I met the real Tony Schwartz back in the 60's when I was looking for me and he helped me find me. The Tony Schwartz that's getting all the ink these days is the ghostwriter/co-author for "Art of the Deal" and I have little to say about that Tony Schwartz, except if he didn't believe what he wrote then, why did he write it? Because, I guess, we all chase the buck in our own way, and we're all guilty of pandering to one degree or another. Heck, I'd have jumped at that deal. So I can't judge that Tony Schwartz. It's the other one, the real one, who is so important and dear to me.
I was an art director in advertising, trying to figure out why I was in that business and what life itself meant. I read Viktor Frankl and Napoleon Hill. I watched the giants in the business--Bill Bernbach, George Lois, Howard Gossage, all the Mad Men, and emulated them. I was an art director, but became interested in media beyond the visual, and found out you could art direct radio. Tony Schwartz was doing big things in sound--such as recording a swath of New York block by block for miles on street level and above. He invented the first portable recorder, taking a bulky reel-to-reel and tweaking it for carrying with shoulder straps and various improvements.
He's known as a sound archivist, but sound activist would be more like it. He was a colleague of Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Message) and McLuhan called him "the guru of the electronic age," and said, when they met, he had met "a disciple with twenty years prior experience."
I wrote to Tony several times, but got no answer. So I took to pestering him with a barrage of postcards with embarrassing messages from a nonexistent paramour, a lady of the night from Iowa where I lived at the time. I discovered a box of starched shirt collars in a barn in Muscatine and found I could send them through the mail with felt tip pen messages and stamps. I sent him one. He sent me a card back, saying "Dear GW, don't give up. I am weakening."
Thus started our friendship.
I came to know him as a brilliant, kind, gentle, inquiring person. And I sent his lady Friday roses on her birthday, called her and we talked often, as did Tony and I. They invited me to NY to their offices (an old church) but I had to decline. He understood, being agoraphobic. So our communication, though strong, was always long distance.
He was an activist, as I said. Nuclear disarmament, AIDS awareness, smoking cessation, and many other causes were important to him. Gentle though he was, his deep beliefs led him to be ferocious. He was heavily involved in the LBJ "Daisy" commercial, known as the most famous political attack commercial of all time. It opened with a little girl in a meadow plucking daisy petals. LBJ says a few words, then BOOM, the world is obliterated. Implication: Goldwater was a trigger-happy cowboy who would destroy any chances for peace. It was visceral, and it was pulled shortly thereafter. But it was seen by millions.
He also did commercials for Carter, Humphrey, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and McGovern. Aside from politics, clients included Coke, (that TV commercial where the only audio is the 'schwizzz" of the cap coming off and the bubbling of a sweating bottle of Coca-Cola), Chrysler, American Express, Kodak, and hundreds of others.
There's so much I could say about him, and probably will in future blogs. But this was my small tribute to his work and its power, its efficacy: once, when I had control of The KC Art Directors programs as president, I did a Tony Schwartz evening. The room was busy, drinks were being consumed, Tony had been a graphic designer early in his career, and I had shown some award-winning posters of his on the program announcements.
Then, as people were seated, I had all the lights extinguished. Total darkness, except for the glow of cigarettes (yes, people smoked in places like that back then). Then I played a 45-minute Tony Schwartz tape, starting with a NY cabbie saying, "That's my opinion and it's very true." A classic, now in the hall of fame.
There was some restlessness, some WTF's of the day, then that subsided and these visually-oriented designers and graphics folks were each in their own world of interpretation of what was being said and the sounds that he'd recorded. No one complained. Far from it. If I'd have thought of it, I'd have recorded the applause and the many positive comments and sent them to him. But I'm no Tony Schwartz. He was one of a kind. Thank you Tony, for opening my eyes. And my ears. I'm using your powers of observation to this day.