In Memoriam: My Father, Paul Margulies

He was an advertising genius, and so much more

Paul Margulies and daughter Julianna hugging.

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.

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