Q2 2022

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 56 of 63

M orton Perlstein, influential ed- itor of formative commercials, has died at the age of 91. Sometimes called "Goldfinger" by his colleagues for his cutting prowess, his work helped redefine TV commercials at a transformative time when they were evolving into more sophisticated vehicles for storytelling. While his clients included many of America's best-known brands, his most impactful work was perhaps seen in President Lyndon B. Johnson's notorious 1964 "Daisy" re-election campaign ad, which is frequently credited with helping Johnson defeat GOP rival Barry Goldwater. In the ad, a young girl picks petals from a daisy. As she reaches the last, her own counting is replaced by a launch count- down, as well as a push-in on her eye, which then cuts to a mushroom cloud in the dark- ness of her iris. The implication was that a vote for Goldwater, an anti-Communist hawk, would lead to nuclear Armageddon. The ad aired generated a great deal of criti- cism and aired only once in a paid spot, yet it became a landmark in political advertising. "It was Morty's idea to zoom in on the little girl and make the explosion come from her eye," Perlstein's widow Marlene recalled recently. "It was difficult to do in those days—the image lost clarity—but h e f e l t t h a t i n a w a y t h a t w o r k e d o u t better. That commercial is in the Library of Congress." Perlstein came from humble Bronx b e g i n n i n g s , g r o w i n g u p a d j a c e n t t o Yankee Stadium, and studied film at The City College of New York. He served in the Army counterintelligence corps during the Korean War and, when he got out, his uncle who worked in a film lab helped him land an apprenticeship. Perlstein eventually moved on to powerhouse production company Elliot, Unger & Elliot (EUE), in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen area. There he became an editor and got his union card in 1959. Af te r a few ye a rs, P e r l s te i n s t r u c k out on his own, working under company banners he created like MHP Films, Morty Films, Composite Films, and Film Power/ Gateway, winning a Clio Award in 1968 for a one-minute spot for General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GT&E). Over time, Perlstein worked with Lee Iacocca and Ricardo Montalban on Chrysler Plymouth campaigns. He also worked with Gregory Peck, Robert Blake, Deborah Harry, Twiggy, Bonnie Tyler, and Johnny Cash on myriad other commercials, at a time when editors were required to be on set and hands-on. Perlstein's clients included Polaroid, AT&T, Clairol, Sara Lee, Rheingold, Volk- swagen, and Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans, all of which he set aside when his work for Chrys- ler Plymouth became all encompassing. He was respected for his perfectionism, eye for detail, and creative input, helping to shape the future of his medium as the options for storytelling in commercials were evolving and expanding. Michele Ferone worked with Perlstein f ro m 1 9 8 7 to 1 9 9 5 a t B oze l l / N Y, w h e n t h e y w e r e w o r k i n g o n t h e C h r y s l e r accounts together. "Chrysler was a demanding account with an extremely creative but even more demanding Creative Director, Ken Duskin, responsible for the Chrysler Corporation's/ Lee Iacocca's, return from bankruptcy and the award-winning 'The Pride Is Back' campaign," Ferone said. "The new line of cars and the new campaign would debut at the dealer show every August, so each summer we would hunker down with Morty in Bakersfield, Mojave Desert, Victorville, Raleigh Studios, etc., shooting and editing for nothing less than six weeks, all leading up to the show. "Morty was extremely patient, generous of his time, and supported us at every phase of our post-production," Ferone said. "I was fortunate to learn and come to appreciate the entire post-production process as it was achieved in its most pure form. We worked all day and all night, day after day, but Morty always managed to make us laugh, keep us on schedule, and enjoy a good meal. He bought me my first martini—Grey Goose straight up with a twist—which remains my drink of choice to this day. Whenever I raise a glass, I think of my 'Uncle Morty.' He was a gentleman, a talent beyond, a loving husband, a loving father. I am blessed to call him friend." Perlstein met his Brooklyn-born wife on a blind date in Manhattan, where she was studying dance. The date was arranged by one of Perlstein's colleagues at EUE. Whenever he could, Perlstein kept Marlene and their three children—Jay, Ron, and Lori—close, taking them with him when he traveled for work. When he retired to Florida, he and his wife made a point of returning to New York for the Guild lunches at Gallagher's, along with the collegiality he loved. "Morty Perlstein was a great editor," said producer Stanley Siegel. "Most im- portant, Morty understood storytelling. He was a man of all seasons, a first-class person, and a wonderful friend for many, many years." Perlstein is survived by his wife, three children, and five grandchildren. ■ -- Rob Feld MORTON PERLSTEIN JANUARY 18, 1931 – MARCH 24, 2022 57 S P R I N G Q 2 I S S U E I N M E M O R I A M

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of CineMontage - Q2 2022