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Hallmark Contemporary, creative heaven

Many humor writers work from home, so quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic has not changed their work habits. Having kids at home all day may have changed it a lot.

But I would like to tell how it was to create humor at Hallmark in the 1950s when the company launched its line of Contemporary Cards. It was the most creative place I have ever worked. Eight writers and artists worked in a room. Director Bob McCloskey had a desk outside of our room. He made no rules. We wrote and illustrated funny greeting cards. We voted on which ones to send to an "O.K. Committee" that decided which ones to print. We didn't send anything that we thought was only mildly amusing, or an old joke that had been done too often. Hallmark's CEO Joyce Hall didn't like our funny cards, but he liked the profits they made. He thought the cartoons were ugly and the jokes insulting. He didn't understand that good friends enjoy funny insults. That's why we voted on which cards to send to his committee. We wanted everything to be as funny as we could make it and not give him any old jokes or weak jokes to approve.

The art director who supervised us in the room could have critiqued our work and decided which jokes to send to the committee. But he didn't do that. When Alan Denney was promoted to art director, he told us the rules he would enforce.

"May I have everyone's attention please? As you know, I have been promoted to art director. One of my duties is to keep an attendance record. Some of us come to work on time every day, and some of us are a few minutes late. It's not important because we are all getting as much done as we would if everyone was here on time. But if I keep the attendance record honestly, management might hassle the people who are always late. So I'm going to give everybody, including myself, two late marks every week. That way management can't pick on any individuals. If we keep doing lots of good work, I don't think they will hassle us or fire us. Does anybody have an objection to that? No? Good.

"Now since you have been good children, I will read you some excerpts from the Hallmark Supervisor's Manual. I'm not supposed to reveal any of the contents of this manual to anyone who is not a supervisor. Don't tell on me or you may get a REAL supervisor. It says in the manual that whenever I am going somewhere in the building, I should carry some papers and walk swiftly to make it look like I am going to an important meeting. I am going to make a swift walk to the john now, so does anyone have some toilet paper I can carry? No? Well, I'll just have to carry this manual and maybe use a few pages from it."

Someone asked how did he ever get to be art director? Editor Rosie Leitz said, "They have no idea how he really is. He seems so serious and normal when he talks to McCloskey and other management people."

Alan was supposed to attend supervisor training classes. He went to one and skipped the rest. He gave the Supervisor's Manual to a friend who was a psychologist and asked him to try to figure out what was wrong with Hallmark. We kept on writing and illustrating funny cards without any more rules about how we did it.

- Dean Norman

Dean Normanis a cartoonist and humor writer, whose work has appeared in greeting cards,The New Yorker, MAD Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday MagazineandThe Kansas City Star. He's also written comedy for cartoon shows and written and illustrated children's books. He illustrated a cartoon book for Cleveland Metroparks,Cleveland Metroparks Adventures.

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