The McCann Time Capsule: McCann Hollywood & the Reagan Connection
Seventy-five years ago this week McCann opened a Hollywood office. Separate from the McCann Los Angeles agency that had been opened in 1924, the new office at 6331 Hollywood Blvd. focused on producing radio programs for clients. The initial list included Schenley’s “Roma Wine Show,” “Dr. Christian” (sponsored by Chesebrough/ Vaseline), and a news program with Chet Huntley that was sponsored by Safeway Stores.
The April 7, 1943 start-up initially attracted talent from CBS Radio, including Russ Johnston, who had been in charge of all CBS programs originating in Hollywood. He joined as McCann Hollywood’s Radio Director on May 1. Then in December 1944, J. Neil Reagan, who had been a Senior Director at CBS, joined McCann Hollywood as a radio producer/director.
“Moon” Reagan, as he was known by his nickname, would remain with McCann for the next 30 years. Named 1967 Advertising Man of the Year by the Western States Advertising Agencies Association, he retired from McCann in 1974 as Senior VP in charge of broadcast for the Western Region. In his early years with McCann, he had directed shows such as “Dr. Christian” with Jean Hersholt, “International Harvester” with James Melton and Raymond Massey, “Straight Arrow” for National Biscuit (Nabisco), and “The Saint.” He was named Manager of the Hollywood office in 1948, but continued to direct as well as handle the U.S. Borax account. As TV expanded, so did the Hollywood office, which developed shows for McCann clients such as Chrysler, Gruen Watch, Swift, Chesterfield, Nabisco, Coca-Cola, and others. The Hollywood office was eventually merged with the one in Los Angeles.
He also produced 420 half-hour episodes of U.S. Borax’s “Death Valley Days.” He then helped put together a proposal reworking the openings and closings and bartering the package, making it one of the first and most successful syndication operations of its time.
For “Death Valley Days,” Neil Reagan also directed some 20 episodes starring his younger brother, Ronald Reagan, who also hosted the TV series for a year before entering politics. Through this connection, McCann also took on the assignment to handle Ronald Reagan’s California gubernatorial ad campaign in 1966 (a year when, coincidentally, McCann also handled Nelson Rockefeller’s gubernatorial ad campaign in New York). Ronald Reagan also previously had appeared as brand spokesman in McCann’s Gruen Watch TV commercials in the early 1950s.
President Reagan said he felt a connection to McCann for these reasons. When he was still in the White House, he appeared in 1987 in a specially produced video addressing a worldwide McCann management meeting marking the agency’s 85th anniversary.
Said President Reagan:
“Greeting McCann-Erickson and congratulations on your 85th anniversary.
“Institutions like McCann-Erickson Worldwide demonstrate that it is possible to bring people together, to cross boundaries and cultures, to work as one family, in one world in peace.
“And that is a heritage of which each of you can be proud.
“I know of McCann-Erickson because it has been part of my own family for many years.
“Back at an earlier career, I was the voice of the TV program ‘Death Valley Days,’ not only sponsored by a McCann client, but produced by Dorothy Barstow, known to many of you as Mrs. Harrison King McCann.
“And McCann also helped launch my second career by creating that campaign that assisted me to win two terms as Governor of California. But as I think most of you all know, the ties go deeper still. My brother Neil worked at McCann for more than 25 years. I’m sure his devotion to your company is a reflection of the McCann system itself. A system that demonstrates its commitment to leadership with meetings such as this.”
The President then discussed the overall subject of leadership and its attendant qualities.