A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 29, 2019
“I’m crazy about the Big Apple” (1976 ad campaign)

The Committee in the Public Interest sought to improve New York City’s public image in 1976, leading to its hosting of the Democratic National Convention that year. William E. ("Bill") Phillips (1930-2018), of the advertising firm Oglivy & Mather, came up with a “crazy” idea for ads, such as “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York...crazy for museums/restaurants/etc.” The campaign was announced in February 1976 and the ads appeared on subways, buses and newspapers in April 1976.

The “crazy” campaign was inspired by a quotation from New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug (1920-1998), but the exact quotation hasn’t been found. The Daily News (New York, NY) printed on February 24, 1976:

“‘It’s a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom.’—Rep. Bella Abzug, May, 1973”

Syndicated newspaper columnist Phyllis Battelle, in March 1970, wrote about a New Yorker who experienced a bomb scare at work and then a home robbery on the same day. Asked why he lives in New York City, he replied:

“If you ask me why I stay here, I’d have to plead insanity. And if I pleaded insanity, they’d take me away. And if I went away from this lousy city, I’d die of boredom...”

“This city is crazy and violent, but nobody ever died of boredom, Congressman (sic) Bella Abzug once said” was printed in the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal on December 3, 1973.

“You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, crazy about dinosaurs, art and the stars” was an ad that was printed in the New York (NY) Times on April 18, 1976. New York City’s skyline was shown on an apple, with a sash reading “The Big Apple.” “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else” was an ad printed in the New York (NY) Amsterdam News on May 22, 1976.

“I’m Crazy About the Big Apple” T-shirts were shown in an article in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Report from New York: Crazy to the core...and proud of it” by Beth Gillin Pombeiro, on June 4, 1976.

A subway sign reading “New York may be a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom. Enjoy!” was in the film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). It’s unclear if the date of this scene is supposed to be 1971 or 1975, but the sign first appeared in 1976.


16 March 1970, The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), “New Peril in the City: You Can Bomb New Yorkers Out of a Building, But...” by Phyllis Battelle, pg. 15, cols. 5-8:
A curious case has been related to me: a man was forced to leave his office recently because of a midday bomb scare. He took a cab home and discovered that his apartment was half-burgled. The thieves had already taken his portable TV, jewelry and Chevas Regal, but hadn’t come back yet for his beaver coat, silver and stereo.

“The politeness of the bombers,” he said ruefully, “saved me from being taken all the way by the crudeness of the burglars.”

When he called the police, they came promptly and took down the facts. They then advised him that there was almost no hope of getting back his possession, because there are now an average of 700 burglaries a day—on the upper East Side of town alone.

He was furious.

The next day I called and asked if he had calmed down a bit, and he said no. He said, “This town is getting impossible.”

I asked him, then, why he stays in New York.

His answer was profoundly to the point:

“If you ask me why I stay here, I’d have to plead insanity. And if I pleaded insanity, they’d take me away. And if I went away from this lousy city, I’d die of boredom...”

Proving, I guess, that you can teach an old New Yorker new criminal tricks. But you can’t even blast him out of town.

3 December 1973, Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, “Ex-Akronite Loves Blass Job In NYC” by Joan Rice, pg. A-10, col. 1:
This city is crazy and violent, but nobody ever died of boredom, Congressman (sic) Bella Abzug once said.

24 February 1976, Daily News (New York, NY), “Big Apple Goes Bananas, Sez It’s Nuts” by Lawrie Mifflin, pg. 4, cols. 1-3:
“It’s a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom.”—Rep. Bella Abzug, May, 1973

The congresswoman’s classic backhanded compliment has returned to become the city’s official booster slogan.
(...)
Yesterday at City Hall, the advertising executive who came up with this “crazy” idea, William Phillips of Oglivy & Mather, described his plan to Mayor Beame and some news-media types. Oglivy & Mather was asked by the Mayor’s Committee in the Public Interest, a nonpartisan, volunteer booster group, to develop an ad campaign promoting the city, in time for the flood of bicentennial and Democratic Convention visitors this summer.
(A sample ad is shown: “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, crazy about great restaurants.”—ed.)

24 February 1976, New York (NY) Times, “Advertising: Ogilvy Will Sell New York” by Philip H. Dougherty, pg. 56, cols. 3-5:
So each ad is introduced with, “Maybe we gotta be a little crazy to live here, but what other city offers ...”

Or, “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, crazy about ...”

The advertising and the committee’s logotype, a shot of the city’s skyline superimposed on an apple wearing a “Big Apple” sash, were introduced and explained by Carl Spielvogel, vice chairman of the Interpublic Group of Companies and chairman of the Committee in the Public Interest, and William E. Phillips, president of O. & M. (Oglivy & Mather, and advertising agency—ed.)
(...)
The first phase is scheduled to begin in April and will run through July and will, it is hoped, have the local citizenry gung ho in time for the Democratic Convention.

Already committed to the effort are the Transit Authority’s buses and subways. So at least there’ll be posters. The agency has also made 60-second, 30-second commercials (production donated by WNEW-TV), print ads and radio scripts.

Other suppliers, according to Mr. Phillips, worked at cost.

The agency had come up with four different campaign ideas, and Mr. Phillips, with some modesty, takes credit for the one with the winning “crazy” theme. His inspiration, he said, was a quote by Representative Bella Abzug, who was said to have commented, “It’s a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom.”

18 April 1976, New York (NY) Times, pg. 15, col. 4 ad:
(An apple with New York City’s skyline and a “The Big Apple” sash is shown.—ed.)
“The Big Apple” is a phrase originated by jazz musicians. Playing in New York meant you had made it to the top...you were in the big time. Today it’s come to have a larger meaning—New York as a place of excitement and spirit as well as opportunity.

You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, crazy about dinosaurs, art and the stars.
We’ve got 58 museums-visit one.


1976, The Committee in the Public Interest
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, N.Y. 10020

22 May 1976, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, pg. D-20, col. 1 ad:
“The Big Apple” is a phrase originated by jazz musicians. Playing in New York meant you had made it to the top...you were in the big time. Today it’s come to have a larger meaning—New York as a place of excitement and spirit as well as opportunity.

You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else.

30 May 1976, New York (NY) Times, pg. E15, col. 4 ad:
You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, crazy enough to put an apple on your wall.
Your contribution buys this full-color poster. And helps tell the world that New York is going to survive.


The Big Apple. For months we’ve been taking our lumps.

Well, it’s time we fought back.

That’s why the Committee in the Public Interest, a volunteer group, put together the Big Apple campaign.

We’re going to tell the world New York is alive. It’s going to survive. And that one of the greatest cities in the world is going to remain one of the greatest cities of the world.

You can help by buying a poster. The money received will help pay for the campaign.

Send $5 for each 24” 36” full-color poster.  Deluxe numbered posters, ideal for framing, available for $10. Both are tax-deductible.

4 June 1976, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Report from New York: Crazy to the core...and proud of it” by Beth Gillin Pombeiro, pg. 30-D, cols. 1-2:
(Photo caption—ed.) CRAZY about their T-shirts are bicycle riders Norman Schwartz and Susan Menconi (above), Bill Phillips (left), president of the ad agency, wears an apple on his lapel.
(...)
Lest they, forget, though, the message beams down on them from colorful posters on packed, noisy subways and crowded, bumpy buses: “You Have to Be a Little Crazy to Live in New York.”
(...)
The inspiration for the campaign is a statement made by Rep. Bella Abzug (D., N.Y.) several years ago. “New York is a crazy town to live in, but you’ll never die of boredom.”

The fellows at Oglivy & Mather tossed that around for awhile and came up with “You have to be crazy to live here.”
(...)
in addition to the transit posters, which feature a bright red apple with the Manhattan skyline superimposed on it, wrapped in a ribbon that says “The Big Apple,” the ad agency has designed T-shirts and buttons. These say simply, “I’m Crazy About the Big Apple.”

Costly T-shirts
The T-shirts cost $10 at Bloomingdales and Franklin Simon and are selling well, after some problems with the first shipments. On the first batch the apples came out purplish pink, and on the next batch, the color of ripe tangerines. The factory finally got it right, the apples are now red, and everyone is happy, especially Bloomingdales, which recently displayed the shirts in its windows.

The “I’m Crazy” buttons will sell for 50 cents, as soon as Oglivy & Mather figures out a way to distribute them. Proceeds from the sale of the buttons and T-shirts are paying for printing the transit posters. When the ad agency catches up on all its bills, it hopes to go national with the campaign.

The way that the term Big Apple has become virtually synonymous throughout the nation with New York City is itself a tribute to the pervasive power of advertising.

It is not a new phrase, having been used by jazz musicians in the late 1920s to describe playing the big time.

But it wasn’t familiar in later years until the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau resurrected it in 1972. Explained Bureau President Charles Gillett, “We wanted to come up with a better name for New York than the Asphalt Jungle, as people were wont to call us.”

It is now possible to buy commercially-produced Big Apple neckties, napkins, matches, drinking glasses and shopping bags. There is rumored to be a cocktail called the Big Apple. A local television news program related stories about city crises against a backdrop of a huge worm-eaten apple with a bit out of it.

20 June 1976, Atlanta (GA) Journal and Constitution, “The Ole Gal Gets a Facelift: NYC: Big Apple of Their Eyes” by Frances Cawthon, pg. 16-B, col. 4:
Symbol for the campaign is the Big Apple, with skyscrapers superimposed on it. “the jazz musicians used to say when you played New York, you’d played the Big Apple, or in other words you’d made the big time,” explained (Bill—ed.) Phillips.

Bella Abzug once said of the city, “It’s a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom.” That was changed to “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’ll never die of boredom,” and variations thereof, promoting the city’s various attractions (sometime in Spanish) and at least once saying, “but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else.”

The Big Apple logo has been printed on buttons, tee-shirts and posters, and loyal New Yorkers are buying them.

The first campaign primarily is a public service one geared toward New Yorkers. A second, paid advertising campaign, is geared toward visitors and the economic community, with special emphasis, perhaps, on the latter.

21 August 1976, Daily News (New York, NY), “Voice of the People,” pg. 19, col. 4:
Manhattan: It seems as though New York buses are peppered with placards showing the ubiquitous symbol of the Big Apple. They carry an inscription which reads: “New Yorkers have to be a little crazy to live here, but they won’t die of boredom. Enjoy!” As a New Yorker, I strongly object to this advertisement. To whom, pray tell, is the message addressed? Perhaps no one will die of boredom, but what about stabbings and gunshot wounds?
MARTIN ISAACS

Google Books
21st-Century Gothic:
Great Gothic Novels Since 2000

Edited by Danel Olson
Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
2011
Pg. 304:
Jacob’s Ladder is one of the great New York movies. (...) The opening shots of the film show Jacob’s unit under attack in 1971 in Vietnam. As Jacob is bayoneted in the stomach, he wakes up on a late-night subway train, a copy of Camus’ The Outsider open in his hands. He looks around and sees two wall-mounted ads. The first reads, “New York may be a crazy town, but you’ll never die of boredom. Enjoy!”

Oglivy
Bill Phillips, An Appreciation
January 14, 2019
William E. “Bill” Phillips who was CEO and Chairman of The Ogilvy Group from 1982 to 1988, passed away on December 26, 2018. He was 88 years old. Kenneth Roman, who succeeded Mr. Phillips as Chairman shares a remembrance of his colleague and friend.
(Photo.—ed.)
William E. Phillips, former Chairman/CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, died December 26, 2018
By Ken Roman
Bill was my boss at Ogilvy & Mather for 25 years … and my friend even longer. Was I lucky! We worked together, we played together. At O&M, we were a team – he was captain.
(...)
Bill had volunteered the agency to create an advertising campaign to help the reputation of the City. Jay Schulberg’s creative group was given the assignment, but nothing was clicking. When Bill got to the office, he told Jay the insight from his morning walk – a sense that New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with their city, and suggested a campaign that could be realistic about that.

A few days later, Jay had the line – a variant on a quote from Representative Bella Abzug: “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else.” At the same time, the Visitors’ Bureau was promoting the City as the Big Apple, an expression used by jazz musicians – “You can play all over the country, but New York is the Big Apple.”
(...)
Many people were involved. More than anyone, Bill was the Father of the Big Apple.

The Wall Street Journal (New York, NY)
The Man Behind ‘the Big Apple’
Ad exec Bill Phillips made New York City’s nickname immortal.

By Ken Roman
Jan. 27, 2019 4:20 p.m. ET
Bill Phillips was walking to work from his Manhattan apartment, eating an apple, one spring morning in 1975. As the chairman of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather stepped over piles of refuse, he thought: “I must be crazy to live here.” A garbage strike was only one of many problems facing New York: Crime was up, bankruptcy was looming, and there was no prospect of a bailout.

Phillips, who died last month, had volunteered his agency to boost the city’s reputation, but hadn’t found the right angle. When he got to the office that morning, he told creative director Jay Schulberg his insight from that walk: that New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with their city. He suggested they devise a campaign that would represent that complex attitude.

A few days later Schulberg had the line, a variant on a quotation from the city’s outspoken Rep. Bella Abzug: “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s: Big Apple Revival • Tuesday, January 29, 2019 • Permalink