He worshipped at the altar of originality and was the hero of the creative fraternity.

William Bernbach was born in the Bronx, New York City on August 13, 1911, to Jacob Bernbach, a designer of women's clothes, and Rebecca(Reiter) Bernbach. He was five feet seven inches tall and weighted 155 pounds. His eyes were blue and his hair, once blond, but became gray. Gentle and soft-spoken, he avoided physical exercise and hobbies, but read constantly, especially in philosophy, sociology, and literary criticism.

As a youth, Bernbach was interested in art, and he wrote what he called, according to Mel Gussow in the New York Herald Tribune Magazine, New York (October 10, 1965), "private emotional verse." After completing his public school education in New York, he was graduated from New York University in 1933 with a degree in English Literature. At N.Y.U. Bernbach also studied music, business administration, and philosophy. At the time of his graduation from college, he liked reading the poetry. He married Evelyn Carbone in 1938, and they had two sons, John and Paul. He and his wife liked to stay at home evening, listening to recorded jazz and classical music.

When Bernbach went looking for his first job, he had advertising in mind, but the Depression was at its nadir, and he had to settle for the position of office boy with the New York office of the Schenley Distillers Company. Venting his pent-up creativity while working in the mail room at Schenley, he wrote an ad for Schenley's American Cream whiskey and sent it to the company's advertising department. By the time the ad appeared, word for word, in the New York Times, the advertising department had lost track of its source, but Bernbach personally saw to it that Lewis Rosenthiel, president of the company, learned the author's identity. Rosenthiel, an old-fashioned admirer of rags-to-riches enterprise, ordered that Bernbach be given a raise and a position in the advertising department. Bernbach left Schenley to work for the promotion department of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, mostly as a ghostwriter. After the Fair ended, his first, true advertising experience came when he joined the William H. Weintraub ad agency (now Norman, Craig & Kummel). There, Bernbach became a close friend with Paul Rand, the agency's art director, who helped to refine his interest in the fine arts.

Following two years' service in the army during World War II and a job in postwar planning with Coty, Inc., Bernbach joined Grey Advertising, Inc., as a copywriter and soon became Grey's vice-president in charge of copy and art in 1945.


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