"Was it really like that?"
As soon as people find out I actually worked at an advertising agency in the Mad Men era, they pepper me with questions. "Was there really that much drinking?" "Were women really treated that badly?" And then they lean in and ask confidentially: "Was there really that much sex?"
The answer is yes. And no. Mad Men gets a lot of things right, but it gets some things wrong, too. So I thought I'd give you a typical day in my life on Madison Avenue in 1967, three years after I began working at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter.
--from Chapter 1, "A Day on Madison Avenue, 1967"
If you enjoy Mad Men, you really should read Mad Women.
From a lifetime on Madison Avenue, Jane Maas knows advertising better than anyone, and she cheerfully dishes about the agencies and individuals she worked with. Her portrayal of boozing, tomcatting, money-obsessed ad men is pretty close to what you see on the TV show, and often funnier.
Having been a teenager in the 60s, I especially appreciated her deft evocations of how it felt to be a female in those days. Uncomfortable, actually, what with girdles and garters, nylon stockings with seams, pointy bras, hats, and little white gloves. And uncomfortable in a more serious way, as women were patronized or ignored, passed over for promotion, paid considerably less than their male counterparts, constantly and thoughtlessly harassed, and fired if they got pregnant. (My first full-time job, in 1968, had a three-tiered pay scale: highest for married men, middle for single people, lowest for married women.)
Maas is now about 80, and she's seen a lot of changes in her industry and in women's lives. Though many of the changes are for the better, she's not sure that today's working women have it any easier than their foremothers. Maybe she's right--balancing work and family is extremely difficult in any era. Still, I wouldn't want to turn the clock back 50 years. Reading or watching TV shows about the 60s is fun. But being an ambitious working woman back then--or a traditional housewife, for that matter--was often fun only on TV.