If you’re a devotee of the series “Mad Men,” you know that one of the things that makes it so irresistible is the late 1950s/early 1960s setting, when men wore tailored suits, women wore curvy dresses, and everyone smoked, drank and had affairs. Well, the series gets some of the period details right – and some wrong. Jane Maas, who entered the advertising business when the era was in full swing, went on to become Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather and Chairman of the Earle Palmer Brown agency. Now, she’s written a book, “Mad Women: The Other Side Of Life On Madison Avenue In The 60s And Beyond,” about what life was really like on Madison Avenue. Here are some of her observations:
By Jane Maas
What Mad Men Gets Wrong. Contrary to what the series portrays…
Women Copywriters Didn’t Take Off Their Hats In The Office.
Peggy Olson wears a hat coming to and from the office. She should keep it on. As soon as a woman was promoted from secretary to copywriter, she donned a hat and wore it all day at the typewriter. We even kept our hats on to go to the ladies’ room. It was a badge of office.
Creative People Actually Had Creative-Looking Offices.
The creative folks on Mad Men have perfectly “normal” offices. Actually, back then, the weirder your office looked, the more your client respected you as a creative person. An art director I worked with had a barber chair, in which he would raise and lower himself all day. He said it helped him think. I once had a hammock in my tiny office, but its big metal stanchions left no room for a desk, or even a chair. After a few swinging weeks, I gave it to friends who had a house in the country.
Women Did Not Get To Work On Every Kind Of Account.
Peggy Olson writes for just about every client at the agency, but it really wasn’t that way in the sixties. Women were consigned to a ghetto of accounts considered “appropriate” for us, like food, cosmetics and toilet paper. We were not welcome on business like cars, finance or liquor, which were staffed by men only.
No One Drank In The Morning.
Yes, we did have three martinis at lunch and went back to work, but not every day. And, yes, we did head for the nearest bar after work, almost every day. But I never saw anyone pour himself (or herself) a shot in the office in the morning. Most senior officers kept a bottle or two around, but it was for after work.
We Weren’t Sad.
The folks on “Mad Men” don’t seem to be having much joy in life. But I guess we have to remember it’s a drama. At advertising agencies like Ogilvy and Wells Rich Greene, we had a wonderful time. We loved each other, we loved our agencies, and we were passionate about creating great advertising.
What Mad Men Gets Right. Just As You See In The Series…
People Smoked Constantly. People Smoked Everywhere.
The actors on “Mad Men” are constantly searching for matches, clicking lighters, drawing heavily on their incessant cigarettes. Well, that’s the way it was. Some viewers were offended when, in an early episode, Peggy Olson sees a gynecologist, who smokes right there in the examining room. I had to remind myself that when our first daughter, Kate, was born in 1959, I sat in my hospital bed while the nurse handed me this tiny, five-pound infant. And lit up a Marlboro.
Women Were Second-Class Citizens.
If you were a man working in an advertising agency, when you announced that you were getting married, they threw you a party and probably gave you a bonus - - to help take care of that new mortgage. If you were a woman announcing your marriage, the agency warned you that as soon as you were five months pregnant, you had to quit. And there was no such thing as “maternity leave.”
There Was A Lot Of Sex In The Office.
Why was sex so easy and so delicious back in those sexy and sexist sixties? Perhaps it was because The Pill has just been by approved by the U.S. Government, and gynecologists were prescribing it for married and unmarried women alike. Perhaps it was because the heady scent of the Women’s Movement was already in the air. Maybe it was a convergence of both. But “Mad Men” nails it: There was a lot of sex in the office.
Working Mothers Were Viewed With Suspicion.
There was only one working mother on “Mad Men” in the first three seasons, and she is viewed as a pariah by the other suburban, stay-at-homes moms. This is exactly the way it was. In the sixties, women with children under the age of 12 simply did not work unless driven to it by financial needs. When my first-born was two weeks old, I told my mother I was going back to work. “You can’t,” she said. “What will people say? I’ll be so embarrassed.”
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