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Marblehead ad man Bob Baker tells his story

MARBLEHEAD — Most memoirs follow a familiar formula: a chronological look back at the author's life.

Robert F. "Bob" Baker wanted no part of normal. The longtime town resident and award-winning giant in the "Mad Men" era of Boston advertising opted instead to focus on "bar-style" telling of stand-alone anecdotes, vignettes and life stories for his just-released memoir, "When Life Was Wow!: The Age of Surprise."

It made more sense, he said, to arrange everything by topics: Kid Stuff, Girls Are Different, Moves, Ideas, Characters, Opened Gifts, and A Surprise Sidekick. It is further delineated by era: The Golden Age of the Imagination, growing up in the 1940s; The Golden Age of Prep, the 1950s; The Golden Age of Publishing, 1946 to the late 1970s; The Golden Age of Advertising, 1960s to late '70s; and The World Called Freedom (1974-on, when he ditched the corporate box for outside the box, starting his own ad agency in "an inspirationally intoxicating place, a rum squall fisherman's world disguised as a town called Marblehead.")

He's been working on this self-published memoir since 1986. His About the Author bio: "Bob Baker is widely unpublished: his works have not appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, nor Harper's. He has never been nominated for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize nor the Nobel. To his knowledge."

"Bar-style is right up my alley," said Baker. "I've spent significant parts of 2,500 nights and 10,000 days in bars, saloons, pubs … and it is my informed opinion that bar-style is the God-intended vehicle for the sharing of life stories.

"I quit drinking 10 years ago," he added, "but, boy, I was good at it."

This memoir contains 150 tales of Baker's rambles in the exhilarating 1940s to mid-'90s, highlighting his loves, free-spirit ways, advertising career, and "playing the game of life with some offbeat-upbeat characters in Marblehead's brine-spiked take on the Human Comedy."

"Wow" is a pun-filled, witty, white-knuckled ride that's part hilarity, inspiration, feel-good surprises and heart break … mostly hilarity. It follows his early days as "an imagination-stoked loner kid in Old Greenwich, Conn." all the way to his Hatch Award-winning success as a Boston-based advertising whiz-kid who in 1974 opened his own agency in rented space at Graves Yacht Yard in Marblehead, 25 steps from The Landing Pub. "It was the middle of a recession. I had a wife and two kids and about $2,000 in the bank. People called me an idiot. What could go wrong?" he said.

As it turned out, not much. His first client was Eaton the Druggist, then owned by Don Blodgett, and, from that point on things went swimmingly.

There are stories about this Catholic boy's unlikely coming-of-age adventures (Spin-the-Bottle at age 12!) in that preppy Protestant Connecticut conclave where the cool kids drove MG-TDs and wore tuxes and ball gowns to the Vacation Dances. There are stories of women who would eventually explode into his life like supernovas, then leave, and lovely, sweet accident-prone Peg, who might have been the one who got away. 

There are crazy, out-of-left-field encounters with poet Robert Frost, bandleader Sammy Kaye, public relations forefather Edward Bernays, "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" songwriter Johnny Marks, Michael Dukakis, John Updike, Revere author Roland Merullo, Bruins star Bobby Orr and other notables. And, of course, wild tales from the wild side of Boston's heyday as a madcap "Mad Men" advertising playland.

Sure to draw chuckles are boozy doozy stories of three-martini lunches and nights — and days — spent in Marblehead dining and drinking establishments Maddie's, Flynnie's, the Barnacle, and Lynn's Porthole Pub with Killer Kane and other town characters.

Clever concepts and ideas continue to pop into Baker's brain on a steady basis. "I'm not done, by any stretch of the imagination," he said, then smiled, proud no doubt of his turn of phrase.  

Baker's memoir is available at - search: when life was wow baker 


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