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  • Jerry Della Femina

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (9/14/21)

In 1967 Ron Travisano and I started an advertising agency.


Of course, we set out to build a serious, responsible business.


Somehow the 1960s happened, and we never became a cold, efficient business.


Early on we turned into a warm, beautiful family.


Mark Yustein, who died the other day, was the backbone and shining light of our family.


When I was a little kid in the 1940s I was Yankees fan with the love and fervor only a 10-year-old boy can have for his favorite team.


It was a team filled with heroes: Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra.


I would listen on the tiny radio in my bedroom and the melodious voice of the Yankee announcer Mel Allen would fill the room.


With all those stars there was just one player I loved…who owned me. His name was Tommy Henrich and his nickname was “Old Reliable” because he always delivered the winning hit or made the saving catch.


I can still hear Mel Allen’s voice saying:


“Henrich swings. It’s a long, long drive. It’s going…going…gone…a home run! A Ballantine blast that puts the Yankees ahead. He did it again. It’s ‘Old Reliable’ Tommy Henrich.”


Mark Yustein was, for over 40 years, the “Old Reliable” at our advertising agency, and in all of our lives, Mark always came through in the clutch.


He never failed you as an art director or as a friend.


He was an art director whose shelves and walls were covered with gold statues and awards that he had won for producing great ads.


He was a brilliantly successful art director who could write better than most copywriters. And yet he was quiet, modest, self-effacing and the single nicest person you’d ever know.


Every young advertising person who came in contact with Mark became better at their craft. Mark was a superb teacher.


When I heard about Mark, my mind went to the line in the song “Me and Bobby McGee” by Kris Kristofferson:


“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”


If I could trade my tomorrows, the single yesterday I would pick would be a beautiful spring day in the1970s.


I would come walking onto the 14th floor at 625 Madison Avenue. There’s my partner Ron Travisano, holding court while sitting in the barber chair he keeps in his office.


The halls are alive with laughter and music and good old-fashioned flirting.


I see Helen Nolan, a great copywriter, and she’s screaming for someone to get her a cup of coffee. There’s young copywriters Richie Russo and Frank DiGiacomo. There’s account supervisor and partner Jim Travis stuttering and worrying. There’s our talented television producer Linda Tesa, there’s Pat Kuss and my secretary Joan Kullgran.


The feeling in our office is unique. Like no other advertising agency in the world.


As I said, we started out to build a serious business, and somehow it turned into a wild, crazy, loving family.


I pass Mark Yustein’s office and there working with him is beautiful Kay Kavanaugh. They read me a Blue Nun commercial they just finished.


Mark turns into a shrink.


Mark: When I say a word, you say the first word that comes to mind. Sofa.

Kay: Slipcovers.

Mark: Chair.

Kay: Electric.

Mark: Love.

Kay: Eugene Gustfesta.

Mark: Eugene Gustafesta?

Kay: It was the 7th grade in the cloakroom. It was beautiful. You know, Eugene looked a little like you, Doctor.

Mark: A mustache in the 7th grade?

Mark: Fish.

Kay: Blue Nun.

Mark: Blue Nun? What’s Blue Nun?

Kay: Blue Nun is a delicious white wine that’s perfect with fish.

Mark: Meat.

Kay: Blue Nun.

Mark: Are you out of your mind? You just told me Blue Nun was for fish.

Kay: That’s what so great about Blue Nun. It’s a delicious white wine and it’s correct with any dish. Lobster or shrimp or steak or even pot roast.

Mark: Mother.

Kay: Doctor, what’s wrong? All I said was pot roast.

Mark: My mother. She chopped up a little onion, some carrots, a little parsley (he starts to sob).

Kay: Let it all out, Doctor.


And that was the magic. Mark and Kay had turned into Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara and delivered a beautiful script to them and a tiny wine company called Blue Nun went from selling 70,000 cases to 800,000 cases and became the number-one white wine in the country, thanks to the wit and wisdom of Mark and Kay.


There have been many beautiful and eloquent tributes to Mark Yustein. Please read the one on Facebook from Ron Travisano, who wrote beautifully about Mark, whom he considered a brother. There were beautiful tributes from Rich Russo, Frank DiGiacomo and so many others.


I keep thinking of three words. The three words that Louise Pucciarelli said about our losing Mark.


Louise, who worked with Mark for close to 40 years, said “It’s not fair.”


I think about those three words.


It’s not fair.


It’s not fair for all of us to go into what will surely be our own tough, uncertain future years without the sweet, lovable, reliable Mark Yustein at our side. We need him. We’ve always needed him.


When we lost Mark, our youth went with him.





-If you wish to comment on "Jerry’s Ink" please send your message to jerry@dfjp.com

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