Fred Danzig: an Open-Minded Optimist With Great Instincts

Former Ad Age Editor Got You Thinking Down a Different Road, And in That Way Brought Out the Best in People

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Rance Crain
Rance Crain

In the obit we ran on our longtime editor Fred Danzig, I talked about how I would call him from time to time after he retired to get his take on things. I could always count on him for having a different slant. I will miss making those calls.

I miss making them already. Fred passed away April 28, just days before our Navy SEALS dropped out of the sky over Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

Everything seemed to go wrong for us after 9/11, and what I would have loved to ask Fred was if he thought bin Laden's demise would change things. My theory is that his death will usher in a more assertive, confident mood in America, carrying over to advertising and consumers.

Would Fred have agreed with me that a 10-year malaise of uncertainty and self-doubt has been lifted and our country will become much more optimistic?

Fred was always a very optimistic guy himself, so I'm pretty sure he would have concurred that bin Laden's death would have an uplifting effect on our national psyche. But he would have had an interesting angle on whether we could have kept the mission a secret if it had failed or whether President Obama would have attempted it if his approval ratings were higher, as Dick Cavett posed in The New York Times.

That's what Fred did. He got you thinking down a different road, and in that way he brought out the best in people. He did that in a lot of different ways. Maybe because he always seemed eager to hear what you had to say, like my bin Laden scenario. Maybe it was because he always had a cheerful word.

Or maybe, like former editor and later publisher of Ad Age Scott Donaton said, it was that Fred "believed in me before I believed in myself."

Fred had great instincts -- for talent, for sniffing out a story, for putting disparate things together and coming up with a brand new trend that was sure to influence the advertising business.

He also had some attributes I never suspected. Our executive editor Judy Pollack, a 25-year veteran of Ad Age , said Fred could be very protective of company assets. In the late '80s Judy was covering the packaged-goods beat for us, and one of the companies where she got a lot of scoops was Campbell Soup Co. (so many, in fact, that Campbell briefly hired her away, "I think to keep me from reporting on them!" she said).

Judy said she had one particular source "who was a fount of useful information." The person was coming to New York on a business trip and told Judy that the one place he always wanted to visit was Tavern on the Green in Central Park. When she turned in her expense account, Fred called her into his office because the restaurant bill was close to $100. "He asked me to name the stories the source was responsible for helping me to break before agreeing to pick up the tab," Judy told me.

At the funeral, Fred's beloved wife of 59 years, Edith, said that Fred kept a journal, and also made charts on sports (including the March Madness college basketball tournament) and contestants on "American Idol"—although his favorites did not always advance, which displeased him greatly. Edith and her daughter, Ellen Kay, told me that during the last six months of his life, Fred kept busy helping supply facts and background for a book setting the record straight on the "Mad Men" era of advertising. The author, ex-adman Andrew Cracknell, said he interviewed Fred for three hours. "It was wonderful. During that period he talked for 10 minutes of his being shot and invalided during the battle to take Brest in September 1944." Fred was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his bravery in that assault.

In the foreword to Mr. Cracknell's book, Fred states that when he joined Advertising Age as senior editor in 1962, "the Creative Revolution's fresh work was already the talk of the business." But, he noted that "Mad Men's" Don Draper hated the Volkswagen "Think Small" ad.

"To be fair" Fred wrote, "'Mad Men' never pretends to be a documentary film. It's committed to storylines and pure entertainment, smartly focusing on the lives and loves of its central characters and their hallowed clients. While it deservedly wins awards (13 Emmys among them and counting), these awards aren't coming from Madison Avenue." Fred's writing ranged seamlessly from advertising to show business (he was the first entertainment reporter to interview Elvis Presley) to stories about "Robby the Rabbitt" that he made up for his granddaughter Jenna when she was a little girl, which Jenna spoke about lovingly at her grandfather's funeral.

Fred made it all seem so easy. As Lou Haugh, a former senior editor, put it: "After I left the Ad Age family, I tried, not always successfully, to manage in the same way -- positive, helpful and firm. It was then I appreciated he had helped shape my career."

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