top of page

Write That Letter!

Write a letter
Joyce Johnson

Many of you sometimes feel the urge to express a strong feeling; to write a letter to the editor or to an institution, or PCCjournal!, but usually pivot away for various reasons. So, I want to tell a true story that I hope will fill a few sails with the winds of faith that makes things move, or, as though unseen hands are delivering your message to who needs to see it. Your heart will tell you when it’s time to take the worthy risk and send that letter. And, often events “coincide” in uncanny timing that confirms or supports our choices. Popeye called it coinkydinks. The psychologist, C.J. Jung called them Synchronicity. They can be magical and fun. Here is one unforgettable one:

I don’t look like I belong. Los Angeles, Wilshire Blvd., (never mind how long ago…) I arrived at my new Brown’s Temporary job assignment, as a secretary in the prestigious magazine conglomerate, Conde’ Nast Multi Media, ad dept. of the magazine, Vanity Fair. I was wearing tennis shoes under a long denim skirt and simple shirt, and carroed a big aqua blue canvas purse which was mismatching and not very professional looking, but I love that color and never misplaced that purse. I was often told that I don’t look like I belong, I was missing that “blend in” quality, so temp jobs were therefore perfect as I was in and out in a few weeks or less. But celebrities sometimes strolled through Conde’ Naste for interviews, so the secretaries dressed with taste and looked professional. I self consciously walked down the corridor of desks that first day, and an amused secretary said, “I like your bag!” and just as candidly I said as I passed, “...Its my Leo Rising…” She and someone else laughed. But me in a glamorous office? Not a match. I was soon surprisingly asked to hire on permanent, and I did so because it was a new experience, ad work is artwork, and I liked the women I worked with.

Letter Power – A couple months passed and I was at my desk opening the day’s mail for my boss, the Ad Mgr. I held a manila envelope upside down and shook the contents out. I still remember the flow of 3 letters that, I swear to you, came wafting out in slow motion,…faded and gray from being xeroxed so many times. “FYI” was on an attached note to my boss but I read those letters. They were from parents and teachers who with brave, succinct, well-mannered wording, protested the ads for the well known Italian designer, GUESS jeans. The full page ad showed preteen girls in tight GUESS jeans wearing lipstick, and sitting on old men’s laps and was suggestive. I took the letters to my boss and all I said was: “Just curious. How many people do these letters represent?” She read one and stared straight ahead for a moment, and said, “too many.” And that was all, so I went back to my desk.

After a while she called me back in, and said, “I...just happen to have my annual meeting today with GUESS for the coming year’s ad package.” Our eyes held briefly and my jaw dropped a little. “Go to the archives and bring me a copy of the holiday issue in last years’ ad for GUESS with the little kids in it.” I searched and found it. It had a close up of cute, wobbly toddlers in their designer GUESS overalls and their short little legs in baggy cuffed jeans with a Christmas ambiance, and December was our next issue. Back in her office, Patricia cut the kiddie ad out and glued it into a current issue with the other ad, and said nothing more. She left for the VIP appointment. Later the boss called and said “Great success! GUESS agreed to change the ad and bought a six-figure package for the upcoming year!” I asked the boss what she said to the Jeans designer and I quote her: “I told him that here in American this ad...” [with girls on laps] “will not work. And I showed him the ad with the toddlers and said,‘but this will…’” Over the years I checked Vanity Fair regularly to see if the pedo theme surfaced again, but it didn’t. I was impressed by the Italian Jeans designer who listened, and altered his ads; and with my boss who gave a simple bold sales pitch despite the risk. But most important, I learned the power of letters.

Epilogue – Wolfgang Puck is the Chef and owner of his flagship restaurant in Hollywood, Spagos, the location of a big dinner party for celebrities, hosted by Vanity Fair. I was helping to put up center pieces, but time had run out, and the limos were arriving outside. There was a thick stack of about 50 or more place cards on the hostess podium which I thought had been forgotten, and I was the only magazine employee still there, so I quickly dealt them out. I know! You’re howling “how naive!”...and you are right. What possessed me to do such a dumb thing? But a stream of Celebs were flowing in the door already, and the room began to rock with…glitz and pulsing ego & noisy chatter, and I did not belong. I finished and looked for the closest exit, the front door, and maneuvered through the crowd thataway, but got stuck in the tight reception line and yikes! A couple celebs reached out to shake my hand assuming I was “somebody.” The one who stands out in memory was Angie Dickinson in the movie Oceans Eleven and Police Woman on TV. She looked so kindly at me with a silent Who areyou?’ I smiled and gulped, but no, I did not say, “Hi I am the Temp.” Though I should have in retro. I willed myself invisible, and squeezed out the door against the current, and finally popped out into the lovely starless Hollywood twilight. And exhaled.

This was the headline in the L.A. Times Entertainment section, Monday, after the Vanity Fair party: “Near Slug fest at Spagos.” with subtitle: “Celebrities Outraged with Seating Plan at Vanity Fair’s Celebrity Dinner.” I was “dismissed” from the job a day or so later— but never mind. I didn’t really belong there… or did I?

Letters is my theme! Cut em loose! Put wings on them! They can work if they are supposed to, but you actually have to push “send” or mail them. The consequence of the Guess protest letters was stunning, and my Spago screw-up was…hilarious, I thought later, even if a door closed. Another opened of course and I soon took another big risk: I loaded clothes in my car and drove all the way to Montana all by myself, where I found no glitz, nor any fashion at all,...and where the land and surroundings are spectacular and downright spiritual and weather is real serious. Montana has been challenging and risky, as worthy efforts are, but here is where my life finally “took off.” And my skills were accessed, and expressed. And where I finally felt I belong. Home.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page