Last year, I wrote about a grave I found in Sugar Hill, Ga. It turned out to be the final resting place of a victim of an infamous police murder in 1964. It was incredibly random, but this is the kind of experience I’m getting used to.
It happened again this week when I visited Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs, Ga. It’s a huge cemetery with many different sections. Find a Grave lists 120 photo requests for Arlington but I was hoping to find just one.
The grave I was hunting for was in the Menorah Garden, a Jewish section. I haven’t visited many Jewish cemeteries but this one was different than ones I’m used to seeing. Colorful painted rocks left by family and friends edge many of the graves. It dispells a lot of gloom some cemeteries have. There’s even have a bowl of unpainted rocks that guests are invited to use to leave at the grave they have come to visit.
After finding the grave I was looking for, I took some photos of the graves around it to upload to Find a Grave. When I got home, I started uploading the photos. One person didn’t have a memorial page yet so I created one and uploaded the photo. The name Simon Kornblit meant nothing to me. The words “He Made a Difference” caught my attention.
When I did a Google search on his name, immediately a lengthy bio came up for him. Much of what I learned about him is from a profile in the Atlanta Jewish Times.
Simon “Si” Kornblit was born to Jewish parents in Antwerp, Belgium in 1933. His father was a diamond cutter from Poland and his mother came from Russia. Belgium was not exempt from Nazi Germany’s oppressive edicts. In 1940, Si and his family fled Antwerp for America in a freighter ship that was blown up on its way back to Europe. The Kornblits settled in New York City and Si eventually graduated from Stuyvesant High School.
A summer job Si got in the mail room at advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) turned into a 35-year career. While at DDB, Kornblit attended the School of Commerce and Management at New York University. He took a break from work to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Ultimately, he became executive vice-president, general manager of the Los Angeles branch of DDB.
One of Si’s most famous ad campaigns was known as the 1970 “Angry Gorilla” ad for American Tourister luggage. It involved a real-life king chimpanzee (not a gorilla) named Oofie trying to destroy one of their suitcases. It proved to be extremely popular and American Tourister sales jumped. The story behind the filming of that first ad is pretty funny.
Si’s wife, Bobbi, said that although her husband was gentle in nature, he was “an original ‘Madman from Madison Avenue.’”
Si and Bobbi moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his movie-making clients, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures. He helped oversee the advertising campaign for Fox’s Star Wars. Later, he left DDB and joined Universal. From 1987-1993, Si marketed over 100 films. They include Jurassic Park, Field of Dreams, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Back to the Future. He was also named a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Academy Awards for his work.
In 1994, after the Northridge earthquake in California, Si retired and he and Bobbi moved to Atlanta. He helped establish a film institute for continuing education at Kennesaw State University and served as its director from 2001-2003. He lectured on movie marketing to students at the Goizueta School of Business at Emory University, Georgia State, and other colleges. He never stopped sharing his wisdom with those just entering the industry.
Si also served on the Board of Governors for the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as well as the Georgia Film, Video & Music Advisory Commission; co-chaired the Photo Forum at the Atlanta High Museum of Art; and was a member of the executive committee of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. In Atlanta, he also continued his three-decade involvement with the March of Dimes. On top of that, he was named a torch bearer for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
You would think after an incredible career like that, Si would have been happy to rest on his laurels but he didn’t. At age 70, he decided to pursue a long-held dream. Become an actor! And he did just that. After just six weeks of classes, Si secured a talent agent. He landed roles in local community theater productions, independent films and television pilots.
“He had warmth and was real,” said Steve Coulter, an actor, writer and director, who coached him. “Simon was good,” he added. “People asked to work with him.”
Actor Doug Mason was in Days of Vengeance with Si. He said,”We had no idea of the accomplished life that Simon had…until we got to know him visiting at his home for a rehearsal. There we saw a glimpse of how much of a big wig he really was.”
“When you read his bio, which is amazing, I still can’t believe we had the honor to have him in our little no-budget movie. But it was Simon who led us to believe that the honor was all his.”
At the bottom of Si’s gravestone are the words “He Made A Difference”. That’s what really drew me to take a picture of his grave in the first place. Because that’s what I hope to do with my life. That’s what I want people to say about me when I’m gone.
Most of us will never be world-famous film executives. But we can make a difference in the world around us, even in small, daily gestures. As 2014 gets off the ground, I hope we can all work toward that goal. It’s a New year’s resolution worth trying.
Thanks, Si, for the difference you made.