Just yesterday, Donavan Freberg sadly announced the death of his father Stan Freberg – the legendary, revolutionary and undeniable genius man of American postwar advertising. With the premier of the final season of Mad Men – and a 1960s revivalist fever seen in every Pucci-patterned, Milton-Glaser-illustrated corner of film, television, fashion and culture – Stan Freberg’s death seems morbidly of-the-moment. Dubbed the “Che Guevara of advertising,” Freberg had the illuminated notion of adding humor and madcap insanity to radio and television advertisements and the entire medium was changed forever. In his personal family life, things were just as insane. As his son Donavan can attest: “My childhood was a Wonka infused cross between the Osbornes and The Royal Tennenbaums…as seen through the eyes of Tim Burton, David Lynch and Woody Allen.” In the following short story, Donavan gives a brief, adept summation of life as the son of this miraculously gifted and creative, but eccentric, adman.
Radishes Are Good For Gas
by Donavan Freberg
On the eve of April 6th, 1971, my father was perusing the aisles of the “Radiant Radish” in search of a midnight snack. The Radiant Radish was one of many badly lit and open late health food stores in LA, but the only one made famous by the Beach Boys. Los Angeles is a strange planet. You really do see famous people at every turnstile. You still do, but in the 70s, they’d talk to you. Invite you over for a cuppa tea and a speedball. Break Essene bread with you before blowing you in the hot tub. Los Angeles in the 70s was cool in a way that it definitely isn’t now. It was a scene. The scene. And to grow up here in the era of Roller Skates and Helter Skelter, to hang out with those famous people, to swim in the pools of legends and sit in math class with Zappa’s and Barrymore’s and Pollock’s and other nepotists well…wow. That would be something. It was something. It is something…
It's my childhood.
So here we go.
Back to the 70s, back to the good old days, back...to the health food store.
Christ, can I ever escape them? I'd be happy to never eat granola again...
Anyhow, since this was the land before cel-phones, my mother couldn’t just text message my father: STAN…IN LABOR…COME HOME…DRIVE FAST.
Instead, just as my father was about to toss some carob raisin clusters into his mouth from the bulk bin, the manager walked up to him and said…
“Mr. Freberg, your maid is on the phone”.
Why was the maid on the phone and not my mother?
Because mom was busy chain smoking and making herself a Dubonnet on the rocks, duh!
My father ran to the phone and Frances said, as only Frances* could,
*FRANCES: (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH SWEETIE, MY SISTER'S NANNY)
HOUSEKEEPER/COOK/NANNY TO BABY BOY/KILLER OF RATTLESNAKES/HERALD OF NEWS
“Come home Mr. Freberg, The Baby’s On Its Way”.
My father jumped in his 1969 Jaguar XKE and headed west on Sunset Boulevard.
When he got back to the house,*
BIG (See also: Friggin Huge, Enormously Large, Castle-Like)
Francis had already packed him a bag and a tuna fish sandwich.
My mother was chain smoking and saying over and over, “This is just ridiculous!”.
She was, you could say, in denial.
For the majority of her pregnancy, she said that I was “just gas”.
Some eight months prior to my arrival, as my mother sat drinking her black coffee and smoking her Kents and calling the shots on the set of what was to become my fathers most famous commercial, she began to get woozy and nauseous.
The doctor (I think his name was Feelgud) was called to the set, and he announced that my mother should not blame the craft services table for her malaise. She should blame my father, for knocking her up.
“That’s impossible!”, she said.
It should have been impossible, because my mother (due to a prior ovarian cyst) was down to a sliver of one ovary. It would take the Mark Spitz of sperm to crack that egg.
I’ve always been a good swimmer.
So skip ahead 240 days or so, back to our story.
I arrived just in time to see the dawn.
When I began to cry, the doctor (whose son would later become my agent) held me up to my mother.
“Now do you believe me lady!?”, he said.
“Oh For God Sake!, I Really WAS pregnant!!!”, said my mother, a glint of morphine in her eye.
The birds tweeted in the early morning light, the sun cast its mustard rays into the maternity ward of Cedars, the doctor wiped his brow.
My mother lit a cigarette.
I’ve been a night person ever since.