Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Swatch of My Youth

An old friend of mine – like me, a connoisseur of low budget, local TV ads -- sent me this obituary last night, and I think it's one of the better obituaries I've read in a long time.

Edward "Eddie" Nalbandian was a fixture on Southern California television from the 1960s through the early 1990s. When I was a child, watching something like White Zombie with Bela Lugosi or some dusty B movie, Nalbandian would zoom in at the commercial break, doing ads for his men's clothing store, Zachary All.

I'm sure I probably thought his name was Zachary All – I had no idea it was "Nalbandian." Turns out that the name "Zachary All" really came out of thin air. Nalbandian, who opened his first store in LA on Pico Boulevard in 1953, originally wanted to call the store the Clothing Co-Op, but his lawyer told him that calling something a "co-op" would mean he would have to share his profits with his customers.

So Eddie thought for a moment, and into his head popped the name of Hollywood actor Zachary Scott, best known for playing suave cads in films like Mildred Pierce (see photo at left). Eddie said he’d always liked him (certainly he was a well-dressed cad), but acknowledged "you can’t just use someone’s name." His next inspiration came from the laundry detergent All; he’d always liked it as a brand name, 'cause, you know, "it does it all." And that was the birth of "Zachary All."

Eddie’s TV work was a tour de force. Eddie wasn't anything like the kind of thing Eugene Levy parodied with his "Crazy Hy" ads on SCTV. For one thing, when Eddie jumped on the air, it was live and unscripted, usually from his big store on Wilshire Boulevard. A wiry, neatly-coifed fellow with some East Coast accent of uncertain origin (turns out he got his start in the Boston garment district), Eddie would fire away, rat-a-tat-tat, without showing emotion or taking a breath. It was like watching Sgt. Joe Friday sell suits. His tag line – in which he declared that Zachary All had suits in sizes "Cadet, Extra Short, Regular, Long, Extra Long and Portlies" – sounded vaguely rude to me when I was a child, especially the part about the "Portlies." I mean, did those people really want to be referred to that way? But Eddie was a tailor the way Joe Friday was a cop – we'll be proceeding on the facts, just the facts. If you can't handle it, go somewhere where they'll flatter you and sell you a suit that looks stupid on you.

I would never say that Eddie Nalbandian’s commercials were iconic – they were too idiosyncratic and frankly too well done within the limits of their production values to represent the entire genre of local TV ads – but over the years, through sheer diligence, Eddie became a household face in Southern California. Frank Zappa even wrote a song about him, "Eddie Are You Kidding?," containing the lines "Eddie, are you teasing/ About your sixty tailors?/ I'm coming over shortly/ Because I am a portly/ You promised you could fit me/ In a fifty dollar suit."

For me, Eddie's Zachary All commercials represented the old LA that I heard about, growing up in suburban Orange County, from my father and grandfather. We never went to Wilshire Boulevard when I was a kid -- but they had gone there, back when LA was bathed in that mellow-yellow sunlight before I was born, and they bought suits from East Coast tailors, because they were the only ones who were any good.

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Anonymous An Old Friend said...

A warm tribute to Nalbandian. A Friday night tradition of my youth was to eat frozen taquitos and watch wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium. The Zachary All commercials were a part of that tradition. I loved the Joe Friday reference--perfect.

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! That IS my childhood. Why Zachary All advertised on Sheriff John I don't know, but I swear I saw him on TV 30,000 times. To this day, at least once a week, I say "Zachary All" in that crazy accent (I always thought it was something like Greek/Bostonian or possibly Assyrian/Long Island, so you've solved a longstanding perplexity). Rarely does anyone know what I'm talking about, but when someone does it's like going to an elementary school reunion. Of course, Zachary All fits in the same brain slot as Wilson's House of Suede and Leather. When my parents used to take us into LA, we'd drive by all these famous landmarks: McArthur Park, Bullocks Wilshire, La Brea Tar Pits, the County Art Museum, Farmer's Market. My reaction was always blah blah blah. But when we drove by that stretch of Wilshire with Zachary All and Wilson's House of Suede and Leather on successive blocks, I felt like I was part of the star-making machinery--like I'd just shaken Bob Hope's hand.

1:09 PM  
Blogger herb said...

i remember the commercials for
Zachary All.My Dad was actually looking for a suit back then,actually around the late 60's and i remember us driving to Zachary All and having Eddie help fit my Dad for a suit.
Wow!! i had all but forgotten about that until a came across this post.
just like Anonymous said driving down all those famous landmark's when we were kids with our family's
now those were the day's .recently i drove with my family down Wilshire blvd only to fine an era gone by and i could only point out to where those famous landmark's including Zachary All use to be.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you grew up in the LA area, Zachary All was a household name. We all saw Eddie and his commercials, I think 30,000 times was about right. If Marlo Thomas was "That Girl!" then Eddie Nalbandian was "That Guy".

Thanks to Old Friend mentioning the Olympic Auditorium. Remember Dick Lane, the announcer, "come on down the the Olympic Auditorium next Friday night, Call RI9-5171 for tickets!

Thanks for the the post.

11:26 PM  

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