Pritikin was born to a Russian Jewish father and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and graduated from UCLA. He became a high-ranking executive at Young & Rubicam, then formed his own ad agency, Pritikin & Gibbons. For a period he taught at San Francisco State University.
In the 1970s he was Creative Director of Fletcher, Richards, Calkins & Holden Advertising Agency, responsible among other things for landmark Folgers Coffee television commercials. San Francisco author Armistead Maupin credits Pritikin's turning him down for a job as being responsible for Maupin's writing Tales of the City
In 1977 Pritikin opened the "Mansion Hotel", a bed and breakfast in Pacific Heights, where he would entertain guests with magic shows and musical performances. The hotel, consisting of two Queen Anne mansions connected by a hallway, was decorated eclectically with caged and uncaged birds (including a Macaw sometimes said to be the reincarnation of the house's original owner), pig memorabilia, life-sized stuffed dolls of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Richard Nixon's letter of resignation as United States President and Gerald Ford's letter of pardon, fresh flowers and candy in every room, a central music system that always played classical music, and a player piano that was supposedly played by "Claudia", a ghost. The hotel had a collection of sculptures in its yard.
Pritikin opened the hotel on election days as a local polling station, encouraging voters with music, an ice sculpture in the shape of an eagle, layer cake and caviar. In 2000 he sold the hotel, by then designated a city landmark, as private housing.
In 1981 Pritikin built a mansion for himself in the quiet residential neighborhood of Glen Park, San Francisco. The building, also known as "Chenery House", is the largest private property in the city, featuring a swimming pool inside a second story living room. The house was used for a period as a rental event center. Pritikin was notorious for throwing eccentric parties at the house, including political fundraisers, an annual Labor Day party for 850 people, and a yearly passover seder. His concluding "Last Supper Passover" was held as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society co-hosted by nominee 2008 Woman of the Year, Daphne Evans, a cancer survivor and founder of Heaven's Door Oncology, a cancer foundation. Pritkin is an avid classical musical saw performer, considered one of the world's greatest, often hosting performances. Frequent performers, other than Pritikin himself, have included Bob Weir and Ratdog, Carol Channing, and Tammy Faye Messner. Other guests over the years have ranged from Mickey Rooney to Liberace. In one event he bussed thirty guests to San Jose for dinner at the Wendy's that was the site of the infamous chili finger incident.
Pritikin is a collector of many things. His art collection is said to be worth at least $40 million. In 2007 he paid $100,000 for one of Hitler's Globes—a world globe that Adolf Hitler had used to plan submarine warfare from his Eagle's Nest compound in the Bavarian Alps, and was taken to California by an American soldier in 1945. In an interview, he claimed it would make a good counterpart to his Benny Bufano sculptures, which celebrated world peace. A replica of the globe was prominently featured in Valkyrie, the thriller about a real-life plot to assassinate Hitler, leading Pritikin to complain that it had been done without his permission.
In 2004 Pritikin offered to bequeath the mansion to the City of San Francisco for use as an official mayoral residence, but the city rejected his plans. In 2009 he announced plans to operate his home as a museum.Robert C. Pritikin (1980). Christ Was an Ad Man. A witty and wild testament on how to create the miracle ads. Harbor Pub., Distributed by Putnam in San Francisco, [New York, N.Y.] . Written in English. Classifications Dewey Decimal Class 659.1 Library of Congress HF5810.P73 A33 1980. an autobiography "He thinks big, spends small. His ads are sheer genius." -Advertising Age. .
Robert Pritikin (1991). Pritikin's Testament: Miracle Ads for Big & Small Advertisers, Retailers, and Entrepreneurs. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-585191-2.