By our account, Dr. Jonathan Zizmor is probably one of the hundred most recognizable New Yorkers. His face is plastered across one out of every five subway cars behind a rainbow background that immediately catches your eye while commuting around town. He is former Chief of Dermatology at St. Vincent’s Hospital, has authored eight books on skin care and was once named one of the ten best doctors in America by Harper's Bazaar.

We visited Dr. Zizmor at his offices on the east side, right next to Dylan's Candy Bar. He shared with us why he's learned not to ask questions about where tattoos came from, what subway advertising was like thirty years ago and how just one commercial shot on a hand-held camera has made him as iconic of a New Yorker as Frank Perdue or Tom Carvel. We were also joined by his wife, Alexandra Zizmor, who helps pull the strings in marketing the man that New Yorkers have been saying, "Thank you, Dr. Zizmor!" to for over thirty years.

Do you guys ride the subway at all? I ride the subway all the time. And when I ride the subway, I never see my poster. Like, let's say when I want to show my wife the new poster and they say it's in one out of every five cars. And car after car after car, it's not there. I mean, I have people working who tell me it's there. I see them occasionally, but really just occasionally. When I see the posters, no one recognizes me. But I try not to sit under the poster. AZ: They would notice that's he's relatively older. Dr. Z: It's a 25-year-old picture. It's hard to do transparency, the color always comes out wrong. So that's why we use a 25-year-old picture.

Have you seen the parody Snickers ad? Someone in me synagogue told me there was a take-off on me. And then I saw it and at first I thought, "Feedzmore? I don't know." But I feel honored, it's a tribute.

Do you have any favorite subway ads over the years? There was a guy who did an ad for braces. It was a long one and he told in that ad everything you wanted to know about braces. And they showed four or five panels and it really explained to you how braces worked. It ran for a really long time. I thought it was a great ad.

You said you don't get spotted underneath your ads, but do you ever get recognized? Oh sure, in the supermarket or when I use a credit card people recognize. Probably once every two or three days if I'm walking around.

Did you grow up in New York? Yes, born and raised in New York.

What part of the city? I was raised on the West Side of New York, but that was before the West Side was good. I was at 99th and West End. You couldn't walk from West End to Broadway without something bad happening to you. It was like West Side Story. So now when I go the West Side of course it's yuppified. The last 20, 30 years, it all started with the Lincoln Center. It took 30 years to build it up, but it really was unwalkable 25 years ago.

What made you decide to go into dermatology? I went to Einstein and in the fourth year I had a good teacher, a good guy who taught me dermatology and that gave me the inspiration.

When you started you weren't sure of the direction? When I started medical school? Absolutely not. Most people when they start medical school say, "Oh I want to be an opthamologist," but they don't know what it is to be an opthamologist. I liked it. It was interesting. You can see what's going on, you don't have to say, "Come back for your blood test." Dermatology is one of those fields where you can really get people better. Most fields, people have to come back, like with arthritis, you can never cure, but we have many diseases for which you can cure which is amazing.

Did you have good skin/bad skin growing up? I had good skin, so it wasn't that. No one ever asks me that question. Also, my father had several brothers who were doctors in other fields and they would say, "Why don't you do this, why don't you do that?" But I had that great teacher in dermatology.

You've been on your own now for 30 years? Thirty-six years. I started in 1973. After I took my boards, I trained at NYU which is a really good place to train.

How has the business changed over that time? A lot of new treatments. One thing about dermatology is every year there's new stuff going on. Lasers, for example. There were no good chemical peels and now they have chemical peels that are great for discoloration and now they have medicines that cure acne, that's the major thing. If you come in, you can really cure it. Before it wasn't curable.

When were those introduced? The acne pill was introduced thirty years ago. Every year there's a new laser. In my practice though, I really focus on what works. A lot of new stuff, you read about it in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar and it really doesn't work well. So we try to use lasers that really work. Like there's lasers for tattoo removal that work really well.

Yeah, how big has the tattoo business gotten? I would imagine that's a cash cow. Well, first of all there was no laser for it thirty years ago. And about twenty years ago lasers started coming in for it. In the beginning, all you got were people who were 45-years-old who wanted to take off a tattoo off for their job. Now we get a lot of people who are 25, who want to take a tattoo off because they did it ten years ago. And we also get a lot of parents who bring in their kids. A mother drags in a 16-year-old kid and says, "Take it off, now!" And the kid is scared and also we tell the mother it's going to hurt a little and she says, "I don't care, just do it!" AZ:: It's funny, tattoos are really big with young girls. Dr. Z: Let's say you have a tattoo. If you come in and say take it off in one time, it doesn't make a difference on the size. You have to come in multiple times so it goes away. Sometimes on certain colors it doesn't work well.

I had a friend who got hers removed for free in Los Angeles, I think it was a program started for ex-gang members. Yeah, in jails. They still have that now. Some jails have programs for that. Usually jailhouse tattoos are easier to take off. Amateur tattoos are much easier to take off than professional tattoos. And tattoos that are black that are amateurs are the easiest to take off, they usually aren't that deep. I see a lot of those.

Are there any tattoos in your mind that stick out? Honestly, no. But I've also learned not to ask how they got their tattoos. When I was starting out I would say, "Oh, how'd you get that?" And a girl would say, "Oh, it was terrible. My ex-boyfriend..." and they start crying so I've learned to not ask.

I feel like you would be up on the tattoo trends, like the Asian characters. Still a lot of Asian characters. With tattoos, people come in and say, "Doc, I know you haven't heard this before but I have this tattoo and I want to get rid of just the name," or "This is going to be a strange request, you've probably never heard it before, but just the name." I get that a lot. And then they come back three years later and they want to take the name off again—a different name. Men and women both. The same thing. A long time ago, I've written a whole bunch of books, but a long time ago I wanted to write a book about all the different tattoos but I never did. And the story behind them. I've seen people who, a lot of Russian immigrants, people who did jail tattoos in Siberia, very interesting stories.

I'm sure someone would love to put together a book if you knew a photographer. It would be easy, it's just stories. AZ: Yeah, except that I'm not allowing him to write any more books. Cause he's written like ten books. So he's not allowed. He works like a dog, he's still working like a dog. Dr. Z: I was one of the first people to write books like this. I wanted to write a book with something new in it. Most of the books, all the stuff is the same, boring stuff.

That's why I think the tattoo book, you can get him attached to it with little commitment. High return, low commitment. AZ: You're going to be in so much trouble. You're such a troublemaker. Dr. Z: You want to write it? It's a very good idea, maybe we'll write it. It's an easy book and very intersting book.

So how long after you started your own practice did you start advertising While I was studying for my boards, I wrote a book called "Super Skin" which was successful. So I had a good practice. But thirty years ago, I started advertising on the subways.

Would you say at first it was a lot less than what we see now? In those days, they allowed you to do every car and it was not so expensive. So there were about 5,300 cars in the subway they allowed you all of them when you bought the space. They didn't know anything about every fifth car, it was either you buy it or you didn't buy it. The whole subway you bought.

Were doctors ads as common back then? There were none, there were no doctors ads. Why did I do it? In those days, dermatology was very exclusive, chic, chic. Most people, different ethnicity groups didn't even know there were dermatologists. I felt I wanted to open it up, treat people of all demographics and so on. And I really started doing that, from the very rich to the poor, black, white, whatever. So I was the only one on the subway for about 25 years. AZ: And people didn't like it. Dr. Z: I got a lot of heat. AZ: Cause you think about doctors, it's like the academia. Doctors weren't even in the yellow pages. So here this guy comes along and he's like advertising on the subway. Meanwhile how many doctors do you now see? It's like crazy. He was the forefront guy. Dr. Z: The only one, the only one. If I didn't have the background, I wouldn't have had the guts to do it. I would have gotten a lot more heat.

I would imagine people would think of it the same way as law ads. There were no law ads. Law ads only came out after, there was a Supreme Court decision about two years after my ads came out because lawyers couldn't advertise. They had take-ones, ads with a little thing you could pull off. There were a lot of schools advertising and a lot of individual people because it was less expensive. Then about five years later the MTA decided the cars were dirty because of the take-ones so they eliminated them. But it was a totally different crowd of advertisers fifteen years ago. More local, you didn't see companies taking a whole car like Snickers.

And how quickly did you see the business grow because of it? Well, it made a difference pretty quickly. And I didn't think in the beginning that it would make a difference because it was kind of an act of faith that someone would sit on the subway and remember your number. But people do.

Do you keep numbers on how many people come through first hearing of you on the subway? Now most of the people do not come from the subways. We have patients who come back, let's say I treated them ten years ago for something and they come back with another condition. That's number one. Number two is these people refer people. And number three is multigenerational. I treat a mother thirty years ago for acne and then she brings in a kid with acne which makes you feel old. And we sometimes ask people where from and subway is not such a big percentage.

So what makes you keep doing it? Well I keep doing it because it works and people think I'm not in practice anymore if I'm not in the subways. And it reinforces cause subway ads, you saw someone ten years ago, it reinforces. But we're not in it as much. AZ: The other issue is, there's a brand of something. There's a brand that's built after years. It's Dr. Zizmor, the subway doctor.

I first knew you when I was a kid from the TV commercials. Those first started two or three years after the subway ones. In the beginning, we literally made our own commercials with hand-held cameras. The ones you know, the iconic commercials, "Thank you, Dr. Zizmor," those we ran for 25 years, the same commerical and they still worked. That's why you know them. "Hi, I'm Monica... "

Elizabeth Machado. See, you remember!

I watched it again so it was fresh. But once I heard it, it was like seeing an old friend. And Elizabeth Machado, she still exists. She's a grandmother now. I haven't seen her but I think some magazine did a story on her, she's a grandmother. They are all on YouTube. One's in Japanese, that wasn't me. Someone must have knocked it off in Japanese.

I used to see those during wresting and American Gladiators all the time. AZ: We're actually coming out with a new commercial. It's a surprise. I think it may be his best commerical. A guy who helped us work on it, Ben Coonley, teaches at Princeton, he's brilliant. They used Jonathan at the New York Underground Film Festival to open it. They called him and said, "Hey, we're going to use you." Dr. Z: Ben Coonley is like the maven of the world of computerized things. He did that festival commercial mainly with the poster. And we thought, "Wow." AZ: We were thinking, "Wow, this is so brililant." And it's cost-effective. We're not spending like a ton. So we called Ben, he came in, we worked again primarily off the poster. You'll see the commercial is a lot of just still shots. Have you ever seen Clutch Cargo? The cartoonish talking of the lips.

Like with Conan? He would do skits where he'd interview Arnold Schwarzenegger and someone else would do the mouth. Yeah, like that. This new one also has a great message. It talks about the economy is down and we're the only one's to offer certain things, like zero interest for twelve months. And it has my wife in it. And the people who work here are in it too.

I was reading the interview of the two of you in The New Yorker years ago, after you had moved to Riverdale. You guys talked about wanting to have dinner parties, meeting of the minds or something along those lines. Has that happened? AZ: He talks about the parties, but I'm the one who organizes them. In the Jewish world we have access to a lot of wonderful, scholarly rabbis, big people and also in the non-Jewish world. I do a lot fundraising. My husband, I can gush about him, is highly philanthropic. Through the years we've given a lot, set up a scholarship fund at the university. I also believe that's part of his success because he does give back to the community and people don't know that about him. We decided that you know, through the grace of God, we both don't really come from much, but we have this beautiful home and we can use it. We've done fundraising for the Guardian Angels. We're friends with Curtis Sliwa.

I was reading the piece in the Times about you where they compared you to the ad in Gatsby with the eyes looking on New Yorkers. Are there any New Yorkers in movies, characters in books that you would see yourself representing? Well all the time, this is going to sound weird. But if they are making a movie in New York, they call us cause they are doing it in the subway and they want permission to show my sign. Maybe for thirty seconds. I always tell them to send us tickets, but they never send us tickets to the openings.

Do you have any favorite spots around town? I'm kosher, so it's limited. But there's a place on 46th, Le Marais, it's a kosher steakhouse. But I like Starbucks too. I'm their best customer. Do you have a Starbucks Members card? They're a great deal!

Are there any New Yorkers you most admire? I admire Bloomberg, I think he's done a great job. He's really smart and he's not doing it so he can make money later on like a lot of politicians, he's really doing it as a service. I wouldn't want to be mayor of the city. Also, Curtis. He's not doing it for money.

I try to take the subway two to three times a week just to see what's going on. On the subways you can eat on the floor, it's that clean. And they have entertainment now. The subway museum is really interesting. In Brooklyn they have these old trains.

I love the Red Birds. I love those. The red cars. The New York Times interviewed me when they were throwing them into the water to be reefs, how I felt about the red birds being thrown into the water. They asked me. That's really the truth. Meanwhile they were not successful. It didn't work. They are going to take them out of the water because they don't work as reefs.

Do you have any only in New York experiences? When I walk on the streets of New York, when I just go a block, there's always something new. You hit a store you've never seen before. That's the thing, the newness. The regeneration. Also, skating in Wollman Rink. That's beautiful.