Crazy Eddie's prices were as 'insane" as his commercials. His business practices ultimately were criminal.
In the end, Eddie's cousin, Sam Antar, blew the whistle, but not before "Crazy Eddie" in the persona of a rapid-fire, arm-waving pitchman, the Harold Hill of electronics, had become an American advertising icon and household name.
Sam Antar will be the keynote speaker Wednesday night at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Chamber's first-annual paid-members dinner. The event, from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Carlyle at the Palace is free to paid members and open to the public at $35 a plate.
Perhaps even more amazing, is Plainview's connection to that legendary advertising campaign from 1974 to 1983. It was spearheaded by Plainview's Larry Weiss, now a board member of the Plainview Chamber who, from 1974 to 1983, was advertising director for the electronics superstore. In that time frame, Weiss helped produce some 3,500 radio and TV spots that blanketed the New York Metropolitan area's airwaves.
"We didn't really care for the conventions," said Weiss, who came out of a radio background and grew up a avid fan of Mad Magazine. "We were just having a good time. We found that people would come in because we told them to."
And come they did. The pitch was delivered at warp speed, outrageous and unflinching: "Shop around. Get the best prices you can find. Then go to Crazy Eddie and he'll beat it!" said Eddie's TV persona, an actor named Jerry Carrol.
He'd finish, screaming, with "Crazy Eddie's Prices are Insaaaaane!"
"We had groupies," said Weiss, adding that many customers were surprised to learn that Carrol was not actually Crazy Eddie. "It became the hippest places to shop. The stars would shop at the Manhattan store."
The campaign was parodied by Saturday Night Live and copied by numerous local pitchmen in media markets all over the country. A series of the commercials and the SNL parody can be seen on Antar's website here.
But the insanity met its demise in the cold reality of scandal.
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Sam Antar is a convicted felon who became ensnared in the massive "Crazy Eddie" fraud case beginning in the late 1980s. Antar was hired by cousin Eddie as the firm's chief financial officer. His job was to cook the books and at a time when the firm's stock was going public.
In the process, the Antar family earned $90 million in proceeds by defrauding investors, selling Crazy Eddie stock at inflated values. Millions of dollars skimmed out of cash registers were uncovered in secret foreign bank accounts. Eddie fled the country but was eventually captured in Israel. He served 8 years in a U.S. federal prison.
Sam Antar, who was the chief prosecution witness in the criminal trial against his family, will tell Plainview Chamber Wednesday night about the shell-game accounting that ultimately brought down his cousin's business.
These days, Sam Antar is a crusader against corporate fraud and advises law enforcement authorities on spotting white collar crime.
As for Weiss, he's grateful he left Eddie's empire long before the Antars took the company public and committed securities fraud, but he can't help fondly remembering the advertising campaign of a lifetime.
"We were all a bunch of kids," Weiss said. "We were just goofing around and we didn't care what people thought."
To see a documentary about Crazy Eddie's rise and fall, click here.
To see one of the early commercials produced by Weiss, click here.
For a compilation of some of the funniest commercials, click here.