To him, it was a small kindness. One he didn’t even remember. But it has stayed in my own heart for more than 40 years. And last Thursday evening, I was able to say “thank you” to entertainer Hal Linden in person.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Linden performed at the Etherredge Center at USC Aiken in a one-night event that was absolutely delightful. He is an extraordinarily charming and talented musician and actor, as I’m sure all in attendance will agree. I decided to attend simply because I have always been a fan. Being able to thank him for a meaningful kindness he had done for me all those years ago was an added pleasure.
Back in the early 1970s, Mr. Linden was a professional voice talent for several national brands – he was “the voice” of Pepsi Cola, Eckrich meats and a few other well-respected products. He worked out of New York, where he was also busy in theater and other performance venues (this was pre-“Barney Miller” television series days).
I was a very young, very inexperienced, copywriter working for my first advertising agency in Fort Wayne, Ind. This agency was quite “big” in the industry at the time, despite its tucked-away Midwestern location.
Our creative director was also well known in the industry for his ability to drink more than most human beings on this earth. This last bit was not known, however, by me.
I had written some radio and television commercials for one of our national clients, and I was to accompany the creative director to New York to produce them with Hal Linden.
I had never been to New York, nor had I ever worked with such high-level professionals before, and was quite looking forward to the opportunity.
We arrived in the city, checked into a downtown hotel, immediately walked to the production studio a few blocks away, and I was introduced to Hal Linden and the studio engineer. My boss then walked out the door and disappeared on a three-day bender. I never set eyes on him again until an hour before our return flight to Fort Wayne.
Mr. Linden immediately grasped the situation (he had worked with this fellow before) and took gentle control of the recording session. He would ask my opinion with great respect and professionalism, but I knew he was the one who was making all the decisions.
Of course, every take he cut I thought was “perfect.” But I remember he would say, “No, I can do that better,” and he would do another reading, and another, until he determined it to be the one to use. Then he would politely ask my opinion – without being the least bit patronizing – and tell the engineer to go on to the next one.
By the end of the second day, I had a full set of completed radio spots and television voice-overs to take back with me. A production assignment well done, my young ego intact, and my job secured, in spite of my creative director and my own naiveté.
For the record, not long after that experience, I moved on with my career, and eventually found a wonderful home with The Design Group in Indianapolis, where I enjoyed the integrity and professionalism integral in its culture and individuals for more than 30 years (I’m still affiliated through their publishing of books).
And yet, I never forgot that kindness shown to me by Hal Linden all those years before. So it was an unexpected privilege to be able to tell him “thank you,” in person, last Thursday evening, in the Etherredge Center, right here in Aiken.
Marti Healy is a local writer, author of the books “The God-Dog Connection,” “The Rhythm of Selby,” “The Secret Child,” and a collection of her columns: “Yes, Barbara, There is an Aiken.”
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