Biow Co.

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Founded by Milton Biow, 1918; became one of the top 10 U.S. agencies by the mid-1940s; involved in tax scandal that injured its reputation and sent billings into sharp decline, 1953; briefly became Biow-Beirn-Toigo, 1955; reverted to Biow Company name and went out of business, 1956.

Biow Co. was created in 1918 by Milton Biow (1892-1976), a pioneering merchandising man who believed in the hard sell and thought that advertising should move goods as quickly and directly as possible. Among the agency's biggest achievements were its work on the Philip Morris & Co. account and its radio efforts.

Biow won the PM cigarette account in 1933 and created perhaps the most famous living human trademark in advertising history: Johnny Roventini, the diminutive bellboy whose cry, "Call for Philip Morris," became well-known to radio and television audiences. When Mr. Biow noticed him in the lobby of the Hotel New Yorker, Mr. Roventini was a real-life bellboy working for $15 a week. Playing a hunch, the adman asked Mr. Roventini to page Philip Morris. Soon the former bellboy was making $20,000 a year and appearing in print, outdoor and radio. He was given a contract for life that continued long after the company ended the campaign; he died in 1999.

Among the agency's radio forays was the original version of "This Is Your Life" in November 1948 as part of its work for PM, which remained with the agency until 1955 (it moved to the Leo Burnett Co. that year). In 1940 the agency created a quiz show called "Take It or Leave It" for Eversharp razors. During the 10 years Biow produced the program, it launched the career of Jack Paar, later the host of the long-running late-night "Tonight" show on NBC; contributed a new phrase to American culture, "the $64 question"; and provided the inspiration and format for the 1955 TV hit, "The $64,000 Question," though the agency had no role in the TV series.

While the agency was at one time the eighth-largest in the U.S. with billings of $50 million, Biow began suffering losses in 1953 following a financial scandal involving an agency consultant. After a brief stint in 1955 as Biow-Beirn-Toigo, the agency announced it would close on June 30, 1956, and Mr. Biow retired from advertising.

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