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Subject: F. William Free, Ad Man Behind 'Fly Me,'

New York
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Date Posted: January 09, 2003 4:48:11 EDT

F. William Free, an advertising executive who attracted passengers to National Airlines and protesters to his agency with one of his best-known campaigns, "I'm Cheryl — Fly Me," died on Jan. 1 at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 74, and lived in Millbrook, N.Y.

The cause was complications of lung cancer, his daughter Abigail said.

Mr. Free's advertisements for National, each showing an attractive young stewardess and her simple, if suggestive, request, first appeared in October 1971. They were immediately criticized. The National Organization for Women, denouncing the campaign for what it considered to be the depiction of women as sex objects, demonstrated outside F. William Free & Company, confronting Mr. Free with placards reading, "I'm Bill — Fire Me."

Mr. Free tried to quell the protests by handing out bouquets of roses to the protesters.

The campaigns came at a time when attitudes about women and their roles were changing, straddling the eras between "stewardesses" and "flight attendants," and as a result generated far more attention than they would have even a decade earlier.

The campaign's notoriety paid off for National. The airline had a 19 percent increase in revenue per passenger mile in the first half of 1972 and signed up for more ads. Mr. Free responded with "I'm Eileen — Fly Me," starring an 8-year-old girl who dreams of being a flight attendant. He also reprised the Cheryl ad, this time with the headline "Millions of people flew me last year."

Mr. Free began his advertising career in 1950 as a junior art director at N. W. Ayer & Son in Philadelphia. After working as an art director for J. Walter Thompson in London and Foote, Cone & Belding in New York, he became creative director of the Marschalk Company in 1959. He later became president of Marschalk.

At Marschalk, Mr. Free introduced New Yorkers to the first soft drink brands added by Coca-Cola: Sprite, Tab and Fresca. His campaign for Fresca featured a memorable stunt. Commercials for the "icy," citrus-flavored drink with the "frosty taste of a blizzard" were first shown on a winter day in 1967. The next day, New York received a foot of snow. Sensing the promotional possibilities, Mr. Free trudged out into the storm to be photographed holding a bottle of Fresca. The photograph appeared in a full-page newspaper advertisement the day after the storm with the headline "We're sorry."

Mr. Free and his wife, Marcella Jones Free, a copywriter, opened F. William Free & Company in 1969. In addition to National Airlines, the agency's clients included the American Tobacco Company and its Silva Thins cigarettes, and Schrafft's, the restaurant chain, which had a commercial called "the underground sundae" that was created by Andy Warhol.

Some of Mr. Free's ads for Silva Thins were as controversial as those for National Airlines. An ad in 1970 that read, "Cigarettes are like girls, the best ones are thin and rich," led the National Organization for Women to call for a boycott of the brand.

Later, Mr. Free created the Silva Thins Man, a suave smoker in wraparound sunglasses.

After his divorce, Mr. Free sold his agency in 1981 to Laurence & Charles. At the new agency, Laurence, Charles & Free, his campaign for José Cuervo helped popularize the tequila sunrise cocktail.

Forrest William Free was born on Aug. 28, 1928, in Pittsburgh.

He is survived by his sister, Abigail Wayman of Greenville, N.C.; three daughters, Abigail Free of Katonah, N.Y.; Molly McClement of Guilford, Conn., and Samantha Free, of Manhattan; a son, Adam of Pound Ridge, N.Y.; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Free also owned restaurants and bred horses. His bay gelding, Packett's Landing, won almost $800,000 in his five-year career in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

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