The McCann Time Capsule: Acquiring a Creative Hot Shop in 1929
While the McCann agency built its reputation early in its history as a strong client-dedicated organization, Harrison McCann recognized in the late 1920s that the agency also needed to up its game in creative as well, especially as the medium of radio was coming into its own. To address this talent requirement, McCann in April 1929 made its first acquisition, a small New York creative shop named Olmstead, Perrin & Leffingwell.
OP&L’s creative leaders immediately were named to the top New York creative positions at what was still then The H. K. McCann Co. (the merger with Erickson was still a year away). Clarence Olmstead was named to head the radio department, Chester Posey took charge of copy, and John Debrees led the art department with a young rising art director named Daniel Keefe as part of the team. Edwin Perrin also moved into McCann.
As for Posey, he also helped produce the next generation of creative talent at the agency—in fact, quite literally. His son, also named Chester (Chet) Posey, joined McCann in 1954, and rose to become a New York Creative Director and Vice Chairman before leaving the agency in the late 1970s. As the younger Posey’s 2001 obit in The New York Times noted, his “best-known creation in advertising is the live version of the tiger, which is still used by what is now the Exxon Mobil Corporation.” McCann had initially used a cartoon tiger in the mid-1960s “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” campaign, but “Mr. Posey changed it to a live tiger around 1970, and the image has since stuck.”
The one OP&L principal who didn’t gravitate to McCann was Albert Leffingwell, at least not until 1937 when he was described simply as a new “member of our writing staff” who was “an old business associate of Chester Posey and Ed Perrin, and an advertising man of extended experience.” Leffingwell had always remained a writer, but outside of advertising. Having published his first book of poetry in 1916 when he was 21, he started writing non-fiction even while he was involved in the agencies he co-founded in the 1920s, OP&L and its predecessor, Riegel & Leffingwell.
It’s not clear how long Leffingwell remained at McCann because he soon embarked on a much more intensive writing career. Whether under his own name or using the pseudonyms Dana Chambers or Giles Jackson, he wrote and published 13 crime novels between 1939 and 1946. That’s about two a year. Under the Dana Chambers name, he introduced the detective Jim Steele, first in the 1939 book “Some Day I’ll Kill You” and then in others with titles like “She’ll Be Dead by Morning” (1940) and “The Blonde Died First” (1941).
But the protagonist Jim Steele wasn’t technically a cop or a private eye. Similar to TV shows such as “Murder, She Wrote” or “Castle,” his crime-solving involvement stemmed from his primary career as a writer of mystery thrillers. Except Steele didn’t write books. His path into the seamy world of murder reflected his experience as an ad executive who wrote crime-based radio shows.