DDB founder dies at 98: The legacy of Mac Dane

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Just as Bill Bernbach had set the agency's creative course, Mac Dane was the founder who, from the beginning, emphasized the human values we cherish today. Mac's list of human-rights initiatives would fill a page. The UJA-Federation even named an award in his honor-the Mac Dane Humanitarian Award-introduced in 1997 in honor of his 90th birthday.

If Mac was understandably proud of that award, he was also proud of another distinction-he was named on President Nixon's enemies list. While he mentioned this achievement often, he claimed he didn't know how he earned such recognition. Could it have been, among other things, the fact that he once turned down the business of a prominent advertiser because that advertiser was also a prominent supporter of Sen. Joseph McCarthy? Along with being an inspiration for our human values, Mac Dane was also a model of integrity, such a needed quality in business today.


Mac Dane described himself as even-handed. He was also gentle and wise. Mac was the partner who shouldered the financial responsibility of the original agency. As one story goes, a senior account executive was once on a TV commercial shoot in Las Vegas and, due to poor weather, the shoot was delayed for a few days. So the executive spent his free time and a considerable amount of money, all of which he lost, in the casino. In an improbable attempt to recover his losses, the enterprising executive reasoned that his losses had resulted from the shooting delay and thus he should be reimbursed. When he asked Mac where he should put the losses on his expense report, Mac reportedly advised the executive to "put your losses on the same line you would have put your winnings."

Then there was the memo to staff he wrote in 1971, urging people to take fewer cabs and walk more. In it, he referred to a 99-year-old former U.S. senator who attributed his longevity to long daily walks. Then, in a footnote, Mac wryly added that the 99-year-old former senator was also a bachelor.

One of the things we will miss most is Mac's wry wit. Until the very end, his snappy one-liners never failed to evoke a smile. He referred to humor as "a great weapon, in life and in advertising." Reminiscing in Peter Jennings' book "The Century," Mac recalled a visit to a synagogue in Palm Springs where he met a French Jew who had recently immigrated to the U.S. When Mac asked what made the man decide to live in this country, he answered that he had been visiting New York and saw an advertisement in a subway. The ad, one of DDB's most famous, read, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Real Jewish Rye." The Frenchman said the ad had made him laugh and feel welcome, and he decided America was where he wanted to live.

no fuss, please

When he turned 90, Mac made us promise not to make a big deal about his birthday. "I'm only 90," he said. "Why make a big fuss?" Mac said then, as he often did, "Chronological age isn't important. What's important is to be a participant, not a spectator." Mac believed life was to be lived, not observed from the sidelines. His wife Esther once told me "We spend half our lives at Lincoln Center."

On his 95th birthday, we got permission to make just a small fuss. We had a party for Mac in our boardroom on the 11th floor and as one expression of our appreciation for what he has meant to our company, we asked Mac for permission to rename the boardroom "The Mac Dane Room." He said, "As long as it doesn't become a `b-o-r-e-d' room." And so today, that's just one way we keep Mac's legacy alive at DDB.

A few weeks ago, a number of us crowded into Mac's office to celebrate his 98th birthday. There was a cake, some wine and a lot of reminiscing. Mac recalled the early days of DDB, how Mac and Ned Doyle and Bill Bernbach got together, formed an agency at 350 Madison Avenue in 1949 where they and their clients had to climb the stairs to the building's very unglamorous penthouse where the agency was housed. Looking around his present office he once again expressed mock concern to me, as he often had, that one day we might evict him.

I assured him that DDB will always have space and time for Maxwell Dane.

We all sang the birthday song, then Mac blew out the candles on his last birthday cake, and I excused myself for a meeting waiting for me-in the Mac Dane Room.

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