DAISY: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AN INFAMOUS AND ICONIC AD - PART TWO[ 42 ]
For the Johnson project, Myers, who by that time had risen to the rank of Senior Art Director, was partnered with fellow Bronx native Stanley R. Lee, an introverted copywriter. Lee had graduated early from high school and had entered Columbia University as an Engineering major at the age of 16. Lee's wife, Bernice, recalled for CONELRAD that her late husband did not have many friends in college because most of his fellow students were older. It was at Columbia that Lee first sold his writing—science fiction—to a variety of pulp magazines. After college the budding sci-fi scribe put his writing urge on the backburner and went to work as an engineer at Hesseltine and Company in Long Island for several years. During the Korean War he was an Air Force officer who fulfilled his military commitment at a base in Mississippi. It was during this period, according to Bernice, that he began to seriously hone his writing skills.
After getting out of the Air Force, Lee, who was trying to finish a novel, returned to work at Hesseltine for a number of years. In 1960 or 1961 the frustrated writer had had enough of engineering and decided to try his hand at advertising. Bernice recounted that "He picked out some product and he did a whole (mock) campaign on it. And he went to some big wheel (Phyllis K. Robinson) at Doyle Dane. And he went to see her. Made an appointment with her and she liked his stuff and hired him."[ 43 ]
Aaron Ehrlich, was a television producer who had worked with Edward R. Murrow on the CBS interview program "Person to Person." Ehrlich came to DDB in 1963 from the production company Elliot Unger Elliot, where he worked on accounts such as Revlon, Chevrolet, Ivory Soap, and Jello. Additionally, he was an accomplished artist and photographer who had had exhibits at the Chicago Art Institute and the Willard Gallery.[ 44 ] Myers remembers that Ehrlich had a penchant for a specific type of eyewear: "He wore sunglasses constantly. He had very, very strange eyes that were kind of like bug-eyed and they were always watery, so I guess he hid them."
And what was Ehrlich's role for DDB in the Johnson campaign? Myers told CONELRAD: "He was the agency producer. And the agency producer is responsible for taking the creative team and shepherding them through the production company and making sure that whatever they have come up with is done in the correct manner. And to watch the dollars, the costs, for the agency or the client."
Ehrlich was also the person responsible for bringing sound man extraordinaire Tony Schwartz onboard to work on seven or eight spots—including the Daisy ad. Schwartz recalled the origins of his political work for DDB for Michael Dainard in an unpublished biography entitled "Evoked Recall":
I had been working in advertising for twenty years when one day in September (editor's note: because the Daisy ad aired in September, it is likely Schwartz meant to cite an earlier month) I got a call from Aaron Ehrlich, a producer at the advertising firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach. Ehrlich told me he had a special project for me, but that we had to discuss it in person, not over the phone. We met, and he took out a photograph of President Johnson, held it up before me, and said, "Will you work for this product?" I agreed, and he explained that he wanted me to work on the sound for a number of commercials.
Tony Schwartz had worked for DDB before—supplying sounds for various advertising projects, but this was—as it was for the agency—his first political work. The audio genius was born in midtown Manhattan in 1923 and grew up in Peekskill, NY. It was during a childhood bout with measles that Schwartz discovered he had a talent and love for design when he performed all the exercises in a Speedball Lettering book that a cousin had left at his house. The following year he signed up for an art class in high school. Schwartz also dabbled in ham radio in high school, but became bored when all of his fellow broadcasters seemed preoccupied with sharing technical data. Young Tony was more interested in hearing what these far away lands were like to live in, not swap gear specs.[ 45 ]
In a 1991 NYNEX newsletter ("Impact") story Schwartz wrote of the origins of two neuroses that have plagued him since his early teen years:
At the age of 13, I walked out of a movie theater and found myself overwhelmed by a sudden, incomprehensible panic. Agoraphobia usually means a fear of open spaces; for me, it's a fear of being more than a few blocks away from home without a companion. This is complicated by a fear of heights (acrophobia); I'm very uncomfortable 10 to 15 stories above the ground.
After graduation from high school Schwartz attended Pratt Institute where he studied advertising design under the legendary Will Burtin. One of his heroes during this period of his life was George Krikorian, the Art Director of the promotion department at the New York Times. During the summer between Schwartz's junior and senior years at Pratt he took some samples of his work to Krikorian for an assessment of his work. Schwartz's work must have been impressive, because he wound up becoming Krikorian's assistant for the rest of the summer.
After college Schwartz worked briefly for the famed French poster designer, Jean Carlu, before going into the Navy where he served his time as an artist. Sometime after he exited the military, Schwartz became the Art Director for the Graphics Institute on 44th Street in New York City (Schwartz later had his own advertising firm, the Wexton Company). It was 1947 when he stumbled upon a $139.95 Webster wire recorder that was displayed in a record shop window next to his office which he promptly bought. The impulse purchase of the Webster proved to be a turning point in Schwartz's life.
Within a couple of years Schwartz had amassed a staggering collection of folk music, much of which he had recorded himself in his home studio on West 57th Street. He also solicited for recorded folk music in various magazines and in letters to fellow Webster owners (Schwartz obtained a list of owners and addresses from the manufacturer). It was this music collection that gained Schwartz an invitation to appear on David Randolph's program on WNYC radio. The show prompted hundreds of favorable letters to the station as well as a telephone call from Bill Rosenwald, an heir to the Sears-Roebuck fortune. Rosenwald, who was a sculptor, presented Schwartz with a unique offer to "stake" him for a few years to do anything he wanted to do in the field of sound recording.
Freed from his Art Director "day" job, Schwartz embarked upon a project to record the sounds of his neighborhood: Children playing street games, ambient sounds of the city, street musicians, and anything else that caught his ear. In order to do this, Schwartz had to design inventive methods of mobile recording including running cables from his car to the actual tape unit ("portable" tape recorders were considerably heavier in those days). Many of these recordings found their way onto a series well-reviewed Folkways LPs including "1,2,3 and a Zing Zing Zing" (1953) and "New York 19" (1954). Schwartz eventually put out 19 LPs including "The New York Taxi Driver" on Columbia. Early in his career Schwartz was acknowledged for his groundbreaking efforts in sound. Herbert Mitany enthused in a June 10, 1956 New York Times article: "Without going overboard, it can be stated that Schwartz is doing in sound recording such as what the pre-television documentarians (Robert) Flaherty and (John) Grierson did on film."
In an early example of "performance art," Schwartz would play selections from his recordings on stage at art museums and even night clubs to attentive audiences. He also had a long-running radio program in New York that began during this period.
Schwartz's urban vérité recordings led him back into the field of advertising when the famous photographer Art Kane invited him to speak publicly on his hobby. It was after his lecture that Schwartz was approached by up and coming art director Steve Frankfurt who asked whether real children could be used to record commercial copy. Up until that point in advertising history adult women had imitated young children's voices for ads. Schwartz believed he could accomplish this feat by playing a "you say what I say" game with kids. Frankfurt's inquiry led to Schwartz providing the sound for the 1958 Johnson's Baby Powder television commercial known as "Bald Headed Baby." This spot is widely acknowledged as being the first ad featuring an actual child's voice.
As a result of the "Bald Headed Baby" commercial Schwartz became the go to' person for child soundtrack commercial work. He recalled this phase of his career for Mill Roseman in a 1988 Communication Arts magazine article: "Overnight I became Mr. Child Recordist. Within six months I was doing Ivory Soap, Corn Flakes, Hoffman's Soda, Post Cereals a whole host of baby products for various agencies."[ 46 ]child voice spots that Schwartz worked on proved to be critical as precursors to the Daisy ad. One was a Polaroid commercial from 1960 featuring Schwartz's nephew Jonathan Schwartz counting—out of order—just as the little girl does in the Daisy spot. Two years later, in 1962, Schwartz produced a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the United Nations that is an even clearer precedent for the Daisy spot: An announcer's voice is heard stating "Sometimes numbers can be fun." This is followed by Jonathan (from the earlier Polaroid takes) counting which is in turn followed by a "Mission Control"-type adult voice counting down followed by a nuclear explosion. The announcer's voice returns and says with a tone of irony: "Sometimes." The ad, as aired on WNYC radio, retained the child counting down, the "Mission Control" countdown and explosion, but replaced the "sometimes" copy with the following line: "Young and old. Another world war means death to us all. Support the United Nations."[ 47 ]
Schwartz also used his countdown soundtrack as part of a demo for IBM. He described this and his fascination with numbers for biographer Michael Dainard:
They (IBM) had published a book, "The World of Numbers." I wanted to show how many ways numbers are used in everyday life. There was no narrator, I just blended one number on a common number like 455 West 56, which you immediately recognize as an address; 695, the sound of a price, 6.95; and a whole exercise in the different sound of numbers. I submitted it to their agency, Oglivy, but they never used it...
Schwartz recalled for Mill Roseman the circumstances that led to the Daisy spot an account that was confirmed by CONELRAD with Lloyd Wright: "They (DDB) had an approach for a five-minute spot on the nuclear war issue, with voices counting down in English and Russian; they wanted to know what to do for a sixty second version." Schwartz then suggested his IBM tape to DDB.
Sid Myers remembered in his interview with CONELRAD that he and a small team from DDB went over to Schwartz's brownstone on West 57th to listen to the counting tape:
We had gone to his studio to listen to sound effects for—I don't know if it was for another commercial or specifically for this (DAISY) concept. I know that the concept came from listening to the countdown of his nephew.
Myers had and still has a high regard for Schwartz's unique sound talents and compared him to a famous New York newspaper photographer:
He was a fabulous character. I don't know if you remember Weegee,[ 48 ] the photographer. He would go around with the police department and take these strange photographs of hookers and then he would use glass to distort the photos. Now I think Tony Schwartz was the Weegee of sound. I mean he would do the same kind of thing. He would get fabulous sound effects. I mean he would wire up his teeth. I don't why. But he told us once he wired up his teeth to get a certain sound effect...
When asked to expand on his impressions of Schwartz, Myers offered:
Well, I thought he was kind of like one of these strange geniuses. You know, like a particular kind of savant. He had a lot of mental hang-ups. He was afraid of heights. He wouldn't go into an elevator. He never came to the agency and if the recording studio was above the first floor he would not come to it. He was a very strange, but wonderful character. I mean he was very talented, you know, in the way that Weegee was talented.
Myers' compliments toward the sound man's audio skills do not preclude him from taking strong exception to Schwartz's claims of sole authorship of the Daisy spot. Myers continued his remembrance of the DDB visit to Schwartz's home sound studio and listening to the counting tapes in 1964:
...We heard it and it was so striking and then we said "wow, wouldn't that be great." Now, this was in a group of Stan, myself, Aaron Ehrlich and Tony Schwartz just the four of us at his studio. I don't know who said it, Stan said it, I said it, or somebody said it, probably either Stan or I said it: Wouldn't it be great to have this countdown and then meld it into an ominous voice of a guy counting down and the bombs exploding.
In fact, Schwartz already had just such a recording in the can the U.N. spots. Myers confirmed to CONELRAD that he remembers hearing only the Jonathan Schwartz counting take without the adult countdown and explosion effect.
When asked for more specifics on how and at what point the Daisy ad's visual concept was devised and to confirm who specifically came up with the idea, Myers responded:
That I really don't know. I really don't know. It could have happened back at the agency between Stan and I. I know that Stan and I were responsible for producing and creating the commercial. Nobody else was around when that happened. So it was either Stan's idea or my idea, I really don't know. It was such a long time ago. Because usually when a copywriter and an art director work together that was the style at Doyle Dane Bernbach. That a copywriter and an art director would work together and together they would create the print ad or the television ad. And sometimes the copywriter would come up with the visual and the art director would come up with the verbal or the copy idea. And it happens, you know, in a creative process and you never know where it happens or when it happens or how it happens or you could have a germ of that idea and then you go home and you have dinner and while you're playing with your kids you come up with a concept and then you call your partner up and say, "hey, what about this." It is a kind of give and take.
Myers responded in the affirmative when CONELRAD asked him to verify that it was sometime after the DDB visit to Schwartz's studio that the idea for the Daisy spot visual was conceived.
Gene Case, then a 26-year-old copywriter working on the Johnson DDB team, told CONELRAD that he was among the group of ad men who visited Schwartz's studio that day. He stated that "the idea (for the Daisy ad) existed in a sound environment first, but Sid put the pictures to it."[ 49 ]
Neither Lloyd Wright nor Bill Moyers could confirm definitively for CONELRAD who personally was responsible for the Daisy concept. Moyers stated to CONELRAD in an e-mail:[ 50 ]
I do not know who in particular created the Daisy ad, except that it was done in New York and brought to us at the White House for vetting and approval (or not.) To my knowledge, Doyle Dane created all our ads but I never knew whose fingerprints were on any part of the process.
The uncertainty over the identity of the ad's auteur goes all the way back to beginning. Journalist and author Pete Hamill reported a lengthy and remarkably detailed feature on Doyle Dane Bernbach and its work for the Johnson campaign for the New York Times Magazine that was published on October 25, 1964. He wrote the following of the core Daisy DDB team: "They work well together, and none could remember precisely who came up with the little girl and the daisies idea. 'It was a kind of joint effort,' (James H.) Graham says." Ironically, Tony Schwartz's name is nowhere to be found in Hamill's article. This omission would be rectified and some would argue over-compensated for in the media in the ensuing years. Indeed, as time marched on and Schwartz gradually became known as the undisputed creator of the ad, members of the original DDB team began voicing their outrage. Selections from this war of words are preserved on the Daisy Documents page.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Schwartz began being credited in the media as the creator of the Daisy spot. Myers speculated for CONELRAD: "I think somebody had written an article and somehow got his (Schwartz's) name sometime very early and just went to him for all the information. And from then on it perpetuated and he became the gold stone of who did it." The earliest citation CONELRAD was able to find in which Schwartz is assigned sole credit for the Daisy ad is a 1968 Washington Post story by Walter Pincus.[ 51 ]
The evidence seems unquestionable that Schwartz was responsible for providing the audio roadmap for the spot. The visual component, however, is another story. The conceptualist for the brilliant scenario of the innocent child in the field of daisies is either Tony Schwartz or it is the DDB team (Sid Myers & Stanley Lee). With both sides claiming credit and neither possessing any conclusive evidence, this is a dispute unlikely to ever be resolved.
It should be noted that at least one astute writer has observed that the Daisy spot is reminiscent of the famous lakeside scene in the original film version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931)[ 52 ]. In it a little girl who exudes a similar innocence to the Daisy girl befriends the classic (pre-atomic) monster with her flowers only to be violently drowned. Was this startling scene a subconscious influence on the person(s) who conceived the Daisy ad? When asked about this specifically, Myers told CONELRAD that he remembered the scene vaguely, but added "You see a lot of things and a lot of things get impacted into your brain subliminally."
Birgitte Olsen, the then 4-year-old child model / actress who played the Daisy girl, recalled for CONELRAD in a rare interview how she came to be selected for the historic spot: "I was picked out of a bunch of kids, just like any commercial." Olsen was put up for the ad by her agent, Monica Stuart of the Schuller Agency. Stuart would later represent child star Linda Blair and help her win the role of Regan in THE EXORCIST. Two of Olsen's older siblings, Fritz and Annette, were child actors as well. Fritz and Annette appear in the opening scenes of the Rod Steiger film THE PAWNBROKER (1964). Annette achieved commercial fame in her own right as Susan Spotless in an early "Keep America Beautiful" PSA campaign that preceded Iron Eyes Cody's "crying Indian" spots.
Sid Myers remembered being involved in the casting of the Daisy girl: "We saw a bunch of kids at the agency and we picked one either by film or by Polaroid picture." When asked if he recalled anything specific about Birgitte Olsen, Myers said: "Just that she was a cute little Norman Rockwell freckle-faced girl."
According to Myers who was there the Daisy spot was shot over a period of a couple hours one afternoon in Highbridge Park in New York. The cameraman was Drummond Drury, a contractor from the production company of Elliot Unger Elliot (now EUE, a part of Screen Gems, LTD). In an odd bit of atomic coincidence, Drury was also the cameraman for the CITIZEN KANE of civil defense films, DUCK AND COVER in 1951.[ 55 ]
By all accounts, Tony Schwartz was not present at the shoot, but he was responsible for mixing the soundtrack. Schwartz's office provided raw tape to CONELRAD of Birgitte Olsen being prompted to count on location and it makes for fascinating listening. Hearing Olsen with the New York-accented director ("Count for me, sweetheart...") and the attendant background noise in Highbridge Park is like eavesdropping on history.[ 56 ]
It has often been asked by students of the Daisy ad whether Olsen's counting out of sequence was scripted. Judging from the multiple takes on the tape and Schwartz's own statement that he used what was on the recording to preserve credibility ("It was reality. It was the way the child talked."[ 57 ]), the answer to this question is "no," the counting sequence was not preordained.
Once the footage was shot, editing took place at the offices of Elliot Unger Elliot. In a letter found in his personal papers at the Center for American History in Austin, Texas Aaron Ehrlich claimed to have edited the Daisy spot. In various interviews, Tony Schwartz has also claimed to have provided the blueprint for how the ad was shot and cut. Specifically, he told co-authors Edwin Diamond and Stephen Bates that he directed the DDB team to do the following: "You have a little child pulling the petals off a daisy. The camera goes into the center of the daisy, and that becomes the explosion when it detonates." And in another interview, with Dainard, Schwartz states that he provided the exact direction used in the final version of the ad: "...you have a little girl picking the petals off a daisy and you go in on the eye."[ 58 ]
Sid Myers insisted to CONELRAD that the editing was more collaborative and that it was he who came up with signature slow zoom on Birgitte Olsen's eye that distinguishes the ad. The source of inspiration for this unforgettable editing choice was, according to Myers, the French New Wave:
We all edited it together. We were together. At the time there was a movie called THE 400 BLOWS, do you remember that movie, the Truffaut movie? Well, at the end of that movie, the little boy is running and stops and freezes and I think that the camera moves into his face—I don't think it goes into his eye. And I saw that movie and it struck me so...it was such a powerful image that I thought it would be great image to do on this commercial. The idea of freezing her and moving into the eye didn't happen until we saw the film that we shot of just the girl standing in the field. And it was a wide shot. We thought that it would be very powerful just to move into her face and then move into her eye and then just dissolve to an explosion. And I know that was my idea.
A review of the final scenes of Truffaut's 1959 film classic lends credence to Myers' assertion. Moreover, pulling such an obscure reference out of thin air in an interview 40 + years later without it being truthful seems implausible.
The more poetic words conveying the choice between "God's children" fading into the "dark" or loving one's fellow man that precede the hard sell "vote tag" are paraphrased from W.H. Auden's famous poem "September 1, 1939" (specifically, "We must love one another or die," which is changed slightly as spoken by Johnson). Auden's line is itself informed by scripture: "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (First Epistle to John 3:14).[ 59 ] The President's voiceover was edited from an April 17, 1964 Rose Garden speech preceding a White House reception for the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The authorship of this particular speech is likely Bill Moyers, though Moyers could not definitively confirm this ("I don't remember," Moyers wrote to CONELRAD, "Too many speeches, too many topics, too much time"). When presented with the text of the speech, Lloyd Wright told CONELRAD "that both the substance and the vocabulary are Moyers-esque." Moyers, it must be pointed out, was (and perhaps still is) an ordained Baptist minister. The biblical resonance of the speech text may be what Wright is detecting as "Moyers-esque."
Tony Schwartz has frequently claimed credit for choosing these passages from the speech (from among other Rose Garden speeches of this period that were provided to him on tape). In 1994 he told Audio magazine: "So they brought over five hours of tapes of Rose Garden speeches and a section underlined that they wanted put in. It made the point they wanted, but it didn't sound right. So I listened through all the speeches and found a section that had the right sound and the right meaning, and I edited it down a little and used that. Those words happened to have been written by W.H. Auden."[ 60 ] However, Sid Myers stated to CONELRAD that it was his partner Stan Lee who recognized these words as being appropriate for the Daisy ad. Myers added that it was Lee who came up with the "stakes are too high..." tag line, but this is disputed by Gene Case who stated "I take the blame for that. If someone else wants it, they are welcome to it."[ 61 ]
It has been falsely suggested by one pundit that Auden's well-known dislike of "September 1, 1939" was caused by the Daisy spot.[ 62 ] In fact, Auden had been troubled by the misinterpretation of the poem and the specific line decades before the Johnson ad. In 1944 he removed the stanza that included the line and in 1957 he even wrote a letter to critic Laurence Lerner and stated "Between you and me, I loathe that poem." By 1968 Auden "loathed" Johnson more than the poem and wrote the Irish scholar E.R. Dodds: "Vietnam is ghastly. If (Nelson) Rockefeller is nominated, I shall vote for him; if the choice is between Johnson and Nixon, I don't see how I can vote at all."[ 63 ]
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