Mad Men and Doc Searls: The Woman's View

by francine Hardaway on November 8, 2008

Once again, a blog post grows from a comment on someone else's blog. This time it's my friend Doc Searls.

I lived the life of Mad Men, and that's why I watch it with such close attention. Mad Men tells you why I went back to school, got a PhD, eventually became an entrepreneur, committed myself to social justice, and God knows what else:-)

 My first job after Cornell University was at J Walter Thompson in New York in 1963. I was an Ivy League cum laude graduate, and guess what I did? I typed! On a manual typewriter for an account executive.

 Everyone smoked to the point where the office was a nicotine cloud. I still remember those bottles of dried out WhiteOut that allowed me to fix my errors on six "carbon" copies, the smut from which I carried home on my clothing and hands.

When I wasn't typing, I was polishing my fingernails under my desk or reading a book. I had no clue what was going on in the rest of the office, and I was never encouraged to find out. I was focused on doing my $65 a week job so well that I would get promoted to copywriter. How, exactly, did I expect to get from here to there, I didn't know.

The accounts I worked on were Chase & Sanborn coffee, Preparation H and Singer Sewing Machines, and my account exec actually WAS a woman, who was given those accounts because she was female and they were the worst accounts in the office. She had yellow finger tips from nicotine stains and had to wear gloves to meetings because of her nervous exsema. She drank at lunch. They all did. Big martinis. I tried to do that and failed.

While I was working for JWT, my account exec was pitching to get the account for a new sinus headache remedy made by the same lovely people who brought you Preparation H. I remember typing a memo for her that explained how we wanted everyone with a headache to think they had a sinus headache and buy our product. But, she said, "we have to be careful not to tap into the brain tumor market." Those words stunned me. They constituted the closest thing I ever saw  to ethical concerns.

I quit that job on the day Kennedy was assassinated, when I found myself at the top of 30 Rock delivering a package (yes, I was also a messenger) to a Singer Sewing Machine exec. I ran home from the office to grieve with my mother and father, who were already sitting around the (black and white) TV.

I knew that something was wrong with the entire structure on that day.

And I feel the same way today when I watch Mad Men.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Sherman November 12, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Thank you for sharing this Francine. I am going to post it on the Mad Men discussion group I belong to on I don’t think Mad Men is trying to say what they were doing was right – I think the reason the show is so popular is the window onto a time of interest in American history whatever your age.

francine hardaway November 12, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Oh, I agree. The writers of Mad Men are looking through a telescope at an era far away!

Jay Drayer November 12, 2008 at 9:27 pm

And how oddly your former associates would have viewed the thriving space of today that’s become Social Entrepreneurship… to which many of us have migrated after having endured experiences in the same environments about which you write Francine. Kudos on the solid post that evokes some rich and thankfully distant mental images!

Lon Safko November 15, 2008 at 8:40 am

Wow! I guess you WERE there… I love the show!

I remember the Sterling Cooper account Mohawk Airlines, a small commuter airline that serviced mostly upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. My grandfather use to take to me Westchester County Airport on Sunday mornings and we would sit and watch the small Mohawks take off and land and just talk. Just him and I for hours. I miss him.

I remember another SC account; Martinson Coffee. It was a red can.

I actually was an auto mechanic when I was 17 and worked on Mrs. Martinson’s Cadillac, along with Vera’s Citroen, Pete Seeger’s Volvo, And Alan Funt’s Chrysler.

The show brings back chronologically and geographically memories that only a real New Yorker would comprehend. It must be almost eerie for you.


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