L. Potamkin; Pitched Husband's Cadillacs

Posted: April 07, 1994

Luba Potamkin, 71, the stylish and sexy pitchwoman who was so successful at selling luxury cars for her husband's new-car agency in the 1970s that she became known as "The Cadillac Woman," died yesterday of Alzheimer's disease at her home in Miami Beach.

Auto magnate Victor Potamkin once said he chose her to be the agency's spokeswoman because she was classy, mature and professional.

Philadelphia Magazine named her one of the 10 sexiest women in the city in 1975. She was 53 at the time and already twice a grandmother.

Mrs. Potamkin, who was blond, blue-eyed, slender and lithe, made light of the title. "I'm just a genius at makeup," she told a reporter. The reporter had a different reaction: "Nonsense. She's a knockout."

She was chosen to be the TV pitchwoman for Cadillac because models provided by an agency "looked like they belonged in a Corvette or a Volkswagen," Victor Potamkin said at the time. "A Cadillac needs a woman 40, 50, 60 years old."

She agreed that her ads were slightly sexy. She also said she chose some old "schleppy" thing to wear on camera beause she didn't want to wear a

dress so pretty that viewers would admire it and not look at her.

"But don't think Vic uses me on the commercials just 'cause I'm sexy," she said. "You know why he loves my doing them? He doesn't have to pay me!"

But that's not what family members thought. They credited her stylish looks, screen presence and sales pizazz for booming Cadillac sales and recruited her to do the commercials for Potamkin dealerships in Pennsylvania and Florida.

In interviews, Mrs. Potamkin always took a back seat to her husband, who had built thriving dealerships in Philadelphia and then turned a failed Cadillac agency in New York City into the world's largest.

"Mrs. Victor Potamkin is the important woman," she told a reporter in 1978. "As Luba Potamkin, I'm nothing."

Both Mrs. Potamkin - formerly Luba Chaiken - and her husband were born and raised in Philadelphia. She was a model and they met after the daughter of a friend showed her picture to Potamkin. Later, the couple could never agree whether the picture was taken for the Home Show or for a Gimbel's ad.

He was smitten and invited her to dinner. Six months later, they married. She gave up modeling and devoted her life to him and their sons, Robert and Alan.

"I fell in love the moment I saw him," she said in 1978.

She never regretted devoting her life to her family, she said.

"It's a different world today. Girls have a fight with their husband and they leave them. Years ago, if you had a fight, you worked it out. You would be mad at your husband but 'I still love him,' you would say."

After her husband made a success of the car business, they had homes in New York, Bala Cynwyd and Miami, and she kept busy furnishing and decorating them with family mementoes and with the African primitive art she collected for more than 40 years.

She served on the boards of the Pennsylvania Ballet and Lincoln Center and arranged for the American tour of the Bolshoi Ballet in 1964, her husband said.

The City of Hope charity made her its Woman of the Year in 1979.

Ten years later, the family established the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer's Research in her honor. The prize is a $100,000 stipend to a person or organization chosen by the American Academy of Neurology as most responsible for major advancement in research in Alzheimer's disease.

She is survived by her husband and sons, a sister, a brother and three grandchildren.

Services and burial will be held tomorrow at 2:15 p.m. at Lakeside Memorial Park in Miami.

Contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 919 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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