BERNIE OWETT was an old-school gentleman. He had exquisite taste and was an
important creative force at JWT. He changed my professional life in many ways, probably more than anyone.
In the day, advertisers made ‘quick and dirty’ 16mm commercials to test ideas. If the
commercial tested well, the agency would re-produce the commercial in 35mm with better production values. Because of my familiarity with 16mm in my documentaries, together with my post production editing and optical experience, I was able to do better work in the medium.
Bernie recognized this and allowed me to actually reshoot one of my test commercials as a sort of reward, a huge break. Because of the weather we had to shoot in Florida. I took the agency and clients to dinner and when the waitress brought the wine list, I turned it over to the more sophisticated Bernie, who immediately gave it back to me as I was the host. I was totally clueless and when he heard the wine I was ordering, he grabbed the list and took over, thankfully. From that time forward I became acutely interested in wine and its importance to hospitality and its enjoyment. (A few years later, Gore Vidal gave me lesson two, but that’s another story.)
The work was also extremely important as it led to a Listerine commercial with F. Murray Abraham that was a successful award winner and led to many more. Abraham eventually got an Academy Award for his role of Salieri in AMADEUS.
A few years ago, I was having dinner and enjoying a Quintarelli Amarone and told the self-deprecating wine story to the laughter of my dinner guests. A little time goes by and an
attractive woman is leaving the restaurant and stops at my table and mentions that she overheard my story. She introduced herself as Bernie Owett’s daughter.