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Posts Tagged ‘Boca Ciega Bay’

“Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay.”
Bruce Springsteen
Youngstown


I don’t know if it’s common for kids growing up in Poland, Ohio to dream about living aboard a yacht someday, but that’s the short life story of Mary Wells.

When I was a kid I first learned about Poland, Ohio and I wasn’t thrilled by it. It was located on my birth certificate as the place where my father was born. I knew nothing about the town, or even the country of Poland, I just knew there were lots of Pollack jokes and I wanted no part of that.

My dad left Poland, Ohio soon after he graduated from Spingfield-Township High School and went to Ohio State Univesity, which after a stint in the Air Force prepared him for a career in advertising in Orlando and Tampa.

Looking back my father had a 30+ year run in advertising and later in life for his labor he had a lovely condo in St. Pete Beach that looked over Boca Ciega Bay & the Gulf of Mexico. After he died I visited Poland, Ohio for the first time to see where he had come from. I walked around the remains of the Youngtown Sheet & Tube at Struthers and imagined what it would have been like for my grandfather to work a lifetime in a steel mill. (I must have listened to Bruce Springsteen’s song “Youngstown” a hundred times while driving around because that’s where Yellow Creek referred to in the song is located.) My father had come a long way.

But it pales when compared to Mary Wells’ journey. Born and raised in Poland, Ohio she fled to New York at 17 to study acting and where she ended up as a copywriter in the era of Mad Men.

She worked her way up from copywriter to CEO of Wells Rich Green (WRG).  In 1969 she was already inducted into the copywriters Hall of Fame. She was the driving force behind helping change the image of New York with the “I Love New York” campaign. And at one time she was the highest paid woman in advertising and sold her company in 1990 for $160. Million.  And that’s just the quick overview. You can read her story in her book A Big Life (in Advertising).

Now she has homes in New York and the West Indies as well as the little boat she likes to spend time on as she travels the world.

One of my favorite quotes by Wells; “Of course, I’m a legend. But it’s not because of any great gift I have. It’s because I’m a risk taker.”

But where did she get her creative start? She began acting in plays at The Youngstown Playhouse at the age of 5. (America’s oldest ongoing community theater.) She was only three years older than my father and I’ll always wonder if their paths crossed somewhere like the Poland Library or if she ever saw The Charles Smith Band perform.

But she’s one more example of a creative that rose up from flyover country to accomplish much.

And I also wonder when the Mary Wells story will end up on the big screen. I’m not the first one to envision Michelle Pfeiffer playing Mary Wells. I hope the movie gets made someday and I hope the opening shot is in Poland, Ohio.

Wells’ yacht is featured in Architectural Digest December ’09.

As a side note, Youngtown is where the Warner brothers (Jack & Sam)  of Warner Bros. Studios fame spent much of their childhood. And it’s where they began their own journey in the film business when they screened a copy of The Great Train Robbery.

Related post: Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio

Scott W. Smith

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