If authorized biographies warrant a certain skepticism, the authorized corporate biography often invites downright disbelief. But not in this case.
"[The agency] never censored a thing," Ms. Kufrin says. "They triple-checked facts, but I was never told, `don't put this in.' We started with an outline of what I would put in, but I had no idea what I would find."
Ms. Kufrin, who never met Leo Burnett, had access to 10,000 letters and documents written by Mr. Burnett, virtually the whole of his personal papers. She also interviewed his widow, Naomi, who died in 1990, and his three children. They filled in details of his personal life.
Only about a half dozen of Mr. Burnett's contemporaries could be interviewed. Among them: Joe Greeley, one of Burnett's first marketing people; Joe Cullum, chairman emeritus of Philip Morris; and Howard List, former ad manager at Kellogg Co. Moreover, a memoir of the early days, written by De-Witt O'Kieffe, was found in the Burnett archives.
"The general history has been told," Ms. Kufrin says. "But I think this will fill in the linkages and explain what happened."
If you dig deeply enough into the life of even so legendary a man as Leo Burnett, there will be surprises. For Ms. Kufrin, the biggest surprise was that she liked him more than she expected.
"He would get dozens of letters from kids who wanted to know about advertising," she notes, "and he answered these people, never brushed them off. On the other hand, he never spent a lot of time at home, although [his] kids didn't seem to resent it.
"Still, I was surprised that his family came second."
Having written for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and New York, Ms. Kufrin approached the Burnett book with journalistic objectivity. She apologizes if she sounds like a proselytizer.
"I was prepared to be, if not critical, at least objective," she says. "And I came out with more respect for him than I went in with."