— Chapter Twenty-Seven: Girl Talk —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
In 1968, Fleer was offered exclusive rights to produce and market player cards for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), after the association’s contract with Topps was due to run out in 1973, but because the date was so far in the future, Fleer’s management team declined the offer, resulting in Fleer struggling to meet sales objectives throughout the 1970s.
Realizing that Fleer would be facing hard times, the family of the founder, Frank Fleer, recruited Doug Seiler, the head of marketing at PCGC, to explore new opportunities for the company and offered him a generous salary and benefits package. He had been with PCGC for almost 30 years, liked his job and the people with whom he worked, and had worked for the current CEO’s father, Edward Fenimore, prior to his son taking over the firm.
Because of his long tenure and close ties with the family, Seiler requested a meeting with his boss, Richard Fenimore, to discuss the proposed offer and to ask whether there might be greater opportunities ahead for him at his current job, or should he make the move to Fleer.
Since they were close to the same age, and had grown up in the company together, Seiler and Fenimore were somewhat like brothers, except that Richard ran the company and Seiler had only risen to Vice President of Marketing.
After hearing the offer, Fenimore immediately countered with an equivalent pay increase, to let Seiler know that he was valued. But Fenimore had to admit that the opportunity Fleer proposed would most likely be more beneficial to Seiler at this point in his career than any additional pay increase or position his company could offer at this time.
Once they both came to terms with Seiler’s imminent departure, Fenimore asked, “Is there anyone in your department that you could recommend for your job, if you choose to leave?” asked Fenimore.
“The person most capable on my staff is Carol Erickson. You know her. don’t you, Rick?”
“She’s the girl whose husband was killed in Vietnam a year or so ago. Very sad,” answered Fenimore, trying to show more compassion than he felt.
“Carol’s been with us for five years, and took over Stewart’s job when he left. She’s a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and has stepped in whenever needed to train recruits. She even trained Stewart and was promoted to his job when he left. She is single now, a widow with no children, is a self-starter and knows enough about my job to replace me.”
“Do the men in your department respect her?
“What I mean, Doug...will they listen to and take orders from a woman?”
“She’s no shrinking violet, Rick. She can rip a man to shreds with her tongue when necessary.”
“Great! So are you going to stay... or leave?”
“I’ve been here too long, and I really need to move forward before I’m too old to change. You’ve been great to work for, but ‘the times are a-changing,’ and I think I need to challenge myself.”
“I wish you the best,” said Fenimore, as he got up from his desk and bent over to shake hands with Seiler.
“I’ve probably been here too long myself,” said Fenimore. “Especially since I fell into this job only because my father started the company. And the truth is, we’ll probably be acquired in a few years’ time, and then maybe I can try something new.”
“Acquired?” asked Seiler, not having any idea of the danger of losing his job in the future to an acquisition.
“Have you any idea of what you’d like to do if the company would be acquired, Rick?” questioned Seiler.
“Cheryl and I travel a lot, and we have a home in Myrtle Beach, so I have everything I want and need. Sometimes I wish I’d been born poor and had some struggle in me. Then I might have been able to reach for dreams without having them given to me.”
“It’s hard to sympathize with you on that!” said Seiler with a sly smile.
“Yeah! I know. I do wonder sometimes if I could have ever had what it takes to start a company, like Dad did. He came from nothing, and me... I have a hard time just keep the company afloat.
“Well, I wish you the best, Doug,” Fenimore said, as he grabbed both of Seiler’s hands in his. “You’re a good man, and you deserve happiness.”
“Nobody deserves anything,” answered Seiler. “We have to find happiness where we can, and savor it when it comes along.”
Seiler then turned and walked out of the office, knowing that he’d never return.
Carol was promoted to Vice President of Marketing at PCGC, becoming the first female department head in the history of the firm. Knowing that she had to work with an all-male department under her, she quickly changed her style of dress from hippie casual to corporate chic, and quickly adopted an “all -business” attitude as befitted her leadership position.
As a department head, she attended meetings on the development of new products, budgeting, and innovations affecting the industry, which eventually would include the purchase of the company’s first computer system and MAC personal computers and processing equipment.
Immediately after her promotion was announced in early August of 1969, Carol called Stewart to tell him the news. He congratulated her on the promotion, but questioned her on her feelings about being taken “off the board” and having to manage others rather than directly engaging in the creative process.
“I’m not the same as you, Stewart. I learned the limits of my passion at PAFA, and realized that I hadn’t the desire that some of my classmates did for drawing, painting or sculpting.
“I’m discovering that I really enjoy being in charge and having others do the work.”
Stewart hadn’t yet heard back from Whitney about any meeting scheduled with Norman Lear, so he channeled all of his time and talents into improving the Kafka series, and sometimes he could even complete two complex panels in one day.
He kept his copy simple, but placed roaches in unexpected environments including Egyptian tombs, Ukranian villages and the sewer system of London, and led them into encounters with government officials and racial protests and as part of the musical celebration known as Woodstock.
Because of Stewart’s efforts, the reviews of his work turned from negative to positive, with newspapers requesting that his cartoon that had previously been canceled be reinstated.
With all he had going on, his time with Carol was limited. And she was now leading a busy life that often required hours extending long after the normal 9 to 5 job.
During recent months, Stewart had saved enough money to move into his own apartment in Springfield, and was looking for a furnished rental for his parents. When he moved out, his father finally had a bedroom of his own and had reached an age when he no longer had to keep pretending to have a career, while his mother continued to work in the Gimbels art department in Center City.
After leaving the home he’d lived in since the age of 14, he continued to pay his mother rent to supplement her income, which provided his parents with a few luxuries they had not enjoyed for years. Dottie attended a class reunion with ladies who had graduated with her at School of Design, and she and Jim broke away for an occasional weekend getaway.
Stewart had purchased a car for his parents with the provision that his father’s drinking be monitored by his mother. When his father broke any of the rules, Stewart would have the car towed away. Maintaining a watchful eye was difficult because his mother also lost her freedom if his father broke the rules, and thus would often neglect to report Jim’s violations. But there was only so much he could do to help them.
Carol remained living at home with her parents, and despite her emotional commitment to Stewart, would sometimes go out with other men. She never told Stewart about her dates, but she knew that even as she was committed to him, she also understood that Stewart needed to grow up and experience the world, and that neither of them was ready for a permanent relationship.
Stewart wondered if Carol was seeing other men, but he never asked, especially when Carol would remind him that they were both free to do as they liked. Unfortunately, Stewart was committed to Carol in a way that Carol wasn’t to him, and he had trouble with the concept of casual dating. Some evenings, when he would call and her mother flatly answered that she was out, he knew that she was out with someone else, although she never explained where or with whom she’d been. To her way of thinking, she didn’t want to hurt Stewart. She needed to be able to build a life that included him in it, but not to the exclusion of other people.
In September, Whitney called Stewart and told him that Lear would be in New York for a long weekend, arriving on November 2nd. Lear had suggested a meeting and dinner at Top of the Sixes, located at 666 Fifth Avenue. Lear’s wife, Francis, wanted to see a Broadway show while in town, and suggested that Whitney bring Betsey along and that Stewart might like to bring a lady friend.
Although Carol had previous plans for that weekend, she immediately told Stewart that she’d love to go, and suggested that they see the musical Cabaret if tickets were available. Stewart said that he didn’t know if he could take the lead in selecting the specific show, when Carol volunteered to call Whitney and see what she could arrange.
Although Stewart thought Carol’s proposal was a strange request, he trusted her judgment and gave her Whitney’s home number, saying, “If you think you can put this thing together, go for it!”
Surprisingly, Carol called back the next day to let Stewart know that the arrangements were all set.
“What about Norman Lear? Do we know if he and his wife are okay with seeing Cabaret?”
Carol answered, matter-of-factly, “Jock was tentative about calling Norman, so he asked me to call. I got Norman’s wife, Francis, on the line, and she loved the idea of seeing Cabaret. She’s wanted to see it since it opened.
“While we were at it, we decided to change dinner plans to the Rainbow Room, where there’s dancing. I told Fran that you were a great dancer and that you’d danced with Cyd Charisse at Jock’s New Year’s Eve party. She told me that Norman was an awful dancer, and that she couldn’t wait to dance with you.
“And, by the way, the three of us ladies will be shopping earlier in the day while you guys are discussing business. Norman hired a driver for the day and we’re going from store to store and just leave the packages we buy in the car.
“Francis told me that she used to be a buyer at Lord and Taylor, and went on and on about her tough early years growing up. She’s quite a woman.”
“Did Whitney’s wife agree to all of this?”
“I called her next, and she said it sounded like fun. Betsey’s never met Fran, but remembers dancing with you on New Year’s Eve. She thought you were adorable and that this get-together was a great opportunity for us all to get to know each other.”
“And you had no problem with contacting them? You weren’t the least bit intimidated by telling wealthy women you don’t even know what to do?”
“Why would I? I have to deal with people all day long. They’re nice ladies, from what I could tell, and were glad that someone was taking charge. Betsey told me that it was always difficult to nail down plans with Jock, and that she was glad that someone had stepped up to arrange things for the group.”
“ I guess I should let Whitney know...”
“He already knows. Betsey called me to confirm and I called Fran.