Homer LaGassey, legendary CCS teacher and designer at GM, Chrysler, and Ford, worked for GM in the Motorama days (early to mid 1950’s). Homer, also master of the off-the-cuff quip, claims Harley didn’t fire him over this incident although it is hard to believe. Apparently Homer summoned an elevator. When the doors opened, there was Mister Earl with a shopping bag in each arm heading for the executive garage. Homer, possibly a bit intimidated over riding with Mr. Earl blurted out, “Taking home your pay Mr. Earl?” I’m sure a chilly silence followed. If I am able get additional details on the story, I’ll post them (SEE COMMENTS).

According to Bill Porter, Homer, who was assistant in Pontiac at the time, says he quit because of round-the-clock overtime. Claimed his kids cried when he did come home. “Who’s that strange man, mommy?”

These images of his artwork were in my files. I will be happy to give credit if notified of the source. I successfully resisted the urge to caption them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

32 Comments
  1. Suzanne LaGassey

    Dear Gary, Yes, indeed those are my Dad’s drawings. What made you decide to post them? Actually, I have seen of those recently ( the originals among many others ). The story about Harley Earl is true. For many years after my Dad came home from teaching at CCS, he would call me down from upstairs, to review his students’ work. We would critique’ them, so I really learned a lot about designing. I really became quite good at studying them, and always the best students went forward into wonderful careers. I think it is great that you are doing this, he would be so proud! Thank you.
    Suzanne LaGassey
    Royal Oak, MI

  2. Tom Beaubien

    In the early ’50s I was an apprentice sculptor at G.M. Styling in Bill Lange’s “Experimental Design” studio in plant 8. I had the opportunity to ocassionally work overtime in the Truck Studio. Lou Steirs was the likeable manager and Charley Jordan was his assistant. I also worked in the Cadillac studio when Ed Glowacki was the manager. Fortunately, I got the additional chance to assist in the Olds and Buick studio at nights. That’s where I saw Homer’s “Wildcat” in clay form for the first time. I met Homer when we literally ran into each other at a G.M. Styling picnic softball game. Later, we both worked at Ford Design Center at the same time. Bill Schmidt, formely from Chrysler Design, got a outside contract to do two advanced car designs on Chalmers Avenue in Detroit. Again I got to work both with Homer and Dick Teague.
    .
    About the elevator story with Mr. Earl, Homer told me that story directly and the punch line as I recall it was “Just chashed your paycheck Mr. Earl?” Homer then said the group in the elevator went silent. “No Homer. Mrs. Earl wanted me to take these shirts to the laundry.”

    I’ve talked with Homer recently and he sounded vigorous as he always did!

    Thanks for jogging my fond memories and for your great beginnings!

    Tom

  3. I knew Homer first when I joined the Desoto studio in 1955. In 1956, Homer was manager of the Dodge studio. At gatherings, he would get requests to sing “Road to Mandalay” which he belted out with gusto. Homer is one of my favorite people from my design career. He was always ready to help new and aspiring designers. A few years ago I took a watercolor class from him in FL. He is a top-notch watercolor artist!

    As I recall the Earl story back in the fifties, after asking Mr. Earl if he had cashed his paycheck, a long silence ensued, then Homer, trying to salvage the situation, asked “what DO you have in the sacks?” followed by another long, embarrasing silence. Take your pick!

  4. Barbara Berry

    Homer is my Godfather. My family lived just down the street and at age 10 began babysitting for Homer’s children. It’s been months since I’ve talked with him and haven’t been able to reach him at his home in Florida and I hope to contact him soon.

    Homer always loved to sing. I remember as a child how he would make me laugh singing a song about Anne Boleyn in a very operatic voice, “With her head tucked underneath her arm, she walked the bloody tower…” (couldn’t do musical notes). He is also a good actor. He brought the house down during a play at the local theatre in which he starred. His terrific wife was also a cast member and was my Godmother.

    Homer gave me drawing lessons at age 10, and much later on, he encouraged my attending The Society of Arts & Crafts, which is now CCS. He was also teaching there at the time. He was a huge influence in my growing up years, and I do love him.

    Thanks Gary for this post, and I hope to find you, Suzanne.

    —Barbara (Homer called me Bobbie)

  5. Lauren Brandl

    Homer is my Grandfather, and all of those drawings I just saw recently in person, but it’s really cool to see them on here as well!

  6. Sam Sisco

    Hello Lauren, would you pass this message on to your Grandfather please. I was a student of your father back in 84-85, (Perhaps he might remember a Canson car interior I drew for his class that seemed to make an impression) and he was a great inspiration to me as an artist and as a teacher. After many years as an illustrator (I still do caricature work for MAD magazine) , I switched into teaching myself. The other day I was channeling your Grandfather’s musical teaching techniques to a grade nine Art Class that I teach.
    I credit Homer with honing the passion in me for taking art to a responsive level, one that is honest and immediate and full of life.

  7. Bob Marcks

    In 1976, I wanted to look at different illustration techniques, so I took a night course at CCS with Homer. One result, the white Imperial design proposal in Dean’s Garage under: Bob Marcks, Designer at Studebaker, Ford and Chrysler (Part 1).

    If you like it, Homer deserves a lot of the credit. If you don’t, it’s because I didn’t pay attention or I’m not as talented as Homer. Homer was one of the personalities that make the car design field interesting and great. I’m glad I had the chance to know him, if too briefly.

  8. Suzanne LaGassey

    Dear Bob, very nice comment regarding my dad. Thank you!

  9. Tony Escareno

    Believe it or not, I too know Homer Lagassey. I am a Sales Consultant for GM currently, but at the time, I was selling Fords, and this older gentlemen, approached me with interest in buying a car. Long story short, I had sold Homer a vehicle, and became good friends with him. He invited me to his home, and showed me the fabulous New York Studio apt style home he owned, as well as many other unforgettable pics, drawings and sketches of numerous projects. I also recall seeing some photos from the war he was in as a pilot. Later on down the road, Homer brought me in an original sketch of the Mustang Mach I program, and personalized it for me. To this day, it still hangs on my wall in my office, and receives great recognition. Proud to know Homer. Tony

  10. Michael Warren

    I am an unfortunate man to have not known Homer in his earlier days but am enlightened by the comments from his family, students, and friends. I currently cook for Homer in a northern Michigan retirement facility and enjoy interaction with him on a near dailyl basis. What a fortunate group of people who have had the opportunity to have known and studied under this gifted individual who is obviously dear to all of your hearts.

  11. Christopher Dowdey

    WOW…Homer LaGassey…..He will always remain one of the most dynamic, wonderful loving, caring talented! people I have ever met in my life!

    I was an Industrial design student at the art school of the society of arts and crafts and the First class in 1968 to graduate with a BFA in design from the school.

    I have a personal reflection about Homer..as when I was a young student…I was taking 19 plus credit hours and extremely stressed out…with the challenge and design study process at the school which had a really high percentage of students leaving etc. Well I think I got mono and had to take a few weeks off and I was really in jeopardy of losing my place at the school and falling so far behind..and I was about ready to just give up… Well I was at the hospital and recovering…and into my room walks Homer…and he sits down..and tells me with much care and concern…how he did not want me to give up…that he believed in me and that he wanted me to continue my commitment to the design study and he really thought I would make a great designer!. It was like someone lifted this heavy weight off my heart..and of course I got well and went back into the school…got tremendous support from my fellow design students..and went on to have a great career in the world of Design. (Because this great teacher took the time to visit one of his boys.)

    I will always Love this great man for his caring heart and tremendous love he had for all his students. What a dynamic, wonderful human being! In class he was fun, unpredictable, challenging, DEMANDING we exceed the level of design excellence that he expected. He was so hard to please…when we had a review once..with our work on the wall ..he saw that I was exceptionally taken with this Canson sketch I had worked on for hours. As he was reviewing the work and critiquing…he casually took the work off the wall (let it drop to the floor) and stepped on the Canson piece …after he had drawn some squiggly devil ears and a goatee on the front end of my design masterpiece! !!!!!!!!! To my absolute horror…ho ho..Of course I learned to never fall in love with my work..and to strive to create the next masterpiece..and I think he did this to just about everybody in the class at one time or another…He was great! …and of course we all loved him for his energy and guidance. He pushed you in a great way to go beyond..and to really be the best you could be.

    I remain in awe of this man..and admire him so much for touching my life in a manner that encourages me to this day….Homer LaGassey…I wish I could just tell you what you meant to me..and so many other wonderful people!

    Much Love and Joy to you always wherever you are!

  12. John Caruso CCS 87

    I was thrilled to come across the stories and memories of Homer Lagassey, who I feel is one of the most remarkable and briulliant men I have ever known. I had the privelage of taking classes with Homer while studying product design at CCS. Very few people have that ability to foster excellence, admiration and fear in his presence. It was clear that to impress Homer, you really had to be good. On this first day he would exclaim ” Excusitis is the disease of failures!”

    I remember doing guache illustrations of the thanksgiving scenes for 14 hours and watch him take a black elmarko permanent marker and lay a vertical centerline on the wine bottles [ part of the required elements to illustrate]. The first time [ he did this] everyone moaned and gasped, and he looked up and exclaimed, “this is not art, its not going to hang in the louve! Its either right or its not.”

    He did take one illustration that a student did which was not up to par, removed it from the wall and wiped his feet on it exclaiming that, “all this is good for is a doormat!!!” This was not cruel; it was the shocking bucket of cold water that snapped us all into working harder and doing more. I know that particular student really stepped up his work after that.

    I consider myself lucky to have known Homer. His memory through these stories will live forever. I have become a professor of Design because of the path he took, and the impression he made on me. I consider it an honor to continue teaching in his style. When he “retired” from CCS in 1986/87, I had a sailing knife inscribed with the following, “I shall go out with the chariots to counsel and command, for that is the privilege of the old.”—Homer, Illiad IV. I spent about 120 dollars on this after unsuccessfully getting all the other students to chip in. I got about 5 guys to pitch, and then gave it to one of my best friends to give to him in class as I had a time conflict and could not do it. Most did not know what it was, and could only say John Caruso got this. Homer called me into the office. Keep in mind, this was not usually a good day when Homer called you in, however he wanted to personally thank me for the meaningful gift. That was the kind of man Homer is.

    He taught us so much more than how to draw and paint, He taught us how to be professionals, with passion, conviction and integrity. I wish him well and his family the best. Please pass these comment on to Homer if possible. I had a dream last night I was speaking to him and took the time to find this contact portal.

    Sincerely, John K Caruso Associate Professor Industrial Design, MIAD Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design

  13. Jim Caruso

    Homer LaGassey. Homer is still an inspiration to me as a designer, painter and as a design director in the corporate world at Motorola. I attended CCS from 82-86. I’m sure he could still teach me now. The most important thing he taught me beyond the craft and the aesthetics was what it means to be a professional. His whistling, while he marked up the painting we slaved over, and his comments like “thats not your heart up on the wall, its a painting- and ome paintings “sing”, ( then he would sing hi notes and low notes- based upon composition, light source/shadow and hi-lights) and some paintings are better as floor mats.”

    This is when he would take some ones painting off the wall and stomp on it a bit. He usually did this with so much gusto, it was amazing. I loved his class, and busted my but to improve, and i did. I thought so much of him me and the “product” boys in that class chipped in and bought him the sailing knife for his CCS retirement. I was always appreciative to see him and the rest of the CCS faculty visit the house end of school year parties in those days, and hear about his life lessons, as well as design teachings. Fond memories indeed.

  14. Franlk Bianchi

    I talked with homer 6 weeks ago. He is in a nursing home with that dreaded memory disease. Thats sad . Homer and his kids would spend many hours with my dad (Frank A.Bianchi) and I. I still have a number of Homers lithos hanging on my walls.

  15. J. Kelly Payne

    Homer. Where do I begin? Rarely a day passes that I don’t think about this pillar of a man. Before attending CCS, I used to venture down to campus and view the senior’s work through the windows of the quads. Unbelievable stuff and I was told many times “oh yeah, if you get Homer as your instructor, that’s what you’ll end up doing”. Gulp!

    A couple of years later, there I was as a freshman at CCS. My dad had the pleasure of working with Homer at Ford many years prior and had warned me… “ya better be on your toes or he will rip your face off”.

    When I survived long enough to study under Homer as a senior (1987) a few years later, that’s exactly what he did. I have to say that his painful critques were some of the best moments of my student life, and I believe they have set the foundation for me as a design professional today. Can I be better at what I do? Yes, and it’s the memory of Homer working with me that helps me strive every day. There are many times that I will ask myself what Homer (and my dad) would do in certain situations. I would venture to say that there are hundreds of former students who would give anything to have Homer critique their work right now, to gain his insight, to hear his melodious voice, to have our “faces ripped off” only to gain his reassurance… one more time.

    I’m glad to have found this site and to be able to share some fond thoughts with the rest of you.

    J. Kelly Payne
    Director of Design, Nautic Global Group

  16. H. Roy Jaffe

    I well remember Homer. I had the honor and privilege to have worked as a stylist for GM in the late ’40s and early ’50s. After a brief beginning in Bill Lange’s Experimental Studio in Plant 8, I was transferred to the Oldsmobile Studio to replace Dick Teague who returned to his West coast. I knew Dick Teague then and after he came back to Detroit. We did many favors for each other.

    I can also verify the story about Homer and Harley Earl, although I heard it second hand. Speaking about Harley Earl, we knew he roamed the studios at night after we left for the day. I am not sure if it was Homer or someone else, but traps were set at the inside of the studio door; so we were aware if he entered our studio the night before.

    The Olds studio head was Art Ross (he was never mean or cross). The 4 style designers were Homer LaGassey, John Foster, Bob Scheelk, and myself. Homer often included airplanes in his illustrations. He continued his airplane renderings, and I believe some are in the Smithsonian collections. John Foster was the senior of our group and a top illustrator. Bob Scheelk was responsible for the 3-spoke spinner found on the wheel disc, and it became a major auto accessory. Harley Earl chose my design which became the front theme for the 1953 Oldsmobile.

    We had no studio rules about talking or singing. Homer fit in perfectly with his tremendous sense of humor which made our working conditions even more pleasant. I looked foward to each day as a true love, not as a work day. I recall we worked overtime without any thought of compensation.

    Even the clay modelers in the studio were delightful. The Olds 88 and 98 were the trademarks models. One day, Fritz sculptured and placed a boy hood ornament urinating over the front end of a full size clay model. We called that the urinate.

    I called and spoke to Homer last year. We reminisced about those years. He was delightful as ever.

    I have several original Homer’s design sketches. They are part of my current lecture on Automotive Styling at General Motors at libraries, etc. on Long Island.

  17. Gilles Desroches

    I came across the name of Mr Homer C Lagassey Jr through a good friend of mine who met him at the Scottsdale auction sale in 2006 when the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville he had worked on was sold for more than 2 millions $ to a wealthy amateur Mr Ron Pratte. My friend had brought from Montreal a Parade for Progress bus which he had completely restored and was acquired by the same Mr Pratte for more than 4 millions $. My friend had the opportunity of meeting Mr Lagassey and he narrated to me the interesting talk he had with him. I am presently doing a reseach on people of French descent who made their names well known in the auto industry in Detroit (W. Crapo (Crepault in French), Albert Champion, the Chevrolet brothers to name a few) and since the name Lagassey in very French (written Lagassey or Lagacé) I was wondering if it was not the case with Mr Homer (it could be from France or French Canada). His designs are memorable and he had a long carreer like the French designer Raymond Lowey. All the best to him and his daughter Suzanne

  18. Bill Wagner

    Gary, Thanks for this place that we can share some memories of Homer and learn some things about his career that I didn’t know.

    I knew Homer LaGassey as my instructor in transportation design at Arts & Crafts in Detroit in 1965. I had extra interest in Homer because he and my Dad worked together at GM Styling in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s. My Dad, Fritz Wagner was a modeler at GM and collaborated with Homer in doing a lot of practical jokes that went on in those days. I still have a little black box, called a “lung tester” that was the cause of some black faces to the unsuspecting victims.

    My first memory of Homer was an introductory lecture he gave to the school transportation design students. It was held in the Yamasaki building lunch room, the largest space the school had to accommodate 20 or 30 students. Homer showed slides of his and other designer’s renderings and made a big impression of us. He was very alive and upbeat, he told us, “to be a car designer we had to wear chrome underwear and have gasoline in our veins”! Chesley Odom, would call him ” A Hotdog”.

    Many times I’ve told my drawing students, that I once had a teacher who, if he thought your drawing was lousy, he would throw it on the floor and step on it. After 47 years I wasn’t sure I was remembering correctly; thank you Chris Dowdey for confirming this memory about Homer.

  19. tony olbres

    Homer filled my arm with high octane fuel; inspiration and it still keeps me going! He truly was one of a kind. I too, was with the first graduation class of ’68 at Center for Creative Studies. Once a car guy, always a car guy! Hi Chris.

  20. Christopher Dowdey

    WOW…what wonderful memories to so many wonderful and passionate car people with a connection to this great, caring warm talented and wild and crazy car designer, musician, Opera singer..and general all around raconteur teacher Homer Lagassey!
    Where do I start…Frank Bianchi senior..taught me how to do my very first full size tape drawing…of a 72 Gran Torino Side view theme…that went on to become the Gran Torino…chosen by Don Kopka..and directed by Ken Spencer.. Cramer and B.Aikins..and of course with modeling provided by Fritz Wagner. Fritz was a wonderful LOUD and brash German artist
    who would teach you how to work with the design sections..and …well just get out of the way and let the modelers work the design! I owe so much to Frank Bianchi because he was one of the older designers who went out of his way to help younger guys..when we really needed some guidance. Tremendous generosity Fritz shared stories about developing The Y-Job grille and show vehicles at GM…WOW. I had the privilege of working with The Payne brothers…..also…great designers and always helpful. Big Shout out to Tony Olbres…great hearing from you and wishing you the best! always my friend!
    Thanks again Homer for being so wonderful….just an honor and privilege to have been one of your students!

  21. I knew Homer well and worked with him while at GM. Please send him my kind regards.

  22. Nichole Matheson

    When I was a little girl I went to visit my great aunt and uncle, Elenor and Homer. Uncle Homer gave my mom a signed color print of the Bounty. Lucky for me my mother had the print matted and framed, I am now 34 years old and it hangs in my living room. It is a cherished work of art from my Uncle Homer!

  23. Phil Walker

    Today I heard the news that Homer has passed. Homer will forever live in memories. I worked, sailed, beached and lived with Homer in all those places. I feel blessed to have known him.

  24. Bill Porter

    A mutual friend just informed me that our grand old fellow designer and design educator, Homer LaGassey, passed away last week. Homer had been living in an assisted living facility in Greenbush, MI, for the last few years. He will be remembered as a remarkably spirited designer, raconteur, and tough-love teacher to hundreds of students who were fortunate enough to have been in his classes at CCS from the 1960s into the 1980s. No word on whether there will be a memorial service.

    From his early sketches for some of the outstanding GM Motorama show cars to his days at both Ford and Chrysler, Homer cut a wide path through the American automobile design world, spreading innovative designs and boundless enthusiasm wherever he went. Anyone who met Homer will never forget him. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding Homer is the story about him getting on the elevator on the 7th floor at the old GM Styling Building. Harley Earl was on the elevator, just coming down from his office on the 8th floor, carrying two large paper bags. Homer’s remark, “Taking home your pay, Mr. Earl?” was met with dead silence as the elevator completed its descent to the ground floor. Homer’s wit will live forever.

    Bill Porter

  25. Orval Selders

    I began working in Oldsmobile Studio in early 1956 for Chief Designer, Art Ross. Tales still abound yet of the antics of the two designers, Homer LaGassey and Dick Teague who earlier had worked for Art in Olds Studio. Legend has it, that often in the studio, Homer and Dick would race to kick anything loose laying on the floor. One day, Dick saw this supposedly empty paper sack on the floor and a race took place between Homer and Dick to be the first to kick that paper sack. Homer purposely let Dick push him out of the way and to let Dick kick the sack. The moral of the story (as might be suspected) was that Homer had put a brick or some similar object in the sack. No further explanation needed. Another story has it that Homer (and or) Dick brought a pet skunk (de-odorized of course) into the studio one Saturday during off-time hours. Art just had to ask, “And what’s his name?” When the answer was given out, Art gruffly said, “That’ll be enough out of you, Buster!!”

  26. Rick Linder

    I had been a car product planner at Ford in the late 1960s/early 1970s, however, Homer and I never crossed paths at Ford’s Design Center. Everyone else seemed to know him, however, so I got to know him by osmosis. He was obviously was a happy, vibrant, outgoing talent.

    Years later a friend and workmate at Ford, Lee Landis, was about to retire. I was charged with coming up with an appropriate “good luck in retirement” card. Homer’s name came up as a potential cartoonist, Lee and Homer had worked together on projects past.

    Had a brief meeting with Homer and, presto, a fine caricature was generated. Going away party attendees lined up to sign in the white space.

    Homer had been most generous, sorry to learn of his passing.

    was generated. Going away party attendees lined up to sign in the white space.

    Homer had been most generous, sorry to learn of his passing.

  27. Annette K. Kitterman

    I worked in the assisted Living facility where Homer actually lived and passed. To correct the above. It was not in Greenbush MI. But East Tawas MI. It was an honer to have known such a legend! RIP Darling!

  28. Jack Berry

    Homer was one of my God parents he use to give us kids rides in new and old cars that he would bring home. What a great guy!

  29. Dawn Wynkoop

    Dear LaGassey Family,

    You don’t know me, but I knew your Grandfather/ Father. For the past 5 years I had a small part in his care. My boss and I were always amazed at the art work he had in his room. I was very sad to hear of his passing this year. He always had a smile for me when we’d come and see him. He even sometimes would move around the room!! Loved his country music.. at least that is what they had playing in his home… I would love to be able to talk to a family member about his art work… I have searched for months to see if there was some where I could possibly purchase or obtain it. My boss was a huge fan, as was I, but it would also give me a memory of a man I admired very much!! From his work with cars to his music.
    I am so sorry for the loss of Homer and my prayers are with you and his family at this time!! I pray the Lord keeps your spirits lifted knowing what an amazing man he was!

  30. Barbara

    Dean, I am Homer’s Goddaughter”Bobbie” and had written the comment forth from the top.

    I would appreciate so much if you could tell me please if Homer was the designer of the 1953 Buick Riviera Coupe with a V-8 engine? I have a friend that had one that lasted many many years and was his favorite car.

    Thank you Dean!

  31. Paul Dolza

    I am deeply saddened by this loss in the proud history of the automotive family. I had the privelege of growing up in this era, so full of innovation and change. It always amazed me, how some special individuals could change the entire course of an industry and the choices of the motoring public.

  32. Suzanne LaGassey

    I haven’t been on this site for a very long time. I would like to thank everyone, past friends and co-workers, and especially the staff at Tawas Village for their loving care and kind words about my Dad. The family recently went thru all of Homer’s drawings, and I got them. Many, many sketches and renderings. I have no idea what to do w them. We made a deal with Sharon at Truly Yours, Oscoda to handle all of my Dad’s prints that he had made from pen and ink. She was going to set up a web-site, but don’t know if she has yet. Thanks again for all the condolences and kind words.

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