BOSTON -- If you thought you saw a lot of Thomas P. O'Neill when he was speaker of the House, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Sure, you've seen Tip O'Neill on TV plugging Miller Lite, with Bob Uecker making fun of "Fanny Hill Market" and "Plymouth Dock." Open up a copy of Time magazine and there's Tip lounging on the beach at Bal Harbour in a funny golf hat, telling you he's been using his American Express card since 1973.
But are you ready for the feet?
That's right, Tip's tootsies. Coming this September in national magazines. Courtesy of Hush Puppies, which wants us to know it's making a lot more than just fuzzy shoes these days.
In the picture, O'Neill is wearing a pair of brown wing tip cordovans, "just like he would have in his speaker of the House days," gushes Hush Puppies advertising manager Jeff Lewis. That is, if Hush Puppies made wing tips back then.
How did O'Neill get Madison Avenue at his feet? "He's a politician that people can relate to, even if they're not Democrats," explains Jerry Della Femina, chairman of New York's Della Femina, Travisano advertising agency. "He's got some blood and juice in him. You don't see that much any more. Believe me, advertisers won't be pursuing George Bush after his political career is over."
If you miss the Hush Puppies campaign, or get O'Neill's size 10 1/2 EEs mixed up with those of his coendorsers -- Deborah Harry, Emma Samms or Marvin Hagler -- you can probably catch one of his numerous speaking engagements.
"He's unbelievable," said Don Walker, who schedules about two engagements a week for O'Neill. "He did a law firm in New Jersey, and the reaction was incredible. They gathered around him like disciples."
(An assistant to O'Neill said his busy schedule meant he couldn't entertain an interview request until late July.)
If your company or organization can't pony up the $20,000 to invite O'Neill to speak, you can always get him in hardback. "Man of the House -- The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill," is due out in September. Random House reportedly paid O'Neill a $1 million advance for the book.
The O'Neill-isms have been run through the typewriter of William Novak, the ghost writer who breathed life into the prose of Lee Iacocca and Sidney Biddle Barrows, better known as the Mayflower Madam.
O'Neill's associates say he isn't in it for the money. In his last term as speaker, his estimated net worth of $211,132 to $282,132 was barely one-quarter that of Senate leader Robert Dole. The TV ads probably pay $20,000, and the American Express fee is about $10,000. Not exactly megabucks, but nice icing for O'Neill's $80,000 federal pension.
"He takes a carefree attitude towards all this. He doesn't need the money right now," said his speaking agent, Walker.
Parry Merkley, the Ogilvy and Mather executive who directed the American Express photo session, said O'Neill enjoys making the commercials. When O'Neill and photographer Annie Leibovitz arrived on the beach set, O'Neill wanted to ditch his cigar.
"He said his wife would be unhappy to have him photographed smoking," Merkley said. But Merkley insisted on keeping the stogie. It stayed in -- buried in the sand next to O'Neill's slippers.
Speaking trips are a welcome change from Capitol Hill, too. When O'Neill flew to Calgary in May to address a black-tie Rotary Club dinner, his hosts arranged a news conference. "The local press was pretty gentle with their questions," recalls Rotary Club dinner chairman Steve Allen. "They even went up and asked him for autographs afterwards. I think that's kind of unusual."
Is O'Neill overexposed? Absolutely not, said Frank Assuma, the creative director for the Miller Lite campaign. Of course, Assuma got to O'Neill first.
The American Express people were less than thrilled to learn O'Neill would soon be featured in another national magazine campaign for Hush Puppies. "We would have loved to have had him more exclusively," Merkley said.
Harvard Business Schoool marketing professor Stephen Greyser warns that O'Neill might prove to be as perishable a pitchman as Olympic star Mary Lou Retton.
With O'Neill in retirement, "There's no fresh feeding of the wellspring of why he is a personality," Greyser said. "Maybe if Tip could get a new career as a political commentator, that would freshen him up."
But Della Femina said there's no such thing as overexposure. "If overexposure were a problem, no one would stay married," he said. "Tip is of an age where he should get as much as he can as fast as he can."