Merrill Jonas, Casting Director for Commercials, Dies at 96

Merrill Jones
Courtesy Garrett Glaser

Merrill Jonas

She helped Patricia Neal, Karl Malden, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Rod Serling and Mel Brooks get work in TV spots.

Merrill Jonas, a casting director who helped place such stars as Patricia Neal, Karl Malden, Anna Maria Alberghetti and Mel Brooks in TV commercials, has died. She was 96.

Jonas died Thursday after a long illness at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, her son, Garrett Glaser, said.

Jonas herself was a TV actress and on-camera pitchwoman in the 1950s and '60s, appearing in more than 35 spots. Some of her lines in her ad campaigns became well known, including "Mother, please! I'd rather do it myself!" for Anacin pain reliever and "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands" for M&M candies.

After several years in the '60s as personal assistant to Jerry Leider, senior partner in charge of worldwide television packaging at Ashley Famous Agency, Jonas transitioned to TV casting.

By the early '70s, she was head of the casting department at Ogilvy & Mather in New York. She led a six-person team that cast more than 100 commercials featuring celebrities including Neal (Maxim instant coffee), Malden (American Express cards, "Don't leave home without it"), Alberghetti (Good Seasons salad dressing, "Delicioso Good Seasons!"), Sonny & Cher, musician Ravi Shankar and tennis great Arthur Ashe.

Later, as director of the commercials department at talent agency Creative Management Associates, Jonas negotiated commercials for Jackie Gleason (New York Bank for Savings), Al Hirt (Toyota), Rod Serling (Westinghouse, Manufacturers Hanover), Zero Mostel (Hamilton Beach, Teacher's Scotch), Florence Henderson (SC Johnson) and Mel Brooks (BIC banana pens, Tang).

In 1974, she opened her own agency, Celebrity Casting Associates, and executed deals for NBC broadcaster Frank Blair (Bayer aspirin, Cessna), actress Phyllis Newman (Scott Paper Co.), pianist Peter Duchin (Interwoven socks), sports greats Pete Rose and Dan Pastorini (Dutch Masters cigars) and others.

Raised in Boston, Jonas joined the U.S. Women Marines in Washington after graduating from high school. Upon release as a corporal in 1944, she moved to Manhattan and landed a job on the live CBS Radio musical quiz show Grand Slam. She joined the staff of NBC's The Eddie Condon Show in 1949.

Jonas transitioned to public relations work in the mid-'50s, joining Radio Free Europe and producing events for the U.S. Committee for the United Nations and the American Council on NATO. Meanwhile, she appeared on such series as CBS' Suspense and Dupont Show of the Month and ABC's Naked City.

Her two marriages ended in divorce. Survivors include her children, Gail and Garrett, and a grandson, Bennett. A memorial service in Los Angeles is planned for late summer.