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War Birds Elliott White Springs John MacGavock Grider Larry Callahan Creation of a literary classic The Perils of Flight, 1917-18 Southern Manhood and 'the Lost Cause' War and Disillusionment The Springs Ad Campaign
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The Springs Ad Campaign

Elliott White Springs was by all accounts irascible and determined to defy convention. During the war he hated the platitudes with which most people discussed the war effort. He felt that the gap between what combatants actually experienced in war and what people back home imagined about the war was far too great ever to overcome. In War Birds and other literary works Springs showed himself to be iconoclastic and totally unwilling to toe the line of conventional morality or attitudes of patriotic duty.

When his father died in 1931, Springs bid his career as a writer adieu -- he had in any event never achieved the success of War Birds in his later novels and stories -- and took over the running of Springs Mills. During the Depression he struggled to keep the business alive, fighting off attempts at unionization and instead fulfilling his vow long term to provide generous benefits and living conditions to his workers. When America entered World War II Springs had weathered the storm and was able to emerge as a major supplier of cloth to the armed services. Perhaps the strain of running the mills contributed to Springs' bout with mental illness in the early 1940s. Springs had left the mills in charge of his subordinated in order to serve once again in the military, taking over the command of the army air base at Charlotte, North Carolina. His mental breakdown ended his return to military service. 'The doctor tells me my problems lie in 1918 and my father. He has told me nothing I didn't already know.'

The death of Springs' son in an air accident in 1946 was another major blow, testing the survival instincts Springs had displayed in the skies over France. He never allowed his son's name to be uttered in his presence again. Just as Springs' war novels in the 1920s had helped him overcome the trauma of the war and his sense of guilt over Mac Grider's death, Springs in the late 1940s and 50s found a literary and artistic outlet which may have provided the diversion he needed to cope with his renewed sense of loss. He had once proposed a risqu?advertising campaign to his father, who was far too strait-laced to consider such a thing. The appearance of a snobbish magazine advertisement in which a Newport socialite talked about how she entertained her guests gave Springs a new idea. He designed an advertising campaign that mimicked the style of the Newport ad, but instead of a snobbish socialite Springs had famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee testify as to how her favorite 'nite spot' was a Springmaid sheet.

Lee became the official spokesperson for Springmaid sheets, a deft bit of advertising genius that enraged the conventional forces of Madison Avenue. But far racier ads were to come, the most famous being the tag line 'A Buck Well Spent on a Springmaid Sheet,' with artwork suggesting an Indian buck had just had an exhausting hour or so with a comely Indian maiden in a hammock made from -- what else -- a Springmaid sheet. For some magazines, this was too much. They refused to carry ads with such overtly sexual overtones -- leading to more publicity for Springs and his company and more name recognition for his products. Meanwhile, the face of advertising had changed forever -- for better or for worse.