Seated behind his vast, dark, antique elephant-teak desk ($500 at Abercrombie & Fitch in 1920, back when that was a lot of money even at Abercrombie & Fitch), Michael Patrick Puffington leaned back contentedly and shut his eyes. Weightless on his reclining SuspensaChair, he was oblivious to all sensation except the soft chirps of his beloved niece and nephew, Jilly and Dilly. They were somewhere off in the middle of the floor, cutting out photos from back issues of Privy.
“Uncle Puff! Uncle Puff!,” the twins cried out, or at least one of them did. “There is a picture here where you have a great big live seal on your desk! Did you used to have a pet seal, Uncle Puff?” Then somebody started going “Arp! Arp!” like the barking of a harbor seal.
“Oho, I know what you’re looking at,”Puffington said, not opening his eyes. “Big old smelly seal we brought in here about ten years back. Sammy the Seal. Yes, he was going to be the model for our magazine’s mascot. We didn’t have a mascot, and I always think a high-toned magazine should have a mascot. You know, like Esky.”
“What’s Esky?” asked one of the twins.
“Little little cartoon man with the cane and moustache. Think he wore a homburg too.”
“What are you talking about, Uncle Puff?” said the other twin.
“Before your time. He was the mascot for Esquire magazine. You know, like the bunny-rabbit for Playboy. I believe he once danced in a movie musical with Ben Blue.”
“You’re crazy, Uncle Puff!” said the twins together.
“Before your time, I suppose.” Mr. Puffington tapped his fingertips together and gazed at the ceiling. “Anyway! We were going to have a seal for our mascot, a cartoon seal. I had the art department sketch one out, but it was a little too stylized, looked like ad for Glass Wax. (Never mind, you probably don’t remember Glass Wax.) So that’s when we hired this great big harbor seal, name of Sammy, so we could sketch him from life. We had plastic dolls made up by a promotional house out in Jersey. I’ve got one around here someplace…”
He fumbled in a desk drawer, at length extracting a twelve-inch-high plastic figurine of a black harbor seal wearing a top hat, monocle and white bow-tie. “There he is,” said Puffington, standing the toy upon the desk and inspecting it closely with one eye. “Lord Privy Seal! I got a closet full of ’em someplace. We were going to give them to our advertisers and new subscribers to Privy magazine.
“See, the top hat here is hollow”—Mr. Puffington stuck in his index finger—”so you can store matches or cigarettes in here. That was my idea. Like the toy storks they used to have on the tables at the Stork Club. You kids probably don’t remember the Stork Club.”
“Unh-unh,” said Dilly.
“Was that like the Mudd Club?” asked Jilly. “Our mother always talks about going to the Mudd Club back in the Olden Days.”
“I suspect not. But let me finish my story. We started giving them away to people, our Lord Privy Seals. The marketing people downstairs made us stop. Bunch of jerks. They said giving away plastic figurines was inappropriate because we were an upscale magazine. I was absolutely livid. I go: ‘How can you get more upscale than Lord Privy Seal, for lordy sake?’
“They say, ‘It’s sending out the wrong message. Somebody called from Baume & Mercier. What is this shit?’ (Excuse me, kids.) ‘We’re in the hi-class timepiece trade, and you send us this plastic junk? Head of Hammacher-Schlemmer gets on the squawkbox and demands to know how it works. Does it need batteries? Do you wind it up? ‘ Okay, I say, should we make them in gold? That’s going to cost us a bundle.
“‘No, no, no,’ they say, ‘forget it, it’s the seal part that’s the problem. It sends the wrong message. If it were a lion or a tiger or an elephant it would be a different story. But people don’t look up to seals, they don’t admire them. They don’t consider them classy.'”
“What about sea lions?” the twins asked. “Would they have liked a sea lion?”
“I didn’t raise that point,” said the uncle.” Lord Privy Sea Lion? Might have been okay. Sea lions have back feet, don’t they? But I just gave up, I was so sick of the whole thing. Okay, have it your way, we won’t have a mascot, I thought. Nyaah!”
Over in the new Bank of America building, an attractive young lady on the 20-oddth floor was talking on the telephone and contorting herself. Well she might be attractive, but she had her back mostly turned to the window, and anyway she was a little too far away for the naked eye. David owned a nice pair of Ghurka binoculars, but the art director borrowed them a few weeks ago for a feature shoot and never brought them back.
on the top floor of the Photoplay building
Dressed in white sailor suits
Offbeat TALKATIVE FELLOW who has ambitions well beyond Privy,
SETS THE WHEELS IN MOTION with the kids and Puff:
German, yes. Like the Parent Trap, you know. In the original version of the story, it was a pair of boy-and-girl twins who met at a summer camp near Berlin in the 20s and discovered they had been separated at birth, so they switched identities. Very kinky, very Weimar Germany, this was like 1930. The girl cuts her hair short, the boy grows his a little longer—not much, because not much time here, like three weeks—and they switch clothes, and they pretend to be each other, so they can get to meet the parent they never met, and perhaps they can figure out a way to bring their parents back together. Well sir! It was a brilliant tale in this first telling, so a publisher snapped it up…but then balked! It was just too…too. Now, this was the same author and publisher who’d just scored a bit hit with something called Emil and the Detectives. Emil was very kinky in its own way, with submerged themes of pederasty and child abuse, but all that was acceptable in a children’s book; you’ll find worse things in Pinocchio and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But two kids switching sexes…a little too much for 1930 Germany. So the author rewrote it, turned the boy into a girl, made them into two girl twins, and all was safe. But it wasn’t as interesting, and the company forgot to publish it. The Nazis came in, the company went out of business, the author was politically suspect. At one point he tried to turn it into a screenplay called ‘The Two Lotties” and there was mild interest in some European studios but no one was ready to lens, as Variety would say, till one of Walt Disney’s people picked it. Disney had a onetime animator named David Swift who ended up working on the Disney live-action films. He was very driven and talented—he married that fab 50s actress Maggie McNamara, and then later she committed suicide—and in fact David Swift is the main reason why Disney turned from animated cartoons to live-action in the late 40s, the 50s, the early 60s. He wrote and directed all the Hayley Mills films: Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, Summer Magic, etc., but the biggest one was The Parent Trap. Which of course was based on Kästner’s old story/screenplay about ‘The Two Lotties.’ (That was the writer’s name, yes, Eric Kästner.) It’s interesting how many of the original plot elements remain in the Hayley Mills film. Do you know the film? I don’t want to bore you. You do? Okay. Good. Let’s see, so in the original they meet at summer camp, and encounter each other at a dance between the boys’ camp and the girls’ camp. The girl cuts her hair short, and the boy is able to pass as a girl. Now this is all carried over into the Disney film with Hayley Mills: one of the girls is boyish, with short hair; whilst the other one has long, curled hair. Long-hair cuts her coiffure, masquerades as the tomboy twin, goes out to her father’s California ranch where she rides horses, although she does it English-style, being from Boston and all. (This was a minor plot-point in the script, and I think it was cut. What’s the difference between Western riding and English riding anyway? It required too much explanation.) In the original story, the girl twin, pretending to be a boy, pretends to be very sick and dying, and demands to meet her/his mother, and the father is reluctant, says he doesn’t know how to get with his ex-spouse. And the only reason the two parents and twins ever get together is that the girl twin (pretending to be a boy) ends up in the hospital where she is going to operated upon. And that’s when the doctors find out she’s a girl. The father searches for his ex-spouse just to get his son back, and the son comes back (dressed as a girl, because the neighbors and relatives see him and his mother off at the train station), and so does the mother, but it’s unclear whether it’s all going to work out. Kästner just sort of left it there as a domestic comedy.