What I can tell you about the man who wrote “A Few Good Men”

What I can tell you about the man who wrote “A Few Good Men”

Monday, May 14, 2018 - 10:30am
Patti Harney (left) and Thomas Mabley III (right)

by Patti Harney

I’m grateful to several men and women for my advertising career and ultimate chance to share my experience here at CoJMC. But with the visit of my very first creative director and mentor, Thomas Mabley III (creator of “The Marines are Looking for a Few Good Men” and the famous Charlie Chaplin campaign for IBM), I realize Tom is the reason I’m here.

Yet the following irony is not lost on me: With this opportunity to describe Tom’s impact – as I consider all the lessons that he taught me about writing – I can’t seem to find the words.

Perhaps that’s because his influence never stopped. Over the past 40 years, (ever since Tom hired me as his secretary at J. Walter Thompson in New York) I’ve had a W.W.T.D. thought bubble hovering over my head. It guided me every time I hit the keyboard. Or picked up a pen. Or, in the case of Leo Burnett, a big black pencil. And it’s with me right now.

First, I hear Tom re-minding me to make sense. Edit out all of the extra, unnecessary…what’s the word…? Let’s go with “unprintable noun.”

Don’t use “I” when you know damn well it was a team effort. Especially if your teammates aren’t present.

And most importantly, be honest. Use the Midwestern voice that got you where you are today. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be proud of where you come from and let that be your strength.

Like the truly great natural born professor that Tom is, none of these “lessons” were ever verbalized. (Although he would often recall Admiral Horatio Nelson’s rule to “go straight at the battle.”) I have many memories of showing Tom (also unprintable noun) scripts that I thought were (unprintable adjective), and gratefully marveling as he found potential and built on my random thoughts until something beautifully written emerged. It was by Tom’s guidance and his example that I learned.

I only reported to Tom for six months, after which I entered JWT’s creative training program and became a copywriter. But as each of us went on to other advertising adventures, we remained great friends, which brought with it the pleasure of staying close to his amazing Gerri and their two wonderful daughters (and their families). In fact, one of his daughters, who founded the design firm MableyHandler.com, helped me build my house here in Lincoln.

So let’s review: Honesty. Clarity. Integrity. Pride. Well, what do ya know, Tom helped me find my words yet again.