An interview with Mike Tesch

As promised, an interview with legendary Ally and Gargano art director Mike Tesch. I had the great pleasure to meet Mike at the Clio awards in Miami a few years ago.

I found his responses to my questions refreshingly candid and in some cases very surprising. Thank you so much Mike.

For some great insights into one of the greatest agencies ever, read on.

(And don’t forget to buy the book. It’s an absolute necessity if you work in advertising or marketing. Lots of great stuff to absorb. 11 pounds of great stuff to be precise)


To pontificate
to express opinions or judgements in a dogmatic way
to go on and on and on
to lecture
to preach
i’m warning you vinny
i am not going to do that
in and out…not on and on
to the point.

How did you first break into the industry?

it was 1965 i met my first wife Dolores at Chermayeff & Geismar associates
One of the best design firms in America. We were both designers .
She had a friend Elaine Pafundi …Elaine had a friend Amil Gargano. They
eventually married. we doubled dated… in those days that’s what they called it
Amil owned an advertising agency along with Carl Ally and Jim Durfee
He asked me if i ever thought of leaving the design firm and joining him at
his agency. I said yes. He had me interview with Ed McCabe and Ralph Ammirati. McCabe asked me a few questions i had very few ads in my book
He was reluctant. He took a chance. He and Ralph hired me. Simple as that.

In the book, Amil was lavish in his praise for both you and Patrick Kelly. That must have felt good. You got your own double page spread!

Amil’s lavish praise for Patrick and myself… I was surprised. And yes it felt good
We contributed but honestly it made me feel self conscious. Other people were worthy of that spread. They might have contributed a lot more than us.

You were at Ally and Gargano for a very long time. You must have had tons of offers to leave. Why didn’t you?

Yes I had offers…maybe thousands. not tons. Chiat/Day for one
And I came close. why didn’t i leave??? Two reasons
1. I was too loyal to Amil…my friend…the man who jump started my
career. And 2. I was too scared.

It’s my opinion that your FedEx work was the first truly modern US TV advertising. You used and abused the medium. You instinctively got it. Why do you think you (and Patrick) were so good at TV?

First and foremost I loved film…always have… always will.
Patrick felt the same way…it was always his intention to make a movie
Why was i good?? and i thank you for thinking that… to be truthful ….Patrick made me good. He forced me to look at people differently…..find something special about themsome little nuance some distinction…and record it… and take it to another level. Take real life situations…be irreverent, make fun of it… make the audience laugh.
For Fedex, for instance, we explored the anxiety of people in business who
depend on the quick reliable delivery of small packages …..what our
spots were about were the business world and how it is run.
People related to our spots in terms of there own emotional responses and
experiences in business …and when you get some one to laugh at the
situation….they’ve known someone like that…its always the other guy,
it’s not them.

How did FAST TALKING MAN for FedEx come about? Sorry but I have to ask.

Patrick and i both were watching “That’s incredible” on tv when john moshita came on. we both looked at each other and hence the fast talking man…
We got our producer to call John in LA.
I did a board 2 days later
Went to Amil and Hugh McCloy the acct guy… flew to Memphis that week presented to Tom Oliver sr vp marketing
he bought it in 60 seconds
we were confident we had something 60 seconds after
that tv show ended.
Joe brought it to life.
Board was exactly duplicated…uncanny

PS: When i was inducted into the One Club hall of fame
after my speech i had the fast talking man thank all my friends even my enemies in speed talk…… 60 of them ……”mike asked me to thank you all…….thank you Billie ,thank you Stephen, thank you Tom” etc etc

Joe Sedelmaier was the perfect choice to direct “Fast Talker”. Where was he in his career when you first used him?

Ah yes ,the genius of Joe. Where was he in his career when we first started using him?
He was doing commercials for brands people hardly knew nationally and he
did it with the help of some great writers like Jim Weller.And art directors like Nancy Rice. Clients like Pacific southwest Bell…Mr Steak …Fisher office furniture

When did you last see Amil Gargano? How is he doing?

Three months ago i had lunch with Amil, his wife Elaine, and son Matt in
South Beach
One month ago i had one of the best times of my life at the Ally Gargano reunion and Amil’s book signing at the One Club in New York.
6 days ago i e mailed him with an idea on how to get his book sold
5 days ago he sent me an e-mail about it.
How is he doing?
You’d have to ask him
He seems happy
He’s got a great wife
He’s got a great kid. He’s got great grand kids
What can i say …He’s Amil and i love him.

Unfair question but I’ll ask it anyway. Who was the best ever writer at A&G? And why? Completely understand if you don’t want to answer this one.

The best writer ever at Ally and Gargano….i am too smart to answer that
question. The best writer i personally worked with… i’ll answer.
I worked with ten of them and I’ll probably get a few mouths to open.
Curvin O Rielly.
Patrick Kelly.
Tom Messner.
In that order
One was smart and had insight.
One was funny and had insight.
One was cunning and had insight.

Who would play Carl and Amil in a movie of Ally & Gargano?

Carl … if Nicholson gained 20 lbs for the part. Or James Gandolfini.
Amil…if Pacino wore elevator shoes for the part.

What is your favorite Ally and Gargano campaign?

Favorite campaign: Federal Express.
Two reasons 1. Business. Average nightly package count 1973…2500.
Average nightly package count 1986 ….700,000.
2. Emotional Made millions of Americans laugh.
Second favorite, early Volvo campaign ….why ? Smart
3rd…Pan Am why? Smart 4th….. Hertz why? Smart

What ad/campaign that you created there is your personal favorite?

Federal express. I didn’t start it…George Euringer John Danza and Patrick (Kelly) did. I just came in and finished it.

I saw BEER early on when I actually worked on beer. I loved it. WHIP OUT YOUR NORBECKER! was a brilliant beer line. What is your memory of Patrick Kelly? What was he like?

Lets put it this way… in my wallet i have a picture of my wife Billie
my grandchild Luke my dog Dillion and …Patrick.
How much closer do you want me to get to the man. What was he like?
brilliant. funny loving big, raw ,enormous, engaging, calming, intuitive. No better friend did i have. God, do i miss him.

What is your recollection of Carl Ally? He seemed like a trip.

Define the ultimate leader that’s Carl
Define untidy that’s Carl
Define paving the way that’s Carl
Define erratic that’s Carl
Define insecure that’s Carl
Define some of his favorites…..not me
Maybe because i never had my nose up his ass
He was definitely a trip…like you said

Amil Gargano comes across in the book as an obsessive and driven guy. Is that fair? What was he really like?

Amil obsessive? Not true. Because if you define obsessive it reads like dominated, controlled, ruled, monopolized, fixated, one tracked
absorbed preoccupied. Why dont we try another WAY to describe Amil
SELF ASSURED…..or just plain…sure of one self. He’s a good man ….Amil Gargano.

I personally think the Ally and Gargano book is instantly the best book ever on advertising. What is your opinion of it?

I cant be anything but prejudiced ……..i think its the best book ever
written about advertising. part of my guts are in this book. and i will never forget
Amil asking me to join the best advertising agency ever made .

Thank a lot Mike. Anything you’d care to add?

Now there IS something i’d like to add….of course when you ask me if there is anything I’d like to add…. i jump at the thought …..i am an intense man with a
definite point of view….and as Ralph Ammirati once said of me …….”Mike
is the kind of guy that never lets go …when he goes for it”

I agree with (Tom) Messner’s opinion of Barry Vetere as one of the best ad guys in
the business. but to blatantly say that Amil’s dismissal of Vetere was
probably intentional is fucking absurd …sour grape shit. Awfully small for a man as big as he is and besides when vetere was producing all that work for the agency who was buying into all that stuff…and okaying it …none other than…… Amil Gargano. Misspelling of Vetere ….get off it….that was a typo…no one could
possibly get off on that…



15 responses to “An interview with Mike Tesch

  1. Vinny,

    Thank you for that.
    I agree about Curvin O’Rielly. Great writer.
    “Smart” is such an apt word. The smartest for me
    was the Hertz work.
    But don’t take my word for it, just ask Mr. Bernbach
    or Mr. Krone.

  2. you know what this means Ciaran, don’t you. the CURVIN O’RIELLY interview is next!

  3. The best writer you ever worked with, Mike, was the late Patrick Kelly. As you told the NY Art Directors Club in 1988: “Kelly is unequivocally the best writer I’ve worked with. Without him, I wouldn’t be here.” Here being the Art Directors Hall of Fame.

  4. Curvin O'Rielly

    It’s nice that Mike singled me out. Yet I honestly have to say that I agree with Tom. And not for anything Mike may have said when he accepted an award in the past. It’s just that when you look at the FedEx work Mike did with Patrick, you have to acknowledge that it’s easily one of the greatest campaigns ever.

    Tom definitely belongs on Mike’s list of top writers. Even if you consider only one series of commercials Tom did with Mike – Pan Am’s “Second Heritage” campaign – you’d have to be impressed with Tom’s ability to weave an emotional narrative story that sold very, very hard.

    You have to give Mike an “A+” for diplomacy. If I were asked to list the top art directors I’ve worked with over the years, it’d be tough. No doubt I’d forget someone important.

  5. Curvin, thanks for stopping by. this is great.

    as an Irish native i have to say that every time i see your name i feel this uncontrollable urge to transpose the “i” and the “e”. what happened there?

    I know how sensitive ad people can get about credit. i would simply have evaded that question.

  6. I think my branch of the O’Riley, O’Reilly and O’Rielly family were the ones who learned the spelling rule “i” before “e” except after “c.” Or perhaps it was corrected by an immigration official when they stepped off the boat in the 1840s.

  7. Curvin
    Is your nickname, Baba?

  8. That was awesome Vinny. You do know Larry King send them a tape. You do great interview work. Plus if you took over for Larry King maybe I would watch my first episode. Just don’t change the name of the show. I think Vinny Warren hosting the Larry King show is a brilliant tactical move. And boy would it piss off Larry.

  9. Curvin O'Rielly

    No nickname. Baba belongs to The Who.

  10. Great stuff. Thanks Vinny, Mike.

  11. curvin, thanks for that. i guessed it was an Ellis Island transposition. the main thing is you’re Irish ;-)

    howie, you’re too kind. it helps if you love your subject matter.

  12. Curvin O'Rielly

    They came in through Canada.

  13. And so begins my new education. Thanks Vinny.

  14. to tom messner


    tom …this is my opinion at the present time
    i meant no disrespect to patrick
    my opinion now does not cancel out what i felt then
    i continue to love patrick ….more than you will ever know
    but i have had constant contact with curvin for many years now …have done work with him…and frankly, i’m more dazzled by his smarts …his writing range…and most important. his take on these uncertain and changed times.
    lets just say wonderful to both of them
    and leave it at that.”


  15. Well put, Mike.
    The apotheosis of “what have you done for me lately?”

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