What follows is the true story of how Valentines Day came to be.
All parts are true except for the parts that aren’t.
In February of 1939, the Vice President of Marketing at Hallmark, Bob McAllister, was feeling frustrated. The company was suffering from the Great Depression and flat growth for the third straight quarter. Of course flat growth, given the time, was considered good, but Bob wanted more.
Bob was also ten years into his marriage with his high school sweetheart, Kitty. Which was suffering from the same stagnation as his employer, but they did have their two boys, Johnny and Desmond. Bob affectionately called them Scooter and Mutton. Since Hallmark was then headquartered in Manhattan and the McAllister’s called the tiny enclave of Rye, New York home.
Bob and Kitty had a good marriage on most days…and on the days when it wasn’t so good, he had a little something on the side with his secretary, Midge.
As frustrating as the time was and his position, it made matters worse when Hallmark founder Mark Hall came to visit Bob’s office. Like clockwork, once at 10am and again at 2pm, the old man would stick his head in Bob’s office and bellow “Hey Bobby Boy, what the hell am I paying you all this money for if you ain’t gonna grow my company?” which was always followed by a particularly phlegm riddled chortle.
Nonetheless, Bob went in every day and sat at his desk thinking of ways to re-market old holidays and always hoping Midge would be wearing the black skirt, that fit her like saran wrap, paired with the red sweater that made her breasts look like perfectly shaped grapefruit.
One day, Bob got arrived to work a little early hoping to find Midge more receptive than Kitty was the night before.
Instead he found her packing up her desk. “What’s the deal baby? Where are you headed?”
“I’m leaving Bob, can’t you see that?”
“Yes, I can see that, but I asked where you were going.”
Actually hearing each other was not a key component of their relationship.
“I’m going back to California Bob. My father called last night and told me my mother had died.”
Bob exhaled, “Aw sugar, that sure is something horrible. How?”
“Well, how did she die?”
“What the hell kinda question is that? I tell you my mother dies and the first thing that comes to your mind is HOW? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Geez, forget I asked. I’m sorry to hear that. Stop in my office before you leave.”
Bob was marginally relieved to see Midge go. Sure, he’d miss the sex, but it saved him from firing her in six months like he had to do with Judy. Or Heather, before Judy…or Pamela before Heather.
Just as he sat down with his coffee and paper, Midge popped her head in his office.
“Sorry I snapped. It’s just not a good day.”
“I get it. Listen, be sure to leave your address so we know where to send your last check.”
“No need, old man Hall cut me a check this morning.”
“Oh OK then. Well then, I guess take care of yourself.”
There was an awkward silence as Midge waited for Bob to come hug her and Bob just waiting for her to leave.
“Thank you sir.”
“Bob. My friends call me Bob.” he said winking. He swiveled in his chair to avoid her exit.
He looked out the window onto Madison Avenue and, for the first time in a long time, felt what can only be described as guilt. It was just then that he heard the thump on his door. Old man Hall.
“Damn shame about Midge’s uncle” he said.
“Uncle? I thought it was her mother?” asked Bob.
The stared at each other realizing they’d both been duped.
The old man hit the wall again and released his signature phlegmy chortle, “Hot damn, I shoulda known that blonde hair was fake.”
“How much did she squeeze you for?”
“Only an extra week. She gave me the sob story about her uncle getting hit by a car and that her father was a cripple and she had to go back and take care of him. What the hell, it was a good yarn. Certainly worth an extra weeks pay.”
They both laughed again as the old man raised an eyebrow and said, “Speaking of pitches Bobby Boy, what the hell am I paying you all this money for if you ain’t gonna grow my company?”
It was at that very moment that Bob had what can only now be described as a moment of clarity. Suddenly, he was attuned to the guilt about his affairs, the way he treated his secretaries and how he fired them, he was remembering the butterflies he got when he first started dating Kitty.
Almost immediately his brain started firing on all cylinders and he, for reasons unbeknownst to him, remembered the St. Valentines Day Massacre. Bob thought that it had a nice ring to it, aside from the massacre part.
It dawned on him that his old Harvard buddy, Tommy Malone, had gone to work for the Walt Whitman chocolate company after graduating and that Tommy’s dad was a florist.
Bob McAllister knew the importance of the cooperative crossover deal so he called Tommy up and pitched him. Tommy loved the idea and agreed to call his father, the florist.
The three men met at 3pm that very day in early February so they could pitch old man Hall together.
While the actual pitch the three men made has been the topic of heated debate over the years, what we do know is that McAllister had a rough sketch of a greeting card with a cherub holding a bow on the front that said “Cupid, draw back your bow.” And on the inside, the card read “Straight to my lovers heart for me. Happy St. Valentines Day Sweetheart.”
The old man smiled when he saw the card and grew absolutely giddy when the men told him about the card being coupled with flowers and chocolate.
The four men agreed to test this hypothesis out that very evening.
The next morning the old man caught Bob McAllister in the company kitchen and slapped him on the back proclaiming to anyone and everyone “That is why I pay you the big bucks Bobby Boy!”
Hallmark created a run of McAllisters initial card, solicited the work of other artists and printed the holiday on all of their calendars.
The four men agreed on that February afternoon that one day a year, February 14th, these three things would come together to represent the love that men have for the women in their life (this day would later come to include diamonds and mix tapes).
As beloved as the day became it was not without controversy. The 1970’s sparked a spirited discussion at how Valentines Day had come to overshadow Black History Week. Eventually the debate was settled in 1977 when it was decided to make the whole month of February Black History MONTH.
On February 15th of that very same year, 1939, the first known viral marketing campaign took place as the wives of these four men couldn’t resist boasting to all their friends about what their husbands had done. All but insuring a robust Valentine season in 1940.
In November of 1939, Bob and Kitty welcomed their daughter, Primrose, into the world. At that very moment, Bob had another moment of clarity.
There should be a day for children to honor their mothers…