Robert Harold Levenson, who was as famous for his taglines in the golden age of advertising as he was for his roses in East Hampton, died in New York City on Jan. 16. He was 83 and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Mr. Levenson was eulogized in print and blogs in the last week by the advertising industry as a visionary and a generous mentor who told copywriters to imagine they were writing a letter and describing something to an intelligent friend who knew less about the product than they did.
He came of age in his field during the time fictionalized on television’s “Mad Men.” He was elected to the Copywriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and won every major award in the advertising industry several times, according to his family.
In a career spanning most of the last half of the 20th century, primarily at Doyle Dane Bernbach, he rose from copywriter to creative director to chairman of its international operations over 26 years. A friend of Bill Bernbach, one of the founders of the agency, Mr. Levenson wrote “Bill Bernbach’s Book: A History of Advertising That Changed the History of Advertising” in 1987.
His most memorable campaigns include work for El Al airlines with a tag line “My Son, the pilot,” the Volkswagen Beetle, and the jingle: “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” He also was in charge of a highway safety campaign for Mobil called “We Want You to Live.”
Mr. Levenson also was a friend of The East Hampton Star, writing and contributing a full page advertisement in 2007, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” His caricature on the wall at the former Della Femina restaurant on North Main Street in East Hampton was one of many drawn by his second wife, the late Kathe Tanous, with whom he lived in East Hampton. Until moving to East Hampton in 1986, he had lived in New Rochelle, N.Y., and in New York City. His most recent address was in Bokeelia, Fla., where he lived on an island, which his family said was very dear to him.
Mr. Levenson was born to William and Frieda Levenson on Nov. 23, 1929, in the Bronx and was raised there. He had an undergraduate and graduate degree in English from New York University and had served in the United States Air Force.
He worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach from 1959 to 1985. He also held positions at Saatchi and Saatchi and at Scali, McCabe, Sloves, according to The New York Times.
He is survived by his wife, Anna Jane Warshaw. His marriage to Elaine Berk, with whom he had two sons, Keith Levenson of Pound Ridge, N.Y., and Seth Levenson of Park City, Utah, ended in divorce. He is survived by his sons, a stepdaughter, Katherine Warshaw-Reid, and a step-granddaughter.
The family has suggested memorial contributions to his step-granddaughter’s education fund: Kyra Wilkowski, 76 White Birch Road, Pound Ridge, N.Y. 10576. A memorial service will be held at a later date.