'Mad Men': Was It Really So Drunken and Debauched Back Then?

Mad Men season 5

When the fifth season of "Mad Men" begins Sunday, millions of fans will be watching faithfully, drawn to the portrait of the '60s advertising world. The TV series' creator, Matt Weiner, is so obsessive about portraying the era accurately that last week he reportedly pulled Dusty Springfield's 1967 song, "The Look of Love," from the premiere because it was released six months after the episode takes place.

But how true to the period is "Mad Men," really? Perhaps no one watches more closely and critically than advertising execs and creatives. And the consensus is that while the workplace was not as libidinous and drunken as depicted on the show, the "Mad Men" stories are grounded in truth. "There was a concern about being able to produce top-notch work in the afternoon" after a lunch filled with martinis, says Jane Maas, a former advertising creative director and author of "Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond."

"The drinking on "Mad Men" is a little bit exaggerated. We did not drink in the morning. And I don't remember any senior male executives having liquor out on credenzas and tables in such a visible way. Most of the senior guys kept a bottle or two or three in their closets, and if we were working late, it was usual to pour a scotch."

What about the rampant bed-hopping (and sexism) on "Mad Men"? Maas finds the show isn't off base. She remembers, for instance, that at one agency, there was an annual "sex contest" -- a blind vote to name a person at the agency who the staff would most like to go to bed with. (The first prize was a weekend at the Plaza Hotel. Second prize was a night at the Plaza. And third place winner got a night on the couch in the boss' office.)

But now that the fifth season moves the cast into the late 1960s, what should we expect to see? In speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Maas also suggested that if the show's creators want to stay true to an era, women and minorities need to be elevated at Sterling.

"They need to hire a few more copywriters or promote Peggy to assistant creative director," she said, referring to the character Peggy Olson in response to a question about the lack of women in powerful positions on the show. "Or I predict she'll leave to go to another agency or start her own."

Still, ad execs who remember the era well say that the way Weiner's show depicts the management of clients and accounts, so far, has been dead on. During an appearance on The New York Times talk series, Weiner recalled being approached about the topic by Bob Levinson, the former head of television at ICM, and a sometime adviser to the show, who said:

" 'In 1960, I was on the Lucky Strike account at BBDO. Our office wasn't as nice then, but do you have a time machine?"





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Filed under: Reality TV, Co-Workers
Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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KENNY DILL

Love MAD MAN

March 26 2012 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bb0515

Oh please, nobody partied at work or after work like we did in the 80's.
The 80's made the 60's look like sesame street.

March 25 2012 at 11:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
brantaydes

I've been in the advertising agency business since 1972. Didn't recognize that there were stores of liquor in the offices, but the drinking and adventures after hours were way more interesting than the Mad Men depictation. Bookkeeper dancing topless for the office. Topless interviewing. Partners for key clients. 5 hour martini lunches with major clients. It was a crazy world then.

March 23 2012 at 10:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rossandsheila

I worked in an office atmosphere from 1962 to 2003. In the 60's the only thing close to this show might have been an advertising company. I never recalled ever in my sales days ever doing what these guys did.. Not saying, things did not happen during the lunch hour or after work; but not in the office, during the day. The show would not be any good ,if they did not embellish the truth for viewers.

March 23 2012 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Auntie's Mail

Women still don't earn a dollar to a man's dollar, women are denied promotions, paid less and are expected to work harder over their male counter parts. The guys take long lunches or company dinners and that's OK with the boss. Yes, it hasn't changed much in the workforce. It's still a man's world but women are determined to make it a dollar to a man's dollar. It's about equality and sadly there's still a long way to go in this regard.

March 23 2012 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
buffeliza2

Did I see Peggy Olsen pull on a pair of pantyhose when it was supposed to be 1961? If so, she had these 5 years begore anyone else in America. I'm just saying....

March 23 2012 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hi, Cat Lady!

It was most definitely a different workplace 40 or more years ago. I worked in an office in a manufacturing plant and had to walk thru the mfg area numerous times during the day to get to the main office area. I witnessed a manager and shop steward "going at it" in her glass-walled office. Christmas parties were held on site until they got too wild with people drunkenly riding conveyor belts thru the factory and sneaking off in the warehouse storage area for sex. The place had quite the reputation for a while and it was embarrassing to admit where I worked because of the raised eyebrows and once-over looks I got when asked where I worked. I was the first woman to wear a pant suit to work back then so I guess I was a pioneer of sorts - ha! That company is no longer in operation but things had changed for the better over the 13 years I was employed there.

March 23 2012 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancy

I'm sure that 30 or 40 years from now, our children will be nostalgic for the 2010's.
BTW, where do you think the term '3-martini lunch" came from?

March 23 2012 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Nancy's comment
icagirl

So true...I remember the "bosses" returning to the office after those 3 martini lunches and chasing girls around the desk!

March 23 2012 at 5:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
blkvending

I don't know if things were really like what they show. But it looks like it was fun for some!

March 23 2012 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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