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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mad Women by Jane Maas

Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond by Jane Maas
Published by Thomas Dunne Books ISBN 978-0-312-64023-1
Hardcover, $24.99

If you want to get in the mood for the return of Mad Men this Sunday, pick up a copy of Jane Maas' memoir of life on Madison Ave. in the 1960s.  She is a real-life Peggy Olson, who worked her way up the ladder from copywriter to creative director to eventually owner of her own advertising agency.

Maas worked for advertising guru David Ogilvy at his agency, and her descriptions of life on Madison Avenue-the constant cigarette smoking, drinking at work and office sex- validate the writers of Mad Men. She has some amusing anecdotes, but as one of the few working mothers at Ogilvy, her observations about working when most of the other moms stayed home with their children are informative. Her older daughter, four years senior to the younger daughter, recalled all the things her mother missed, but the younger daughter was proud to have a working mom.

Jane's husband Michael was an enlightened man who fully supported his wife's career. And then there is Mabel, the woman who lived with the family during the week and cared for the children and the household. Without Mabel, Jane would not have been able to have a career. What did working mothers who did not have the money to afford a caretaker do back then? Daycare was not an option.

Maas interviewed other women who worked in advertising to get their observations. One thing I found interesting was that at one agency, when the women got promoted from secretary to copywriter, they started wearing their hats in the office- all day. It was "a badge. It proclaimed that you were no longer a secretary."  The male copywriters had their own private dining room, but the women couldn't eat there. They were served lunch at their desks by their secretaries. And they ate with their hats on.

Maas was a key person on one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever, the I Love New York campaign. I found this section of the book utterly fascinating. Maas worked closely with Governor Hugh Carey, and he was so impressed with her work, he asked her to plan his wedding, although she had never done anything like that before.

Leona Helmsley, the so-called Queen of Mean, offers to back Maas in an agency of her own, and that turns out to be a big mistake. Helmsley offers to introduce Maas to her important friends and to help make her agency a huge success, but in the end, she treated Maas as poorly as she treated most people who worked for her. Helmsley is larger-than-life and not in a good way. Let's just say everything you have ever heard about her is true and then some.

Mad Women is a fabulous look at what it was like to work in a mostly-male domain of advertising in the 1960s. Maas is a terrific writer, and being a copywriter, she knows how to say a lot with a few words, and make those few words have a punch. It's the perfect book to get you in the mood for the start of season five of Mad Men.

rating 4 of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. Oh, a memoir from a woman in the Mad Men era?! Adding to my wish list; thanks for the review, Diane!