The Women of Madison Avenue

Mad Women by Jane Maas

Mad Men still ranks amongst my favourite TV programmes ever. I love everything about it – the clothes, the campaigns, the decor, the lifestyle, the cast, (especially John Slattery as Roger Sterling).

But how true is the series?

I’ve already read one book by a guy who was there – Jerry Della Femina’s memoir (reviewed here), gave one man’s eye view – but his isn’t the only perspective available to help answer that question…

Jane Maas was there and saw it all. She was one of the pioneer ‘Mad Women’ of Madison Avenue. She started as a copywriter in 1964 at Ogilvy and Mather after several years working in TV production on Name That Tune, rising through the ranks to be a creative director and president of another New York agency along the way.

In compiling her memoir, she has spoken to many of her colleagues to build up her picture of working for and with the real Mad Men, giving a fascinating portrait of the advertising industry of the 1960s and beyond, and especially what it was like for women, although she didn’t have to start off as a secretary like Mad Men‘s Peggy Olson.

Jane Maas in her official first day photo at Wells Rich Greene, 1976

A petite redhead, Jane was married to architect Michael Maas in the late fifties, had kids and lived in central New York rather than towns outside like many of her colleagues.

She was also one of the first working Moms – ranking her ‘job first, husband second, and children third’ realising that her job and husband might go away, but that ‘the children would hang in’.  Jane was very lucky to have the services of her Mon-Fri live-in help Mabel though, but always felt guilty about not giving her children enough attention.

In chapter two, Jane gets straight to the subject of sex – apparently there was a lot of it about, although O&M was one of the more discrete agencies.  At other agencies, including Young and Rubicam, (the model for Mad Men), it was seemingly everywhere between employees outside the office…

The term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented yet, or certainly wasn’t in our vocabularies. Most women then working in advertising were either secretaries or copywriters,  and 99 percent of us had male bosses.  The boss was in control of your salary, your raise, your career advancement … your life.  If he wanted to go to bed with you, you had to ask yourself what mattered more: your self-respect or your career.
A number of people confided recently that women were sometimes the ones doing the seducing. The best way to get promoted from secretary to copywriter was for your boss to make it happen. And the fastest way to make that happen was to make it with your boss.

Ultimately what I am most fascinated by in Mad Men and books like this are the advertising campaigns themselves. For me, many of the best scenes are the ones where the creative folk are at work, and pitching to clients.

Maas tells us about the good and the bad campaigns, and the good and bad clients.  She tells howit was common for rooms full of men to discuss the ins and outs of feminine hygiene products without asking their women staff of their opinions, except as an afterthought.  She recounts how it was usual for women copywriters to be put on accounts for household products, the men kept all the cars, booze, fags, etc for themselves.

Maas was one of the few that did break through the glass ceiling though.  She was not only one of the first women to wear trousers to work, she went on to be the director of the ad campaign that put New York back on the tourist map, I ♥ New York with its iconic logo designed by Milton Glazer in 1977.

She is also quite clear where she thinks Mad Men (and she is a fan) gets it slightly wrong.  In the hippest times of the 1960s, the agencies were colourful places – not the beige, class and chrome we see on TV.  Most of all though, she stresses that they worked hard, they played hard, and most important of all, they had terrific fun doing this job that they loved so much – Don Draper and his colleagues don’t have enough of the latter.

This book was less rambling and much more entertaining than Della Femina’s, and confirmed most of what I’d always suspected happened in a woman’s lot in those glory days on Madison Avenue.  I’ve always been fascinated by the world of advertising, it’s long been one of my fantasy jobs from way before Mad Men, so I liked it a lot.  If you love the series, you’ll probably enjoy this book too. (7.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Blackwell’s via my affiliate link, please click below:
Mad Women Bantam paperback, 218 pages.
From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-line Dispatches from the Advertising War by Jerry Della Femina

8 thoughts on “The Women of Madison Avenue

  1. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) says:

    Have you read Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything? – it’s set in 1950s New York, and has a Mad Men office ‘feel’ about it. A very good read, I thought.

  2. Juna says:

    Back in the 1990s when I worked for an NYC advertising agency (all pharmaceutical clients) I got to know an art director who would have fit right in with Don and Roger et al. D still kept a bottle of Scotch in his desk drawer and once greeted two attractive young women who had just walked into his office as “Boobs” and “Legs.” The impressive thing about this very politically incorrect man was that he was (as far as I know) universally liked by his colleagues, male and female. Perhaps because by that time he was an anachronism…

    Jane Maas’ book sounds like a “must read” for me. Thanks for the review.

  3. gaskella says:

    Was it a fun place though? I now have ‘The King of Madison Avenue’ a well thought of biog of David Ogilvy to read – he seems to have been a real gent though.

    • juna says:

      It was fun. Our clients and products weren’t glamorous–we were touting the benefits of antibiotics and toothpaste. But the office was full of lively people with liberal arts degrees–in those days no one I knew majored in advertising or public relations–enjoying one another’s company and not taking anything too seriously. (The Ogilvy bio sounds good, too.)

  4. Lee-Anne says:

    Sick in bed and catching up on your blog on my phone! I wanted to make sure you know about Terry O’Reilly and his radio show on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) called “Under the Influence” (previously known as “The Age of Persuasion”). O’Reilly is an ad man who is very knowledgable about the history of advertising and puts together fascinating 30min shows that will knock your socks off! They are available in Canada as podcasts at the CBC site – not sure if you can access those in the UK. Anyway, it’s well worth a listen, and I think it would be right up your alley!

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