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BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964

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Streamed by International City Theatre through November 7

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964

As the final weeks of the presidential campaign draw to a close and we are being inundated with political ads, International City Theatre is streaming a virtual presentation of DAISY, Sean Devine's compelling drama set during the 1964 presidential campaign that pitted "Great Society" Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson against Republican populist Barry Goldwater. The play offers a fascinating look at the creation of and psychology behind TV's first political attack ad by taking us behind the scenes at advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach.

ICT producing artistic director caryn desai [sic] intelligently directs Ed F. Martin as agency head Bill Bernbach, Alex Dabestani as art director Sid Myers, Erin Anne Williams as copywriter Louise Brown and Matthew Floyd Miller as television producer Aaron Ehrlich, with Phillip Lewis playing White House lawyer Clifford Lewis. BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964Finally, David Nevell takes on the role of eccentric sound man and legendary communications guru Tony Schwartz, the man behind the commercial that may have fundamentally changed how we elect our leaders. Each of these talented actors completely embody their characters, in body and soul, actively allowing us to see how their healthy opinions of themselves assisted in the way the events played out to create the infamous "Daisy" ad which changed the face of political advertising.

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964The creative team behind ICT's streaming version includes costume designer Kim DeShazo whose brilliant wardrobe selections brought early 60s "Camelot" style into focus, projections and sound designer Dave Mickey and video editor Mike Bradecich whose historic clips and photos will transport you back to the time when the threat of nuclear war and violence in the streets related to civil rights were instilling fear into the hearts of our changing society, wig designer Anthony Gagliardi for Williams' cute short "flip" hairstyle which took me back to the struggle of trying to get my curls to cooperate that way, and prop master Patty Briles for finding the perfect accoutrements to reflect the more innocent, bygone era.

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964Based on true events and strikingly relevant today, DAISY explores the moment in TV history when the political attack ad was born. In the autumn of 1964, one year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, bloody turmoil over Civil Rights was spilling onto the streets, a fearful ideology that made the threat of nuclear war palpable was growing from the conservative right, and a skirmish in the far-off nation of Vietnam wouldn't go away. With the presidential election looming, an advertising agency working for Lyndon Johnson unleashed the most devastating political commercial ever conceived, the "Daisy" ad.

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964According to political strategist and media consultant Joe Slade White, who wrote the foreword to the published script, "Sean Devine has written a powerful play about a remarkable moment in history - a moment so decisive that one 30-second television commercial could determine the direction of a country. To this day, that commercial, the 'Daisy' spot, is studied, argued over, and talked about 53 years after it aired - just once."

But just what was so controversial about that ad? I barely remembered it since I was a young teenager overwhelmed by Beatlemania when it aired, until I watched the "Daisy" ad (1964): Preserved from 35mm in the Tony Schwartz Collection, on You Tube at https://youtu.be/riDypP1KfOU which jogged my memory.

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964Intrigued, I decided to find out more about its creation and aftermath by tuning in to watch DAISY. And what a ride it was to learn how ideas were stolen, credit taken, how a woman had to fight her way to being recognized for her talent and not dispensed with simply for being female, what candidates said at their party's conventions, as well as reminding me of the "drop drills" I remember from my childhood when the threat of nuclear war with Russia had Americans building bomb shelters. The possibility of total destruction was real and incredibly frightening. And that was the basis of the DAISY ad, to scare voters into the polls in the hope that conflagration could be avoided.

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964While I have never worked at an advertising agency, the play certainly brought into focus how television ads could shape the outcome of an election in the years before social media erupted or cell phones put the news of the world into our palms from moment-to-moment. With the agency's ability to be a "shaper of society" by proving it was easier to provoke than educate voters, taking us from a candidate who offers the most hope to one that chooses to lead through fear, certainly reflects what is going on during our current Presidential election year. Just as then, who are we to believe when fear and confusion seem to be the two human emotions guiding us?

BWW Feature: DAISY Examines the First Political Attack Ad Created in 1964If nothing else, DAISY certainly has me thinking about how the amount and content of television, print and online media advertising is certainly influencing our choices for November 3, just as it did in 1964. And I hope you will #vote from knowledge and not from fear and propaganda.

International City Theatre's streaming of DAISY began October 24 and will remain available for viewing on demand through November 7. Tickets are $20 at www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

Photo credit: Mike Bradecich


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From This Author Shari Barrett