Howard Zieff, 1927-2009





We note the passing of Howard Zieff, a key figure in the bold, funny, and heavily Jewish advertising revolution of the 1960s. Zieff directed the famous “Spicy Meatball” Alka-Seltzer commercial, and photographed the multi-ethnic “You don’t have to be Jewish” Levy’s Rye print ads for Doyle Dane Bernbach. Zieff went on to make films that managed, despite the exigencies of Hollywood filmmaking, to capture some of the same wryness. The most popular one was the Goldie Hawn hit Private Benjamin, but the movies that best reflected his oddball humor are Hearts of the West, in which Jeff Bridges is a cowboy fan who, through a series of ridiculous misadventures, becomes a cowboy star directed by Donald Pleasance, and especially Slither, an oddly-paced caper comedy in which all the principals are ostentatiously Polish-Americans who cannot seem to do anything right, and the closing revelation is such a shaggy-dog punchline that James Caan hits Peter Boyle in the stomach out of sheer frustration. Zieff’s desultory wit went down better in the 1960s and 70s than it does in our own time, which is just one of the many. many things that are wrong with our own time.

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