Judy Protas may have been famous only within the insular world of New York advertising. But some of the ads she wrote, including the 20th-century classic “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” have been been famous across the country for more than half a century.
Ms. Protas, a retired executive at New York agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, died January 7 at 91. Margalit Fox wrote the obituary for the New York Times, which I commend to you.
Here’s Fox on the Levy’s campaign:
Though its evocative tagline is often credited to William Bernbach, a founder of DDB, or to Phyllis Robinson, the agency’s chief copywriter, period newspaper accounts and contemporary archival sources make clear that the actual writing fell to Ms. Protas, who, working quietly and out of the limelight, set down those dozen durable words.
We didn’t have Levy’s in California, so this may have been the first Judy Protas ad I ever saw:
The walls of the mezzanine of the Ohrbach’s store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles were decorated with ads like this one, which was far from current by the time I laid eyes on it. (The store, part of a New York-based chain, closed in 1987.) I remember my bemusement—a talking cat? in a fancy hat? with a cigarette holder?—and my delightthat this discount retailer valued advertisements highly enough to treat them as art. (Yes, I was an ad nerd even as a child.)
“Ohrbach’s … wanted to disabuse consumers of the notion that discount equaled déclassé,” writes Fox:
Beneath the headline — “I Found Out About Joan” — Ms. Protas’s copy went on, cattily, to describe the impecunious Joan’s pretensions to wealth before conceding, “She does dress divinely,” and concluding, “I just happened to be going her way and I saw Joan come out of Ohrbach’s!”
Protas also wrote the lyrics to the Cracker Jack jingle, “which in full (‘lip-smackin’, whip-crackin’, paddy-whackin’, knickin’-knackin’, silver-rackin’, scoundrel-whackin’, cracker-jackin’ Cracker Jack’) has the trochaic rush of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song,” writes the inimitable Fox.
The career of Judy Protas serves as a reminder that not all Mad Men from advertising’s golden age were men. For further proof, see my post about Lois Wyse, who coined the Smucker’s slogan; and my Visual Thesaurus column about “you deserve it” slogans, which includes the story of how Ilon Specht came up with the long-lasting L’Oreal slogan “Because I’m Worth It.”
Read more about the Levy’s Rye Bread ad campaign at Barry Popik’s Big Apple blog.