My Personal Mad Men

by Francine on September 19, 2009

Because I was a young adult in the work force in the 60's — in fact I was working at J. Walter Thompson in New York City in 1963, my first year out of grad school and the year in which this season of the show occurs, I am fascinated by Mad Men.  My early career experience bears an almost preposterous relationship to this show, from me being the woman with two Ivy League degrees  typing  ad copy, to my watching  the men's lunchtime drinking bouts, to being part of the disconnect between the generations, amd observing the blindness of powerful Americans to their own culture.

 I knew something was happening when John F. Kennedy was elected president. I also knew the world nearly ended during the Cuban missile crisis. And I knew the Civil Rights movement was coming because one of my college classmates, Mickey Schwerner, had already been active in the movement. He would be killed the following year in Mississippi. Cornell and Columbia, the two schools I had already attended (the third would come after my flirtation with advertising, which I had always thought would be my career), were liberal activist hot beds. As always, I was more considered and tentative than most of my contemporaries, who jumped in with both feet while I had one foot in revolution and the other on Madison Avenue.

There I sat, at the black Remington typewriter, with the carbon paper and the onion skin for copies (JWT didn't have a Xerox yet when I was there), pounding out copies, consuming vats of White-Out to correct my errors on the original, and using an eraser on the copies. When I didn't have stuff to type, I had literally nothing to do, and was not really encouraged to leave my desk and walk around, so I polished my fingernails under the desk and read books.

After about six months of that, I had an "Are you kidding me?" moment and quit. Fortunately, I had taken the LSATS and the GMAT and scored well, and could walk right into a Ph.D program. Changing agencies, as Peggy is thinking about doing, from Sterling Cooper, the WASP agency to Grey, the Jewish agency, wouldn't have done it for me. And by the way, I quit about two months after Kennedy's assassination. A general revisiting of priorities found advertising pretty low on the list of important considerations. So I left it for academe.

Don's about ten years older than I would have been in 1963, and I would have worshipped him. In fact, I would have sought him out. And he would have ignored me because I wasn't quite conventionally pretty enough, but he would have understood that I had talent. 

And done nothing about it. I made $80 a week at JWT. I think Peggy Olson already makes more than that.

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September 22, 2009 at 7:15 am

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