Stephen Frankfurt, who changed the face of movie advertising and headed mammoth ad agency Young & Rubicam, where he created some of the most memorable television images of the ’60s, died on Sept. 28 in New York City after a long illness. He was 81.
Frankfurt designed the influential opening-title sequence for the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird” and went on to reinvent movie promotion. He treated the introduction of a movie as an advertising campaign, branding the movie with a tagline and a visual identity that would give the titles, trailers, posters and other media maximum impact.
He explored the power of an emotional response to intrigue potential moviegoers. Movie trailers asked them “To Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” as a baby’s cry rose from an abandoned carriage atop a black craggy peak. The “Alien” campaign reminded viewers, “In space no one can hear you scream”; and, during Watergate, the poster for “That’s Entertainment” proclaimed, “Boy. Do we need it now.”
Titles flying through space introduced “Superman.” For “Emmanuelle” the audience was teased with “X was never like this.” With his partners Gips and Balkind, Frankfurt worked on more than 55 films.
Frankfurt was named president of Young & Rubicam, the world’s second largest advertising agency, in 1967. At 36 he was the youngest president in the agency’s history and the first art director to rise through the ranks of the company to head the agency.
From TV art director-producer he moved through the creative ranks of Y&R to become the creative head of the print and TV departments. In a period of two years Frankfurt revolutionized the agency’s work. Y&R established itself as one of the most creative forces in TV.
He embraced the credo of Bill Bernbach that invoked the use of a simple emotional message. He influenced the “era of the art directed commercial” with the Eastern Airlines “Whisperjet” campaign. The “Wings of Man” commercial invoked the wonder of flight through the artistry of editing, images and sound.
Under Frankfurt’s leadership, Y&R produced memorable advertising for Lays Potato Chips (“Bet you can’t eat just one”), Bristol Myers (“Excedrin headache”), the Urban Coalition (“Give a Damn”) as well as public service campaigns for the Peace Corps, the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation and Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Frankfurt also contributed his time and energy to good causes. He worked with a fledgling Children’s Television Workshop, served on the board of trustees of the American Film Institute and the New York City Center of Music and Drama, was a board member of Pratt Institute and was on the advisory councils of NYU School of the Arts and Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Stephen Owen Frankfurt was born in Manhattan. He graduated from Pratt Institute in 1956. In a job at UPA-New York as a painter of backgrounds, he gained film experience in animation and camera techniques.
He was hired at Young & Rubicam in 1957 as an assistant art director for the new TV department. He brought unique design sensibilities to the TV commercial and was soon the art director-producer of his own TV spots. He experimented with the 60 second spot from concept to the final cut, running film backwards, in slow motion, stop-motion and with stroboscopic images; with no sound, children’s real voices, the soaring music of an orchestra, a ticking watch, a beating heart or the rip of a piece of paper to underscore the emotional and visual impact of the commercial’s message.
He was named to the Art Directors Hall of Fame in 1983.
Frankfurt’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1968.
He is survived by his wife Kay Gadda Frankfurt, three daughters; three sons; his brother; and three grandchildren.