Famous Last Words: Harry Walsh Changed My Life
Harry Walsh, a gruff, red-haired, six-foot-tall gunnery expert who spent World War II teaching fighter pilots how to shoot straight, was a world-class freelance copywriter.
Harry's office was in his house. His routine was to start writing very early in the morning and knock off at noon for lunch, which always was preceded by four white ones (code for martinis), and lasted until 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.—usually at Chez Pierre, an upstairs watering hole in Westport, Conn. I loved solving the problems of the world over lunch with Harry and vowed to become a freelancer just as soon as practicable. When I was laid off at an agency, I was delighted. It was because of Harry that I went freelance. Harry changed my life.
It was during that period that I heard a speech by the (then) circulation director of US News & World Report, Dorothy Kerr who said, "If you want to be successful in direct mail, you have to see who's mailing what, see which mailings keep coming in again and again (which means they're controls and are making money), and then steal smart."
From that day on, I started collecting and cataloging junk mail. One little file drawer became two, then four, and then many cabinets as the archive grew—to more than 100,000 pieces in more than 200 categories. Every now and again Harry would call to say he had a new assignment and ask if he could look through my files to see what others had done. After finding what he wanted, and making photocopies, he would invariably offer payment, which I refused. "Okay," he said, "the next time I come down and use the files, I'll buy you lunch."
A month later Harry and I were at La Bretagne in Stamford when he said: "You know, I'd pay to be a member of your archive service so I could come down and use your library." To which I replied, "If you were a paying member, I'd have to send you regular information so you would know what was in there. And that sounds like a newsletter." I lurched home blind drunk and told my wife, Peggy, I wanted to start a newsletter. She said that cash flow for a newsletter couldn't be any worse than that for a freelancer and immediately agreed. Because of Harry, we launched WHO'S MAILING WHAT! Again, Harry changed our lives.