Master Brewer – Maurice Sendak

Death is about the living, since the dead no longer care.

The living’s relationship to the departed, the newfound lack in the universe of the remaining.

Celebrity deaths touch many because of their surface intrusions into our lives, they’re “known” like a distant relation but one who’s offered hours of entertainment.   Sometimes they affect us deeply, or at a particular moment in our development and leave an indelible thumbprint on our psyches.

I can’t say that Maurice Sendak was such a figure for me -though I did like “Really Rosie” a great deal as a child I’m certain that had more to do with Carol King.  I didn’t even encounter “Where the Wild Things Are” until a visit to my pal Tasca Shadix’ Austin home during my third year of college.  As an “adult” I came to appreciate his work as any sensible person should.

Getting back to the personal (and it’s all about me! -isn’t that what Max would want?), I wanted to share one story of a Sendak encounter.

Around 1999 or so, an agent for a Japanese ad agency contacted The Ink Tank about a campaign for a “Master Brew” beer.  They wanted a mascot of the brew master, they were triple bidding -as was the custom -and giving a stipend for some development art -as was the custom.

R. O. Blechman, the studio’s director, was on a rare vacation (as much as a visit to his mother in Florida could be considered a vacation) and was intent on landing the contract.    He suggested we ask Sendak to design the character.

Apart from the stunt of having a celebrity illustrator -along with Hirschfeld the only household name illustrator alive at the time -design a beer mascot, R. O. was absolutely right in his casting.  Sendak’s hatched, watercolor style was perfect for the mood of the spots.

So I spun the rolodex and called his Connecticut number.  I introduced myself.  Not really, I just said I was Blechman’s producer at The Ink Tank, no need to say anything more.  I told him about the project, emphasizing that it was a Japanese.   He was reluctant to do advertising in the States.  (The next year, by the way, he licensed his characters to Verizon for a very well done series of spots.)

His reluctance became refusal, so I promised that Ed Smith would be the lead animator.  Ed had done a beautiful job with is Sendak’s illustration 20 years earlier on a segment for “Simple Gifts”.  I told him he could be as little involved as he was on that project and be guaranteed great results.  I told him he could be as deeply involved as he liked, too.

He said he was too busy with an opera at Julliard. “Oh, really, what opera?” -sensing my opportunity to ingratiate myself.  “Hansel and Gretl”.  “The Humperdinck?  That should be great!  Your stuff is a great choice…”  (And they say a Liberal Arts education is useless).

Still, no avail, he wouldn’t do it.

After hanging up, I took a breath and called Blechman.  “Sendak won’t do it.”  “What do you mean?  Give me his number.”

Two minutes later the phone rings again.  “Maurice will FedEx drawings in the morning.  He’ll do what he can and they won’t be in color.”

It’s good to have a hammer.

Next morning, FedEx delivers a package of a dozen or so beautiful drawings.  In color.  Absolutely perfect.   Tight, precise, astounding little water colors.  We were actually smelling them -smelling them as our eyes and hands were not enough to take them all in.

There are multiple solutions to most problems, but sometimes there’s a perfect solution. Sendak’s art was the perfect fit for this job.

I’m now remembering that we had to email them.   AOL had special system for larger files.  Larger, like 5 MB large.  There was plenty of angst sending them out.

Then, no response.

More angst.

No response.

Then, the news.  The agent for the agency informed us that they were going with another studio (either Duck Soup or Kurtz, I can’t recall) he said -exactly quote -“The agency had never heard of Maurice Sendak, and frankly, they thought the drawings were weird”.