To America with Love by A.A. Gill

To America with Love by A.A. Gill

Author:A.A. Gill
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Simon & Schuster


12

Philanthropy

When Clifford, my grandmother’s brother, returned, legless, to America it was as a war hero: if not exactly dashing, then charming, an elegant catch. He married Harriet Pearson, an heiress whose family fortune came from coaches, which was lucky because Clifford didn’t seem to have much interest or skill in stockbroking. His granddaughter remembers him as remaining very English. He kept his blue passport and citizenship in a bedroom that smelled of England, pomade and a pair of monogrammed hairbrushes. The Depression took the cream off Clifford and Harriet’s money, and they moved from a grand house to a small one, ending up in the comfortable gentility of a service department. They had a daughter, my father’s cousin Caroline: beautiful, polished, popular and always smiling. This very American girl married Ted Ewald, a German-American whose grandparents had come from Hanover. His father had been one of the first to make a business in advertising, notably in using pictures to sell cars.

Detroit was motoring into Motown. Printing was evolving, magazines and papers putting on bright, chromaline pages. Billboards grew along the verges of the newly planned, multilane roads. In Europe, motorways are autobahns, but in America they’re the freeway, an American name that has an intrinsic beauty, a perfect piece of copywriting, a two-syllable slogan, a poem to the New World. The road that bore humming freedom, that gave you freedom. The Freeway should be America’s motto.

Old Man Ewald, Henry, laid down a new industry and made a fortune. He rode the freeway, understanding the aspiration of consumers who are avid to consume and eager to be seduced. America was a sure thing, and the advertising business was the right business in the right place at the copyright time. His company, Campbell Ewald, began in 1911. Campbell bowed out early; he’d been brought in because Henry was too young to legally start his own company. It is still based just outside Detroit, still sells the dream of Chevrolets and General Motors, and is still one of the biggest advertising agencies in America. Along the way Henry acquired a Chevrolet dealership, which he used as a laboratory to try out ideas. And Ted, his son, cousin Caroline’s new husband, liked the look of it, and ran it, and administered the foundation of all the money he’d been left.

The Ewalds lived in Grosse Pointe and brought up six children. My first visit to the States was for my cousin Wendy’s wedding. I remember the freeway over Detroit, looking down on the acres of new cars parked in rows, like a primary-colored harvest, and the forest of pylons that grew around the power station that galvanized the city: a futurist vision of nature, metal agriculture. I remember the illuminated freeway billboard that shone out the number of cars manufactured that year, the digits rolling over as you passed. I remember being called over by the private security guards on a quiet, lawn-margined street, and asked what I was doing. Walking. (The only people who walked in Grosse Pointe were domestic servants, and they were all black.



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