Edward L. Bernays: Pioneer, Philosopher, Centenarian
Friday night, November 22, 1991, 350 admirers gathered at a glitzy banquet in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Edward L. Bernays and to sing his praises as "the father of public relations," an honor that he had spent a long lifetime seeking and promoting. The centennial banquet climaxed a week-long celebration of Bernays and his career as a public relations practitioner and philosopher. Bernays was hailed "as one of the most influential figures of the century" -- a fact confirmed by Life Magazine in 1989 when it listed Bernays as 1 of the 200 outstanding Americans of the 20th century -- the only practitioner so honored.
In his prime, Bernays was small of stature and weighed 160 pounds. His prominent characteristics were his heavy black mustache and a little round belly which he constantly patted when expounding at length about his accomplishments and philosophizing on the ways of "engineering public consent." At the centennial banquet, he was a bit thinner, smaller -- "elfin-like" one writer wrote -- and with a small wispy grey mustache. But he was in full command of the evening, telling a series of anecdotes picked out of the attic of his memory, anecdotes honed by years of retelling.
Bernays took a rapt audience on a dance through his 80-year career as press agent, publicist, and public relations counselor, reciting his accomplishments in getting Americans to eat bananas, American women to smoke, children to like to wash with Ivory soap, humanizing President Calvin Coolidge, persuading William Paley to make news a strong feature of his infant Columbia Broadcasting System, celebrating Thomas A. Edison's invention of the light bulb, and other public relations coups --