April 13, 2010
 

My Days and Nights with Moger.

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By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

I got to know Stanley in 1964, five years before he co-founded SFM Media. We were ground-floor neighbors in a garden apartment complex in Hartsdale. We pushed each other's kids—Robin and Wendy, Leslie and Chris--on playground swings. We bowled together on Tuesday nights in a league in Elmsford called Trowel Knights, and we wore orange-and-black team shirts and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon. We caught the same trains into Manhattan almost every day. I knew Stan was a sales rep at Storer Broadcasting and had once worked for Walter Mirisch as a unit publicist for Alan Ladd's Jaguar Films. He knew I was a copywriter at Benton & Bowles. Both of us were, as they say, comers.

When SFM opened its doors in 1969 in the East 40s, I was at Grey and sort of tagged along because it was fun watching a friend start his own business. I figured since only ad agencies bought space and time for clients, an indy operation would never make it and he'd have to offer creative services to clients, and I'd stick around to run that.

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But of course, that never happened. Moger and his partners Bob Frank (Stan and Bob knew each other growing up in Brookline and had both gone to Colby College) and Walt Staab, a hotshot media VP at Bates, grew their media business as a media business. I never officially joined SFM but I became their fly-on-the-wall writer, because all busy guys and gals in corner offices need a wordsmith from time to time.

Moger was something to watch. He built an office that was 8x10 photos from floor to ceiling of himself with movie and television and radio stars. A lot of these were taken when he was very young. Stan's dad, Art Moger, had been a publicity exec at Warner Brothers. He was the key movie historian/publicity agent up in Boston. (Art was pals with Morrie Yuter, my wife's uncle who was the theater publicity hound in Philadelphia.) Art Moger wrote a slew of celeb and humor books like "Some of My Best Friends Are People" and "The Complete Pun Book." Art had legends like Bob Hope writing intros to his books.

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Stanley grew up around all these figures. He listened to radio, watched cliffhanger serials, and parked himself in the dark with all the great Hollywood movies of the 40s and 50s. Stan and I started out as deep fans of this stuff--an unbroken bond to this day. (When he built his own viewing theater in his home up in Purchase, one of his first poster purchases, an expensive one, was Victor Mature in "Cry of the City.")

And, because he was the son of a jokester, Stanley became one himself. He learned to do long, long routines as adeptly as one-liners. He became an expert impersonator and mime. He could do monologues, he could do ethnic, he could do clean, and he could do dirty--although, as he's often said, he would never do anything in business "that we couldn't show in Macy's window."

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Stanley was so much in love with show business, it was inevitable that he'd start a new division, SFM Entertainment. His strategy was to enter the strip-programming business with entertainment that would attract advertisers. And so he naturally started with Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" and made it such a success that it spawned a new series of 130 episodes in the late 70s. ("Disney thought I had a big syndication division," Stan has said. "It was nothing. It was me.")

"The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" followed, then "Zoobilee Zoo" with Ben Vereen. The SFM Holiday Network debuted in 1978 and began showing virtually every movie dear to Moger's heart. "It's my pet," he told Hollywood Reporter. "Nobody touches it. It's Stanley Moger's ode to himself." I still have some of the Holiday Network promo beachtowels.

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They're faded but you can read titles like "Gigi" and "Brigadoon" and "Ivanhoe" in the strips of film running up and down the fabric. This was the first ad-hoc "4th network," and it reached 93% of the country and was sold on a 50-50 barter basis.

Moger plowed into reconstructing and reinventing documentaries. "The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt," "The March of Time," "Crusade in Europe," "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey." He put together a Showcase Network for Mobil that telecast English classics on Nickolas Nickleby, Agatha Christie mysteries, and "Edward and Mrs. Simpson." Then came the "Sea World" specials, the General Foods Golden Showcase Network, "Sport Goofy." The mind boggles.

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I'd walk into Stanley's office for a drink around 8:00 p.m. and he'd be hot on the phone to the Coast. He worked two teams of secretaries and generally had about 30-40 calls waiting on long lists. Some were from big names and they waited their turn. Some were from his wife Marcia or his daughters, or even his daughters' friends, and those he took right away. This was a guy who cut multi-million dollar deals on the strength of his word alone--a practice that continues today. I couldn't believe it. I'd say to myself, Moger is the last mogul, the last of a breed. Maybe he is.

The years rolled on. Moger and I were catching trains from the Scarsdale platform. I'd moved to RCA Records to set up and run an in-house agency, grown my hair long and was wearing fringe jackets. Wall Street types would occasionally badmouth me on the platform at 7:00 a.m. One morning some master-of-the-world called me a 'hippie freak,' and Stanley nearly belted him. Stan was my pal when I needed him.

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Pfizer, Hunt-Wesson and Avis--SFM's original clients--were joined by Nike, MCI, Isuzu, J.P. Morgan, and Stroh's. Moger's office became this overflowing menagerie of stuffed animals, movies, scripts and vintage memorabilia.


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He had glass cabinets behind his desk filled with the biggest Mickey Mouse collection I've ever seen. (Bob Frank's office was kinda cool, too, with photos of Bob and four U.S. presidents, all SFM clients. Walt Staab had walls loaded with political photos and mementos, and some swanky avant-garde artwork.) I loved all three of these pioneers.

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Tim McHale was onboard, too, and he always struck me as a group head/planning director who wasn't primarily focused on making a six o'clock train home. McHale was a concept guy, an innovator. When he decided to put his name and philosophy in the media columns of the trade press, I flanked him, too--a relationship that has continued right into the classrooms of The New School, the online world, and this Journal.

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But Stanley's the one. I picture him late at night, sitting there selling two or three hours of prime time for some American Film Institute special. He's done nine of them now. This guy can't get enough of American movies, so he romances them and rearranges them and re-categorizes them and re-themes them, and then he gets on the phones and starts reselling them. The only assistant who's been with him forever is a chap named Dewey. I won't give his last name because he's Stan's secret weapon--the man who makes it all happen. At this level you need a #2, a backroom master, and Dewey has been solid gold.

Every December for the past five years now, I've gotten an extraordinary holiday greeting card. It's from Marcia and Stan, and it's an illustration of the two of them, arm in arm, dancing up a storm. The artist was the late, great Al Hirschfeld, and of course it's an original. Wouldn't you know--Moger immortalized by Hirschfeld. Who knows how many 'Nina's' are hidden in Marcia's hair? Only two people know for sure:

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The Shadow knows. And so does Moger.


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