The advertising world has lost an icon. The man known as the original Marlboro Man died in Colorado Springs on Nov. 3. Robert Norris, 90, was a longtime rancher and well-known philanthropist.
The Marlboro Man was first conceived by Leo Burnett in 1954. The images initially featured rugged men portrayed in a variety of roles but later primarily featured a rugged cowboy or cowboys.
The advertisements were originally conceived as a way to popularize filtered cigarettes, which at the time were considered feminine.
The new approach was wildly successful as Burnett transformed the cigarette with the slogan “Mild as May”, into one that was masculine, “Come to Marlboro Country.”
Norris Comes to Marlboro Country
How Norris became the iconic cowboy is a true Hollywood story.
Initially, cowboy commercials involving the Marlboro Man featured paid models, such as William Thourlby, pretending to carry out cowboy tasks.
However, Burnett felt that the commercials lacked authenticity. So, the agency set out to find real cowboys.
Norris’ son, Bobby, told CBS News Denver that his dad was a cowboy at heart which helped him get the Marlboro gig.
His son describes how Burnett execs which at the time were considered feminine. saw a newspaper photo of Norris and longtime friend and actor John Wayne.
They tracked Norris down at his ranch south of Colorado Springs.
“They walked out of their car, these guys in their pinstripe suits, and they walked up to dad and they said ‘How would you like to be in commercials?’ and he said, ‘for Marlboro cigarettes’ and he said, ‘Well, I’m kind of busy right now. Why don’t you come back next week, and if you’re serious we will talk.’ And they did and they came back the next week,” said Bobby Norris.
The commercials launched a 12-year acting career for Norris. It ended because Norris didn’t want his kids to start smoking.
Bobby says his father always tried to do the right thing. A celebration of life for Norris was held on Friday at the Norris Penrose Stadium which is named for him.
SOURCE: CBS News, Denver