TV commercial casting director Merrill Jonas died Thursday at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, Calif. after a long illness. She was 96.
Starting out as an actress, Jonas rose to head of the casting department at Ogilvy and Mather in New York, where she led a six-person team that cast more than 100 commercials. The celebrity talent included Patricia Neal, Karl Malden, Anna-Maria Alberghetti, Arthur Ashe, Sonny & Cher and Ravi Shankar.
While working as director of the commercial department at talent agency CMA in New York, she cast talent including Jackie Gleason, Rod Serling, Florence Henderson and Mel Brooks.
Her agency Celebrity Casting Associates made deals for NBC’s Frank Blair, Phyllis Newman, Peter Duchin, Pete Rose and Dan Pastorini.
As an actress and on-camera spokeswoman, Jonas appeared in commercials during the 1950s and 1960s for products including Anacin, M&Ms, Tide, Lipton Tea and many others.
She also appeared in TV series including CBS TV’s “Suspense,” CBS TV’s Dupont Show of the Month – “Body and Soul” and ABC’s “Naked City.”
Raised in Boston, she joined the U.S. Women Marines during WWII and then started out on CBS Radio’s music quiz show “Grand Slam.”
In the 1950s, Jonas worked in public relations, joining Radio Free Europe and traveling to Europe for the Crusade for Freedom project launched by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. She represented Radio Free Europe to TV writers, producers, directors and talent on “The Perry Como Show,” “Today,” “Home” starring Arlene Francis, “Tonight,” “What’s My Line,” “Armstrong Circle Theatre,” Jack Paar, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Steve Allen, “Studio One,” “Monitor,” Art Linkletter and “To Tell the Truth.”
She is survived by a daughter and son, Gail Carol Glaser and Garrett Neal Glaser, and a grandson, Bennett Joseph Fischer.