By Ray Schultz
Having returned from the South Pacific, Ensign Ed Proctor, Jr. was recovering from an eye infection in a naval hospital in Georgia on July 13, 1945 when he got an urgent call from New Jersey: The family patriarch, Ed Proctor Sr., owner of the Guild Co. since 1920 and a mailing list broker since 1899, had, after playing with his grandson the prior evening, died in his sleep at age 68.
Proctor arranged leave, and rushed home. His father, he learned, had been under a terrible strain. “It was a struggle to get business,” Proctor said in a 1995 interview. “Everyone was in war work in those days, and you couldn’t get anyone to work for you.”
Discharged by the Navy, Guild resumed his old routine of commuting into Manhattan to the Guild Co. sweatbox on 8th Ave. and 31st St. “Talk about green-eye shades and arm garters,” said Tom Foster, founder of the Foster & Gallagher catalog, of the premises. “There were old wooden filing cases, and bare-bulb lights hanging form the ceiling.”
The office was the least of Proctor’s problems, though: A bigger one was that there were some tough new competitors. One was James Mosley, an advertising agent from Boston. Mosley lost $4,000 when a client went belly-up, and the only way he could recoup it was to rent out the company’s list.
Soon, Mosley was dealing in lists full-time, and keeping his hand in the copywriting game: “How to get 20,000 to 1-million new mail order customers in a hurry during 1945. We’ll help you select the CREAM,” he said in one ad in the Reporter of Direct Mail. “Mosley has the LISTS.”
His ads asking company owners to rent their lists out, were equally compelling. “You have hidden gold in your mailing lists! I’ll show you how to get it out. I’ve almost had writer’s cramp from signing 13,000 checks to folks like you for addressing empty envelopes for high-grade acceptable mass mail clients. Mosley sends the CHECKS!”
Another new competitor was Arthur Martin Karl, owner of Names Unlimited, whose ads in the Reporter of Direct Mail promised “Less Testing—Better Results.” Karl, who tortured tortured his employees by playing the cello every afternoon, supposedly rented more names for more clients than any other list broker, and persuaded more list owners to rent their names out. “He was a better pleader than I was,” Proctor conceded.
Then there was Herbert Ozda, a tall, a charming opportunist known to friends as “Mr. O.” Ozda and his wife, Irma Meyer, returned to New York after several years in California, and entered the mailing list business.
Ozda soon compiled the World War II veteran’s list, “the one big file you could get at that time.” It came out of the seven armed forces separation centers throughout the United States, according to Ozda’s son Robert Dunhill (who later changed the family name to the classier-sounding Dunhll). Ozda contacted clerks who had access to the rosters of incoming ships. Later, Dunhill would say, “It took a lot of phoning, and some of this,” rubbing his fingers together to indicate the passage of money.
That list pulled in maybe $100,000 a year, a fortune in 1946, and Ozda compiled many more like it: That year, he announced in an ad that he had “housewives, known donors, anything.”
And he advertised lists made to order. “You have to listen to what Mr. O is saying because sometimes he sells things we don’t have,” his wife told Florence Leighton, an employee who later made a name in her own right in the list business.
In 1966, Calvin Trillin wrote a 10,000-word article about the mailing list business for the New Yorker magazine that took a bemused air, observing that, like pork farmers, list brokers used “everything but the squeal.” In it, he documented one of Ozda’s techniques.
Not long ago, Herbert Ozda, the chairman of the Dunhill International List Company and one of the industry’s most aggressive compilers, happened to mention to a reporter a list of contributors to the United Jewish Appeal.
“But I just spoke to the U.J.A. yesterday,” the reporter said. “They told me they don’t rent their list to anyone. They don’t even trade it.”
“That’s right,” Ozda said.
“Then how did you get it?”
Ozda looked disappointed, as if he found it distressing that anyone could fail to see such an obvious bit of business strategy. Eventually, he said, “Well, the U.J.A. has dinners attended by the big contributors, right”
“So you subscribe to the Jewish press, and if it covers the dinner you get some of the names.”
Ozda smiled patiently and shook his head. “There are only twelve hundred hotels with banquet halls used for that kind of dinner. They all print programs for the dinner, and the bell captain gets a copy of the program, right?”
“Well, we have arrangements with nine hundred of the twelve hundred bell captains. Then we add to that information whatever is in the U.J.A. newsletters, and we subscribe to all the papers. We put together a list of eighteen thousand of the largest contributors. Of course, we don’t sell it as the U.J.A. list. We call it ‘Large Contributors to a Jewish Charity’ or something.”
Desperate to save his inheritance, Proctor put his rusty sales skills to work, and found to his relief that magazine publishers were ready to drop “a bunch of Number 10 envelopes into the mail.” And the cash started flowing in.
Newsweek alone ordered ten million names a year from him, and they “didn’t pay much attention to what I was giving them,” Proctor said. What is more, the direct mail manager of McCall’s and Redbook, F. Nixon (“Nix”) Merriam Jr., asked Proctor to get him the names of all Workbasket subscribers in the South.
“There’s a lot of deadbeats in the South,” Proctor warned. But that didn’t bother Merriam. “I want to extend the hand of friendship to every deadbeat in the South,” he said.
Business was now so good that Proctor joined his peers at the 1948 Direct Mail Advertising Association conference in Montreal. The old boys were together again at last—the promoters, the hustlers, the guys of whom it could be said, every day, “Today he met his new best friend.” Homer Buckley was there—it was like looking at a biblical figure—and so was Henry Hoke, not as celebrated as he should have been for his anti-Nazi campaign. Also present was O. E. McIntyre, formerly of Sears, who now owned a list compiling operation and service shop. Proctor claimed, decades later, that “they offered you a girl in your room.” Mosley gave a speech. “We must blaze new trails,” he said. “Only the beaten follow beaten paths.” “Mosley was verbose,” Proctor commented.