Jerry Della Femina And The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

The First Essential Scary Truth

January 1993.  The economy had hit rock bottom a few months earlier and was beginning to inch upward.  By the end of 1994, the US economic outlook would be rosy and the longest period of American’s living high on the hog was just around the corner.  In January, however, many recent college grads couldn’t find a job, any job.  That number included your occasionally intrepid blogger.  I sent out resumes, went on interviews and was able to find bubkis.

Finally after months of trying I scored a temp job through Marty White, an employment specialist with Black and Whyte Employment agency.  “You’ll be working for Joan Brooks, Jerry Della Femina’s personal assistant.  Jerry finally started his own ad agency with Newsweek as his only client.  It is a 2-week assignment but if Joan likes you, it could turn into something long term.”  Marty seemed very satisfied with herself and I was happy to be on someone’s payroll.  It never occurred to me to ask just who is this Jerry Della Femina guy.

I met my friend Jed for a drink at the Riviera Café on 7th Avenue South shortly after I got the call and told him the news.  “So who is this ad guy you’re going to be working for,” he asked.

“Some ad guy named Jerry Della something or other.”

“Jerry Della Femina,” he asked.

“That’s the guy,” I replied.

“No shit,” he said, impressed.  “Lucky you.”

Jerry is one of those secret heroes to the majority of Americans, who know him only through his ad campaigns, such as the Singing Cat and Joe Isuzu.  Jerry is also a well known restaurateur, Page Six whore and one of the living model’s for the 1960’s Ad exec’s in AMC’s Mad Men.  He is also the author of the book From Those Wonderful People Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (his 1965 idea for the tag line for the first Japanese electronic corporation’s – Panasonic – to do business in US since 1941.), considered one of the classic tomes on the advertising business in the US.

Of course, I knew none of this until Joan Brooks told me on Friday January 29, 1993.  However, Joan overlooked my snarky Philistine nature and asked me to stay on for a few months.  Shortly thereafter, Jerry started taking an interest in me as well.  Joan claimed he liked me all along but I think it had something to do with me getting rid of some insurance cold caller on my second day on the job.  The caller finished his spiel and I told him ‘Mr. Della Femina already has life insurance and will call you if he needs more.’

Jerry looked walked over to my desk and said “get rid of those salesman and you’ll go far in life, Alex.”

Although he was rarely in the office for more than an hour or two, Jerry made it a point to give me pointers on how to be successful – the Della Femina way.  Granted it was always the same piece of advice with the occasional addendum but the repetition seared the saying into my head: “Never be afraid to be controversial, Alex.  If you do that you’ll go far in this town.”

Of course being controversial is how Jerry built his reputation. In 1986 Jerry was the Mets Ad Man (the Magic is Back campaign was his baby) and was fined $1,000 by Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn for claiming ‘I’d rather be in Tehran than Yankee Stadium’ within earshot of a Daily News reporter.  “Any press is good press, Alex,” Della Femina said after he told me that story.

February 26 1993 10:30am, Jerry And Joan asked me to go to a TriBeca film studio and pick up some footage that was to be used in the that weeks Newsweek TV ad.  Then I was to take this footage to a production house in the high 20’s and 8th Ave. in Chelsea.  It had to be there before 1pm.  A car was waiting for me downstairs.

The traffic was its usual bad self as the driver and I made our way down to the TriBeca office, two blocks north of the World Trade Center.  I was worried we wouldn’t be able to make the Chelsea stop by 1.  However, we managed to make it to Hudson and Spring Streets by noon.  Even if the traffic was backed up, I could walk the footage to the production house in 15 minutes.  The driver and I were flipping through the channels looking for some good tunes when the radio went dead.  No music, no AM talk radio, nothing but static.

We turned off the radio and talked about the Mets for the half hour it took to drop off the footage and get me back to the offices at 53rd and 3rd.  A few minutes after 1, I walked back into the office to find Jerry, Joan, art director Mark Yustein, copyrighter Joe Della Femina (Jerry’s brother) and accountant Nancy Granetz gathered solemnly around the reception desk.  Jerry was on the phone.  “I’d like the number of a Zola in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan,” he said.

Della Femina slammed down the phone when he saw me walk in.

“You’re ok,” Joan said.

“Of course.  The traffic wasn’t that bad,” I said.

“Alex, didn’t you hear the news on the car’s radio,” Jerry asked.

“The radio went dead a little after noon,” I told him.  “What news?”

“Someone just bombed the World Trade Center,” Joan said.

The buildings were fine but 6 people had been killed and hundreds injured.  Jerry was calling my parents to apologize for putting me in harm’s way and promise he would find me in one-piece.

A massive bomb planted in the basement and the buildings just stood there.  I was impressed.  No one will try something that stupid again, I thought.

If only…



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments