Eugene “Gene” Case ’59

Gene Case, Who Marketed After-Shave and Politicians, Dies at 72

By Bruce Weber
The New York Times, September 13, 2010

Advertising portfolios are grab bags, collections of products and services and ideas connected only by the person who was hired to sell them. But certainly Gene Case, who helped peddle Lyndon B. Johnson for the presidency and Tums for the tummy, had a wider sales range than most.

Mr. Case, who worked in advertising from the age of “Mad Men” to the age of Obama, founded the half-billion-dollar agency Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, created the “Thanks.

I needed that” campaign for Mennen Skin Bracer and spent his last years creating campaigns on behalf of liberal causes, died Thursday in Manhattan. He was 72.

The cause of death was a heart attack, the family said.

Mr. Case was a copywriter at Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency that created the “Think small” campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, when he was assigned to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign against Senator Barry Goldwater. He worked with the team that created the famous antinuclear “Daisy ad,” in which the image of a little girl counting down the petals of a daisy melds into the image of a nuclear explosion.

In another signature ad from the campaign, a young man who says he has always been a Republican talks to the camera for an astonishing four minutes about his fear of Goldwater, his party’s candidate, as a nuclear hawk. According to Stephen Kling, senior art director of Mr. Case’s last agency, Avenging Angels, Mr. Case wrote the copy for that ad.

In 1966, Mr. Case’s ads, focusing on issues like pollution control, helped Nelson A. Rockefeller win a third term as governor of New York. He also wrote the ads for Rockefeller’s failed attempt to win the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. Later, after he and others formed the agency that became Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, Mr. Case wrote ads for the New York mayoral campaigns of Robert F. Wagner and Bella Abzug.

Jordan McGrath was largely a commercial agency, however; at its peak, in the 1990s, it booked $500 million a year. One of Mr. Case’s more memorable creations there was the Skin Bracer campaign in which different men (including a young John Goodman), applying the “chin chiller” after shaving, would be slapped across the face (or would slap themselves) and utter the catchphrase: “Thanks. I needed that.”

Mr. Case also worked on ads for Tums, the antacid, and came up with the idea for a musical tag, “tum-ta-tum-tum,” chanted to the rhythm of the theme from the television show “Dragnet.”

“Which we paid for through the nose for the next 15 years,” Patrick J. McGrath, one of Mr. Case’s former partners, said with a laugh in an interview.

In 2002, Mr. Case returned to the political arena when 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.

“I’ve been in this business for 42 years,” Mr. Case said in an interview in The New York Times in 2003 about his decision to return to advocacy advertising. “And I’ve never been so productive, so happy–and so poor.”

Eugene Lawrence Case was born on Dec. 6, 1937, in Knoxville, Tenn., where his father, Harry, was personnel director for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like his father, Mr. Case graduated from Cornell, where he studied architecture. He took his first copywriter job in 1961, at the J. Walter Thompson agency.

Mr. Case’s first two marriages, to Mary Jane Austin and Ilon Specht, ended in divorce. He is survived by three children from his marriage to Ms. Austin: Christopher, of Mamaroneck, New York; Alison, of Williamstown, Massachusetts; and Timothy, of the Bronx, New York. He is survived by a son, Brady, of Manhattan, from his marriage to Ms. Specht. He is also survived by a sister, Marcia Schlaff, of Manhattan; his wife, Sylvia Rodriguez Case, whom he married in 1994; their daughter, Billie, of Manhattan; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. McGrath, his former partner, said that Mr. Case had been an especially skilled writer but that even that gift had paled in comparison to his creativity as a pitchman.

“He was without a doubt the best presenter of advertising who ever lived,” Mr. McGrath said. “Clients were sometimes unhappy because the ads weren’t as good as the presentation.”