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In Memoriam: My Father, Paul Margulies

He was an advertising genius, and so much more

The author and her father | Photo courtesy of Julianna Margulies

My father always thought it was ironic that people swooned when they found out that he was the genius behind the famous ad campaign for Alka-Seltzer.

I grew up not really understanding his fame in the advertising world because he never allowed us to watch television. I knew he had a big job, a job that took us to different countries. Ad agencies hired him as their creative director and boasted to have him as their leader. He was the man, after all, who had come up with "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"

I remember on a happy occasion one summer, my father taking my two older sisters and me to Beverly Hills, California. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel! It was so exciting. He had to shoot the commercial in California, and we got to watch them film it. I must have been about 7 years old. I remember thinking he was so cool, in his fedora straw hat, his silk cravat, denim shirt and khaki safari jacket.

He was, tall, dark and handsome, and women were constantly blushing around him. I understood how dashing he was at a very young age. We were living in Paris, I was 3 years old, and we walked into a shop, and I thought the shop lady was pretty. Worried about his well-being, not having a wife, I said, "Mon papa est tres jolie, n'est-ce pas?"

My father always regaled that story, with his sweet chuckle, to anyone who would listen. And everyone always seemed to listen to my father. He was unique to this world, not because of his success in advertising, although some may argue that, but because he was a gentle soul who found himself, at a very young age, searching for the meaning of man.

He had been a philosophy major at Dartmouth College, and then, feeling the pressure from his parents (his mother was one of the first women lawyers to practice in New York state), he found himself at Columbia Law. He told me he dropped out after one year because he always found his way to the philosophy library. Law studies just didn't hold his interest.

What did hold his interest was the question of Being, Self, Soul, why are we here? What is our journey? How can we make this world better? How can we advance ourselves to a life of truth and goodness and love? It was deep stuff.

In his quest, he went to a farm in Pennsylvania and studied biodynamic farming. It was there that he decided to stop eating meat. It was 1959 and still a time when people thought if you didn't eat meat, you would get sick and eventually die. My poor grandmother would send him steaks and leave them at his door on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village, begging him to stop the nonsense. But he never did. He always understood other people's concerns, never pushed vegetarianism on anyone, but kept quietly to his regimen.

My father was drawn to a philosophy called anthroposophy, founded by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher. He began to read Steiner's books and study his lectures. It was in anthroposophy that my father found his calling.

He bumped into advertising at around the same time, and having three little girls and two ex-wives, he saw a way to make a living. But he had tremendous conflicts with the demands of the advertising industry. He was worried that his love for anthroposophy, the way in which he was choosing to lead his inner life, would contradict his work life. He sought out Dr. Franz E. Winkler, the man who had originally introduced him to the works of Steiner, and expressed his concern. Dr. Winkler told him that as long as he was true to himself, it could never be a contradiction.

And so he embarked on a career as a copywriter with his ideals intact: He would never write for tobacco, alcohol or the meat industry, and he stuck to those principles for his entire career.

In his later years, my father wrote an essay that was published for the Anthroposophical Press: "A Comparison of Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, and Knowledge of Higher Worlds, by Rudolf Steiner." He had written many famous jingles, several children's books and a wonderful screenplay about the boxer Daniel Mendoza. But it was in this essay that his most fulfilled work shone through. He delighted in the response to it, the depth of it. He was somehow able to explain the esoteric in simple English.

This is not to say that my father looked down on his life in advertising; he knew he had a talent for it, I would say a great talent, but I'm just a gloating daughter. But he constantly struggled to enrich his inner life while working in an industry that was only skin deep. At times that was frustrating for him; but at other times he really enjoyed it. However, it wasn't who he was. It wasn't where he wanted to be. He always told me his dream was to retire to the countryside somewhere in New England, just to be left alone with his books and his study groups. And he did just that at the young age of 50, and embarked fully on a lifelong dream.

As I became more prominent in my career as an actress and voiceover artist, I began to understand what an effect he had in the advertising world. People knew him, respected him, reacted to his name as though he were an iconic figure. He was known as The Man who created "Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz." I got a kick out of showing up to my voiceover sessions and hearing the writers ask me if my father had approved the copy. When I landed the Chase Bank campaign, I told my dad and he brought out his portfolio that had his original ad from the '70s: "The Chase is on!" He kept everything he had ever done, and he showed them to me with a gleam in his eye.

I know my father has helped many people find their inner peace. He was heralded as a great teacher, friend and leader in his community in Great Barrington, Mass., where he had retired. But I also know that without his ability to sell a product in 30 seconds and excel at it so beautifully, he wouldn't have been able to reach all the curious minds that ask the question, "How can we live in truth, goodness and love?" As he often quoted from Socrates, one of his favorite philosophers: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

And that's exactly how he lived his life.

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