Brushing the bangs from her freckled face, she counts the daisy petals in her child's voice, "three . . . four . . . five . . . seven . . . six . . .
Her voice then dissolves into a technician's cold countdown and the little girl in the daisy field disappears in a flash and a mushsroom cloud.
Over the sound of the rumbling atomic explosion comes Lyndon Johnson's voice: "We must either learn to love one another or we must die."
And with that, viewers of the Sept. 7, 1964 NBC Monday Night movie a return of Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward in "David and Bathsheba," had witnessed "the breakthrough political commercial," according to media critic and film archivist James Hall.
"The Daisy Girl spot had everything," says Hall. "It introduced soophisticated film technique, psychological scare tactics, symbolism. It was a production so subtle that Barry Goldwater was never mentioned yet it was clear he was the man who was going to vaporize this little girl who was so cute she couldn't even count."
Hall has pieced together a 50-year retrospective of political commercials called "Promise Them Anything," and Wednesday screened the film at the International Platform Association's convention at the Hyatt Regency. The film traces the evolution of political spots from their days as entertaining. Sometimes animated presentations to the more dramatic, sophisticated and expensive productions of recent years.
Beginning with a 1908 spoof of the Republican convention with slapstick delegates bopping each other's top hats, the film follows through to Jimmy Carter running his hands over a conveyor belt full of peanuts, with the voice-over: "This presidential candidate is not a Washington politician."
"Most commercials are junk," Hall says. "Advertising is socially sanctioned lying, and combined with politics, which is institutionalized lying, you get 'Promise Them Anything.'"
But, Hall says, political commercials are an art, "the art nobody knows."
The evolution of televison as a political weapon is evident in Hall's film, which shows a 1960 "talking head" Richard Nixon posed in his office proclaiming "the only answer to communism is a masisve offensive of freedon."
Eight years later comes a flashy Nixon spot produced by Eugene Jones (ironicaly a liberal McCarthy supporter) for $110,000. Still photographs of Hubert Humphrey juxtaposed with photos of the Vietnam war and impoverished Americans associated the incumbent vice president with all of the country's social ills. According to Hall the spot was aired during "Laugh-in" and most of the viewers thought it was part of the show.
"But it was the same Richard Nixon," says Hall of the two spots. "Eight years later we have the 'new Nixon' but it was just a new Nixon approach to the media."
Such art, says Hall, is not fully appreciated. "I do this as a service for the advertising men who view themselves as failed artists. They've all got a screenplay or a novel in the desk drawer. But there's too much talent there, it's bound to produce some truley fine little films."
At 26, the University of California Film School graduate is himself an advertising man who has quit his job to take the film on the nationwide lecture circuit in an effort to make enough money so he can take more time off to finish a novel. He is also a film critic for the Hollywood Reporter and produces sound tracks for television commercials.
Hall says that the 1980 campaign has yet to produce any true commercial classics, although he expects some to emerge after Labor Day."
"I can't show anything from the 1980 campaign because they're all too boring, and I feel I have an obligation not to bore my audience," says Hall. b
He said the campaign finance law and rising production costs have limited candidates to using "small-scale graphics" such as spots used by Sen. Herman Talmadge's opponents that symbolize Tamadge by showing hands exchanging money.
"They have these guys wearing trench coats," Hall says of the Georgia commercials. "It's so amateurish and childlike I'm afraid it's going to hurt them."
He also complained of the increase in "media boutiques" specializing in political campaigns, which had led to a sameness in political commercials even among bitter opponents.
However, he did enjoy the anti-Democratic Party commercials aired early this year which depicted a Tip O'Neill look-alike running out of gas as he drove along in his luxury automobile. "That was fun," says Hall. "We could use more of that good old-time rivalry."
Hall says he is a "media brat" who grew up on Tony the Tiger and Charlie the Tuna commercials in suburban Chicago, where his grandfather is a local newscaster and a close family friend created the Pillsbury Doughboy.
"I love commercials, they're a part of all our lives and there's good stuff there," says Hall. "The big problem is overestimating the impact they have on the voter consumers."
He says most media critics are too old to have grown up on television and that they are "doomsayers who underestimate the intelligence of the public.
"Nobody is going to cast a ballot based on a 30-second telespot alone," he says. "They'll find the substance behind it somewhere else, in newspapers, or talking to their friends or neighbors. It's like a Ford commercial that tells you the Ford is the greatest car around, but you still go to the showroom and kick the tires."
Hall went on to say commercials which aren't seen have some impact. The night Daisy Girl appeared Goldwater supporters flooded the television station switchboards with angry calls and Hall says, "Johnson's people got a little nervous and pulled it, but he had made his point because everybody was talking about it and everybody wrote their little articles about it."
And as Hall left the lobby of the Hyatt yesterday he offered a word of thanks to Washington and all its politicians.
"I come from California -- Hollywood," he said. "You people in Washington are great. You give us all this wonderful stuff for our plays and our movies. Drama. Scandal. Keep it up."