“I believe in telling the truth as creatively as possible.” — Buddy Mackerson.
David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper, and Don Draper are names that instantly evoke the golden age of American advertising, a time in the late fifties and early sixties when a group of Madison Avenue titans dictated the needs and desires of the American consumer, seemingly at will. There were a handful of important characters from the era, however, that managed to escape the public’s attention. Men who, though they possessed the power to transform household products into indelible icons, remained obscure themselves. Buddy Mackerson was among their number, and he finally gets his due as the subject of the fascinating new biography, Buddy, Can You Spare a Line? by Guy Barnett, founder of the modern day New York-based advertising agency The Brooklyn Brothers. Barnett’s exposé is a wonderfully rich portrait of a Zelig of the advertising world, a man who never claimed the spotlight himself, but greatly influenced the contributions of others.
Mackerson’s childhood set the stage for an unconventional life. Mackerson was abandoned as an infant in Flatbush in 1935, left on a stoop, wrapped in the classified ad section of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. Mary and Everett Mackerson took him in. They were, by all accounts, a spirited couple, prone to disagreements, and could not settle on a name for their new addition. Eventually, Everett took matters into his own hands and began referring to the child simply as “Buddy,” despite the subsequent decision to christen him Wilberforce. Only the nickname stuck.
Barnett paints a happy picture of Buddy’s early life. His parents loved him dearly, and encouraged him to follow his dreams. He didn’t need much prodding, as he was an imaginative child whose curiosity knew no bounds. He told his mother that he was gainfully employed down at the docks as a loader, but actually spent his days encouraging sailors on shore leave to regale him with their exploits. Mackerson was an avid listener and the boys in blue were more than happy to oblige, as well as teach the young man a dizzying array of unsavory skills. Though these lessons were diverting, and despite his increased proficiency for knot-tying, tobacco chewing, and skirt-chasing, Buddy had a calling that was far more powerful than the lure of ocean voyage.
Eventually, Buddy craved his own stage. He found it, becoming one of the youngest Carnival barkers in the history of Coney Island. Of his childhood in Brooklyn he once remarked, “I didn’t run away and join the Circus. It joined me.” Barnett shares this anecdote:
One fateful day, young Buddy stood in for “Olaf the Crocodile Wrestler” with disastrous results. He lost an eye, and his love of show business. “It’s alright, I have another eye,” he explained to his horrified mother. The crocodile, reportedly, was not so quick to recover.
As was clear to all who saw Mackerson work, taking the Coney Island punters for every nickel they had, a great salesman had been born. In Barnett’s words “Buddy could sell ice cubes to Eskimos, followed by an ice tray, and a refrigerator to keep them in.” He had a prodigious aptitude for persuasion and quickly developed into a highly successful door-to-door salesman. On one occasion, he sold a full set of chimney brushes to the unsuspecting Edith Mallory, a s...read more