Howard Zieff still remembers how he found the people to photograph in 1967 for his most famous advertisement, which had the tag line, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”
“We wanted normal-looking people, not blond, perfectly proportioned models,” Zieff recalled. The advertisements, for Levy’s rye bread, featured an American Indian, a Chinese man and a black child.
“I saw the Indian on the street; he was an engineer for the New York Central,” Zieff said. “The Chinese guy worked in a restaurant near my Midtown Manhattan office. And the kid we found in Harlem. They all had great faces, interesting faces, expressive faces.”
…Surprisingly, many in Hollywood are unaware that the reticent and modest Zieff was perhaps the most significant advertising photographer in New York in the 1960s. His work still resonates today.
“Howard was a truly special talent,” said Roy Grace, a former chairman of the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, now part of DDB Worldwide. “There was Howard Zieff and everyone else.” Grace was the agency’s art director in the 1960s, when he began working with Zieff.
“Howard was the primary force in a certain kind of advertising,” Grace said. “His photographs were a dialogue with humor, a dialogue with what we call real people, which is now commonplace.”
“Then everybody in advertisements was white,” he added. “Every kid was tow-haired and freckled with perfect little buck teeth. Myself and my compatriots were a bunch of guys from the Bronx and Brooklyn. That was not our background. And neither was it Howard’s.”