As a young, rebellious teenager, I remember rising early on foggy mornings to roll our servants' French Deuxcheveaus down the gravel driveway, far from my father's ears. I first learned how to drive, grinding the gears of that post-war tin can down the rocky roads and forest trails of my Dad's beloved French estate 'La Cense.'
For my punishment, I inherited our servants' Ford Pinto, an equally disturbing little car. I commonly referred to the mustard-colored abomination as my mobil lighter, due to the dangerous location of the rear gas tank.
As a teenager on a limited budget (Thanks Dad!), I began to appreciate the great gas mileage and ease of parking. However, after the umpteenth CBS expose on flaming Pintos, Dad had a change of heart, and bought me a new VW Rabbit. It served me well during my days at USC and my infrequent trips to my parents' winter residence in Palm Springs. But I must admit, it was always a little unsettling to park my little car next to Dad's latest Avanti or some damned exotic creation.
Was Dad trying to teach me a valuable lesson or was he just being stingy? As an international traveler, Dad understood what it meant to fork over a large roll of Francs for a tank of petrol. I can hear him now, going off in a colorful and most entertaining French rant. Upon graduation, wanting to impress my father, I elected to enter the world of poorly paid journalism. Small, fuel-efficient cars became my mode of transportation for years as I covered my beats in the congested metropolitan areas of LA.
In the 70's, during our first US gas crisis, the automotive world asked, "Where is Raymond Loewy when we need him?" For many years Loewy's credo was "WEIGHT IS THE ENEMY!" I'm told he drove his designers nuts posting his reminders on the walls throughout his design studio in South Bend.
Loewy always stressed a lower, streamlined body with reduced weight. He felt a well-tuned 6 cylinder, with tight European tolerances, would dramatically aid the family sedan in gas economy and improve handling characteristics.
We remain nostalgic about the 2 ton, chromed-out jukeboxes produced by Harley Earl and Detroit's Big Three; however the Loewy Coupes and Avantis continue to set the design standards for many of today's cars.
My father loved his adopted country of America. If he were here today, he would have supported the drill here, drill now philosophy. From his international point of view, he always understood the advantages of becoming energy independent. Along with drilling, Loewy would have advocated the development of all viable energy sources in a timely fashion.
At a Loewy exhibition in Palm Springs in 2001, I had the opportunity to see one of the first Smart Cars imported to the US. It reminded me of a similar styled metropolitan car Dad had sketched in 1967. I'm sure he would have insisted on bright colors for high visibility and installed an engine kill-switch that would have automatically activated within 500 yards of a freeway on-ramp.
Till this day, I keep a small car trucked away, in anticipation of future gas rationing. But for now I remain addicted to my midnight-blue Jeep Overland. I enjoy scanning the horizon, looking over all those Eco-friendly bunnies; thus allowing me to locate the last of the full-service gas stations.
"Truman is here!", I could hear his high-pitched voice resonate from the parking area located approximately 100 feet from Tierra Caliente, my family's designer home in Palm Springs.
Capote became a perennial house guest at all Viola and Raymond's parties, which included an eclectic group of local celebrities, industry moguls and LA's beautiful people.
My mother and Truman forged a deep bond whereupon the colorful writer would regale her with the latest gossip of the month.
He even showed her his latest, yet unpublished manuscript, seeking her advice.
As their relationship grew, Capote insisted that Viola let him escort her to his secret haunts and watering holes in Palm Springs and Manhattan. Viola was both thrilled and curious.
Meanwhile, my father who at 69 was the oldest graduate of the Carrol Shelby School of High Performance Racing, had plans to take on the nearby dunes racing a dune buggy. I became his pit crew and navigator.
Dad would have made the 10 best-dressed list with his custom cowboy boots, pants, shirt and hat. I on the other hand, made the mistake of wearing shorts and sneakers.
As my mother was being entertained by Capote, my father and I took off in his metallic blue dune buggy complete with a high pole from which a bright- colored flag flew. The idea behind the flag was to alert others to our presence.
Dad was fearless. He attacked the steepest dunes with pedal to the medal ferocity. The buggy was powered by a high-performance VW engine quite able to produce enough speed for the terrain and send the local wildlife dashing for shelter.
Never the less, I remember many predicaments. On numerous occasions the rear tires failed to grab enough traction thereby sending Dad and I sliding backwards down a high dune.
It was at those times Dad would send me off to gather anything that would enable the buggy to push off and clear the dune’s crest.
I'd walk, dripping with sweat, with my sneakers filled with sand and load up on driftwood, rocks and painful cactus quills. Gripping the steering wheel Dad would say, "The race must go on!"
In hindsight, I savor those memories and my mother’s trust in sharing with me Capote's deepest secrets. I recall one.
Apparently, during the writer's numerous interviews with the two convicts responsible for the "In Cold Blood" murders; one stood out for Truman. He confided that he had a great affection for Perry Smith.
Perhaps that emotional intensity added to the book's fiber thus its enormous success. Capote, in spite of his other works, was best known for that 1966 story for the rest of his life.
One day while I was attending the University of Southern California, my father called. He was exuberant.
It was July of 1975 and he said, "Laurence I'm thrilled; the Smithsonian Institution is doing a retrospective of my career. It is a tremendous honor."
Of all of the tributes and awards Dad had received over the years, the exhibit at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery was his ultimate accolade.
I received my invitation to the exhibit's dinner shortly thereafter and immediately had it framed. It hangs in my office today.
Back in Washington, D.C. and across from the White House, the Renwick had been busy featuring 136 exhibits of Loewy's work.
This included a creme-colored Avanti hoisted on its side and pulled through two narrow doorways in order to be placed inside the Renwick's main gallery room.
In addition to the actual exhibition, the Smithsonian released a catalog which detailed the items displayed.
The catalog's foreward was written by Joshua C. Taylor, director of the National Collection of Fine Arts. He wrote in part: "His (Loewy's) simple unambiguous designs that substituted rolling surfaces for finite bulk gave a new pleasure to touch and sight at a time when beauty and technology had yet to become good friends."
The Smithsonian began its tribute with before/after photographs of a 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine which Dad, using plasticine clay in his New York Apartment, streamlined. This marked Loewy's first opportunity to apply his design philosophies to the improvement of an industrial product. It was the beginning of the profession: industrial design.
Other rendering exhibit items included: NASA Skylab habitability studies; the 1953 V-8 Starliner Coupe; the Pennsylvania Railroad's S1 locomotive; the 1954 Greyhound Scenicruiser; and the interior and exterior of Air Force One. The aircraft's exterior paint scheme is still in use today.
Moreover, the Renwick featured commercial and consumer products such as: the 1935 Sears Coldspot; the 1948 Dole Deluxe Coca-Cola dispenser; the Lucky strike pack; the Exxon sign; and various packaging classics for Nabisco, Ritz, Oreo and Gerber.
Featured logos included: TWA, Exxon, Shell, Newsweek, Canada Dry, Discover America, and my personal favorite, International Harvester.
Examples of Loewy architecture incorporated photographs of Dad's residences in Telepan, Mexico and Tierra Caliente in Palm Springs.
These were just a few examples of a career, which in 1975, spanned 40 years.
I remember being at my father's side as his chest swelled with pride. It was a gala affair.
Today, Loewy's work continues to be displayed through many venues worldwide. I consider the US traveling exhibition, "Raymond Loewy: Designs for a Consumer Culture," to be the most entertaining and comprehensive. Not only does it focus on my father's accomplishments, it highlights Dad's international lifestyle.
Glenn Porter, the respected authority on my father's body of work and former curator of Delaware's Hagley Museum, dedicated several years molding this exhibition.
It is currently on display at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, M.A. It will run through March 23, 2008. You may visit their website at www.monh.org.
At 83, Dad spent most the winter months in Palms Springs, CA. The area's climate suited him.
But Loewy didn't recognize the word retirement. He was as active, both physically and psychologically as ever.
Dad named his Palm Springs residence Tierra Caliente or hot earth. In 1947 Loewy and noted architect Albert Frey designed and built a modest three-bedroom house with a swimming pool that extended into the living room.
When I was young I remember my parents hosting numerous cocktail parties there, and it wasn't unusual for a guest to inadvertently slip and fall into the waist-deep pool.
One such occasion the famous actor William Powell suffered the same fate, Powell stood in the pool with his cocktail still in his right hand. To ease Powell's embarrassment, Dad immediately jumped in after him, cracked a joke, and summoned our butler to bring a fresh round of drinks.
Aside from the evening get-together's, Dad was always working in his studio which was located in a separate structure beyond the pool. It was there that my father undertook a monumental project - the book "Industrial Design," published by Overlook Press in 1976. Dad had just closed his New York office and felt the need to document his most significant designs for future generations.
As we currently experience a renaissance in modern design, I'm proud to announce the publisher has recently re issued Dad's "Industrial Design" with a new cover and an introduction by myself. Over the years it has become an essential text for design students and enthusiasts of the modern design movement. The 247 page tome spans more than fifty years of Dad's illustrious and sometimes controversial career; with 700 illustrations, sketches and photos.
As an aspiring journalist enrolled at USC, I vividly remember stepping into the studio when Dad was compiling photos and writing the footnotes for each illustration. His small studio looked like a bomb hit it. There were hundreds of photos and texts organized in rows lining every square inch of the beige carpet.
In the center of the workplace, stood a desk with Dad hovering before it, ruler in one hand and a pencil in the other. He labored tirelessly over the project; sometimes resuming at dawn and working through dinner. Dad's image was at stake and he knew it.
During the 1970's US industrial design firms were no longer in vogue. The majority of Dad's clients had established in-house design teams. Loewy, the sole surviving member of the industrial design founders; Dreyfus, Bel Gedes, and Teague, felt somewhat disillusioned in the US.
The day Dad announced to the family that the book was complete, he felt great pride.
However, it didn't take him long to resume his pace while monitoring the activities of his Paris and London offices.