Friday, November 12, 2010

Abe and Me

Pseudologica Fantastica.

That’s the name psychologists use to describe people who have the compulsive need to lie consistently and about everything, however inconsequential - even if it yields no benefits to the liar.

We all knew kids in school who did that, but most of them grow out of it by high school. But some, never do.

And I’ll be darned if I don’t attract them like a magnet! My Daddy used to tell me that God gave me two ears and one mouth……..for a good reason. Sometimes I think I’m too good….at listening.

Add to that the fact that it’s not in my DNA to bluntly tell these myth makers that I don’t believe a damn word they’re saying.

I’m embarrassed to tell them.

THEY should be the ones embarrassed….for Heaven’s sake.

However, there’s always the possibility that they may be telling the truth.

Anyway, let me tell you about a man I once met named Abe Spanel.

I worked for a company in Washington for a couple of years called BYRON MOTION PICTURES… of the things I did in addition to “selling” was to help produce short films and TV commercials.

The Barber King
Abe was in his 80’s at the time and living in Princeton New Jersey when he called and introduced himself to me. He had invented a “personal hair cutter.” He called it “The Barber King.” (Think “vegematic for the head. “ ) He had a commercial for it airing on New York TV stations. But his hair cutters weren’t selling….and he was sure it was because his commercials just weren’t good enough.

I regularly called on clients in New York and New Jersey so about 2 weeks later I dropped in on Abe. He showed me his TV spot…..and frankly there wasn’t a darn thing wrong with it. I might have been able to do it a little better……but in my opinion, Abe’s problem was with the product, not the commercial.

I told him that.

He either appreciated my honesty, or felt sorry for me because I was such a lousy salesman. At any rate, he insisted on taking ME to lunch.

I did the eating, and he did the talking.

Did he ever!

He told me how in his younger days he sold vacuum cleaners for the Hoover company eventually working his way up to the head of sales and tripled their business in one year by paying his door to door salesmen twice as much as the other companies.

But he went on to tell me that he was more of an inventor than a salesman and that he had so many patents that he couldn’t remember them all.

He said that some of the companies he founded made a lot of money during WW2…… fact, so much that he decided to give a million and a half dollars back to the government.

(Remember, this is a man who invented a comb with razor blades in it…..that nobody wanted to buy!)

But I continued to eat and he continued to talk:

He told me that one of his inventions had caused a revolution in women’s undergarments
He described his invention and how he had invested a lot of time and money into this completely new concept in women’s bras and girdles….and was about to introduce the product nationwide.

But just before the target date….. reports started coming in that the models who were testing these new products were all complaining of a rash being caused by the garments.

Frightened to death that his invention was about to blow up in his face, he went back to his lab….(which was in one of the bedrooms in his home)  made an adjustment to his formula…….and the next batch of bras and girdles….. to his great relief, were fine.

He said he never patented that product………because he was afraid it would be stolen. ….in his mind, a patent was the quickest way to get your invention stolen. (That’s what he said.)

If you ever find yourself visiting the New Jersey Governors Mansion, ask them to show you the “music room.” That house belonged to Spanel at the time he  frantically re-mixed his magic elixer. And the "music room" was where his "lab" was located.

Now you know the true story of where the word Spandex came from... And how the Playtex Company was founded.

A guy with a bad haircut named Abe did it.


(1901–1985), U.S. industrialist, inventor, philanthropist. Spanel was the founder of one of the biggest corset and brassiere companies in the U.S. and an inventor who held more than 2,000 patents. 

Born in Odessa, Russia, the son of a tailor and a laundress, he was taken to Paris by his family at an early age, and then to Rochester, N.Y., when he was 10. He was a student at the University of Rochester for three years, then invented a garment bag that could be aired and moth-proofed with a vacuum cleaner. He made his first million dollars with his first business, the Vacuumizer.

 Spanel retired as chairman of International Playtex in 1975, but remained active as head of the Spanel Foundation and Spanel International Ltd., a business he started in 1976 to manufacture some of his inventions. Spanel was awarded patents on an eclectic range of products, including a hair-cutting device to be used in the home and a pneumatic stretcher for transporting military personnel wounded in combat. His philanthropic interests focused on medical research, especially child care. He established the Spanel Foundation for Cancer Research in New York City and the Playtex Park Research Institute at his company's headquarters in Dover, Delaware. His employees were provided with free Vitamin C tablets and were among the first workers to have air-conditioning, paid health and life insurance, and a profit-sharing plan. During World War II, Spanel contributed more than $1.5 million to the war effort, the profits he had made on war contracts. A staunch advocate of Franco-American relations, he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor by France.