By Ron Demer ’59
Gene died of heart disease on September 9 in New York City. He had a long and highly successful career in the advertising business with brands like VW (“think small”), Tums (with the “tum-ta-tum-tum” soundtrack), and the anti-nuclear “daisy ad” with the little girl’s petal countdown to a nuclear explosion. In 2002, he helped found Avenging Angels, an advocacy ad agency that creates campaigns for liberal causes. His ads there opposed the war in Iraq and nuclear proliferation and supported the Democratic National Committee, the environmental group Riverkeeper, bans on assault weapons, and the magazine The Nation.
At Cornell, he was at the top of his class in the College of Architecture when he decided that he did not like the way it was run, and transferred to arts. He followed Jack Bierhorst, SAE ’58, as editor of the campus humor magazine, The Widow, which ended its run in 1962–although its motto was “Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.” The Widow incessantly needled the Cornell Daily Sun, and produced the first full-scale parody of the Sun, titled the “Cornell Deadly Sin”, for Spring Day 1906.
Additional notable Widow parodies include the November 1949 “unofficial football program,” for the Syracuse-Cornell football game. The photo above is a Widow spoof of a Time Magazine cover of 1958 at Ithaca’s Obie’s Diner, the “in” place for burgers and greasy apple turnovers (they were grilled right next to each other). One’s stature was enhanced if Obie greeted you by name as you entered. Jack and Gene are in the background at the rifle game.
Gene was elected to Quill & Dagger and lived in the Tower in his senior year with Todd Jenkins ’59. He married a Cornell Theta, Mary Jane “Midge” Austin. They took a trip around the world–with extended stays in Greece and Vienna–where he wrote a novel, which was lost at a transfer point on the way home. Gene was unable to reconstruct it. He was a character right out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel–handsome, with platinum blonde hair, suave, Browning King clothes, and taciturn (he did not say much, but almost everything he said was memorable). He was one of the few creative types in advertising that had great talent and skill in both copywriting and art, almost a one-man agency.