16 famous people who surprisingly started their careers in advertising

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Hugh Hefner Playboy Playmates Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Hugh Hefner was a copywriter before setting up Playboy.

Some of the world's most successful authors, actors, and directors kicked off their careers in advertising.

Many approached the ad industry with enthusiasm - rising to the C-suite and creating some of the most iconic slogans of all time. Others saw it as a means to an end, staying until they got their first big break indulging their true passion.

We gathered 16 of the most surprising names that began their careers using their innate creativity to sell products.

Laura Stampler compiled an earlier version of this report.

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Sir Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness

The Obi-Wan Kenobi actor got his start as an ad man.

Guinness took a job as a junior copywriter at Ark's Publicity in London when he was only 18. However, from early on, his dream was to move into acting.

His first big role was as Osric in a production of Hamlet at the New Theatre in 1934. After the war, in where Guinness served in the Royal Navy, he found success as a screen actor, according to The Historical Dictionary of British Cinema.

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie might have received numerous awards for his literature, but he failed a copy test at JWT 40 years ago.

"The only question I remember was they asked you to imagine that you met a martian who mysteriously spoke English and you had to explain to them in less than 100 words how to make toast," he told the IAPI during the Advertising Effectiveness Awards.

But Rushdie did snag freelance copywriter gigs for a decade at Charles Barker and Ogilvy & Mather, creating the tagline "That'll do nicely" for American Express and "Irresistibubble" for Aero bars, according to Digiday.

Rushdie also came up with Fresh Cream Cake's "Naughty but Nice" tag-line.

Rushdie also came up with Fresh Cream Cake's "Naughty but Nice" tag-line.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Before Frank Zappa became a successful musician, he recorded the track for a Luden's Cough Drop ad.

It has been describing as sounding "like someone hyperventilating into a kazoo," by Adweek, which was generous.

Listen to Frank Zappa's ad here:

Listen to Frank Zappa's ad here:

Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner

Before he found fame and fortune from Playboy, Hugh Hefner worked as a copywriter.

Hefner worked for the department store Carson, Pirie, Scott for $40 a week in 1950 and then as a promotion copywriter at Esquire for $60 a week in 1951.

When Hefner had a dispute with Esquire over a raise, he decided to quit and launch his own magazine. The original idea was for Playboy was a "sophisticated men's magazine," according to the HMH foundation.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

When 22-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald ended his service in the army, he wanted nothing more than to marry Zelda Sayre. The only catch was that she wouldn't say yes until he had enough money to support himself. So, Fitzgerald took a job at Barron Collier, where he wrote slogans for $35 a week. He planned to make a fortune in the ad business.

"I was a failure — mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer. Hating the city, I got roaring, weeping drunk on my last penny and went home,” Fitzgerald later wrote.

At home, Fitzgerald reworked his college-written novel for a third time, releasing "This Side of Paradise" in 1920. The book was an instant success and Fitzgerald and Sayre married soon afterwards.

Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark

The bestselling author worked as a secretary for the head of the creative department at Remington-Rand after graduating from Wood Secretarial School.

After starting work as a secretary in the ad firm, Higgins Clark decided she wanted to do more. "The was a sense of electricity in the air," Higgings Clark said according to Linda De Roche's biography of the writer. "I wanted to be part of it."

So, Clark enrolled on night classes in advertising. Her boss noticed her talent and asked her to help write copy with another soon-to-be literary legend, Joseph Heller. Higgins Clark also modeled for the agency with then-unknown Grace Kelly, according to Yahoo. She stayed in the ad industry for three years, according to her website.

Jim Henson

Jim Henson

Before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show took off, Jim Henson was hired to make commercials for Wilkins Coffee, according to Adweek. They starred puppets named Willkins and Wontkins and used mock violence to peddle the product.

Henson also produced ads for Wilson's Meat and Pak-Nit fabrics.

Here's an example of Henson's campaigns for Wilkins Coffee.

Here's an example of Henson's campaigns for Wilkins Coffee.

Watch the full commercial here.

John Hughes

John Hughes

Before he directed film classics like "Home Alone" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," John Hughes worked at Needham, Harper & Steers. He moved to Leo Burnett Chicago during the 1970s as a copywriter, according to Chicago Portraits.

Hughes worked on the KFC account. He was "always coming up with some wild, offbeat ways to creatively promote the Colonel's chicken," art director Robert Birkenes said, according to AdAge.

Hughes also worked on the iconic Edge "Credit Card Shaving Test" spot.

Here's the famous Edge shaving commercial:

Here's the famous Edge shaving commercial:

Watch the full commercial here.

Tim Allen

Tim Allen

Tim Allen's spell in the in-house advertising department of a a sporting goods store was cut short after his side-business landed him in trouble.

Allen was caught with almost a pound-and-a-half of cocaine at a Michigan airport in 1978, according to Biography.com. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, but only served 28 months.

In prison, Allen is said to have developed his sense of humor and later launched a successful career in comedy.

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss

From 1927 through the 1940s, Dr. Seuss — then known as Theodore Seuss Geisel — worked as an ad man.

It's easy to see the similarities between Seuss' ads for Ford, NBC, GE, Flit, and Standard Oil in his later works.

Dr. Seuss did the illustrations for beer ads:

Dr. Seuss did the illustrations for beer ads:

Martin Amis

Martin Amis

Novelist Martin Amis briefly worked at J. Walter Thompson. However, he quit after just a week, after being offered work at the Times Literary Supplement. In total, he worked at the ad firm for three weeks. Amis wrote in his autobiography:

"The ad world used to be something of a refuge for literary types. But I feared for myself at JWT. It seemed to be entirely peopled by blocked dramatists, likeably shambling poets, and one-off novelists. The whole place felt like a clubworld sunset home for literary talent."

James Patterson

James Patterson

The thriller writer spent his early career as a building a name in the ad world.

Patterson worked at J. Walter Thompson and rose from copywriter to become the agency's youngest creative director, and was eventually CEO of JWT North America.

He also came up with famous ad slogans including "I'm a Toys 'R' Us Kid."

Patterson's Toys 'R' Us slogan was used in this ad from the '80s.

Patterson's Toys 'R' Us slogan was used in this ad from the '80s.

See the full ad here.

Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart

Early in his career, Bob Newhart was desperate to break out of accounting and into the world of comedy, according to The LA Times.

He became a copywriter in 1958 in Chicago. While at the independent firm Fred A. Niles he made prank phone calls, which he then sent into radio stations as audition tapes.

The next year, radio DJ Dan Sorkin introduced him to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Newhart was quickly signed.

Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan

Comedian Jim Gaffigan worked as a copywriter at Oglivy & Mather. He even has a LinkedIn page to prove it. Gaffigan was interviewed about his time as an ad man by Adweek. He said:

"I used to write a [New York Times] print ad every Friday for American Express ... It was, you know, humor-motivated ... And then they woke me up to fire me, because I was doing stand-up at night, and I was so tired [laughs]. No, I learned a lot from working in advertising about word economy and trying to get to the heart of the matter. I think it definitely informed my stand-up."

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Gurley Brown might be best known for being the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan, but she started out as a secretary at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, according to The New York Times.

She continued working as a secretary while taking on duties as a copywriter for three years, working on Sunkist and Catalina swimsuits. After this, Brown joined Kenyon & Eckhardt.

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller

Before he wrote Catch 22, Joseph Heller worked in the advertising department of Remington-Rand, a typewriter company.

Heller even planned the novel on the Kardex note-cards from the office where he worked as a copywriter, according to James Nagel's critical essay on the author.

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