Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Menby Jesse McLean
“Mad Men beguiles like a Christmas catalog of all the forbidden vices … a sleek, hard-boiled drama with a soft, satirical core.”
—New York Times
“The year’s best new show.”
“If this is the future of TV, the future’s looking/p>/cite>/p>/cite>/cite>
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“Mad Men beguiles like a Christmas catalog of all the forbidden vices … a sleek, hard-boiled drama with a soft, satirical core.”
—New York Times
“The year’s best new show.”
“If this is the future of TV, the future’s looking good.”
— USA Today
Not since a certain mob boss battled anxiety attacks has a series tapped into the zeitgeist with such speed. And yet, this sophisticated show about 1960s Madison Avenue advertising house Sterling Cooper has surpassed even The Sopranos in cultural resonance. From critical reviews that swoon over the elegant storytelling to fashion designs that pay homage to the sleek sensibility, everyone is talking about Mad Men.
Fans of creator Matthew Weiner’s show enjoy not only the high-calibre storytelling but the ironic view of recent history. As such, they thirst for a companion volume that will deepen their understanding and appreciation of the show. Kings of Madison Avenue provides detailed episode guides, cast biographies, and rich sidebar content (how to party like the Mad Men and a travel itinerary for the perfect Mad Men Manhattan weekend).
But because the fans of this show are also connoisseurs of history, this book offers further historical context not often available in companion guides, such as influences of the show (Sex & the Single Girl author Helen Gurley Brown, Revolutionary Road’s Richard Yates, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment), or historical touchstones intertwined in the storylines (the landmark “Think Small” Volkswagen Beetle campaign, the Nixon/Kennedy presidential campaign, the creation of Lucky Strike’s “It’s toasted” slogan).
A series that not only sketches the cultural landscape with skill but has also taken a place in that very landscape requires a guide that reflects the breadth and depth of this effect. Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men is just that book.
"Goes beyond a detailed episode guide (though it has that, too) with discussions on the cultural, social and political influences that inform the show's characters and plotlines." CTV.ca
"[McLean's] enthusiasm is evident in the prose, which is both witty and informed . . . For new viewers of Mad Men, this is a good primer for the show. But for fans, it's a book that will ultimately sell itself." Scene Magazine
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Read an Excerpt
Kings of Madison Avenue
The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men
By Jesse McLean, Jennifer Hale
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2009 Jesse McLean
All rights reserved.
1.01: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Original air date: July 19, 2007
Written by: Matthew Weiner
Directed by: Alan Taylor
"With the IBM Correcting Selectric Typewriter, typing errors, erasures, strikeovers, and messy corrections can be a thing of the past." — IBM Correcting Selectric Typewriter Operating Instructions
It is 1960. We are introduced to Don Draper, creative director at a prestigious boutique advertising agency on New York's Madison Avenue. We also meet the voluptuous office manager Joan Holloway as she introduces Peggy Olson (Draper's new secretary) to the treacherous waters that roil beneath the ordered desk rows of Sterling Cooper. Ambitious account executive Pete Campbell considers the pros and cons of his impending marriage as he prepares for his bachelor party.
What makes you happy? Many viewers find the opening credits of Mad Men enough to overjoy one before the show even begins. Not only does the bold graphic design of the animated introduction grab the attention, it also establishes the advertising milieu that provides the setting for the series. Even more important is the thematic resonance — the ordered world of this mysterious figure falls away around him before he plummets down the side of a crisscrossed high-rise that is a nod to the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (interesting because the film stars Cary Grant as a suave advertising executive caught up in forces beyond his control, but also because the film's opening credits were designed by beloved artist Saul Bass, also renowned for his work in advertising and in particular for creating the long-standing AT&T logo).
Just as thrilling is the music by British DJ RJD2. His composition is a tribute to an elegant orchestral swing ending its popular reign in 1960, but one propelled by a modern-day drum machine beat. Not only do the ostensibly opposing currents complement each other well, the music swiftly anchors the dramatic irony of one point in history viewed from a current vantage point.
All this information and style delivered in thirty seconds — no wonder the first episode made so many viewers so happy.
Achieving happiness is more difficult for Don Draper. Even more distressing is the ensuing dilemma: what if you have everything you want and still feel empty?
From the outside looking in, Draper has the tiger by the tail. He works in the prestigious Sterling Cooper Agency where he holds a position of power and sway. Despite fretting from the opening scene over a creative block for the new Lucky Strike campaign he's toiling on, everyone around him is convinced that he will perform his standard ninth inning miracle and bowl over the clients. Whether it is Midge, the sexy artist in the Village he visits late one night; Roger Sterling, co-owner of the agency and fellow veteran; Pete Campbell, the young executive angling for Draper's office: they are all convinced of his genius.
Don isn't so sure. While he appears to be thriving in the wake of the post–Second World War prosperity boom, there is clearly something missing. He is certain that he will fumble the Lucky Strike account, be found out as a fraud, and open himself to a full-fanged attack from the punk executives nipping at his heels. Even though he struggles with the profound emptiness brought on by his stature, Don can't help but use this knowledge to put Pete Campbell in his place. A hallway encounter in which Don sketches out the dire final act for the life Campbell so strenuously maneuvers to achieve is a priceless bit of office warfare and a stunning example of projection. When Don Draper draws a portrait of Pete Campbell as a pathetic schlub in a lonely corner office who manages only to bed new "office girls" because they feel sorry for him, one can't help but wonder how much Don's own fears are cracking through his granite-smooth façade.
There is also a generational schism at play. Both Don Draper and Roger Sterling have served in the war (Draper winning a Purple Heart in the process, a medal that he relegates to a bottom drawer in his office desk) and are perplexed by those of Campbell's generation, wet-eared whelps who are the first in decades to make their way in the business world without battlefield experience. As much as elders always dismiss the youth their naiveté and myopic worldview, this lack of foxhole familiarity breeds a contempt from the veterans that is as thick in the office as the cigarette smoke that hovers over the desks.
The Drapers and Sterlings of 1960 nurture this scorn at their own peril. Hindsight is always eagle-eyed, but those who fought not in Germany or Italy but in Korea straddled an irregular divide in 1960. Before long, the very values they fought for overseas and the respect it brought them at home would vanish. By the end of the decade, army service would become a badge of shame worthy of hiding. The youth movement gathered steam once students realized the political, cultural, and economic power they held, and would soon question the knee-jerk respect expected of their parents. Pete Campbell may want that corner office above all else, but the world he and his brethren are set to inherit will have undergone a fundamental change, and once again another generation will be forced to ask if the trappings of a perfect life are really worth it.
Whether Pete Campbell senses this change in the world he seeks to usurp is up for debate; any sense of unease may be the result of this impending wedding. But in this first episode, we see Pete as the brash frat boy who expects everything that he wants when he wants it. And if he can't get it with charm, he's not above using whatever power he has for coercion. He would be quite unlikable if not for the vulnerability on display in his final scene, where he arrives at the doorstep of Don's new secretary with his hair tussled like a sheepish schoolboy and a plaintive plea ("I wanted to see you tonight ... I had to see you"). New girl Peggy Olson might not have expected that sort of excitement in her new Manhattan job ... but that doesn't mean she'll back away from it.
Peggy Olson's world changes quickly as she is introduced around Sterling Cooper by office manager and resident vixen Joan Holloway. This geographical shift pushes her to grow up a fair bit even in this first episode: a breathless naïf rendered wide-eyed at Joan's effortless charting of the professional and sexual landscape of the office; an awkward girl playing at adulthood when she places her hand on Don's (and receives a stinging rebuke); and finally a young woman more sure of herself when a boy from the office shows up at her door from his bachelor party, drunk and vulnerable. At this point, the audience is getting used to complex, multi- dimensional characters. But in Peggy we already see a kindred spirit of Don, one with a knack for reinvention despite the upheaval in the world around her.
By the end of this first episode however, Don has a handle on his world. He pulls inspiration out of thin air and wows the Lucky Strike clients. The approbation of those around him is proven to be well earned.
Yet Don takes little joy in his triumph. He is clearly a dashing man and does not hurt for female attention. But whether he is with his mistress in the Village, flirting with a potential client, or arriving at home to his wife and children, there is no joy in his actions, particularly romantic. He never appears happier than when he is crafting a new advertising campaign, but his personal life is shadowed by a sense of constantly running after something ... or perhaps he's running away. Even when he pulls inspiration out of the ether, once the moment is over Don once again appears haggard and haunted. It almost seems that he is bound by his victory, as if further success equals greater efforts to protect it.
The Philosophy of Mad Men— Don Draper: "Happiness is the smell of a new car ... a billboard at the side of the road screaming that everything you're doing is okay ... you are okay."
Period Moment: Joan shows Peggy the latest in office technology, the IBM Selectric, "so easy a woman can use it." Some have claimed that this is an anachronism as this model of carriage-free typewriter did not hit the market until 1961, after the time of this episode. Others have claimed that while this is true, it is quite possible that an esteemed Manhattan ad company might have a test model before it was released to market.
Ad Pitch: Did the Hail Mary Don pulls off for the Lucky Strike account actually exist? It did, but long before 1960. Since 1917, Lucky Strike used the slogan "It's toasted" along with the signature acronym L.S./M.F.T. (Lucky Strikes/Means Fine Tobacco). Examples of era-specific advertising for Lucky Strikes include lines such as "Get the Honest Taste of a Lucky Strike" and "Lucky Strike Separates the Man From the Boys ... But Not From the Girls."
Cocktail of Note: During this episode, Don orders a Whiskey Neat. He also orders an Old Fashioned, of which there are numerous recipes, but here is one:
2 ounces Bourbon
1 cube sugar in just enough water to dissolve
2 dashes bitters
Place sugar, water, and bitters in an old-fashioned glass.
Add 2–3 cubes of ice and Bourbon. Garnish with a twist.
Gender Politics and Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl
"In a couple of years, with the right moves, you'll be in the city with the rest of us. Of course, if you really make the right moves, you'll be out in the country and you won't be going to work at all." — Joan Holloway, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"
It is widely held that the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique launched the "second wave" of feminism in America, while Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century stirred the current that bore the "first wave." One figure stands in a curious place between the two, a breaker between the two waves, a woman who proselytized female emancipation in the workplace and in the bedroom while advising women to use them with the aim of catching a man. This pink-collared suffragette considered it fair game to harness a married man for sexual pleasure but, once married, remained faithful for the fifty years of her union. While she is a vocal supporter of the National Organization for Women and steadfastly pro-choice, she famously made light of sexual harassment, believing that "a little sexual tension in the office never hurt anyone."
While it is easy to criticize Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown for her crotch-level take on feminism, it is just as difficult to imagine modern feminist theory without her. In her 1962 bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, part thinly veiled autobiography, part dating guide for women prowling the singles scene, Brown cleared the path of sexual inequities and lit a fuse on the sexual revolution by writing a book that celebrates women who pursue a career for advancement and sex for enjoyment without demanding that they choose one over the other. Critics (at the time and today) find her thesis nothing more than justification for the objectification of women (a sort of perfumed Protocols of Zion), but this fails to understand how the notion of sexual gratification for women was an upheaval in and of itself. And while detractors of Sex and the Single Girl rightly cringe at the bald-faced superficiality ("One of the paramount reasons for staying attractive is to have someone to go to bed with") and tiger-trap domesticity ("Spic-and-span the apartment. He does notice, if only subconsciously"), her battle cry of personal fulfillment ("You don't have to get your identity by being someone's appendage ... You're your own person, go out there and be somebody") never goes out of style.
The cultural effect of Brown's single girl manual echoes throughout the years, from the sassy career-girl in search of love (That Girl!, Mary Tyler Moore) to the sardonic career girl in search of love (Sex and the City). Matthew Weiner's use of Brown's book in researching Mad Men carries something more than a style or attitude, in particular the buxom office manager Joan Holloway who is unafraid to use her brain or wiles to get what she wants. In the arc of her character, however, there is not only a celebration of her power but a critique of it too.
Other than her writing, Brown's biography appears to have affected the show as well, most notably in the career rise of copywriter Peggy Olson. Weiner seems to have woven elements from Brown's life into the tapestry of Mad Men, and sometimes in the oddest of places. But her role as breaker between the first two waves of feminism also puts her squarely between Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson, two currents charging in opposite directions but toward a similar destination.
The future savior of Cosmopolitan magazine and embodiment of chic sophistication could not have come from more humble roots. Born into meager means in Green Forest, Arkansas, in 1922, the family fortune took an unexpected dive when her father died in an elevator accident when Brown was only ten years old. She graduated high school a valedictorian but after one year at the Texas State College for Women, Brown joined the workforce and became the one and only breadwinner for her family (which included her polio-afflicted sister, Mary). This abundance of responsibility at age eighteen not only soured her on children of her own, but fostered a desire for a better life. Rejecting the world's anticipation that she would remain "ordinary, hillbilly, and poor," Brown left her hometown, moved to the big city, and reinvented herself.
Sound familiar? The correlation between Brown and master of reinvention Don Draper is unexpected but telling. Brown may not have gone to the same lengths to shed her past for a brighter future, but the work required to attain higher status along with an unmovable belief in her talents are little more than the Draper ethos in a tight dress.
One could argue that the acquisition of another identity would have benefitted Brown more than Don; both had to overcome the stigma of low rank in a society that pretends to see beyond class, but as a woman Brown was twice cursed. Don takes full advantage of the opportunity to create the man he wants to be and step into his shoes, but after going through this transformation Brown also has to make a place for herself in a male-dominated world. For all his glum existential ponderings, Don is a lesser form of the self-made person when compared to Brown.
The young Helen Gurley Brown worked her way through seventeen secretarial positions before landing at the desk of advertising executive Dan Belding. A letter she wrote for her boss caught the eye of Mrs. Alice Belding who suggested that her husband give his "new girl" the chance to write copy. He resisted (she was just a secretary, after all), but when Brown placed in a "Ten Girls with Taste" essay contest in Glamour Magazine (where she claimed that once grown up she wanted to be a "copywriter") and when he received a call from the personnel director at Condé Nast echoing his wife's sentiments, Belding relented.
From 1948 to 1958, Brown served with distinction at Foote, Cone and Belding, passing each rung on the corporate ladder with a confidence that resulted in two Francis Holmes Advertising awards, and security as one of the highest paid copywriters in the country. During this period, Brown would have worked on campaigns for FCB's biggest clients, including Pepsodent, American Tobacco's Pall Mall cigarette, Dial Soap, Clairol hair color, Frigidaire, and Kool-Aid.
In 1958, Brown leapt to a position as copywriter and account executive for Kenyon & Eckhardt, a Hollywood advertising agency. Perhaps she sensed the difficulties ahead as FCB lost two of their biggest accounts in the early '50s, Pepsodent and American Tobacco. Most thought things looked bright for FCB as they won a prestigious new campaign from Ford Motors Company, securing the "E" (for "experimental") account after long and exhaustive competition from almost every major advertising shop in the country. The team at FCB labored to craft a compelling creative for this new car, but despite their best efforts the product and campaign came to represent one of the largest commercial failures at that time.
Excerpted from Kings of Madison Avenue by Jesse McLean, Jennifer Hale. Copyright © 2009 Jesse McLean. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jesse McLean has written television and film criticism for PopMatters, movie industry op-ed pieces for Suite101.com, and numerous humour articles for Yankee Pot Roast. He has also worked within the home video business in Canada for a number of years, most recently as a DVD buyer for HMV Canada. He lives in Toronto.
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