Fred Levinson was born in Yonkers, New York, and after graduating Syracuse University, along with friend and business partner Bob Bean, began experimenting with stop-motion animation and was hired to create animated spots for the Sid Caesar Show and George Gobel Show. Levinson and Bean founded Wylde Films and, after providing animation for television shows for several years, began receiving orders from several New York advertising agencies to create animation for commercial accounts. Their early commercial spots included Transfilm-Caravel, Time Magazine, Exxon Oil, and Pepsi-Cola. Although initially starting out as a cartoonist and animator, Levinson was asked to direct live-action commercials spots for Transfilm and continued in that medium for the rest of his career.
From the 1960s and into the 90s, Levinson worked for some of the largest and most prominent advertising agencies in New York including Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO), Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), Grey Advertising, and Ted Bates, Inc. Through both the East and West Coast offices of his Wylde Films, Levinson directed such innovative and notable commercials as Hertz Rental Cars’ O.J. Simpson spots, Chrysler spots featuring owner Lee Iacocca and singer Frank Sinatra, McDonalds’ “You deserve a break today,” AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone,” Virginia Slims’ “You’ve come a long way baby,” as well as spots for Purina Dog Food, Marlboro and Coca-Cola.
Levinson, who believes he may have shot as many as 150 commercials in a single year, has several other notable accomplishments under his belt in addition to his commercial directing. In the 1950s he was part of a group that designed the iconic colorful NBC Peacock logo and in 1984 he directed the Republican Convention film, A New Beginning, for Ronald Reagan. The success of that project led to Levinson being the lead director on several of Ronald Reagan’s successful re-election campaign spots, most notably, “Morning in America.” While primarily known as a commercial director who has won numerous Clio advertising awards, Levinson directed a feature film in 1971, the political satire Hail to the Chief, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.