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I. Robert Goodman, advertising exec who crafted ads for governors, senators and congressional campaigns, dies

I. Robert Goodman died July 18 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 90.
I. Robert Goodman died July 18 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 90. (HANDOUT)

I. Robert Goodman, a former Baltimore advertising executive who turned Spiro T. Agnew into a nationally known household name and whose specialty was promoting Republican candidates for local and national office, died July 18 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Stella Maris Hospice.

The Cross Keys resident was 90.

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“Bob was a great human being and always a pleasure to be around,” said former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott Sr. in a telephone interview. “He was never eaten up by ego and was just a great guy. He was an artist and imaginative.”

Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist and analyst, who is head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, is a longtime friend.

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“I’ve known a couple of hundred consultants over the years. Bob was at the very top in ability, with an intrinsic feel for both the substance and emotion of politics,” Dr. Sabato wrote in an email. “I don’t call someone a genius very often, but Bob Goodman was.”

Isaac Robert Goodman — he never used his first name — was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park. He was the son of Dr. Jerome E. Goodman, a surgeon who headed the obstetrics and gynecology unit at Sinai Hospital, and Mary Goodman, a businesswoman.

Born with musical talent, he “could carry a tune” by the time he was 6 months old, said a son, Adam Goodman of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Mr. Goodman studied violin at the Peabody Institute with noted violinist and professor Dr. Louis Cheslock, and later during his college years learned to play the guitar to “bolster his popularity with the ladies,” his son said.

After graduating in 1945 from City College, Mr. Goodman obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1949 from Haverford College, and began his nearly half-century advertising career when he joined the Joseph Katz Co. in Baltimore, working for its legendary namesake who was a noted bibliophile.

He served in the Air Force as a lieutenant from 1951 to 1953 and was assigned to the Japan Air Defense Force in Nagoya as a public information officer.

“Joe Katz taught him that every word counts, a lesson in wordsmithing that he treasured throughout his career,” wrote his son in a biographical profile of his father.

While working for the Joseph Katz Co., Mr. Goodman received his first exposure to politics when he wrote copy for Adlai Stevenson, who was the 1956 Democratic Party candidate for president.

In 1957, Mr. Goodman left the Katz Co. and joined the Hecht-May Co. department store as director of advertising.

He established The Robert Goodman Agency Inc. at 12 W. Read St. in 1959, which later became the Goodman Group Inc., with a client list that included WJZ-TV, Luby Chevrolet and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 1966, Mr. Agnew, who was then Baltimore County executive, turned to Mr. Goodman, who had written speeches for him, when he decided to run for governor of Maryland.

Drawing on his musical background, which he applied to advertising, Mr. Goodman wrote a song “My Kind of Man” to the tune of “My Kind of Town” that had been popularized by Frank Sinatra.

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In trying to secure rights to the song, Mr. Goodman said “my man was a combination of John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson,” he told Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker in 1981. “Well, what the [expletive], Agnew was kind of the liberal figure in that race. [George] Mahoney was on that ‘Your Home is Your Castle binge.’”

In spite of a 5-1 Democratic advantage, Mr. Agnew won the election, and two years later, he was Richard M. Nixon’s choice for vice president.

He was drafted again when reporters asked after Mr. Nixon made his selection and the national mood was “Spiro who?” to help the candidate gain recognition.

Mr. Goodman and Cynthia Rosenwald, who had been Mr. Agnew’s speechwriter when he was governor, wrote his 1968 acceptance speech he delivered at the Republican Convention in Miami.

In 1988, he told The Sun that before Mr. Agnew departed his hotel room to give the speech, he stopped and paused for a moment.

“I remember Agnew walked to the door of his room,” Mr. Goodman said. “And he stood there, and he says, ‘I don’t know why Nixon chose me. I’ve only met him five or six times.’”

“And that,” Mr. Goodman said in The Sun interview, “is the untold story of how Spiro Agnew went on the road to become vice president of the United States.”

An essential tool Mr. Goodman used was television.

“The power of TV is awesome,” he said in the 1981 interview. “I’ve said it in the past, ‘If we really knew what we were doing with that medium, we’d be dangerous.’ The fact is, it’s mostly personalities that decide these things.

“It doesn’t even matter if a candidate is unknown. Give me three weeks of television, and I can get 60 percent of all the people to know the candidate.”

While he tended to work with Republican candidates, Mr. Goodman did not limit himself to strictly Republicans and in 1982 served as media consultant to Gov. Harry R. Hughes’ re-election campaign.

“The only criteria we have is that we like the candidate,” he explained in the 1981 Sun interview. “We go through such personal experience with these people. Also, if the person’s a dogmatic racist, we won’t touch him.”

“Bob was irresistibly likeable, and had dear friends across the ideological spectrum. How we need that in these polarized times,” Dr. Sabato wrote.

Mr. Goodman’s success with the Agnew campaign led to producing ads for senators, governors and congressional members in 46 states, his son said, from an office in a converted Brooklandville stone mill at Falls and Old Court roads. He handled most of the visual effects while his partner, Ron Wilner, wrote most of the copy.

In 1979, The Wall Street Journal said that “Bob Goodman is probably that state of the art these days in what has become an essential part of every important American campaign -- the media blitz,” while The New York Times described him in 1984 as “one of the most powerful men in America.”

“That’s because he created political advertising with the look of a Hollywood movie and the sound of a Broadway musical,” his son wrote.

Mr. Goodman was best known as being the master of the 30-second spot, which featured narration that was backed by music.

“Known in national political circles as ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ he crafted TV commercials as 30-second passion plays that moved the mind by appealing to the heart,” his son wrote.

In recognition of his work, he was presented the Association of Political Consultants Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

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“One of his most legendary 30 second TV missives was the ‘portable potty spot’ for Wyoming’s Malcolm Wallop in the 1976 U.S. Senate race, where my father tapped into Western resentment of Eastern elites by strapping a toilet to the saddle of a Marlboro Man-like cowboy,” his son wrote. “Wallop came from more than 30 points behind to win.”

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His work on the 1980 campaign with George H.W. Bush, who was seeking the Republican presidential nomination that year, resulted in the slogan “… a president we won’t have to train ...”

Struggling against former Texas Gov. John Connally and Ronald Reagan and way down in the polls, it was Mr. Goodman and Mr. Wilner who turned his image around.

“But we felt he was a heroic figure, the youngest Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific during the war, a guy who’d been our U.N. ambassador, the head of the CIA, a self-made millionaire,” he explained in the 1981 Sun interview.

The two men were able to locate the actual film footage of Mr. Bush being rescued by a submarine crew after his plane went down and ran it as a TV ad, which was backed up with presidential-sounding music that Mr. Goodman had written.

Mr. Bush received the vice presidential nomination and served in that capacity under President Reagan from 1981 to 1989.

The result was that the two men developed a lifelong friendship, his son said, and called each other “Eagle.”

When Sen. Lott ran for the Senate for the first time in 1988, Mr. Goodman advised his campaign. In an ad, his challenger accused him of planning to end Social Security and that he had a chauffeur-driven car.

“I called him up and said, ‘Bob what do you think?’” Sen. Lott recalled. “He took my driver, George Akward, upstairs and put him before a camera unrehearsed and interviewed him.

“He said, ‘I was a District Police officer for 21 years and a U.S. Capitol Police officer, I’m just not a chauffeur,’ and he put that ad on TV,” he said. “Every one of Bob’s spots were always unique — all of his work was unique.”

In a rare step away from politics, Mr. Goodman, who had always wanted to write a musical, and Mr. Wilner over a weekend in 1964 wrote “Pennant Fever,” which celebrated the Orioles stretch run for the title. The Orioles failed to win that year, but the song still became an instant hit with fans, reported The Sun at the time.

Mr. Goodman later joined with his son, who is president of The Victory Group Inc., a national media, communications and crisis management firm. He retired in the mid-1990s.

“I have the most exciting job in the world,” Mr. Goodman reflected in the 1981 Sun interview.

While he liked playing golf at the Suburban Club where he was a member, his “passion was his work,” his son said. “He was consumed by politics.”

Graveside services were held at Har Sinai Cemetery July 19.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, the former Sherry Tepper; another son, Max Goodman of Sarasota, Fla.; three daughters, Jeri Goodman of Cross Keys, Lisa Deane Reynolds of San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Robin Volkmar of Sherman, Conn.; and seven grandchildren. Earlier marriages to the former Alice Hecht and Cecelia Metheny ended in divorce.

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