Obituaries: Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet

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The Independent Online
The history of advertising in France is unusual. Newspapers were slow to make space for publicity. It was widely held that advertising meant corruption (and so it did when Marcel Proust had to pay both journalist and newspaper in order to get a favourable review). But, just as the French overcame their reluctance to have anything to do with the banks or with the stock exchange, so advertising and publicity have become a vital part of national activities. Were proof needed one has only to look at the eulogies delivered for Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, on his death at the age of 89. One left-wing journal hailed him on its front page as the Pope of Publicity, "le Pape de la Pub".

Of course, every country is proud of its rags-to-riches citizens. Bleustein, as he was called, was born in 1906 of a Jewish family living in Montmartre. He attended the local school where his main preoccupation was to sit near the stove in winter and near the door in summer. He left as soon as possible carrying with him a certificate which stated that he was able to read, to write and to count. Bleustein never tired of telling the story, always adding that mention should have been made that he was also able to speak. An ability to convince, together with a supreme self- confidence, explains his success.

For a time he worked in the furniture business of Leviten (he was related to the family) and then set up in two small rooms on the Faubourg-Montmartre as a publicity agent. At first it was difficult and he found that possible customers did not know what he was talking about. But he inspired confidence. His agency, Publicis, was founded in 1926 ("cis" for "six", in French) and in 1929 he first had the idea of using the radio for publicity purposes; it was an immense success. Reputedly in this year he became a millionaire.

Bleustein used every method to promote himself. On one occasion he booked a table for dinner in Maxim's and, when the restaurant was full, he went round all those who were dining there, the smartest of the smart, introduced himself and shook hands. People were puzzled, but informed.

In 1934 the austere Georges Mandel became minister responsible for the Post Office and its services, and he banned all advertising on radio. Bleustein was ruined. But he picked himself up and created his own radio station, Radio Cite. The risk paid off. It was a great success, thanks to the artists who appeared there, including many who were becoming famous, such as Tino Rossi, Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and Jean Sablon.

And Bleustein was the inventor of the advertising slogan. His phrases were repeated on the radio and throughout France. Many are still remembered. In the days of furs and fur coats, there was the unforgettable "Brunswick, le fourreur qui fait fureur". Bleustein was part of French life.

In 1939 he served in the air force. In 1940 the Germans took over Radio Cite and looked for its owner, who spent some time in a Spanish prison before joining de Gaulle. He then adopted the name of Blanchet and was on the staff of General Koenig, who was one of the first Free French leaders to land in France.

Back in France he brought many Gaullists into the publicity business, although Albert Camus was bitterly disappointed not to have his financial support for a progressive newspaper. Instead, Bleustein-Blanchet collaborated with Pierre Lazareff (with whom he had been at school) for the paper France- Soir. Installed in the buildings of the Hotel Astoria on the Champs-Elysees (which were burned down in 1972 but rebuilt), he knew everyone and was alert to a France that was rapidly changing. Who else would have told de Gaulle in 1958 that he had no idea of how he should appear on television? (And de Gaulle took his advice.) Who else would have installed a drug- store on the Champs-Elysees and in the Latin Quarter?

Bleustein-Blanchet was one of the first to understand the importance of public opinion polls, in commerce and in politics, and he was instrumental in organising what has become a minor industry and an inescapable facet of French life.

In 1939 he married Sophie Vaillant, the granddaughter of Edouard Vaillant, one of the founding fathers of French socialism.

Marcel Bleustein, advertising and publicity entrepreneur: born Paris 1906; married 1939 Sophie Vaillant (three daughters); died Paris 11 April 1996.