Jack G Allen Art
Ad Man - Photographer - Artist
Somewhere in the recesses of our minds lurks a memory of things seen, sounds heard and emotions felt. We carry these things with us through life and, if we're lucky, recall them through painting or story telling. My paintings come from a combination of my memories and my imagination. I'm happy to share them with you. -- Jack Allen
Jack Allen didn't set out to become an artist. In fact, back in the early 1940's, when he attended South Pasadena High School, he was known more for his athleticism than his artistry. He played shortstop in varsity baseball, served as Captain and quarterback on the school's "B" football squad, and ran low hurdles in track.
After high school, Jack attended Pasadena Junior College (PJC). He played first string quarterback for PJC at the fabled Rose Bowl Stadium, but his college football career ended when he joined the US Navy during WW II, where he served as a Seabee in a Construction Battalion in the South Pacific. He was trained to work as a stevedore, but after arriving in the Philippines, he was assigned the position of photographer when the original photographer in his unit became ill and had to be sent home. Jack photographed everything from materials inventory to high-ranking personnel and military ceremonies. This early training in photography would serve him well later in his career.
After being honorably discharged from the Navy, Jack leveraged GI benefits to attend Woodbury Business College. He then transferred to the renowned ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena to study commercial art. One term shy of graduation, he received job offers from Compton Advertising and from Young & Rubicam, in New York. After consulting with his professors at the ArtCenter, he accepted the offer from Young & Rubicam.
Jack started in the "mat room" at Young & Rubicam -- a typical entry-level assignment at advertising agencies during that era. But Jack's talent, intelligence, wit and hard work soon attracted the attention of the higher-ups. He became an assistant to one of the top Creative Directors at Young & Rubicam and was part of a creative team that won an Art Director's award for a JELL-O campaign.
As his visibility increased, other job offers materialized. After a few years in New York, he accepted an offer to join Foote, Cone & Belding. He packed up his car and drove cross-country to his new assignment in San Francisco. His new office was in the Russ Building, which was the tallest building in San Francisco at that time. "When the wind blew, the building swayed," says Jack. "I know because I worked there on many a windy night."
At Foote, Cone & Belding, Jack worked on accounts including S&W Foods, Sea & Ski tanning cream, and Safeway house products. But Jack couldn't resist an opportunity to take on a new challenge and when the chance arose, he took on the role of Art Director at Holst, Cumming & Meyers in San Francisco.
At Holst, Cumming & Meyers, one of the accounts Jack worked on was Matson Shipping Lines. Matson was expanding passenger liner service to Hawaii and the South Pacific and Jack had to figure out a compelling way to communicate that message. This was well before digital photo manipulation was even a possibility, so Jack had to rely on his own creativity and resourcefulness to produce the images he dreamed up. For the Matson ad, Jack found a bald-headed male model; had a painter paint the new routes on the model’s head; and then rushed to have a photographer capture the image before the paint started smudging. The eye-catching photo ran with the tagline, “Don’t just dream about it.”
Jack eventually returned to Young & Rubicam, at the San Francisco branch, as Executive Art Director, where he continued to excel in his field. Mik Kitigawa, an art director who worked for Jack at Young & Rubicam, said, “What describes a great advertising art director is his ability to come up with good selling ideas, designing and laying out award-winning ads and having the know-how to work within a tight budget. Jack was all of the above.” But, the punishing schedule at Y&R began to wear on Jack. After he developed an ulcer, he decided it was time to strike out in a new direction.
Jack established Jack Allen Photography in San Francisco with two colleagues from his advertising days. “I bought a Hasselblad [camera] and I was off,” he said. One of his early clients was Meier & Frank (M&F), a prominent department store chain based in the Pacific Northwest. He shot a successful series of ads, with his trademark wit and humor, featuring M&F’s fashions, children’s toys, and services.
After the partners in his three-man enterprise decided to go their separate ways, Jack partnered with the famous photographer, Milton Halberstadt, who had established a photography studio in San Francisco. Halberstadt was known for his photos of food. He created striking images for clients like Del Monte, Spice Islands, and Dole. “It was a great partnership,” said Jack, “Because he focused on the food photography and I focused on photographs that featured people. I also learned a lot about photography from him.”
After Jack and Halberstadt parted ways, Jack continued as a solo photographer. Over the course of his career as an advertising photographer, his clients included Bank of America, Levi Straus & Co., S&W Fine Foods, Inc., Kaiser Aluminum, United Airlines and United Way. For United Way, he shot a photo of baseball greats Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays. Among the other celebrities he got to meet over the course of his long career in advertising were Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, actor James Garner, and artist Norman Rockwell. " was strange being one on one with the stars of the galaxy. I never did get used to it," he said.
In 1965, at the age of 37, Jack briefly ended up on the other side of the camera. He was featured in a full-page ad in Look magazine with the headline, “Should your son become an advertising man … like Jack?” The ad, which featured tidbits about Jack’s life (a photo of his family, his love of golf, his Siamese cat) was designed to recruit more creative talent into the advertising industry.
Ad Man, Revisited
After he did some photography work for Dawson, Turner & Jenkins (DT & J), the agency convinced Jack to return to the advertising business. He became the Creative Director of the San Francisco branch of the agency. Later, DT&J persuaded Jack to leave San Francisco to become Creative Director at the agency’s office in Portland, Oregon. Volatility in the advertising agency business meant that ownership of the agency changed hands many times over the course of the next few years. “I never knew who was going to be my boss on Monday morning,” he said.
While he was working for DT&J, he met and married the love of his life, Marjorie (Marge) Porter DiMeo. They settled in Oregon, where he continued “Part II” of his advertising career. He became the Creative Director for the William Cain agency, where his clients included the Port of Vancouver. When the company sold to Gerber Advertising, he continued working as a Senior Art Director until he retired from the advertising business.
Looking back on his career in the advertising industry, Jack said, “I suppose what we did isn't so important but it sure was exciting and alive. We were making beautiful statements and bringing art and commerce together in a new, bold way.”