Mad Men Revisited (or, My Advertising Biography)
I can’t believe I’m old enough to remember the Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons of Mad Men, but I do; and the show makes virtually no mistakes when it comes to historical accuracy. Right down to the (most of) the slang that was used in those days.
As a child in the ’50s and early ’60s, I watched my uncle turn alcoholic as a result of those 3-martini lunches (it eventually killed him: he was in his 30s).
But at his peak — as an account guy at Y&R (then, Young and Rubicam) — Uncle Bob put Deepfreeze on the map. Today we don’t think anything of having frozen food in our lives; but at the time, it was a huge revolution. And it made women’s lives a lot easier, not having to cook every night.
My dad was an advertising photographer (from the ’30s to the ’70s), specializing in pharmaceutical, fashion and food accounts. He even did the Art Page for Time magazine (imagine an Art Page being the centerpiece of a major news magazine today!).
In the days of Deardorff large-format (8×10) cameras and large, hot, overhead lights, food shots were made up of plaster-of-paris, shaving cream and glycerine on the hamburgers. Coke was painted onto the bottles, and ice was simulated by glass or plastic substitutes. Ice cream was a rubber simulation that was very life-like. It was possible to get quite sick sneaking food in the stylist’s kitchen!
When I, as one of the first and only girls, began my advertising as a “junior art director” in 1967 (due to the number of draftable male trainees during the Vietnam War), sexual harrassment was de rigueur. One guy hated my presence in the art dept. so much he twice tried to rape me. He was always inviting all the other art directors to lunch — and then he would dance around my office yelling “You can’t go because you’re a gurrr-ul!” His career never suffered (as mine did). I just made a joke out of the attempted rapes and the guys yelled at him in indignation. But it never stood in the way of his promotions.
My boss treated me as an equal, however (his wife had been one of the first women ADs ever; I was the only one in Chicago — and maybe NYC — at that time. As dictated in the “advertising Bible” by David Ogilvy (which all agencies adhered to), she’d been forced to quit her job at the agency when they’d gotten married, as he was the “breadwinner” and “needed” the job. (By the late ’60s, nobody cared who slept with whom; but marriage wasn’t as much of an issue then, anyway). So Don gave me the opportunity to write copy, direct TV ads, do illustration and design ads, while learning everything there was to know about print production and setting hot, cold and photo type (who remembers that today!)
Creative was king in those days, so when we had downtime, we had a photographer come in and we made a movie (based on the format of “Laugh-In”). It was hilarious, and loads of fun to style, shoot and edit! Editing was done with the something like scissors and Scotch tape — literally. It was easy (though laborious) and great fun!
Money was never an object in those days! And the clients had to do what we told them, as creative was something they “couldn’t understand”.
At Christmas, I would order art supplies (at the agency’s expense) for everyone to give to their kids (or themselves, for their home studios). The CEO would get first dibs; then everyone else.
I took my supplies home and practiced drawing ads with the new-fangled markers, and learning how to “indicate” different fonts (also in marker). All layouts were hand-drawn, and had to be accurate, so the photographer or illustrator wouldn’t have too many problems replicating them the way the client had approved them.
I made my own clothes from designer patterns (you could buy them at Woolworth’s!), and then made big wide ties to sell to the guys out of the left-over fabrics. I called the ties “Spaghetti-Eaters”, as the seams ran up the side and they were reversible. You could spill red sauce or red wine on them at lunch (the colors were designed for that); and then flip it over afterwards and no one would know. We’d all go to lunch wearing the same fabric (me in my mini-skirt or -dress; them in their matching ties), and people would stop us in the street and ask if we were a famous band!
I have to admit, I miss those days: when it came to sexism, I could out-swear and out-drink them. And as for the rest, it was great fun. I only wish I’d made half the money the men did. Otherwise, I’d go back there in a heartbeat! We had fun!!!