Arlene K. Hoffman was a "Mad Woman" in the twilight of the "Mad Men" era, rising in just six years to head her own agency. Some of the ad campaigns she spearheaded became cultural touchstones: the Dannon commercial starring 100-year-old Russians; the Lancome spots featuring a luminous Isabella Rossellini; and the "bare bottom" print ad promoting Jamaican tourism, which is now included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She introduced Americans to Armagnac, too.
This native New Yorker traded in a Fifth Avenue apartment and imposing colonial house in Connecticut's tony Litchfield Hills a decade ago for a new life in Chicago, where her only child, Jonathan, lives and works (he's a senior media executive at Starcom USA). She practices reiki, a Japanese method of hands-on healing; is a member of the Caxton Club, a group for Chicago bibliophiles; takes part in a weekly Torah study class; and is looking for a job to keep herself even busier.
Home is an apartment overlooking Lincoln Park stocked with museum-quality Biedermeier furniture, scores of her favorite first-edition books, and paintings old and modern. She shares the space with two Burmese cats and, in the summer and early fall, countless monarch butterflies.
Hoffman roams Chicago's parklands looking for plants bearing tiny butterfly eggs. She takes the eggs home to hatch, feeding the larvae with greenery she forages for daily. She says the boy butterflies bang on her windows to be let out upon emerging from their cocoons. The girls tend to linger and often nestle in her hair. She takes them out for a walk and gently launches them into the air to begin their new lives.
Q: Why are butterflies so appealing to you?
A: They are incredibly strong and at the same time the most gentle creatures I know. Don't ask me why, but I've always been drawn to them. There were times that I felt lonely and when my family would go to the country, which they did often on holidays, I went into the woods and the creatures of the woods were my friends, monarchs especially.
Q: What is your greatest attribute and/or fault?
A: I guess my greatest attribute would be compassion. My greatest fault is if I'm tired, hungry or angry, I can be ugly. I can be not nice, especially to my pussycats.
Q: What is the one secret to success?
A: I didn't go out to be successful. I did not have any idea of being successful. I just was a creative person among other creative people. We were a team in the business I was in, which was called advertising. People liked my ideas and my presentation. So, I was very privileged.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: I don't have to be famous. I don't have to be important. I would like to do something with my friends, with animals. I'd like to be amongst animals every day of my life, so I'm going to pursue some hands-on healing. … When I do reiki, it is very soothing and it takes anxiety and pain away. I learned it because I watched it heal. I watched it heal in front of my eyes.
Q: What is your favorite country?
A: Probably Italy. I love the people. I love the architecture. I love the countryside. Love the food. Love the food, a lot. You know, I worked in Paris for a long time. I can't say that I don't like it. I do like it, but it has a different quality than Italy.
Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: I guess it would be Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, because I related to them the most. It was, like, about me.
Q: Who is your favorite band?
A: The Grateful Dead, but I like country music as well. The most comforting thing for me from growing up to this very moment has been music.
Q: What did you want to be at age 13?
A: A free spirit.
Q: What is your professional mantra?
A: What does that mean?
Q: Well, do you have a mantra for life?
A: You know, I've always been a spiritual soul, as a child and it has more emphasis even today. Being gentle.
Q: But isn't that at odds with being an advertising executive in New York, being gentle and spiritual and having a soul?
A: Yeah, I know. (Holding pictures of herself in Russia during the Dannon yogurt photo shoot) But if you look at these pictures of Russia, for instance, it doesn't look like I'm the executive of an advertising agency. It looks gentle and loving and that was how I was successful. ... I enjoyed doing what I did so much. What was fortunate is that people like me, have liked me. Do you know what I mean? So, it was always more than just doing the job.
Q: You're not tempted to rest on your laurels?
A: It doesn't matter how old you are. You have got to go forward. I do really live one day at a time and I've liked every one. I still do.
Twitter: @billdaleyCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times