Tony Schwartz (1923-2008), master of electronic media, created more than 20,000 radio and television spots for products, political candidates and non-profit public interest groups. Featured on programs by Bill Moyers, Phil Donahue and Sixty Minutes, among others, Schwartz has been described as a “media guru,” a “media genius” and a “media muscleman.” The tobacco industry even voluntarily stopped their advertising on radio and television after Schwartz’s produced the first anti-smoking ad to ever appear (children dressing in their parents’ clothing, in front of a mirror). The American Cancer Society credits this ad, and others that followed, with the tobacco industry’s decision to go off the air, rather than compete with Schwartz’s ad campaign.
Born in midtown Manhattan in 1923, a graduate of Peekskill High School (1941) and Pratt Institute (1944), Tony Schwartz had a unique philosophy of work: He only worked on projects that interested him, for whatever they could afford to pay.
For thirty one years (1945-1976) he created and produced a weekly radio program of people and sounds of New York on WNYC (AM & FM). For over 15 years he wrote a weekly column for Media Industry Newsletter (MIN).
When Marshall McLuhan met Tony Schwartz, he said he met “a disciple with twenty years prior experience!” Later, McLuhan and Schwartz shared the Schweitzer Chair at Fordham University.
For many years he was a Visiting Electronic Professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, teaching physicians how to use media to deal with public health problems. He also taught at New York University and Columbia and Emerson colleges. Because Schwartz was unable to travel distances, he delivered all out of town talks remotely. Schwartz was a frequent lecturer at universities and conferences, and gave presentations on six of the seven continents (all but Antarctica). He was awarded honorary doctorates from John Jay, Emerson and Stonehill Colleges.
Designated the year’s “Best Social Studies Teacher in the United States” because of a Sociological Communications course he taught to high school students, Schwartz explained, “I merely taught them how to document the life around them in sound and pictures.”
“Documenting life in sound and pictures” is something Tony Schwartz began in 1945, when he bought his first Webcor wire recorder and began to record the people and sounds around him. From this hobby developed one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of voices, both prominent and unknown, street sounds and music, a collection that resulted in nineteen phonograph albums for Folkways and Columbia Records.
Schwartz began to do commercials for national advertisers, in which he revolutionized the industry: he was the first ever use real children’s voices in radio and television ads, as opposed to adults imitating children. From commercials involving children, he moved to general advertising, everything from Coca Cola to airlines, political campaigns and public interest media—every ten years, Schwartz’s sphere of interest expanded to include new directions and new challenges, as well as continuing the old.
Credited with the single most effective and talked about ad ever produced, Tony Schwartz created the Daisy Ad, as it has become known, to highlight the dangers of nuclear arms. It was used by the Johnson campaign in 1964 to clearly illustrate his position on the use of nuclear weapons. Considering the extensive discussion that the ad has sparked, it is remarkable that the ad ran only once.
Schwartz created the media campaigns of over 200 candidates, including the winning 1976 presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter, the 1964 Johnson presidential election, the campaigns of Abe Ribicoff (Connecticut) and Daniel Moynihan (New York), and selected campaigns of Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Tom Foley (Washington state), Mike Gravel (Alaska), Bob Hattfield (West Virginia), Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts) Tom Lantos (California), Warren Rudman (New Hampshire) and Andrew Young (Georgia), to name but a few.
The entire body of Tony Schwartz’s material is now housed in the archives of the Library of Congress. States Gerald Gibson, Curator and echoed by Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress, “Your collection… is truly phenomenal. Its scope, from political spots through documentation of speech development, commercials and interviews, to folk material, makes it one of the truly unique collections… of mid-20th century thought and work yet put together. When one realizes that… your collection documents the work of one individual, its importance and usefulness to future research is almost unimaginable. It will enhance the Library’s collection far beyond anything that I am honestly capable of perceiving!”
The photographer Edward Steichen has called Tony Schwartz the man “who moved sound recording into the realm of the arts.” And the artist Ben Shahn told a friend, “Tell Tony, he’s my kind of artist, hard boiled and beautiful!”
- Prix Italia (Best Documentary)
- Cannes Film Festival – First Place four times (Commercials category)
- Venice Film Festival – First Place
- Academy Award – twice (Best Animated Short Film, 1960 & 1973)
- World Radio Festival – United States and North American entry (Best Documentary) for more than ten years running.
- New York Market Radio Festival (NYMRAD) – Grand Award for public interest spots (four times); First Place honor (eight times)
- World Health Organization – Recipient of the first World No Smoking Day medal, in recognition of his dedicated work against cigarette smoking and the tobacco industry (1988).
- Distinguished Service Citation of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, presented to Schwartz by Elizabeth Taylor (1989).
- U.S. National Recording Registry – One of the first 100 records inducts (The New York Taxi Driver, 2003).
- Grammy nomination (for New York Taxi Driver, 1959)
Tony Schwartz and his ideas about communication are the focus of the play “DAISY” by Canadian playwright Sean Devine. Premiered at Seattle’s ACT Theatre in 2016.
Feature article on Tony Schwartz’s recordings.
By David Suisman. Fall/Winter 2012.
“Tony Schwartz for the Next Generation”
Hourlong discussion between Christopher Lydon and David Hoffman about Tony Schwartz and his ideas. June 27, 2008.
Five-part BBC-4 radio feature (2002).
By Mark Burman and Alan Dein
THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING
The Power of the Sound of Speech
By Randall Rothenberg. August 21, 1989.
THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING
Strategies For Social Visionaries
By Douglas C. McGill. March 10, 1989.
“The 30-Second President” Hourlong television documentary exploring political advertising in the 20th Century, focusing on Rosser Reeves and Tony Schwartz. 57 minutes. September 19, 1984.
Lloyd Moss interviews Tony Schwartz about his life and works.
55 Minutes. June 4, 1983.
Academy Award winning animated film by Frank Mouris, sound track by Tony Schwartz. Inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996. 9 minutes.
Tony Schwartz produced and hosted a weekly segment on WNYC Radio (New York) for over thirty years. The archive of these shows is available here.
• Anti-Smoking Commercial (1963) – the first ever made. By Tony Schwartz for the American Cancer Society
• The “Daisy” Commercial (1964) – Tony Schwartz was brought in to work with a team from Doyle Dane Bernbach to create this commercial for President Lyndon Johnson.