Before they were famous they were in advertising

Not too many children say they want to grow up to work in advertising. So it’s always refreshing when some people manage to flee the traps of the 9 to 9 grind and follow their passion outside of the industry.

Here are the best of them:

Joseph Heller – The author of ‘Catch 22’ started off in advertising. Not only did he end up as a successful novelist, but it took him 8 years to write Catch 22. This augers well for all the copywriters out there who have half finished books… using Heller’s rule we still have another 8 years to actually get the damned thing done. As a side note he only initially received $750 to write it and another $750 when it was completed. However, the film rights and royalties made him a millionaire. Sad to say, subsequent works feel like a bookend of his first novel to me.


Salman Rushdie – Author of Midnight’s Children and still has fatwa to his name, Salman Rushdie coined the phrase for Aero, irresistibubble (as awesome as knowing Salvador Dali designed the Chuppa Chups logo). According to John Hegarty, he was a middling copywriter, but obviously better at Booker shortlisted novels. A photographer friend recently shot him a few months ago (photographed him) for a magazine and asked Salman about his time in advertising on my behalf. Apparently the response was an air of he’d forgotten he’d even worked in the industry. Class.

Sir Alec Guinness – Yes, before Obi-Wan was teaching Paduans how to use the force, he was sitting in the copy department in a London ad agency, ‘Ark’s Publicity’. Thankfully for the force, he entered into the world of theatre on his 20th birthday and acted in the play, Libel, at the Old King’s Theatre in Hammersmith. These are not the headlines you are looking for. Okay, that didn’t even really make sense but due to the fact I couldn’t unearth any more information about his time in advertising I have to shoehorn Star Wars related quotes in where I can.

Trivia: Sir. G was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Obi-Wan at the 1977 Academy Awards.


Rick Moranis – Before he became the ‘Keymaster’ to Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Gatekeeper’ in Ghostbusters (only recently discovered the sexual analogy there) he was a copywriter. Thankfully for Second City Television (the Canadian version of SNL where the likes of John Candy came from) Ricky M decided to embark on a career in comedy. He was the first that was selected to the show who wasn’t from an improv stand up background. Kudos. As of 2013, Rick Moranis’ whereabouts isn’t known due to him being very tiny.


Note: The above picture ‘isn’t Rick Moranis’ but looks pretty amazing none-the-less.

Side note: If you’re thinking where are all the Art Directors in this list… everyone knows that Copywriters have aspirations and Art Directors have drinking problems. Half of all the bars owned in Thailand and the Carribean are owned by Art Directors. So raise a toast to all the Art Directors who embarked on their dreams as well.

Lucky last… Hugh Hefner – The man with more money than sperm count was originally a copywriter for Esquire magazine. He famously left the industry after being denied a $5 raise. He mortgaged his furniture and hussled to get 45 investors including his mum who said she didn’t believe in the venture “but because she believed in her son.” (how awesome is that quote?) For issue no. 1 of Playboy, he featured a nude Marilyn Monroe… he never met her, but he did buy nude images of her from a 1949 calendar shoot.

Trivia: Hefner bought one of the letters in the run down Hollywood sign in the 70s, when they were seeking sponsors to rejuvenate it.


Also rans: There’s a lot of other famous advertising folk that left the big bad world of advertising. Be sure to check out this wiki link to find everyone from F.Scott Fitzgerald through to Dorothy Sayers on the list.


Great article. It seems that the creative arts are all interlinked.

posted by Peter Thomson / 05.09.13 - 10:44 am
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