Milton Sutton, Advertising Genius, Dies

Milton Sutton ad
The “Crying Indian” advertisement

What American, of a certain generation, can forget the “Crying Indian” commercial that flourished on television screens throughout the early 1970s? In that commercial, an elderly Native American walks the landscapes of America, appalled by the excesses he sees around him. At the end of the commercial, this gentleman turns to the viewer with a single tear appearing from his right eye. The commercial was so moving that its creators came up with a follow-up one. This time, that same gentleman again walks throughout the cities, small towns and rural areas of the country, only to see volunteers eagerly engaged in cleanup efforts. This time, the “Crying Indian” is transformed into a more hopeful fellow as the commercial ends with a cheerful grin on the man’s face.

Milton Sutton, a longtime Roslyn resident who died on Nov. 5 at the remarkable age of 102, spent a career in advertising, serving as creative director of the famed Burson-Marsteller Advertising Agency. Sutton assisted with those famous commercials and, before that, he was assigned the “Keep America Beautiful” account led by First Lady Ladybird Johnson, in which Mrs. Johnson urged Americans not to engage in the kind of littering that sparked the “Crying Indian” ad.

Those iconic ads were only part of Sutton’s legacy. Other accounts included Dannon Yogurt, which became the leader in its field, propelled by the slogan on every cup, “No artificial anything.”

A native of Forest Hills, Sutton lived in Roslyn for 53 years. Sutton and his wife, Freema, raised their two daughters in the village, where they both attended the Roslyn public schools. A graduate of New York University, Sutton served in World War II, where he was assigned to the Information and Education Division of the Pentagon staff. In that post, he co-authored a publication, What The Soldier Thinks, that was distributed to officers of the United States Armed Forces worldwide. After the war, Sutton’s career in advertising flourished, but even after retirement, Sutton remained busy. He was also a volunteer for Amnesty International and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Sutton was especially involved with the Tourette Syndrome Association, where he did consulting and editorial work. In a public statement, the Tourette Syndrome Association expressed its “sincerest thanks for his dedication and wise counsel to our cause.” An energetic traveler, Sutton also contributed an essay to the New York Times, entitled “Locked in a Library in Search of Bodoni.” While an undergraduate at NYU, Sutton did not—as this author once thought—have the novelist Thomas Wolfe as a teacher. But he was a lifelong reader of the legendary novelist and, like this author, was a member of The Thomas Wolfe Society.

In 2005, Sutton moved from Roslyn to Cadbury Commons in Cambridge, MA, joining his two daughters who also live in the Boston area. Never the retiring type, Sutton was a long-serving member of the library committee and a frequent contributor to the newsletter.

Sutton’s death brought forth several Internet tributes:

“Milton was a dear friend of my parents and I remember him as a very bright, witty guy with a dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye,” wrote Henry and Lois Gootnick Small of Bala Cynwyd, PA. “He always had an insightful and incisive comment on the politics of the day. He was a lucky man to have such a loving wonderful family.”

“Uncle Milton, my mother’s older brother, had a big impact in my life,” added Lianda Ludwig of San Diego. “I am very thankful for the fun Father’s Day celebrations we had every year from the time I was the baby until the older generation changed to become us children. Uncle Milton was a wonderful brother to my mother. He will be remembered for his gentle humor and kindness, and a little bit of quirkiness. He leaves a legacy of a wonderful family filled with funny, good-hearted, intelligent and caring people who are passing on his genes that will make our world a better and more caring place.”

Sutton was the husband of the late Freema Sutton and is survived by his daughters Judy Storeygard of Winchester, MA, and Jane Sutton of Lexington, MA, their husbands, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His legacy lives on as both his “Crying Indian” commercial and the “old people” commercial for Dannon Yogurt are available on YouTube.

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Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.

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