Hey Sid, where were you brought up?
The Bronx, about three miles south of where Len Sirowitz was brought up.
In those days you were left by yourself in the street.
We went out at 9 o’clock in the morning and except for lunch and dinner we were out and about fending for ourselves.
You learned a lot about how to handle yourself and also about relationships with other people.
There were no organized activities so you made up the games and just kind of went along with it.
I guess that helped form the creative process; we manufactured our own scooters, our own wagons and even our own stick-ball bats.
We created our own games and if we got into trouble with the police we had to get out of it on our own.
You never wanted your mother or father finding out.
You attended the High School of Music and Art. Isn’t that the one in Fame?
In the eighth grade in junior high school I got into some trouble and my art teacher kind of took pity on me and he told me about The High School of Music & Art.
He also said that if I took their test and passed, he’d take the incident off my record.
Well, I had no idea what a high school of music and art was, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I passed the test and the rest is history.
It changed my life.
It was there that I learned about classical music, art history, politics.
Children of all different ethnic and social backgrounds from all over New York City, so it really broadened my horizons.
Many famous Broadway producers, artists, television and movie stars came from that school.
The ‘Fame’ high school was called the high school of performing arts and years later they were combined and made into La Guardia high school which exists now.
Where did you go next?
Cooper Union, five years at night, that too was on a scholarship.
The first year there was a foundation course consisting of architecture, typesetting, drawing, oil painting and two dimensional design.
Later I went on to graphic design and advertising design.
Who inspired you at the time?
Paul Rand was everybody’s design hero.
Also, I was inspired by everything that was coming out of CBS television.
And of course Push Pin Studios.What was your first design job?
Ziff-Davis publications, I was in charge of designing posters for the sides of delivery trucks.
On the artwork for one of them, I signed my name in very, very, very tiny letters, not realising that when It was blown up it would be about 10 inches tall once on the side of the truck.
I couldn’t wait till that week was over and the sign came down off the trucks.
You get a job at Vogue magazine, did you work under the great, deliriously happy looking, Alexander Liberman?
I was an assistant to Dick Loew and I learned a lot from him about type design, spatial relationships and photography.
Alexander Liberman was the head art director and when we showed him our year’s work for review he said one of the most important things that I’ve ever heard from anyone in the business.
He said ‘Everything is very, very nice but I don’t see any mistakes’.
Wow! What a great thing to say to a young artist.Richard Avedon was on staff at Vogue at the time, did you shoot with him?
At Vogue I got to use many great photographer’s photos in the material I designed, such as Penn, Avedon, Horst.
I don’t think Avedon was on staff, but he was a favourite of Jessica Daves, the editor at the time.
Why switch to advertising?
After about three years at Vogue I got a call from Murray Jacobs, the Head Art Director at DDB Promotion. I’d worked with him at Vogue before Dick Loew.
I had no idea what DDB was about but I trusted Murray when he said it was a good move for my career.
Also my second child was born and I needed more money, after about a year I was promoted to the National Department.
Coming from the highfalutin world of fashion, what did you make of DDB on day one?
It was culture shock! At Vogue everyone was dressed like they’re going to a cocktail party; suits, ties, hats, dresses, gloves.
At DDB it looked like a scene from West Side Story with jeans, turtle neck sweaters, boots, capes and all kinds of funky headgear.
One office, on the sunny side of the building, had a Cannabis plant growing in the window. Creativity was bursting out of every office.
One art director who came to be interviewed remarked “walking down this hallway is like seeing the 1927 NY Yankees batting order, George Lois…BAM, Len Sirowitz…BAM, Sid Myers…BAM, Bert Steinhauser…BAM”
I’m sure he would have mentioned Bob Gage, Bill Taubin and Helmut Krone but they were on the other side of the building.
Do you remember the first ad you got passed by Bill?
It was probably one for The Israel Government Tourist Office, luckily a new writer was also assigned to it, named Bob Levenson.
We were sent to Israel with the photographer Elliot Erwitt and came back with lots of beautiful photos.
One of the ads we did; ‘High Tea on the Dead Sea’, showed a man floating in the sea reading a newspaper…with a cup of tea balanced on his knee.
Whilst looking for that ad I found it’s been used in a few trendy art collages.
That man is you isn’t it Sid?
Yes that’s me.
Bob Levenson and I visited the Dead Sea, we came up with this idea while there, because it wasn’t planned we had no model, so the photographer borrowed a cup and saucer from the restaurant and threw me into the Dead Sea.
I was also assigned to Eversweet Orange Juice, which was fresh orange juice in a container, unheard of at the time, the copywriter was Paula Green.
Newspapers were just introducing colour, we did an ad showing orange juice flowing out of a faucet to fill a pitcher, the headline was ‘You can’t get fresh orange juice out of a tap’,
which was the way you made juice from concentrate.I love the Ohrbach’s Mens Shop ad, it looks so punk now.
I can’t imagine what it looked like to people on the New York Subway in the sixties?
In the late 60s and early 70s graffiti was rampant in New York City. It was all over the place, subway cars, buses, sidewalks, the walls of buildings.
The poster was taking advantage of a current craze and it seemed an unusual and memorable way to announce the opening up of Orhbach’s mens shop.
I’m in the process of putting a book together on David Abbott, (with writer Richard Foster), and along the way I came across an anecdote regarding an El Al ad of yours.
David was sent from London to the New York office for a year to understand the DDB culture.
On his first day he reported in to his new group head, Bob Levenson, to introduce himself.
When he entered the office Bob was hanging a framed copy of ‘We’ve been in the travel business a long time’.
David instantly put his hands over his eyes and started reciting the copy, word-perfect.
“Nice first impression Mr Abbott” Bob commented.
Ever heard that?
I never met David Abbott, though I would’ve liked to, I think I left before he got to DDB.
Why illustrate the ad yourself, why not get someone who could draw?
The drawing that I did for that ad was for the comp to show the client but everybody thought it was so charming that they wanted me to use it.
I guess in retrospect it was a good idea because if I’d got somebody to do it professionally it might’ve overshadowed the message.You worked on The National Airline of Israel and the Israel Government Tourist Office, did you sell those Nazi cars at the same time?
No, I never worked on Volkswagen.
The girl in the seat was the co-star of ‘Get Smart’.
I did the ad with Bob Levenson, I laid it out before Bob had seen it, just to get an idea of the length of the copy.
Bob came in and read it, then said ‘I can’t do better than that, let’s use it like that’.
Around 1960, Bill Taubin and David Reider come up with an idea for a beer campaign featuring talking steins.
DDB pitched it to various brewers, but found no takers.
Then a little known beer; Utica Club, comes in for a presentation.
Utica Club’s former vice-president of Advertising Frank Owens – ‘They already had this idea of talking beer steins, and they were just presented in sketch form – they were not named at the time. But by the time we got there, the idea had been developed a little further’.
The generic steins now had nicknames and personalities.
One of the steins, ‘Schultz’ was a Bavarian tankard with a nose, two eyes and a Prussian helmet. Another stein, ‘Dooley’ was an earthenware lidded mug with a green shamrock painted on his front.
“Schultz was quite Teutonic and reactionary, and he feels that ‘Beer is not made de vay it used ta be’ said Owens, ‘and Dooley was a mild, philosophical Irish type of mug, patterned after Barry Fitzgerald in ‘Going My Way’ ”.
Utica Cub bought it and Sid was put onto the account.
A year later Schultz & Dooley were famous and Utica Club were selling 50% more beer.You got Robin William’s hero Jonathan Winters, the great improvisational comedian to voice the ads, how was that?
We’d start recording a 60 second commercial at about 9 in the morning and Winters would just go off at tangents, it was hard to keep him focussed, he’d talk about all kinds of stuff, the Marines, he was an ex-Marine, space travel, everything, all kind of weird, crazy stuff.
We’d stagger out of the studio late at night, having recorded just one 60 second voiceover.
I don’t know whether you kept any Dooleys or Schultz’s Sid, but they’re worth a fortune on Ebay?
Yeah, I hear that’s right.
How did you come to be involved in the campaign to re-elect President Johnson in 1964?
When the account came in, Bill Bernbach put Stanley Lee and I together as the creative team, Stanley was a straight ahead, intelligent guy from the Midwest, I was a slightly off-center, brawler from the Bronx.
It worked out pretty good.
It was a heady time, here I was a 32 year old kid from the Bronx sitting in the Oval Office…in the president’s chair, behind his desk!
I almost picked up the phone to the Kremlin but had second thoughts.
Anyway, I don’t speak Russian.
The ‘Daisy’ ad is widely considered to have changed the world.
It got Johnson re-elected with a landslide and changed the public’s views on the nuclear option.
That campaign, for good or bad has become the gold standard for attack advertising.
It’s amazing that the Daisy ad comes up every four years during election time, especially now that Trump is being compared to Goldwater in 1964.
At the moment almost every newscaster is showing one or more of the ads that we did in 1964, relating the situation with Goldwater back then to the situation we have now with Trump.
It’s amazing, the Daisy ad has created a whole media industry.
A fellow called Bill Gearhart has devoted a whole website to the making of the commercial, (google CONELRAD).
Then there was also a book written about it by Bob Mann, called ‘Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds’.
Now someone is writing a play about the conception of the commercial, so you see, 55 years later it’s still alive and kicking.
It was on the cover of Time magazine.
It was also a staple of cartoonists at the time.
It’s still referenced in culture today.
The ad outraged the opposition, did you ever worry some Goldwater nut would track you down?
No. I was young…and dumb. I didn’t really think about.
Your ads hammered him, then everyone else jumped in.
Did you ever feel guilty or sorry for Goldwater?
It was like a crusade at the time, don’t forget that only a few years before was the Bay of Pigs, nuclear annihilation was in the air, people were talking about it and thought it was a real possibility.
Goldwater was saying stuff like he wanted to lob an ‘A’ bomb in the men’s room at the Kremlin, or that he would give the Field Commanders in Vietnam the right to use tactical Nuclear weapons against the Viet Cong.
We were worried about what he might do, a bit like Trump today.
Which reminds me, I see that Hilary Clinton has been watching those old LBJ ads.
Here’s your 1964 original ‘PHONE’ ad.
Here’s the 2016 remake; ‘PHONE 2. This time it’s personal’.
(Here’s Sid talking about the similarities to CNN: http://cnn.it/1U1EaJq
and below are the posters from the new play ‘Daisy’, about the creation and effects of the ad.)
The Rheingold Beer campaign was a big deal at the time?
That line, ‘We must be doing something right’, became an iconic line that was used for every local business for years to come.
Rheingold was a local beer in New York City was being undercut by a national brand.
We found out that the local neighbourhood grocery stores were selling more Rheingold beer than another brand so we targeted ethnic groups with commercials that ran on the Met’s baseball games.
We would get a group of real people from different ethnic groups and film them having a party, shoot raw footage and then edit it, using the music of that the particular group.
Ron Rosenfeld came up with a great tagline: “In NYC where there are more Italians that in Salerno, more Italians drink Rheingold than any other beer, how come? We don’t know, but we must be doing something right.”
You’ve worked with some of the best photographers ever; Bert Stern, Wingate Paine, Lester Bookbinder, Howard Zeiff, never with Irving Penn or Richard Avedon, but the Melvin Sokolsky shot for The Continental Insurance Company is my favourite.
It took two days to shoot, one day to build a set in a railroad yard, another day to shoot.
The most interesting thing is that Ali McGraw was Mel Sokolsky’s assistant, she arranged the whole thing.
It was done in one shot, no strip-ins, no retouching.You managed to get a super young George Carlin to appear in a Whirlpool ad?
He was just beginning to get known, of course he wouldn’t have done a commercial if he was the George Carlin we know now.
I’ve read a lot about Helmut Krone, but I’ve never heard him described as ‘a barrel of laughs’?
Humour was a big part of my approach to advertising, but it seems that a tube of humour was not in Helmut’s paintbox.
As I said before, Helmut was my supervisor but he had as much interest in supervising me as my dog Cleo, which put a lot of pressure on me to come up with ads that would stand on their own without much supervision.
Both Helmut and Bob Gage were immensely talented.
Helmut’s approach was more intellectual, while Bob Gage’s approach was more humanistic.
I hope I picked up a little bit of insight from both of them.
What about Doyle and Dane, what were they like?
Mac Dane was a very sweet gentle man who ran the business end of the agency and when he walked down to the creative floor probably said to himself; “What are all these strange people with top hats and red capes doing in my agency?”.
Ned Doyle was a wonderful Irishman, he once told me when, I was leaving to open up my own business, that you only have to be right 51% of the time in business to make a lot of money, but if you’re right only 49% of the time you’re going to lose your ass.
I remember the very first TV spot I did was a black and white commercial with the cast of the “Leave It To Beaver” show, to be filmed in Los Angeles.
I was so thrilled to be at the Beverly Hills Hotel in glamorous Los Angeles, that I took my wife to share this exciting experience.
This was a considerable expense for a young couple.
We were at a little table for two in the corner of the Polo Lounge sharing a Salad Nicoise for dinner when I felt a shadow cross the table.
I looked up and there was Ned Doyle. “Aren’t you the new kid on Polaroid?”
I sheepishly said “Yes”.
“What’s that you’re eating?” he said.
I replied “Salad Nicoise”.
“GET RID OF IT! What’s your favourite food?”.
Still stunned, I said “Steak”.
“ORDER IT!” he barked.
He turned to my wife who by this time was halfway under the table “And your favourite?” “LLLLLobster“ she demurred.
“ORDER IT, your’e working for DDB now!”
And with that he wheeled and headed straight for the bar.I asked Len Sirowitz who, from of all the famous names at DDB, was most underrated.
Let me be clear, I don’t mean ‘not rated’, I meant in such a hugely talented department, who should be better known like Helmut, Bob and George.
Another person who also didn’t get enough recognition was Bert Steinhauser, he did some wonderful ads for Chivas Regal, Clairol and Heinz ketchup.
Bert was so enthusiastic someone described walking into his room was like walking into a room of flying coloured feathers.
Ever consider starting your own shop?
Around 1966 Len Sirowitz, Bob Levenson, Ron Rosenfeld and I got together and talked about opening up an agency.
We actually did some spec ads for Hertz and pitched the account but unfortunately, or fortunately, it went nowhere.
I also had some conversations with Phyllis Robinson about opening an agency but that also kind of petered out.
That’s unbelievable, didn’t DDB had Avis at the time? Bernbach surely would’ve had you executed if that had happened.
Bill Bernbach was not happy when any of his children left the nest.
You worked with so many Hall of Fame writers, who was best?
I worked with some of the best copywriters at DDB… Bob Levenson, Ron Rosenfeld, Evan Stark, Paula Green, David Ryder they all had different strengths.
Some were great at concepts, some wrote great body copy, some were great headline writers.
So…the best was?
I left the agency in 1968 for two reasons.
The first being I started directing my own commercials and really loved it and I was getting calls from production companies to join them.
The other reason was I was a vice president and associate creative director and I didn’t have the temperament to get involved in the politics of the agency.
Also, when things get too comfortable, my senses start getting dulled.
I need a little bit of fear again from going into something that’s unknown.
You seem to have worked with every star under the sun; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, George Burns, Joe Nameth, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Rodney Dangerfield to name but a few. What did you learn?
The bigger the star the easier they were to work with.
Frank Sinatra was interesting, he was always known for giving directors a hard time, only doing one take.
I shot a Chrysler ad with him, he was a friend of Lee Iococa, it was a favour to Lee
Well, we shot all these beauty shots of the car, and finally the car ends up at a private airport.
Frank Sinatra is supposed to get out, to everyone’s surprise, wink at the camera and walk out of shot. That’s it, just one shot.
I decided I’d turn the tables, just do one take.
We did one take and I said ‘Great, let’s go to the next set up’.
He said ‘What?…was that ok?…was my tie straight?..you get the wink ok?’
He was terrific, he wouldn’t have been if I’d been pleading for more takes.
What did you look for when hiring?
I looked for creatives who looked at life 5° off-centre, those were the ones who did memorable and original work.
I also look for some mistakes which means that there trying to do something original. Nobody’s allowed to make mistakes anymore.
I’ve seen some great outdoor poster advertisements.
What’s the best ad you’ve done so far?
At DDB it was the 1964 President Johnson political campaign, three or four of the spots I did 50 years ago are being shown today on national newscasts showing how relevant they are to this year’s election.
Are you a Mad Men fan?
It was fun to watch but was light years away from the work we were doing at DDB.
It was like they were on a different planet.
What was the last good ad you saw?
I can’t understand why there is such a dearth of good work being done today with all the new venues opened up like social media and the internet.
Hopefully a new Bernbach will come upon the scene and create a new BauHaus of advertising.
You’ve recently opened the oldest start-up ever?
At the 50th reunion of the DDB 1960 Creatives I met Don Blauweiss and Chuck Schroeder and after a couple of drinks we decided we still have the chops, so why not start a new creative revolution?
So we formed Senior Creative People.Thanks for your time Sid, good luck with the agency.
Nb. More Sid…