Brooklyn-born “Mad Man” Sheldon “Shelly” Kravitz — an advertising icon who partied with Frank Sinatra, played in a swing band, and trumpeted Trans World Airlines to the masses — died on Oct. 3 of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 85 years old.
Kravitz, a former football player at Poly Prep Country Day School in Park Slope (Class of ’47), was a Renaissance man who attended medical school, worked briefly as a theatrical manager, and toiled grudgingly as a lawyer until a client offered him a job in 1961 in the fashion industry — an opportunity he leapt at.
“It was an executive vice president position, so I went for it,” he told the Epoch Times in 2013. “Too many unsavory things bothered me in law.”
The son of an eye surgeon, Kravitz became a big name in the advertising industry’s 1960s’ heyday depicted in the hit television show, “Mad Men.” He ascended to become the top pitch man for TWA — the Howard Hughes airline with the famous “Up, Up and Away” jingle and initials synonymous with the corporate jet set — until American Airlines took it over in 2001. He helped business magnate Carl Icahn promote the airline’s business saver program and was known to complete an ad in a couple of hours, always focusing on the consumer.
“We’re interested in the human element,” he famously said.
Kravitz, who formed Plus Media Services in the late 1990s, was a larger-than-life spirit and an engaging conversationalist, said those who knew him best.
“In his presence, we all felt we were with someone with a generous spirit and enormous heart,” said his wife of 31 years, Lori Kravitz, who helped her husband conquer a personal obstacle with the help of an advertisement, according to the Epoch article.
Kravitz thought he was sterile, until his wife showed him a television commercial about new fertility methods that helped the couple conceive a son, Daniel, 15, whom he doted on.
“You start reliving your youth,” he said. “Your child is going through what you went through, but you’re much wiser now.”
An accomplished trumpet player, Kravitz started his own swing band, his love of music expanding to his own home recording studio where he created voice-overs on tapes and compact discs to share with others. He was buddies with Ol’ Blue Eyes, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and spent hours watching the Rat Pack booze it up in Las Vegas on one of their famous liquid lunches.
“I never drank very well, I would take a sip of wine,” he later recalled. “When they finished lunch I was the only sober one, and they still had to go back to work.”
True to his gritty Brooklyn roots, Kravitz was not afraid to rail against the glamorization of his industry.
“Ads are not an entertainment medium,” he said. “They’re a marketing medium.”
Sheldon J. Kravitz is survived by his wife Lori, son Daniel, and brother Paul. He will be laid to rest at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, N.Y.