Mitchell Levitsky: The Advertising King
Few figures from the golden age of Yiddish radio are more widely if anonymously
recalled than Mitchell Levitsky. He began his radio career in 1927, at age 18,
as a Yiddish announcer for New York's WFAB. But by the time he arrived at WEVD
in 1943, he had discovered his true calling: selling radio ads.
As the patriarch of advertising sales reps, Levitsky proved an unstoppable
force on the streets of the Lower East Side, tossing shop after shop into his
game sack. Dick Sugar, the veteran WEVD announcer, recalls that shop owners
along Second Avenue would push Levitsky out the front door only to turn around
and see him coming through the back. Yet one way or another, Levitsky always
got his man. Portnoy's Trusses, Mrs. Weinberg's Frozen Kosher Chopped Liver,
Meyer Mehadrin Kosher Herring Products -- one and all fell before Levitsky's
Shopkeeper's buying ads from Levitsky hired not just WEVD airtime but the on-air
talents of the advertising king, whose delivery was legendary among Jewish New
Yorkers. When Levitsky spoke English it sounded like Yiddish was his first language,
and when he spoke Yiddish you would swear he was born here. He wended his way
through ad copy as though navigating a minefield, stopping to rest on "ums"
and "ahs" and regrouping during significant pauses that lapsed into
dead air. Yet despite such caution, WEVD listeners heard pitches for bedroom
"suits" and hotel rooms with "wall-to-wall telephones in every
Levitsky wooed advertisers by impressing upon them that one little commercial
would make them big-time theatrical producers. Each pint-size patron of the
arts also got an annual cruise of the East River complete with an open bar and
celebrity shipmates like Jewish boxing great Benny Leonard. By the by, Levitsky
would corner his guests to discuss a renewal of their contract.
In addition to hawking ads, Levitsky hosted knockoff shows like the advice
program Jewish Court of Human Relations and a Sunday morning children's
hour. He was the announcer for The Chunky Program, featuring the Joseph
Rumshinsky Orchestra. And he was the host of the long-running Oddities in
the News, on which he read offbeat items gleaned from the week's papers.
Listeners to these programs recall no dearth of commercial messages.