After Aaron Cushman’s first year at the University of Illinois, he found himself taking time off from his education to serve in the Air Force during World War II. Following three years of military service, Cushman returned to school and finished his degree in 1947 in the division of special services, a special program created for war veterans.
Cushman’s first job after college was publicity director at the Oriental Theater in Chicago.
“Between 1947 and 1950 is where I cut my teeth in the public relations business. That was my break in period and that’s was where I learned the business,” Cushman said. “I worked for almost every great Hollywood television, stage, and theater personality that there was.”
Cushman had the pleasure of working with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Sarah Vaughan, among other performers.
In 1950, Cushman was recalled to the Air Force to serve in Korea. He flew bombers just as he did during World War II. Cushman also worked with Strategic Air Command and was personal press attaché to General Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of Strategic Air Command.
“I had the opportunity to escort some very famous people on tours of bases. One of them was Edward R. Murrow, a famous CBS broadcaster and another one was Margaret Bourke-White, the great Life magazine photographer.”
Cushman also accompanied Arthur Godfrey, a big television personality of that day at the military base.
“March of ‘52 I came back from Korea, and I went into business and started Aaron Cushman and Associates Public Relations in Chicago.” Cushman’s first account was a presidential campaign for Dwight Eisenhower. He also had the opportunity to work for President Harry Truman and Mayor Richard Daley, among other politicians.
Cushman represented some of the largest companies in the United States including Motorola, Chrysler, Keebler Cookies, 7-UP, Orange Crush, and Marriott. He also had the opportunity to meet with several world leaders when he represented entire countries for tourism including Mexico, Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Singapore, and the Cayman Islands.
Soon he broke into the world of sports.
“In 1959, I got a telephone call from Bill Veeck, who was the owner of the Chicago White Sox,” Cushman said.
Veeck hired Cushman’s company to represent the White Sox and they continued to work together for about 25 years.
“In 1975, after being their PR representative for so long, I decided to buy a piece of ownership. So I became a partner and an owner of the Chicago White Sox.”
Cushman continued to impact the world of sports.
“I was the guy who brought professional men’s tennis to Chicago.”
Cushman organized World Championship Tennis in Chicago and conducted tournaments for ten years.
“Cushman and Associates became the tenth largest independent public relations agency in the United States, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, and St. Louis, plus our Chicago headquarters,” said Cushman. He worked hard to make sure he hired innovative employees. “Creativity is the backbone of public relations.”
He was also the past president of the Chicago Publicity Club, the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, and world president of Public Relations Organization International. Cushman serves as a member of the National Advisory Board for the University of Illinois’ College of Media.
Cushman has been retired since 1997 and now speaks to different universities and businesses about public relations.
When Cushman was in school, he said “There was no such thing as public relations. There were no classes, there were no seminars, there were no textbooks. There was nothing about public relations.”
He published his first book “A Passion for Winning” in 2004 and is working on publishing a second book called “Truth is No Longer Fashionable.”
“Everybody lies in the media and that’s the gist of what the book is about,” said Cushman.
Cushman summarizes his career as follows, “show business, politics, sports, the corporate field, the military, and the last of my careers is family.”
By Betsy Drazner ’12 JOURN
Published Spring 2011