Mario Rampone 1928-2013



From: Dan Margulis

Date: May 18, 2014 9:39:02 AM EDT

Subject: Mario Rampone 1928-2013



The Christmas card, full of personal details and comments about the state of the graphics industry, had punctually arrived each year of the last twenty or so. When December came and it did not, I expected the worst, given that my friend was 85, and yesterday I found that it was true. He had passed away on December 19.


The great New York type house Pastore DePamphilis Rampone had a lasting impact on the graphic arts, considerably overlooked today. It had a role in almost every major advertising campaign throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. The work of the designer Paul Rand always went through PDR, because the notoriously irascible Rand would only work with Mario Rampone. Sometimes Steve Jobs would tag along with Rand and then there would usually be fireworks.


The three principals of the firm had very different skills. Joe Pastore was a salesman, known for the lavish entertainment of advertising executives that was a necessity in those days. He had no technical skills AFAIK. Bert DePamphilis was the operations guy. He knew his computer systems, and how to manage a plant, often involving wheeling and dealing about which the less said the better. He had a fair but not great knowledge of graphics, and could not produce work himself.


The type expert, and what an expert he was, was Mario. Only somebody with as profound technical knowledge as his could stand up to the wrath of Rand. Here, also, his personality came into play. Unlike Joe and Bert, who were outgoing, friendly people with terrible tempers, MarioÕs perpetually sour face hid a sweet interior, one that would never allow him to speak harshly to anyone. His face was sour because no oneÕs work, not even RandÕs, could ever live up to his own high standard. He could not tell Rand directly that his work was bad, nobody could do that, but he didnÕt have to. He just shook his head sadly and stuck out his lower lip--no words necessary.


All three principals were first-generation Americans, of Italian parentage. It sounds absurd today, but none of them could speak any Italian. Back then, immigrant parents considered that they were abandoning the old country in favor of a new one, and that it was inappropriate for their children to speak any language but English. The same thing happened to my late father, who wasnÕt allowed to learn Russian, much to the harm of his later career.


Accordingly, it was easy for someone who didnÕt know Mario to offend by using something akin to Italian pronunciation of his name, viz., MAH-riyo rahm-PO-nay. He preferred, and everyone else knew to call him, MARY-o ram-POAN.


Old-fashioned, yes, in that way but not others. Like many in the field, Mario spent some time in denial about what the Macintosh was going to do to the typesetting industry. Unlike those, once he decided otherwise, he jumped right in. Today weÕre unlikely to realize how difficult it was for a sixty-year-old who had never held a mouse in his hand to figure out how a Macintosh could produce better typography than any of his computer-literate subordinates knew how.


As an executive, he wasnÕt going to get involved in actual production except in emergencies, and in any case he wasnÕt nearly as fast as the young people working for him, who were hired for their computer skills and not because they knew anything about the graphic arts.


Therein was the opportunity. A group of people who knew Quark but not typography met a workaholic traditionalist who was conversant enough with Quark to tell them what they were doing wrong, and all this at a time when the world was being told that the Macintosh is a toy that will never be able to deliver the same quality as a Òhigh-endÓ system. Plus, Mario was uniquely positioned to sell the concept: he had access to the highest levels of the big agencies, and when he told them that his desktop product was as good as traditional, they would believe him when they would never have believed anyone with a lesser reputation. And, at that time, as the New York advertising agencies went, so went the rest of the world.


In that way, he made a significant contribution to *our* profession. Typesetting doesnÕt make the demands on a computer that image processing does. At the time he was doing this, professional-level color work on the desktop was extremely difficult if not impossible. But only two or three years later, it *became* possible, and the same scenario played out: Photoshop is for children, you will never be able to get the same quality as on a Scitex system, and on and on. Only this time, there wasnÕt anybody with MarioÕs prestige to make the case to the agencies. But it didnÕt matter. Mario had softened them up; they were more willing to accept that a new technology was taking over.


Of course nothing would have changed in the long term. The new way was going to take over regardless of who was defending it. But without Mario and perhaps a couple of others, the agencies would have kept trying to raise umbrellas against the typhoon of the desktop revolution for another year or two, and without that experience they would probably have continued to reject Photoshop for even longer.


As noted, Mario was a workaholic, working very long hours with never a vacation. During the year or more that I worked for the company, I was highly critical of him, saying that a boss who works a little harder than his subordinates sets a good example, and one who works vastly harder is an idiot who doesnÕt know how to teach or delegate, and that he needed to take two weeks in Italy, which he had never visited. I could say these things to his face because I had become a special friend.


I had become a friend because of an unusual event. One of MarioÕs personal high-quality accounts was about to do its annual report, when it suddenly decided that everything must be set in a new font, ITC Century, de gustibus etc. Unfortunately, AdobeÕs rendition of this font was one of the many that did not meet MarioÕs quality standards. He needed someone who could rip out all the letterspacing and kerning information and substitute more appropriate values. The person who might have done this (because Mario himself didnÕt know enough Fontographer to do it himself) was on sick leave. Mario, desperate, asked if anybody else knew how. So, even though I was supposed to be there to improve color, not type, I found myself pressed into service.


This assignment came on a Friday and work was to commence Monday. Knowing the maniac I was dealing with, I invested substantial time in the project at home on the weekend. On Monday there was no acknowledgment of how I had saved his butt, for this was not MarioÕs way. By Thursday, he was on the point of tripping over his own frown because of what he perceived as quality problems with the financial tables and the possibility that the deadline might not be met.


To distract him, I asked his opinion of [my] kerning. He replied, shaking his head, ÒWell, the kerning is reasonably good, but...Ó At that point, as I recall it, his sigh was interrupted by the arrival of an ambulance to take away the one employee who had had a heart attack and the other who had had a stroke. Mario never had any problem complimenting other graphics, but as far as typography was concerned, Òreasonably good,Ó in Mariospeak, was the sort of phrase that he might have applied to the works of Botticelli or Michelangelo. Nobody had ever heard him use it before.


As history has demonstrated, Mario chose the wrong profession. Not nearly as many people are fanatical about type quality as about how a photo looks. The once-mighty PDR staggered on for a couple of years after my departure. When the end finally came, Bert DePamphilis was already seriously ill and had only a short time to live. Joe Pastore had no skills that could translate into the digital age. Mario led a small remnant of the company to a new home in New Jersey, where a prepress house had bought it for its limited, but prestigious, client list. Paul Rand was no longer alive, but his biggest client, IBM, still wanted all its typesetting approved by Mario Rampone.


This was a brutal 90-minute commute for Mario, who lived in Long Island. He can be excused for not retiring by the fact that he saved the jobs of a dozen or more people, temporarily. Soon enough, IBM decided it could no longer afford to spend so much on typesetting, however beautiful, and Mario finally had enough time to see Italy, which he did. This would have been around the turn of the century, I forget the exact year.


Upon returning, however, he found that he could not leave the industry. And so he took a job as a salesman for a printing company, also in New Jersey. He really didnÕt have a good enough knowledge of printing (although to be fair, many print salesmen know even less) but he was a quick study. He became moderately successful. A few of his clients recognized him for what he was, but I doubt that the companyÕs management did.


We would get together for lunch every two years or so. He would be full of comments about the latest developments in digital presses, and also about my books, which he read thoroughly. He was always flattering about their contents, except for the typography, about which he would always frown and wrinkle his brow. For my part, I could not believe that he was still putting himself through that brutal daily commute at his age. I suggested to him that only the pope should plan on dying in office.


As it happened, the pope at that time, who was MarioÕs age, eventually did have the good sense to retire, but Mario did not. I last saw him about a year ago and he seemed in good health and just as sharp as ever.


I sometimes wonder what his impact was on my own success in the book world. I signed the contract for the first version of Professional Photoshop in 1993. One of the biggest selling points was that I could do my own production, as at that time major book publishers didnÕt have their own staff of lowly-paid Quark operators, let alone people who could handle images. The alternative would have been for them to hire a designer, a typesetting house, and a prepress house, and to incur the (then) very large expense of contract proofs, which I didnÕt need because I was able to rely on my monitor.


As many subsequent authors found out, it later became difficult to keep the paws of the publisherÕs staff out of the production process. Freed from such turf wars myself, I designed the book (and all subsequent ones) in a two-column format, which gives more flexibility for graphics and also makes for greater readability. In view of the difficulty of the topic, I also wanted to use fairly large type for ease in reading. The combination of large type and narrow margins can create typographic issues, however, such as loose lines and nasty hyphenations.


I therefore did the same thing as with MarioÕs annual report. I concluded that the typeface I had chosen (Utopia, designed by AdobeÕs Robert Slimbach) had excellent letterforms but that the spacing and kerning were inadequate, so I ripped them out and substituted my own. I did the same, using different typefaces, for PP2E and PP3E. For PP4E I went whole hog and designed my own typeface, It is now exhibited in an Italian type museum, but Mario frowned and wrinkled his nose at it. For PP5E, Canyon Conundrum, and MPCW, therefore, I decided to return to the Utopia used in PP1E.


Was all this extra work worth it? For PP1E, quite possibly. IÕm not saying that the layout couldnÕt have been improved or that a different choice of typeface and/or size would be unacceptable. What I *am* saying is, given those choices and the use of QuarkXPress, nobody else could have created a more readable product. Maybe it made no difference; weÕll never know for sure. But maybe it kept a few readers from throwing the book away in disgust and maybe some of them were influential in creating my following. If so, thank you, Mario, because it would not have happened without you.


The choices he made later in his life are debatable. Being a print salesman is hardly my idea of fun, especially for a person who had spent most of his life at the pinnacle of his profession. And I cannot conceive of circumstances where I would accept a daily 90 minute drive each way across the George Washington Bridge, even if there were no such person as Chris Christie. But I do not condemn, because may other people of that age spend their limited time doing even sillier things. And, as if it has not been made obvious so far, the graphic arts represented MarioÕs entire life.


Though he loved his profession, it did not love him back. Googling his name returns ludicrously few results given his prominence in and impact upon our field, so we will just have to recognize him ourselves. Most would not have found him a lovable man, but I loved him and loved what he stood for.


If youÕre a type or design hound, much of what Paul Rand did and wrote is displayed at paul-rand.com. Rand rarely gave interviews, as he had a low opinion of interviewers generally. In one posted here he arranged to have a better one, so much so that the interviewerÕs name is as prominent in the headline as RandÕs. It is Mario Rampone.


Dan Margulis