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Tony Schwartz, 1923 - 2008

Ad man helped create pivotal 'daisy' spot

June 17, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Tony Schwartz, who helped create the infamous "daisy ad" that ran only once during the 1964 presidential race but changed political advertising forever, has died. He was 84.

Schwartz died Sunday at his home in Manhattan, N.Y., said his daughter, Kayla Schwartz-Burridge. He had been suffering from heart valve stenosis.

Schwartz, who started his career as a graphic designer, collaborated with a team from the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency to create the spot featuring a little girl counting aloud as she pulled the petals from a daisy.

The scene then changed into a countdown to an atomic blast. President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic incumbent seeking reelection, did the voice-over with the line, "We must either love each other, or we must die" -- a paraphrase of a famous W.H. Auden poem written at the start of World War II.

The ad made no mention of Johnson's Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, but the implication was clear. After public criticism, it was withdrawn. Johnson went on to win, and the spot has been credited with ushering in an era of negative political ads.

"It was the first national Rorschach test," Schwartz said in an interview with Newsday in 1992.

He worked on other campaigns, both for politicians and corporate clients, such as Coca-Cola and Chrysler. He also publicized the dangers of smoking in a series of commercials.

"I was the first one to do commercials for the American Cancer Society dealing with emotions rather than medical facts," Schwartz told the Washington Post in 1983. "They would want people not to smoke, and then do spots showing how your lungs were affected or this and that. I took a different approach. I showed kids playing in their parents' clothing. You know, the boy and girl dressing up in their parents' wedding clothes up in the attic, and then we have the announcer say, 'Children learn by imitating their parents. Pause. Do you smoke cigarettes?' "

Schwartz was born in Manhattan in 1923, studied graphic design at the Pratt Institute and served in the Navy during World War II. A ham radio enthusiast and music lover, he spent time as a radio host and Broadway sound designer. He also produced record albums, including some using his own recordings.

The author of two books -- "The Responsive Chord" (1973) and "Media: The Second God" (1983) -- he taught media studies at Harvard, New York, Columbia and Emerson universities. But because he suffered from agoraphobia, he relied on technology to teach from home, often giving lectures via telephone.

His work was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2007.

In addition to his daughter, Schwartz is survived by his wife, Reenah; son, Anton; brother, Larry; and one grandchild.


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