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Meet Kittay House Tenant Emily Holtzer: Advertising Pioneer

Emily Holtzer, 87, is one of the newest tenants at Kittay House Senior Apartments. She’s approaching this new phase of her life with the same indomitable spirit and energy that fueled her career triumphs in the art world.


In 1943, while much of the male-dominated workforce was being drafted to serve the United States overseas, a feisty Emily took the opportunity to break into a field where women rarely worked. At 17, she used her high school artwork to create a graphic design portfolio and applied for a job at one of the premiere advertising agencies at the time, Foote Cone and Belding.


Impressing the powers-that-be, Emily was hired as the only woman to be a “board-man.” She worked in the agency’s bull pen, creating newspaper-ready layouts of advertisements for the major movie studios, including MGM, Paramount, Columbia, and RKO. Although she was often sabotaged by her male peers, the senior art director saw her talent and promoted her to associate art director. This was a first-time role for a woman at the agency, and further infuriated the men in her department.


After taking a hiatus from the industry to marry and raise her three children in suburban Long Island, Emily returned to the advertising world in the 1970s as art director at the prestigious J. Walter Thompson, then the fourth-largest ad agency in the world. She was responsible for the 20th Century Fox Studios account until her retirement.


This sharp-as-a-tack octogenarian walks almost four miles every day, takes public transportation to the Upper West Side to visit her son and pursues her interest in the arts with visits to Museum of Modern Art twice a month.
Her Kittay apartment features book-lined shelves, walls adorned with her own artwork and a prominently placed second place award in the 13th Annual Staten Island Poetry Festival for Seniors, which she recently won.


Emily says, “I feel good at Kittay. As someone who oversaw a lot of staff in my day, I appreciate the staff here and how they treat us as individuals.”