This week’s question is inspired by Mad Men Week:
What has Mad Men inspired you to seek out?
Knowing that my parents watch the show and that their parents—my grandparents—were hard drinkin’, hard smokin’ professionals like Don Draper, the biggest thing that Mad Men has inspired me to seek out is deep conversation with my parents. I’ve specifically spent a good deal of time chatting up my dad about his parents, who worked with computers and real estate, and always had a drink waiting for them at the end of the day. Considering I only knew them as my sweet and funny grandparents, it’s been interesting to hear stories about their Draper-esque exploits, like the time they got high with my teenage dad. In a roundabout way, Mad Men has inspired me to get to know my relatives as people who lived full, interesting lives long before I ever existed, and that’s something I’m eternally thankful for.
I’ve never smoked anything before, but that hasn’t stopped me from envying smokers’ accessories. Just recently I bought a lighter because it reminded me of The Langoliers. Really, it’s just a Bic with assorted nuts on it, which includes Langoliers- lookalike walnuts. In the same vein, all the smoking on Mad Men has resulted in a lust for a roulette-style cigarette holder. I can’t remember the exact episode in which this accessory appeared, but I remember instantly wishing I had one and trying to decide what else I could put in it. At least with the lighter I can use it for candles or to start a cozy fire in my fireplace. This cigarette holder, though, would prove harder to justify. Perhaps I could put some short pencils in it? Tootsie Rolls? Maybe some hand-written fortunes all rolled up waiting to be read with “in bed” said after each one. Clearly, suggestions are welcome—both for the fortunes or a completely new item that needs to be held in a mid-century modern embrace.
Since the first time I saw Jane Siegel unveil the Mark Rothko canvas squirreled away in Bert Cooper’s office, I’ve felt a tractor beam-like pull whenever I’m in the same museum as a Rothko. For a few minutes, I’ll stand in slack-jawed awe of the thing, allowing its overwhelming dimensions and saturated colors to bombard my senses. I seek no specific meaning in these moments, preferring the Ken Cosgrove approach to abstract-expressionist appreciation: “I don’t think it’s supposed to be explained… Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it—because when you look at it, you do feel something, right?” Ken’s right—about the painting, and about the show that put it on display.
Jon Hamm has been routinely incredible as Don Draper, but Elisabeth Moss’ naturalism and expressive face have made Peggy Olson the heart of Mad Men and the character I’m ultimately rooting for to succeed. I was unaware of Moss prior to the show’s premiere (I certainly didn’t recognize her as the burn-scarred Polly in Girl, Interrupted), though I’ve made a conscious effort to see the work she’s done since. From her steely Detective Griffin in Jane Campion’s Top Of The Lake to her wry turns in 2014’s The One I Love and Listen Up Philip, Moss has exhibited an impressive range. She has been able to shed the plaid pantsuits of Peggy and step into the skin of other characters with ease. Though the Emmys have a peculiar aversion to awarding Mad Men performances, I predict that Moss’ chutzpah and raw talent will carry her far and maybe even secure her an Oscar nod one day.
I hate, hate, hate shopping for clothes. It ranks somewhere between dentist appointments and just missing a late-night train on my list of unpleasant events. Were it up to me, I would have a closet full of the exact same items to wear, day in and day out. That Simpsons episode where they get uniforms and start blinking in unison? Heaven. Thus, it was really something to find myself finally breaking down and seeking out a nice suit. Season one of Mad Men made me realize it was time to get my sartorial act together, and dressing a bit more like the good gentlemen at Sterling Cooper seemed like the best bet. I still don’t really understand fashion distinctions—I rarely know one day to the next whether I’ll be wearing a suit and tie or jeans and flannel—but at least now I feel good knowing that my efforts at dressing up will actually reflect that, rather than my resembling a particularly down-on-his-luck carnival barker.
I was into Mad Men almost from day one, and in only its fourth episode, Pete Campbell and his Sterling Cooper co-workers were cracking up over The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart. The 1960 live comedy album, recorded over the clinks of cocktail glasses at the Tidelands Club in Houston, Texas, features an unparalleled lineup of Newhart’s greatest bits like “The Driving Instructor” and “The Cruise Of The U.S.S. Codfish.” But the awesome meta-ness lies in the fact that Newhart was making fun of handlers just like these ad men, especially in “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Avenue.” Right before Gettysburg, Abe wants to change “four score and seven years” to “87.” But as Newhart the press agent points out, the original line is what they call “a grabber” that was “test-marketed, and people lost their minds… Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it, wouldja?” I’ve since enjoyed the entire release (and Newhart’s other albums) on many a road trip, and have only Mad Men to thank for that and so much else.
After the Mad Men credits have rolled, and after the assiduously meaningless clips from next week’s episode are over, I sometimes want to extend the show’s sense of retro immersion by watching YouTube clips of ’60s TV. The mop-throwing, door-slamming emotion of ’60s soap operas, for instance, provided some context as Megan Draper’s TV career was taking off. And after a re-watch of “Waterloo,” I found footage of CBS’ lunar-landing coverage and marveled at the little animations the network’s news department created to illustrate the descent of the lunar module, which they couldn’t present with live footage. Even when Mad Men isn’t explicitly about television, the show often adds flavor to a scene with a TV set blathering on in the background, and it’s fun to see if I can find the original show that Matthew Weiner et al. are referencing—to view the same images that Americans were seeing five decades ago.
I didn’t exactly go seeking it out—it was literally handed to me—but I can say that Mad Men was directly responsible for me bellying up to the bar and saying, “Gimme an Old Fashioned.” The premiere of the series coincided with my first attendance at the Television Critics Association press tour. To help make sure that the Sterling Cooper advertising agency was on every critic’s radar, AMC threw an event at the Beverly Hills Friars Club with the cast in attendance and a live performance by Jeff Goldbum and his jazz trio. It was a hell of an introduction to Mad Men, to be sure, but it was also my first introduction to Old Fashioneds, which were flowing like water, offered to everyone the moment they set foot into the club. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of them before—Jim Backus took care of that for me in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World—but I’d never tasted that beautiful blend of bourbon, bitters, sugar, and water until that night. If I’d had any idea what I’d been missing, I would’ve started drinking them years earlier.
To paraphrase George Carlin talking about cocaine, the main thing Mad Men made me want is more Mad Men. But the show is also part of the reason I have my friend’s copy of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg sitting on my coffee table, waiting for me to finally catch up with it. Of course, Don Draper and Lane Pryce don’t actually go see Umbrellas when they have their night out in “The Good News”; they seem to be leaning that way until the show cuts to them laughing raucously during a Gamera movie. The show also includes memorable trips to see Rosemary’s Baby and the first Planet Of The Apes, among other films of the era. As my wife and I have caught up on the series over the past six months, we’ve decided we really want to see a festival of movies characters on Mad Men are seen watching or discussing. We’ve seen a lot of the major ones, hence thoughts turning to Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. The Museum Of The Moving Image is currently running a Matthew Weiner-approved series of films that helped inspire the show, and I’ll probably check out at least one movie there—but really, I’d rather climb into the screen and watch Gamera with Don and poor Lane.
I always knew that Robert Morse was young once—I mean, despite a general knowledge of how aging works, I’d always been vaguely aware of his career as a young comic lead in movies like The Loved One and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, but hadn’t seen them. Perhaps it’s my lifelong, teeth-grinding annoyance with musicals that kept me from the latter. But after a few seasons of watching Morse’s deceptively sly, cantankerous weirdness as Bert Cooper, I decided I had to pull the trigger and check out the musical comedy stylings of his younger self—and, my aversion to musicals continues. (With all the shirtsleeved business types sing-talking, I kept picturing them all turning into the SCDP junior execs—which is actually a musical I would watch.) And maybe it’s his Broadway experience talking, but the young Morse mugs and plays to the camera like a self-impressed, singing Jerry Lewis, possibly the most chilling creature ever devised in Hollywood history. So, my curiosity sated, I scurried back to the Robert Morse I knew and loved—only for him to reduce me to awed tears with his final musical appearance.
As a dyed-in-the-wool comedy nerd, Mad Men can get a little too heavy for me at times. But I’m always grateful to the show for turning me on to one of the quiet delights of this pop-culture era: the comedy skills of Jon Hamm. Hamm’s had a checkered career when it comes to parlaying Don Draper into other dramatic roles, but his comedy credentials are above reproach. From his lovely turn on 30 Rock as “cartoon pilot” Dr. Drew Baird, to his numerous podcast appearances (including the world’s most heartwarming acting-off against Paul F. Tompkin’s version of John C. Reilly on Comedy Bang Bang), the dude consistently brings a goofy enthusiasm to comedy work that Mad Men is rarely allowed to present. (Not that Don Draper’s not a funny guy, when he’s in the mood, but it’s hard to imagine him happily waving around hook hands.) Any time I see that Hamm’s doing a comedic role, like his multiple hosting stints on Saturday Night Live or his role in Bridesmaids, I’m always happy to check it out. To put it simply: If there was no Mad Men, there would never have been an episode of Bob’s Burgers where Hamm played a smooth-voiced Japanese toilet, and that’s not a world I want to live in.