The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen, he was in a coffin.
OK, that’s a lie. By the time I saw Springsteen in a coffin I had already seen him perform concerts about half a dozen times.
The time I saw him in a casket was on Halloween in 1980. Springsteen and his E-Street Band had just swung into Los Angeles and played the Sports Arena that night as part of his tour promoting his latest album, “The River.” At the beginning of the show Bruce was carried onto the stage in a coffin; a rousing version of Johnny Fuller’s “Haunted House” came next, followed by many of the songs from “The River.”
Thirty-five and a half years later, Springsteen will return to the L.A. Sports Arena tonight, playing all the songs from “The River” again, as part of his current U.S. — and then European — tour.
Last week the show was in Phoenix, and, according to Jon Greer, writing in the Springsteen fanzine “Backstreets,” Bruce told the crowd, “‘The River’ was my coming of age record. By the time I got to ‘The River,’ I had taken notice of things that bind people to their lives — work, commitments, families. I wanted to imagine and write about those things. And I wanted to make a record that felt like life — or an E Street Band show. I wanted it to contain fun and dancing and laughter and jokes and sex and faith and lonely nights and teardrops.”
“The River,” in other words, is a metaphor for our journey through life.
After singing the 20 songs that make up the album, Springsteen said, “It’s about time. That clock starts ticking, and you walk alongside not only the people you’ve chosen to live your life with, but you walk alongside your own mortality, and you realize that you only have a limited amount of time to raise your family, to do your job, and to try to do something good.”
Springsteen had just turned 31 when the original “River” tour rolled into L.A. This summer he’ll turn 67, so it’s not surprising a summing up is top of his mind. I’m looking forward to the show tonight.
But let’s continue now with this idea of time. I recently met another artist, but one whose specialty has been as an illustrator, an art director, a filmmaker and a prescient investor.
His name is Al Kallis and last fall he turned 90. He and his wife and life-partner, Trudy, will be married 65 years later this year.
Last year Al wrote a memoir. Here’s its prologue (emphasis by Kallis in the original): “I have spent half a lifetime in pursuit of financial security. When I acquired enough to be free of anxiety I experienced an epiphany that revealed an unassailable truth. Everybody is born RICH. The single most important measure in the Universe that defines wealth is not money, power or prestige. It is TIME. We are all born rich with the gift of time. How we spend it defines our journey.” In fact, his memoir is called “Living the Gift of Time.” I recommend it highly and you can purchase the e-version on Amazon.
Springsteen famously clashed with his dad growing up. One of Kallis’ key relationships was also with his dad.
Initially, my interest in Al Kallis came about because he’s one of a handful of great illustrators of movie posters. For many years I’ve had an interest, in particular, in the movie poster and movie advertising work of Saul Bass.
Kallis, for many years, created the advertising for American International Pictures (AIP). To see some of the dazzling monster and sci-fi posters Kallis either drew or art-directed for AIP, please click here. Here’s one terrific example:
Kallis is the son of Maurice Kallis, whom Al refers to by his real name, Mischa. One learns in Al’s memoir that Mischa was born in 1903 in Moldova, which sits between Romania and Ukraine. Mischa was also an artist and at age 17 made his way to the United States and to Kansas City.
As Al Kallis writes in “Living the Gift of Time,” “Mischa had a natural talent for creating ads that sold films. … His reputation finally got national recognition and in 1931 he was offered the Advertising Art Directorship for Paramount Pictures in New York City.”
To see some of the great work for the movies that Maurice Kallis did you should check out Richard Allen and Stephen Rebello’s 1988 coffee table-size book “Reel Art: Great Posters From the Golden Age of the Silver Screen.”
I remember when my Mom gave me this book as a present that year that I went through it over and over again, realizing that the art directors of most of the posters I liked best were Vincent Trotta and Maurice Kallis. I was particularly taken by their one-sheet poster from the 1936 movie “The General Died at Dawn”:
Maruice Kallis, as it turns out, was a giant in the creation of movie posters. In the 1930s and early 1940s he did it for Paramount, and, after that, starting in 1943, for Universal. Maurice Kallis’ poster for the 1941 movie “Sullivan’s Travels” is one of the highlights of the movie poster collection owned by Martin Scorsese:
Al Kallis was 6 years old when the family moved from Kansas City to New York City. He details the difficult relationship he had with his dad. First, he notes that Mischa left for the office before Al left for school and didn’t come back until “long after my bedtime. On weekends he eagerly pursued his first love of landscape painting. Winter, summer, rain or snow he would pack his paint box, canvas and easel and be out of the door as early as possible. If [my brother or myself] wanted to be in his company we had no choice but to accompany him on these expeditions.” And if they weren’t interested in painting landscapes, these day trips with their dad were “boring.”
Kallis continues, “The most difficult part of living with Mischa was his unconscious effort to influence me. Like many fathers he wanted to live out his fantasies through his son.”
And this: “I was so busy dealing with Mischa’s ideas and getting his attention that I robbed myself of my childhood and time to explore my own passions. Ultimately, I chose to become an artist. I’m not sure whether it was to gain my father’s attention or beat him in the world he revered. … Mischa became involved because my success became his. He took credit for managing my career and he let everybody know it.
“My mother was sympathetic to my frustrations, but rarely supported me.”
Al Kallis’ relationship with his dad had a profound influence upon his life. After serving in WWII, Al moved to Los Angeles, where his parents had moved right before Al had enlisted. Maurice was the art director for Universal by then and Al worked for him for a very short period. Soon Al enrolled in the Art Center School. Then it was off to Paris for two wild years that are a kick to read about. Upon his return to the States Al suffered a mental breakdown. And then his life really took off.
I only want to give away one other incident. In April 1957, a year after Al started working creating ad campaigns and movie posters for AIP here in L.A. — as he continued to freelance to do other movie campaigns — he received a phone call from a close friend asking him if he and Trudy were busy the following Sunday. Answering no, the friend then said, “We’re going to have breakfast in Santa Barbara at eight. I’ll pick you up at six in the morning.”
Al and Trudy had a 3-year-old at the time, and Al initially declined the invitation to drive up the coast from Sherman Oaks to Santa Barbara. But his friend was persistent, and when they arrived at the coffee shop at 8 a.m., there was already a queue. Al writes, “After forty minutes we were seated and studying a very different kind of menu with only a few standard breakfast choices. Instead, the majority of space was devoted to a variety of pancake dishes.”
As Al tells it in his book, as they were eating, Al’s friend, Al Lapin, spoke: “Forgive the pun, but the public’s hungry for new ideas. I have a gut feeling the pancake concept is a winner, but this operation is primitive. We can do better with sandwiches, hamburgers, and a fully integrated menu starring pancakes from around the world.”
Lapin wanted Al and Trudy to invest in the idea.
Al writes, “I was more than a little interested. My investments were mostly in stocks, and while I had enjoyed some success, it was a passive form of investing. Here I had a chance to actually become a founder of a business. I was also drawn to the idea because as an artist I felt financially vulnerable. If I became sick or broke an arm, the family would have no income. Selling services carries that risk, owning a restaurant would solve the problem of eating. Obviously that’s a dumb reason to make an investment, but in the spirit of truthfulness it was in my mind.”
Trudy was also for the investment: “I’ve thought it through and this is the way I see it. We’re thirty-three years old, young enough to survive any loss, even a big one. You are a talented artist with a good reputation in the advertising community, so we’ll be okay. I’m for taking the chance.”
Adds Al, “With that vote of confidence I invested most of our savings, $15,000, and signed on to liabilities that could bankrupt us.”
In July 1958, in the Toluca Lake district of the San Fernando Valley, the restaurant was ready to open. Writes Al, “The international aspect of the menu was based on three core crepe-style pancakes: German served with powdered sugar and lemon butter with lemon slices; French served with orange marmalade; and Swedish served with loganberries and loganberry butter.”
The restaurant was a success. A year later Al Lapin’s brother answered a phone call to the restaurant early one morning. It was from a man who had visited the restaurant and liked it so much that he said, “I’d like to buy the franchise for the city of Louisville.”
When Al Lapin arrived his brother told him about the call: “Whatsa franchise? I’ve got a guy who wants to buy one.”
Replied Al Lapin: “I don’t know exactly how it works, but if someone wants to buy something, we’ll figure out how to make one and sell it to him.”
And that they did. The investment Al Kallis and Trudy had made was in a restaurant for which Trudy had come up with the name: the International House of Pancakes.
Writes Al: “It was thirteen years from the beginning to the end of the IHOP investment, a saga that began when I was thirty-three and ended when I was forty-six years old. I am humbled by unplanned good fortune that came my way. The founding of IHOP was a watershed event that profoundly affected my life. It brought me financial independence and the freedom to make choices in life.”
Coming Soon: Al Kallis’ Contribution to Images You Can Dream On