Once, while I was reading prewar classic car restoration expert David Greenlees’ fine site The Old Motor, there was an article about a custom 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom with round doors, a museum piece. The article mentioned how the body was the second one fitted to that chassis as the first, a custom Hooper body, was apparently rejected by the lady who ordered it, “Mrs. Hugh Dillman of Detroit, MI.”. The name rang a bell so I looked it up on a search engine and every result on the first page said the same thing, that the Rolls had been ordered by Mrs. Dillman but for some reason she didn’t like it and never took delivery. Other than “Mrs. Hugh Dillman of Detroit, MI.”, pretty much repeated verbatim, there wasn’t much info on Mrs. D. Digging deeper I found out why her name was familiar. Hugh Dillman was Anna Dodge’s second husband. Her first hubby was Horace Dodge, who along with his brother John founded the Dodge Brothers car company. All these automotive sites were talking about Mrs. Hugh Dillman without realizing that they were missing an important fact about the lady, perhaps of more interest to car enthusiasts than the fact that she refused delivery of a custom car.
When I saw that Audi had announced that they were kicking off a new ad campaign that “celebrates the heritage and spirit of the century-old brand”, starting with a 60 second commercial titled “It Couldn’t Be Done”, that goes all the way back to August Horch, it was with some bemusement that I read that the ad is titled after, and set to the words of, a poem by “Edward Albert Guest”. Guest, who died in 1959, was derided by the likes of Dorothy Parker, but he was popular with the masses. Most likely Audi got the idea from last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award show, when actor Idris Elba recited the poem.
My bemusement was from how Audi described the man as “Edward Albert Guest”, since I knew the man as Ed Guest, the official Poet Laureate of the state of Michigan, the only person so honored. He was born in England but he moved to Detroit with his parents in 1891, got a job as a copy boy and then reporter for the Detroit Free Press, which published his first poem in 1898. He wrote thousands of poems, was syndicated in 300 newspapers and was popular enough to have a weekly radio show in Detroit from 1931 to 1942, followed by A Guest in Your Home, a national tv series that ran on NBC in 1951. He was a Detroit institution, buried in Woodlawn Cemetery not far from Edsel Ford and the now deceased greats of Motown. Audi, headquartered in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, couldn’t have picked a popular poet more closely identified with Detroit, unless they picked Eminem, but then Chrysler already signed him up. Come to think of it, Chrysler used Edward Guest’s poetry before Audi did too, using Guest’s 1917 poem, See It Through, in a 2011 Chrysler 300 commercial. That ad, part of the Imported From Detroit campaign, specifically identified Guest as the “Poet Laureate of Michigan”, so it’s not like Audi didn’t know whom they were quoting. Maybe Chrysler can return the favor by quoting Heinrich Heine in their next ads.
Now I wasn’t yet in kindergarten when Ed Guest died, but he was a part of Detroit culture when I grew up, not in small part because his son, Edgar “Bud” Guest, had the morning drive slot on Detroit’s leading radio station, WJR, for years. My dad had Guest’s “Sunny Side of the Street” show on his blue 1961 Pontiac Catalina’s radio every morning when he drove me to school on his way to his veterinary clinic. The Pontiac’s vacuum tube AM radio would get warmed up about halfway to school and Bud Guest’s familiar voice would start to resonate. When the Catalina’s transmission started to slip once it warmed up too, the Pontiac was replaced with a fire engine red Oldsmobile 88, but Bud Guest, and his father’s poems, were a constant of my youth and that of many other Detroiters. He’d often recite one of his those poems on a show that during the tumultuous 1960s still, as you can tell from the title, managed to be uplifting, though as the morning drive show on Detroit’s flagship radio station he’d have his share of newsmakers. His last show was a couple of weeks after I graduated from high school. When Bud Guest retired, he was replaced by another Detroit radio giant, the late J.P. McCarthy who made the show a bit more topical. The slot is currently hosted by Paul W. Smith and it’s still one of the premier radio host gigs that there is nationwide.
I don’t know if Edward Albert Guest ever drove an Audi or a Horch. He was already a published poet when Horch sold his first car in 1901. We do know that Mrs. Hugh Dillman bought imported cars from the story of the Rolls Royce with the funny doors. Somewhere, though, I think that a couple of Detroiters, Ed Guest, and Anna Dodge, are sharing a good laugh.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS