Collector of books, art, and studier of people

WAY BACK WHEN

Joseph Katz loomed large in advertising in 1930s, '40s, '50s

March 27, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Researchers or casual readers visiting the Edgar Allan Poe or H.L. Mencken collections at the Enoch Pratt Free Library will eventually come across the name of Joseph Katz, a Baltimore advertising executive and bibliophile whose collection of 3,500 books and manuscripts was presented to the library after his death in 1958.

It was the sharp eye of James H. Bready, a friend and former newspaper colleague, who noticed in last week's New Yorker an essay on the poet Jane Mayhall, and picked up the phone.

He told me that Mayhall was the wife of the late Leslie George Katz, a Baltimore-born author, editor and publisher who was a son of Joseph Katz.

The elder Katz loomed large over the Baltimore advertising scene during the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

A Lithuanian immigrant who settled in East Baltimore with his parents when he was 3 years old, Katz left school after the seventh grade.

He worked as a buttonhole maker for 50 cents a week and sold newspapers at Calvert and Baltimore streets. He became a clerk in a department store and was eventually promoted to advertising manager. In 1920, he established the Joseph Katz Co. at 10 W. Chase St.

"There were other agencies in Baltimore that had larger billings but none ever had a larger voice. He just fired off headlines like shots from a gun. During a World War II war bond drive, one of his headlines was: `Don't Beg 'Em, Uncle Sam.' Katz loved to shake people up. That was his style," said Gilbert Sandler, a retired public relations executive and author.

"He was an original and he kept his office in his pocket. He was up from the streets and even though he walked with kings, he never forgot his East Baltimore Jewish roots," Sandler said.

Katz was a co-founder of the East Baltimore Boys, an organization he once described as "poor immigrant boys who made good and went on to fame." He was proud that one of the Boys was Harry M. Warner, one of the founders of Warner Bros. motion picture studios.

"What is little known, is the fact that the first home [Warner] knew on American soil was in East Baltimore, where his mother brought him in 1881 to be with his father who had already immigrated here. I am told Harry's father ran a little tailor shop on Albemarle Street," Katz wrote in a letter to The Sun in 1958, after Warner's death.

Katz, when he talked of Baltimore, called it "the Town," and nothing made him happier than spending Saturdays wandering its streets, markets and cigar stores.

"Saturdays I got to the foot of Broadway or the Yiddish Market," he told The Sun in an interview.

Years later, a national advertising magazine described Katz as "a paradoxical fellow, full of wrath, comedy, wit, woe and whangdoodle" and claimed his success was due to "studying people instead of precepts."

Katz was a man of huge appetites who devoured books, art, and newspapers, and also of enormous creative energy and inspiration.

He was always jotting notes that he stashed in his pockets. He required little sleep, read seven newspapers a day, and roamed the city's antique and book shops in an endless quest for rare books and fine art.

Things were always "jumping" in the Katz office, recalled Robert Goodman, a Baltimore advertising executive, in a Baltimore Magazine interview in 1966.

"It was a place where ideas were shot from guns and individual egos shot to hell," Goodman wrote.

Katz, who lived at 7201 Park Heights Ave., filled his home not only with first editions by Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen Crane, and letters and manuscripts from Mencken, but also paintings, prints and other art objects represented by Thomas Eakins, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Homer, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Joseph Sheppard and Toulouse-Lautrec.

He once explained his passion for Honore Daumier lithographs: "If it is anything about people, I am interested."

He also took time from his busy life to write Be an Ad Man - Ride Fast Trains, Stop at the Best Hotels.

"His restlessness could not be contained; it was always exploding all over the place, at the table, on the street, in print, in conversation," wrote Sandler in a letter to The Evening Sun at Katz' death. "I will always have it in my mind that this was the way he lived; with vast enthusiasm on both sides of the drum, responding vigorously to its beat himself, his own drums never silent."

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