VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post. Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.
Saying fare thee well to Mad Men is akin to waving a monogrammed handkerchief in the air of the erstwhile Plaza Hotel and hoping that Eloise will catch it.
Like the finest of hand-woven handkerchiefs (yes, we had a handkerchief and linen stores in the lower 90s and Madison), we say goodbye to an era that was once upon a New Yorker’s life.
Mad Men intricately embroiders the New York of the ’60s, from falling black-and-white images, to minis, Puccis, and Bonwit Teller’s saleswomen who knew their merchandise and manners. In between the ermine and chinchilla “ooh-la-la” coats lies a powerful history lesson or two: JFK’s assassination, then Bobby Kennedy’s, and Martin Luther King’s.
“What is going on?” Betty screams at the black-and-white TV screen, which doesn’t answer much of anything. Segregation begins to integrate into a world where even Pete knows that it’s time to take “the Negro Market seriously.” Harry launches a television department and name-drops his way between red eyes from LA and New York.
I would love to have Betty Draper Francis’ wardrobe, and Megan’s post-marriage one. Almost every clone or kin to a plaid skirt of Sally’s and petticoat of Betty’s (they itched nonstop) were boxed up in tissue paper crinkling up memories of my sister’s and my youth. De Pinna or Best & Company (originally located in the “Ladies Mile” near Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street) were the carefully stitched labels.
Betty Draper is always perfectly dressed, coiffed, and Bryn Mawr educated.
“I not stupid. I speak Italian,” she says indignantly.
When I was Sally Draper’s age, I didn’t have any friends who had lost a mother. There were many fathers who died young. When my father had his first heart attack in his late 30s (heredity and non-filtered Camels), I worried every time the phone rang after 10 o’clock. Try as he might, he could never completely give up smoking — Betty never even considered it. Her life is sadistically slashed short from lung cancer, an irony not so subtly aimed at advertising campaigns which glammed the toxins out of smoking.
Drinking, another camouflage, was seductively marketed as macho.
“Your grandfather was a good drinker,” my mother told me a propos of nothing in particular. “He could really hold his liquor,” she said with pride. The message seeped in, but what was the point? “You don’t know how to drink. Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it’s what men do.” A vintage Roger Sterling moment, if ever there was one.
Mad Men is a mosaic of a time gone by, where so much was new, hopeful, and most of all, young. Don listens to The Beatles for the first time at Megan’s recommendation. “When did music become so important?’ he asks his new young wife. “Music was always important,” she replies, knowingly.
Backstage at a Rolling Stones concert, Don gets paternal with a teen wannabe groupie. “We worry about you,” he says, after she unravels his tie and drapes it around her neck. “Did you see that in a movie?” he asks rhetorically.
I love the scenes with Don and Sally: when he brings her a surprise puppy for her birthday and the Valentine’s “I love you, Happy Valentine’s Day,” which she utters to a surprised father, in raw need of the gesture.
Sally’s moments with Grandpa Gene, when she reads him The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at his insistence, make her lisping and stumbling pronunciation almost enviable.
We watch Sally grow from a young child with a bit of baby fat bulging in a tutu to kissing a boy in the bathtub. “You don’t kiss boys, they kiss you,” Betty admonishes a young Sally, who is en route to becoming a beautiful teen who has seen too much for her time; even a polished preppy lockjaw can’t disguise her pain.
When Betty is dying, Don insists that he can and should take on the tall order (olives not included) of being a solid parent. That remains to be seen, but not by us.
Peggy Olsen makes her Don Draper entrance into McCann-Erikson, a cig dangling out of her mouth, and Burt Cooper’s erotic print of an octopus pleasuring a woman, under her arm. She might just have it all. And why not? Peggy represents so many women of that time, who typed and “yes sir’d” their way into the workforce.
“You want to be taken seriously. Stop dressing like a little girl,” Joan Holloway advises Peggy, who will never be a “Joan.”
As for Glen Bishop who’s off to war, we hope that you come home safely, so that your off stage father (Matthew Weiner) can cast you in your next fateful journey, blonde locks hopefully not included.
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