13 Former Ad Men Who Found Fame in Other Fields

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Let's take a look at some real life Don Drapers who went on to find fame in other fields. Here are a few famous folks who got their starts penning slogans and writing jingles.

1. James Patterson

When Patterson's literary career was taking off, he was also a pretty big wheel in the ad industry. He served as chairman of the J. Walter Thompson/North America agency, which had over 1,000 employees, while he was writing Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Even if you're not familiar with Patterson's writing, you probably know some of the slogans he wrote, particularly "I'm a Toys "˜R' Us kid."

2. John Hughes

Before the director created classic 1980s teen comedies, he worked writing ad copy. He got his start at DDB Needham Worldwide and later jumped to the Leo Burnett Company. Some of his notable clients included Johnson Floor Wax and Edge shaving cream. (The old Edge "credit card shaving test" spots were Hughes' creation.) When Hughes was 29, he submitted a comedic story to National Lampoon that later became the basis for the Vacation series of movies, he decided to leave the ad world in favor of writing comedy.

3. Dr. Seuss

The good doctor pulled in the then-considerable sum of $12,000 a year as his book-writing career was starting up by drawing cartoon advertisements for Flit, a bug spray marketed by Standard Oil. The campaign "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" with Seuss illustrations ran for 17 years.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Before Fitzgerald was chronicling the lives of socialites during the Jazz Age, he was trying to sell them something. After unsuccessfully looking for a job in the newspaper industry, a young Fitzgerald found work writing slogans for streetcar cards for the Baron Collier agency. One of his major coups in the job was writing a slogan for the Muscatine Steam Laundry in Muscatine, Iowa. The slogan "We Keep You Clean in Muscatine" earned Fitzgerald a raise. His boss noted that it was "perhaps a bit imaginative, but still it's plain there's a future for you in this business. Pretty soon this office won't be big enough to hold you."

5. Salman Rushdie

Remember J. Walter Thompson, the agency James Patterson ran? Rushdie failed a copy test there but caught on at the agency Sharp McManus Ltd. Rushdie worked on and off as a copywriter between 1970 and 1981, and he later observed, "[I[t taught me to write like a job. If you have"¦the client coming in that afternoon for his new campaign, you can't not have it. You have to have it. What's more, it has to be good."

6. Joshua Ferris

The bestselling author of Then We Came to the End went into the ad business right out of college. He first worked for the Chicago firm Davis Harris Dion, where his first assignment was writing a brochure for a poultry feed additive. He later worked for Draft Worldwide before going back to school to get his MFA in writing.

7. Peter Hodgson

The guy who helped create Silly Putty cut his teeth in the ad business, too. Hodgson was a copywriter when he met James Wright, a GE engineer who had discovered a most unusual compound. Hodgson packed it in eggs, called it Silly Putty, and started marketing it. The toy was quickly a success, and when the former ad man died his estate was worth around $140 million.

8. Helen Gurley Brown

Although she never went to college, the former secretary found a job as a copywriter after winning a contest sponsored by Glamour. Her copy was so good that she ended up jumping to Kenyon & Eckhardt, where she was the West Coast's most highly paid female ad writer. She then spent three decades as editor of Cosmo and frequently appeared on The Tonight Show.

9. Sir Alec Guinness

Obi-Wan Kenobi may have had the Force, but he couldn't use it to write ads. When Guinness was 18 he took a job as a junior copywriter at the London firm Ark's Publicity, but he didn't like the work and quickly shifted his focus to acting.

10. Herb Peterson

Many of us are probably a few pounds heavier thanks to Peterson's creation: the Egg McMuffin. When Peterson was working as an ad exec at Chicago's D'Arcy Advertising he came up with McDonald's first national slogan, "Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day." Peterson eventually owned a string of six McDonald's franchises in California, and he began tinkering with a way to turn eggs Benedict into a sandwich. He debuted his creation at one of his Santa Barbara restaurants in 1972, and fast food breakfast hasn't been the same since.

11. Gary Dahl

Only an ad man could have invented the Pet Rock. The original idea for the fad was that Dahl would write an instruction manual for owning a pet rock that could be sold as a gag. However, once people got attached to the humor in carrying the rocks themselves around, the fad took off. Dahl eventually sold over 1.5 million rocks.

12. Dashiell Hammett

After the mystery virtuoso left his job as a Pinkerton detective but before he began writing stories and novels, he supported himself as an advertising copywriter.

13. Thomas S. Monson

Monson, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, got his start as an advertising executive for newspapers in the 1940s.

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August 14, 2009 - 2:00pm
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