The realisticness of Mad Men?

I’m officially hooked on this show, but have only watched up to ep. 9 season 1. It is, however, very intriguing.

So, does anyone have any idea (preferably first-hand experience) of how realistically the show portrays executive life in the '60s? Were men really SO mysogynistic, that they basically saw every attractive woman as a potential lay? Was it so common for men to cheat on their wives, such that basically everyone from middle management and up did it? And did their wives know? And if their wives did know, did they sort of resign themselves to it? Or was it expected that a wife would try to separate from her husband once it came out in the open that he was cheating?

Also, the psychatrist calling Don and telling him everything Betty said? Really??

I never thought it was particularly realistic. The play fast and loose with historical fact as it suits them, and the social situation is at best an exaggeration of some elements.

There was certainly cheating, but not on the scale shown on the show, and any reaction to it in the real time frame would vary by situation and individual.

The producers have said that the show wasn’t about the 60s; it was about present day, which pretty much shows that they didn’t give a rats ass for how things actually were back then. Every time I try to watch, I find some pointless anachronism that shows they didn’t do their research or didn’t understand the attitudes of the time, or, worse, was put in there as a deus ex machina.

Case in point, in one episode I caught, one of the execs said he hat tickets to a Mets game and that “it wouldn’t be a good game, but we can go anyway.” This is completely antithetical to how New Yorkers treated the Mets back then – either they were Yankee fans and ignored them or they loved the team despite its many flaws. Anyone who knew the period would have him saying, “Let’s see what they can do tonight.” The line indicates an attitude that is far more 2008 than 1962.

It is my impression that they try to make it accurate. I am not convinced by that example.

Certainly there was an attitude by some Important and Powerful Men (and men who thought they were) that they could cheat on their wives. On the other hand, that attitude existed long before the 60’s and continues to exist long after it. Was it common? Probably no more or no less than it is today.

As for their wives’ reactions:

  1. Some stayed in the marriage and put up with it for economic reasons
  2. Some stayed in the marriage because they thought that it was a man’s nature to cheat
  3. Some stayed in the marriage “for the children” and because society frowned on divorce
  4. Some had affairs of their own
  5. Some hired private detectives to catch their husbands and cleaned up big in a nasty divorce settlement.

A standard trope of the time was the private detective entering the hotel room and taking a flash photo of the philandering husband. When no-fault divorce came in in the mid-60’s, I remember my parents talking about how it was probably for the best, citing how couples who wanted out of their marriages had to fake grounds by hiring a prostitute to pose in a hotel room with the husband.

Roger Sterling ran into a problem with divorce. He had no grounds to divorce Mona (& she had plenty of grounds to divorce him) and basically had to bribe her with a huge settlement to get her to file for divorce. And she still had to fly out to Nevada to do it. Manufactured divorces were only possible with the cooperation of both parties.

Television speeds up time and squashes events. They have to do a show every week that produces emotional effect on their characters. In real life, that never happens every week. Over the course of a season, therefore, characters may live through a dozen major crisis that in real life might not happen to one person in a lifetime. Each crisis may be true to the time and character but the whole series could only be found in a group of a dozen people. The effects of the crisis are also speeded up. So Don has more affairs and those affairs all impact his business and all cause problems with his coworkers and all make his wife get mad and get together and break up and have a baby and have a father move in and have him conveniently die so that Don can have another affair that makes him yell at people in the office.

Your seeing the emotional tip of the iceberg. People didn’t live lives that complicated every year. But every time I pick up a biography of anybody in that era, everybody is sleeping with everybody. Most of the wives know because they’re sleeping with everybody. Many couples led almost totally separate lives. William Shawn, the Editor of the New York, would get out of bed, and go a block down the street and have breakfast in the apartment of his mistress. Charles Addams, the New Yorker cartoonist, had women by the dozens before, during and after his many marriages. And the women weren’t sitting around waiting for him. The 60s did not invent sex. Stewardesses really and truly were looked upon as sexuality available. So were cocktail waitresses and actresses and women in many other professions. And once the pill became common, even women in ordinary business roles felt safe to work the room like the men did. That happened in the 60s but you can read bios of people from any time after WWI and get the same dynamic. Margaret Bourke White, the famous photographer, had a famously interesting sex life. So did Claire Booth, who married Henry Luce of Time. And every Hollywood actress. A Tallulah Bankhead bio will melt in your hands.

Of course not everybody did this, and those who did didn’t have the time to do this every week. But the Hippies didn’t invent sex. They just took it outdoors.

Don & Roger, the two lead execs, certainly engaged in extra-marital flings. Throughout the run of the show, Young Pete Campbell had a couple of encounters–beyond the one we see in Episode 1. Another executive had a one night stand that he confessed to his wife; the marriage eventually survived. (I’m trying not to go into detail, since the OP’s at the start of the story.) But not everybody cheats–or gets away with it. The attitudes of the male, WASP executives certainly show the sexism, racism & anti-Semitism typical of their set. (Sal’s ethnic & Catholic; also deeply closeted.)

An overall theme of the show is how things slowly changed in the 60’s–for the Mad Men & their Women–& for people in “other” groups. (Some of the wifies who suspected the hijinks at least felt secure their hubbies would always come home; divorce wasn’t easy.) But the characters come to life over the course of the show. They aren’t just Examples of Social Change in Mid Century America.

The world of Madison Avenue had already been depicted (& sometimes satirized) in books & movies–hard-drinking, hard-working creative guys busily selling America on itself. I was a Texas teenager at the time–learning about that milieu from Hollywood & Mad Magazine. I think the show uses some of that mythology, as well as the real lives of ad people in that time & place.

I don’t care that the show isn’t 100% accurate. But it’s very stylish, occasionally humorous–& I actually care how the characters fare. (Some more than others, of course.)

I dunno. As I have said before, I grew up around those guys and have no desire to watch them on TV. However, unless they are all portrayed as raging alcoholics who will die from either lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, or both, the program hasn’t captured them accurately.

Oh, they are. They most certainly are. The amount those guys drink and smoke is simply astounding.

My father-in-law was TV and radio advertising exec in the New York area in the 1960’s. So he didn’t work AT the ad agencies, but he worked WITH the agencies on a regular basis. He’s seen the show and says that it’s remarkably true to what that world was actually like.

My Uncle sez the opposite. Yes, 2 Martini Lunches, but anyone who drank in their office during office hours was considered a lush. He was an Ad Exec with a large NY then LA company.

As far as the cheating, there were plenty of stories and jokes about Execs with lovely secretaries, but he said the reality was far from the fantasy.

OTOH everyone smoked.

Folks, please remember the OP hasn’t finished the first season yet (and that this particular mod doesn’t have cable so sees the show on DVD, so hasn’t seen the third season yet) and avoid big plot spoilers. Generalities (“lots of affairs, lots of drinking”) are okay, but specifics (“X’s affair with Y, Z’s three-day drunken binge”) are not, unless they’re put into a spoiler box.

Many thanks,

twickster, Cafe Society moderator

Married men hitting on secretaries and other working women has been going on IRL forever, and take a look at some of the pre-code 30’s movies. There’s always a Carol Lombard or Ginger Rogers getting involved with her married boss…In the Mad Men era, this was around the time the Rat Pack movies were big hits. You had Frank Sinatra getting his fill of “broads”, and the public watched the hijinks and went home thinking, hey, I work with lotsa broads, I could have what Frank Sinatra has. Things were loosening up in preparation for the more open and uncensored movies to come (I Am Yellow made quite a stir - nudity!!!). And the birth control pill was coming into use, and THAT loosened women up. The worst that could happen was a venereal disease requiring shots…This is what I gleaned from various reading about that time, it may be simplified, but I think there’s truth to it. Married man-with-good-job + single women = affairs. Basis of soap operas since radio days, too.

Remember that the 1960 movie The Apartment, which won the Oscar, was about an up-and-coming executive who loaned out his apartment to his boss for his affairs. If having affairs wasn’t really as common as claimed, it was certainly talked about a lot.

Everybody forgot about this one.

I found it totally unbelievable. The only justification for it is that Don himself found the psychiatrist and somehow knew him to be an unethical bastard. The problem for the viewer is that he’s never stated to be a cankersore on the profession, so the impression is left that this could be typical.

The first season is less scrupulous to time and place than the next two seasons. I don’t think Matt Weiner had any idea how big the show was about to become and he treated a bit more like a normal tv show, cheating a bit around the edges. After it became a critical darling they started going to greater and greater lengths to get every detail right because the entire internet was now parsing every detail.

It’s probable that there agencies where this sort of thing went on (for a time) but I think the show goes a bit over the top with the constant workday drinking. Unless you have some unusual metabolism drinking a big scotch or two in the quantities they are splashing into those glasses will knock you on your ass and pretty much destroy the remainder of your effective workday. The “Madmen” react to this hard alcohol like so much tea and I think that’s pressing reality.

Overall I think the show does a remarkable job of capturing the attitudes and textures of the time. I was born in 1958 and my parents were about the ages of Don and Betty (even the age difference between them). My father was a professional with a doctorate in ag form Cornell working for the State Dept. and (at that time) my mother was a housekeeper-home maker (later exec secretary). The attitudes I heard growing up and the changes in those attitudes over time when the 60’s and 70’s came through are echoed in the show like a mirror.

Overall, the show isn’t perfect and does tend to focus on over the top antics (it’s a TV show after all not a documentary), but it does a damn good job at capturing the overall zeitgeist of the 60’s.

Not having to do with 60’s reality, but just character development one thing I’ve never seen addressed except for one little (but telling) scene is how Don goes from the roughest, crudest, dirt poor rural background imaginable, and has little, if any, of these mannerisms sticking to him in terms of speech or attitude. He is the model of the sophisticated, urbane man. There is discussion of his poor background with a few people including Connie Hilton, but none of his behavior or speech betrays it… except for Betty’s withering comment re his cash stash.

“You never did know how to handle money”

Not that he was a spendthrift, but with his little desk bank he was the equivalent of the clueless, scared bumpkin stuffing it in his mattress.

Somewhat similarly, the Broadway show and 1967 movie How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying featured the song “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” sung by the secretaries to the upcoming executive. How to Succeed also featured an airheaded bombshell whom all the male executives lusted after and who only got her job because of her looks. Of course, How to Succeed and The Apartment are fictional, and display what are likely over-the-top situations, but there must have been some truth to make them as popular as they were with 1960s audiences. As Homer Simpson wisely noted once, “It’s funny, 'cause it’s true.”

That’s Betty’s assumption. It’s possible Don was deliberatly keeping a large amount of cash on hand so he could run away at a moment’s notice.