Remembering Bob Levenson



When I was a young writer at Doyle Dane Bernbach, Bob Levenson was up there in the stratosphere.
Higher-up than the supervisors I worked for at the time—Hal Silverman, Lore Parker, John Noble and
Irwin Warren. I don't remember showing him any of my ads for his approval; he was one of the exalted players at the agency. Up there with Bob Gage and Dave Reider. Bill Taubin and Phyllis Robinson.

He started in 1959. I started in 1968. There was a difference. By the time I arrived, the breakthrough
campaigns: Volkswagen, Mobil, Avis, Sony, El Al, Levy's, were already established. And many of them
written by him.

But unlike the others who had already made a large name for themselves and their clients when I was
writing my first trade ads and radio commercials, I was not intimidated by him. How could I be? How
could anybody be? It was his headlines and his body copy that made him seem so approachable. So
charming and witty and personable. So hamische (sp?)—that Yiddish word that translates to something
like cool.

'Gad is my co-pilot' is a good example.

'My son the pilot 'also comes to mind., with a line in the copy: "And from then on in, it was flying, flying, flying." The intention, the inflection, was crystal clear. He put himself inside the woman, the proud mother writing the ad. Her passion for her son's passion, perfectly born out in his passion for the writing of it.

Then he could turn around and do 'We Want You to Live' for Mobil.

'Practice makes Perfect' for Volkswagen.

'Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee' for…well, Sara Lee.

Standouts, all. But standouts that didn't talk over you, didn't insult, didn't oversell. It was like he was
personally putting his arm around you, drawing you closer, while you were reading the ad. Love my
ads, love my product. And, man, did it work.

Remember 'A Rare Photo'? The visual of the bug being towed? Bob Kuperman the art director, but
there was a piece of the body copy that slayed me and I may be paraphrasing a bit, but... "It does
happen, and when it does, break down and call us. Even if it's in Kalamazoo, Mich. Terre Haute, Ind.
Or Juneau, Alas.

Alas.

That right there was the genius. The abbreviation of Alaska juxtaposed in the very next one-word sentence/paragraph, the repeat of the word and its totally different meaning.

A couplet of the same four-letter word that speaks volumes of his gift for, and command of, the language.

I was a kid when I was asked to write on Volkswagen. I did nothing more than emulate what he had
done. 'Tires go on tirelessly' was a sentence I wrote in an ad I no longer remember the headline of,
but Bob came into my office—I didn't even realize he knew where I sat—and commented on it. "Nice
phrase, Hy," he said. I almost fell off my chair.

But I did find myself memorably once, seated in a chair in his office one January day in 1972. I had
left Doyle Dane, got a higher paying job at Carl Ally during a period when they were experimenting
with a four-day work week. I was extremely uncomfortable those four days there. It wasn't warm. It
wasn't friendly. In short, it wasn't Doyle Dane Bernbach.

So, early on a Friday morning, the day off of my first week at Ally, I walked right into 20 West 43rd, got off on the 24th floor, and sat and waited in Bob Levenson's office for him to appear.

"So soon?" he said to me, walking in, still in his overcoat, understanding, I suppose, just by the look
on my face, that I wanted to come back. Like his writing; no extraneous words. And he welcomed me
back, without even a discussion of why.

So soon, Bob.

Too soon.

Hy Abady
DDB Copywriter