Howard died the other day after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. I got to know him through my pal of 40 years, Dick Clark who worked for him as an assistant, collaborator, court jester, and sometime actor (Dick was the voice-over in the unforgettable Alka-Seltzer commercial, “Spicy Meatball’ and ultimately became his rep).
In every one of the half dozen obits I’ve read (they’re all over the Internet) I’ve been struck by the raves for work he did 40 years ago (before inline skates, PC’s, iPods, the internet, or Miller Lite) The half-life of outstanding advertising never ceases to amaze me.
The Alka-Seltzer spot dates to 1970. The Levy’s rye bread posters came earlier. But none of the articles mentioned the posters he did for The New York Daily News (below) that established his reputation. The Daily News pictures didn’t need a headline - or copy for that matter. The whole story, including dialog, was wrapped up in a photograph - like a Norman Rockwell illustration on film. They campaign was done in the ‘50s, years before the ‘creative revolution’ of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Today it’s hard to realize how unique Howard’s vision was. But if you can find an copy of LIFE from that era you'll get some idea. The models in the advertising are right out of “The Stepford Wives”. Their pefect faces are wreathed in perfect smiles. Their perfect bodies are perfectly groomed and dressed. Howard broke that mold. The pictures he took were populated with real people who made the advertising authentic in the same way headlines like “Lemon” did for VW.
His pictures had a sense of humor that’s missing in most advertising today. The light touch, the result of exquisite casting and meticulously set ups - well - the ad just made you smile and feel good.
spent the hour scheming to get a high-powered director to film their spot. In Howard’s prime, when an ordinary director’s job was to ‘shoot the board' as written, he was the first of the directors people schemed to get. He picked the boards he wanted to shoot, and the fact that he’d take your job (at twice what you’d pay elsewhere) was an affirmation of your concept and a promise that the client was going to get a whole lot more commercial than he’d bargained for.
Years after the creative revolution was put to bed a hand full of writers, art directors, and agencies get credit for the work. Howard left Madison Avenue at the top of his game, and went off to Hollywood and film career. As a result, I think he gets much less credit than deserved for his influence on the advertising revolution