April 13, 2010

The Man Who Knew Madison Avenue


For those shoppers still fretting over what to get that special someone, co-worker, boss or client at this late date, why not consider picking up Richard Fried's new biography of BBDO founder, Bruce Barton, "The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America."

Prompted by the timeliness of this publication, The MadAve Journal is delighted to direct your attention to "The Real Passion of Madison Avenue", an essay by Kurt Brokaw, (just below this book review) which we published a year ago on Barton, coinciding with Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" blockbuster movie premiere.

Richard Fried tells the story of a MadAve "Hall of Famer" who understood the connection between pop-culture and MadAve culture, even back in the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Ivan R. Dee, Publisher: "Everyone knew him then...Two-thirds of American history textbooks today cite him to illustrate the 1920s adoration of the business mentality that then dominated American culture. Historians quote from his enormous best-seller, "The Man Nobody Knows", in which Barton called Jesus the "founder of modern business" who "picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world."

But few know Bruce Barton now: he is the most famous twentieth-century American not to rate a biography. Richard Fried's compelling new study captures the full dimensions of Barton's varied and fascinating life. More than a popularizer of the entrepreneurial Jesus, he was a prolific writer—of novels, magazine articles, interviews with the mighty, pithy editorials of uplift. He edited a weekly magazine that anticipated the format of Life. Most famously, he co-founded the advertising agency that became Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn and grew to symbolize "Madison Avenue."

He made GM and GE household initials. Barton's religious writings, especially "The Man Nobody Knows", epitomized modernist religious thought in the twenties—at one point he had two religious books on the best-seller list. As a political spin merchant, he advanced the careers of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover; his agency scripted later campaigns for Republicans, notably Dwight Eisenhower.

Barton himself was twice elected to Congress, ran for the U.S. Senate in 1940, and that year lent his name to FDR's famous mocking litany, "Martin, Barton, and Fish." In Richard Fried's illuminating biography, Barton comes to life as a man who often initiated, sometimes followed, and occasionally fought the social and political trends of his times—but always defined their essential qualities. He can truly be called a key figure in a large territory of the American mind."


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