BOSTON Tony Schwartz, the reclusive media consultant who helped fashion the famous “Daisy” TV commercial during Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential run, died on Sunday, according to a brief notice on his Web site. He was 84.
Produced by DDB, the 60-second ad captured the angst and anxiety of the Cold War era. It opens on a small girl counting as she plucks petals from a daisy. She is clearly heard counting up — until an older male voice takes over, counting down. The image of an atomic explosion closes the spot on a jarring note, accompanied by a Johnson voiceover that concludes: “We must either love each other, or we must die.”
The spot caused such an uproar that it aired only once, but many media watchers believe it ushered in the era of negative advertising in politics that persists to the present day. (Watch the commercial here.)
During his career, Schwartz also worked on ads for other political candidates including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. He also worked extensively on anti-smoking campaigns for the American Cancer Society.
In a lengthy obituary in today’s New York Times, Schwartz is remembered thusly: “‘Media consultant’ is barely adequate to describe Mr. Schwartz’s portfolio. In a career of more than half a century, he was variously an art director; advertising executive; urban folklorist who captured the cacophony of New York streets on phonograph records; radio host; Broadway sound designer; college professor, media theorist and author who wrote books about the persuasive power of sound and image; and maker of commercials for products, candidates and causes. What was more, Mr. Schwartz, who had suffered from agoraphobia since the age of 13, accomplished most of these things entirely within his Manhattan home.”
Schwartz was born in New York on Aug. 19, 1923 and developed an early interest in radio and the visual arts. He received a degree in graphic design from the Pratt Institute and served as a civilian artist for the Navy in World War II, later working as an art director for various ad firms and running his own shop, which eventually became known as Solow/Wexton.
Away from the ad world, he recorded several highly praised albums of street sounds near his Manhattan home, and he hosted the WNYC radio show Around New York from 1945-1976.
Schwartz authored two books: The Responsive Chord (1973) and Media: The 2nd God (1981).
He taught at universities including Harvard, Columbia, NYU and Fordham — all via two-way phone and satellite link, as he rarely left his home, according to the Times.
He leaves his wife, the former Reenah Lurie; a daughter, Michaela Schwartz-Burridge; a son, Anton; a brother, Lasker (known as Larry); and one grandchild.