Friday, November 2, 2012


Dom Cerulli 1927-2012
My friends Mark and Garrett's dad passed away last week, and I wanted to write about him while I had a moment. His name was Dom Cerulli and he was one of the most fascinating and clever men I've ever known.  This blog post is loosely based on a eulogy I gave on the day of Dom's funeral.

I’ve known Mark and his family since before I could drive a car. Since we both went to the same Catholic high school that served dozens of towns in Westchester and Putnam counties in NY, my folks would have to drive me to Mark’s house and pick me up later. I spent quite a few hours in the Cerulli home during high school.

Dom edited Downbeat Magazine in the 50's and 60's
I remember first going to the Cerulli home and seeing the incredible collection of commercial art on their walls - - original artwork from album covers, art from magazines, autographed photos, etc. Dom was in the advertising business, and he was also the editor of Down Beat Magazine, the premiere periodical about Jazz music in the 1950s and 1960s. All this stuff on the walls was the work of Mark’s dad, so I knew Dom by his work before I met him personally.

The third time I visited Mark’s house was when I first met Dom, and what struck me about him was how fascinated Dom was in - - well, simply everything. There wasn’t a topic where he didn’t show an interest, and he seemed to be able to relate a story to anything that came up. I asked him about some of his work on the walls of his den, and Dom would tell stories about a project, or people he knew whom he met during an ad campaign. Dom seemed to be everywhere during the 50’s and 60’s, and managed to be both a creator, and an appreciative audience for both the world of jazz, and the advertising world.

Did you like the "Cola Nuts" 7-Up commercials? That was Dom's.
Let me digress for a moment and talk about one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history. In 1917, the US Army hired James Montgomery Flagg to design a poster to inspire people to join the Army. The result was, of course, the famous picture of Uncle Sam saying  “I Want You.” The poster became one of the most famous images of the 20th Century. Keep that poster in mind for a little bit.
Probably the most famous American ad, ever.

Two-Ton Tony (right), taking on Max Baer.
Both Dom and my own father were of the same generation, and they each had their own talented friends and heroes. Dom’s friends were in the music industry, while my dad’s friends were professional boxers. One of my dad’s friends was a boxer named “Two-Ton” Tony Galento, from Brooklyn.

I only met Two-Ton Tony after he had long retired, but he gave me a piece of advice that I think about a lot at times like this. He told me, “Kid (I was nine years old at the time when he told me this), you're in school every day of your life, and every life is a lesson - - if you're smart.”  So, when I’m asked to talk about people and their lives, I try to think of what lesson can be found in a person's life.

Let’s get back to Uncle Sam and that Army poster. Back when Mark and I were in high school, Dom worked for an advertising agency that was given the task of coming up with a new campaign for the Army - - replacing a classic campaign that was an icon. This would be like putting a different smile on the Mona Lisa, or rearranging the Washington Monument. But Dom was given that task and it had to be done, and the Army had to like it when it was done. A tall order.

 Back in 1917, when James Montgomery Flagg painted the portrait of Uncle Sam, he used his own face as the model for the guy on the poster. So when you’re looking at Uncle Sam, you’re actually looking at James Montgomery Flagg, the artist himself.

I think that’s the same thing that happened when Dom came up with the motto for the Army's new ad campaign. He found that model within himself, and gave us all the new phrase: “Be All You Can Be.”  So, I think that’s Tony Galento’s life lesson from Dom Cerulli: “Be All You Can Be.”

Rest in Peace, Dom.

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