quality known around the Ogilvy Ranch as “Kim.” Which, basically, meant that the Kimberly-Clark clients liked you. Maybe it was because I was a Midwesterner. I guess the clients didn’t stop to think that I was a Midwesterner who spent a considerable part of her Midwestern residency plotting and scheming to get the heck out of there.

Safely out of the Midwest and on a shoot with the Late Great Harvey G. (Read about him in “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”)

Anyway.

This story is about the time I was working on Huggies, a KC diaper brand. For some reason which I can no longer recall — other than the fact that she was a seriously cute baby — The Child was asked (or I was asked for her) to appear in a Huggies print ad. She would be playing a magician. (This was when all the Huggies ads had babies portraying grownup occupations: artists, engineers, teachers. No advertising writers, not that I recall.)

On a Huggies TV shoot in — of all places — South Africa. Yes, there was a Baby Wrangler on set. But this wasn’t the set (!)

Before you get too impressed, the way print ads involving babies — or any ads involving babies — get done is to sort of hedge your baby bets. You have a casting call involving zillions of babies from which you choose about a dozen to photograph. With TV commercials, you pick even more.

See, actors can have Bad Days. Days when they wake up on the wrong side of bed, or eat something funny or miss their nap. And that’s the grownup actors. Babies are even more unpredictable. So, the more babies on set, the better. I’m thinking The Child was asked to the shoot as sort of a bonus bumper baby.

There’s even a job on diaper shoots called Baby Wrangler. Her job (she’s usually a “she”) is to corral all the babies, keep them calm, and — this is super important — keep them away from their mothers.

The mothers on shoots are, with rare exceptions, simply horrible. They hover and smother and boss everyone around, including their progeny. I was once at a casting call for Alpha-Bits where one poor little girl’s horrible mother wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom for fear of missing her turn on camera, and, you guessed it, she peed all over the carpet. And didn’t even get the part, poor kid.

Me, sporting a souvenir from a shoot in L.A. Maybe it was for Alpha-Bits

Well. I got a chance to experience Stage Mothering up (too) close and (way too) personal at that Huggies shoot. No one knew that I was actually an Agency Person, so the other SMs treated me as one of their own. After staking our ground by declaring how many months’ old our babies were (why is it always months, I wonder?) I was elbowed and glared at. Her Childness was even scolded for offering another toddler some of her Cheerios.

The Child, at 19 months, in her starring role as a magician

I wasn’t cut out for Stage Momhood, I guess. But it was not an experience I was destined to repeat. The Child was “shot,” all right, in costume and everything. But she was not chosen for the final ad. We did get a dollar for signing a release. And we got a swell copy of the photo. It’s the shot that appears at the top of this post — and in my kitchen — if not in a magazine.

The Child, at 362 months, in her starring role as a bride 

Amagansett, New York. October 2021

6 thoughts on “Stage Mother for a Day

  1. I love hearing about the heyday of advertising. How cute is that baby shot of your girl–she should have gotten the gig! I was in a bank ad once, you know the little ballerina kind of stuff. The teen dancer there for the shoot that day had to pretend to be throwing clay, instead. She was not happy. Eek.

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