Monday, October 24, 2016
  • Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016
Noted Commercial Director Michael Ulick Dies at 78
Michael Ulick
  • --

Michael Ulick, the former ad agency producer and creative who built a highly successful career as a commercial director before branching out into publishing and running an art gallery specializing in folk art and outsider art, passed away in Lenox, Massachusetts on July 23, 2016. He was 78 years old. The cause of death was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, which he battled for the past 16 years.

Born in Woodmere, New York, Ulick grew up on Long Island and entered the ad industry initially working as a producer. He was hired by the legendary Steve Frankfurt, who at the time was running the art and production department and Young & Rubicam, as one of team of producers that went on to produce many top commercial directing talents, including Stan Dragoti, Dominick Rossetti, Ed Bianchi and Jerry Andreozzi, among others.

While at Y&R Ulick segued into a creative role, working as both an art director and producer. He then joined Wells Rich Greene, the agency launched by the legendary advertising executive Mary Wells Lawrence. He eventually left the agency side of the business to join Rick Levine Productions, where he launched his career as a full-time commercial director.

Ulick then went out on his own, partnering with Executive Producer Frank Stiefel to launch Michael Ulick Productions. In the mid-1980s the company merged with Geoffrey Mayo Films to become Ulick Mayo Productions, which went on to produce countless TV commercials and launched a number of successful careers for the directors and producers on its staff.

Ulick worked steadily in the film industry throughout the 1990s, joining the roster of Slavin Schaffer Productions, the production house founded by noted photographer and documentary director Neal Slavin, before his career transitioned into the pursuit of his lifelong creative passions for art and photography.

With the illustrator Will Guy, Ulick penned the children’s book “Romeo the Rhino’s Rocky Romance: A Cautionary Tale about Differences,” which highlighted ways that kids could deal with difficult social issues. Always interested in connecting with human stories and emotions, Ulick branched out into directing narrative films with his short “Memorial Day,” a photographic study of how a small town on Long Island commemorates the holiday. In a 1983 interview with The New York Times, the director described it as being “non-political and non-nationalistic,” more an effort to capture a moment in time before it disappears entirely.

Ulick also worked to develop a presence in motion pictures. His 1988 feature “Rocket Gibraltar,” which he produced with partners Bob Fisher and Geoffrey Mayo, was directed by Daniel Petrie and starred Burt Lancaster, as well as such young and undiscovered talents as Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Spacey, Bill Pullman and Macaulay Culkin.

As an advertising director, Ulick was known for his work with actors and was at the height of his career one of the top performance and dialogue directors in the industry. He regularly worked on big-budget campaigns at a time when Madison Avenue agencies ruled the ad industry. This included work for such brands as IBM, Miller Lite, Audi, Subaru, Mobil, Stroh’s and many others. He directed the first-ever broadcast TV commercial for condoms in the US, for Lifestyles out of Della Femina, Travisano & Partners, which won a Bronze Lion in Cannes.

While perceived during his directing days as a taskmaster who freely shared his comments and criticisms, Ulick was in private a soft-spoken, caring and sensitive man possessed of a wicked sense of humor and an enduring interest in deepening the level of human contact with whomever he spent time.

A regular summer denizen of the Hamptons, Ulick and his family (which often included one of his beloved Jack Russell terriers) switched gears and relocated from New York to the Berkshires as the new millennium arrived. While he continued to direct, he devoted much of his time to dealing and collecting art, and the Church Street Gallery he founded with his wife Denise in Lenox was known for its offerings of the work of outsider artists and folk art. An accomplished photographer himself, his images were exhibited in galleries on their own, and were an important part of his self-expression as well as a source of inspiration.

In addition to his wife, he’s survived by a son, Edward, of Los Angeles.