In October, 1960 in New York, at the annual Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf – the traditional gathering of politicos and Catholics – Senators Richard Nixon and John Kennedy wore formal white ties and made jokes, as is the custom. Here’s a taste of JFK’s monologue:
Cardinal Spellman is the only man so widely respected in American politics that he could bring together amicably, at the same banquet table, for the first time in this campaign, two political leaders who are increasingly apprehensive about the November election [laughter] who have long eyed each other suspiciously, and who have disagreed so strongly, both publicly and privately, Vice President Nixon and Governor Rockefeller [laughter].
Mr. Nixon, like the rest of us, has had his troubles in this campaign. At one point even the Wall Street Journal was criticizing his tactics. That is like the Observatore Romano criticizing the Pope. [Laughter.]
But I think the worst news for the Republicans this week was that Casey Stengel has been fired. [Laughter.] It must show that perhaps experience does not count. [Laughter and applause.]
On this matter of experience, I had announced earlier this year that if successful I would not consider campaign contributions as a substitute for experience in appointing ambassadors. Ever since I made that statement I have not received one single cent from my father. [Laughter and applause.]
Kennedy was the lighter side of 1960 politics, the playboy Democrat – but Mad Men‘s creators chose the dour Republican who, though of the same WWII generation, clearly represented the dark side, and not just in retrospect. Nixon is the one for Sterling Cooper and it’s a choice that informs the whole series, which concludes its first run tonight. History records 1960 as a bright, forward-looking year, a time of optimism and possibility. Despite the Soviet fears and our own internal struggles over race, the dawn of the 60s was a time of sleek design, bright colors, consumer culture.
How ironic that an iconic show about Madison Avenue – the ground zero of this bright consumerism – is so dreary and dark and filled with death and failure and loathing. Why did they choose the darkness – which could have, in surer hands, been more interesting – and why did they create a 1960 ad agency with no bright ideas, populated by hacks and frat boy towel-snappers?
Tonight, Mad Men hits Thanksgiving, post-election, post office orgy, post-heart attack, post-suicide, post cowardly sniffling by the unmanly Don Draper. While those big balloons floating down Central Park West change the mood? Back soon to find out.
And here we go…
As Jim Wolcott notes: “Since the series has been renewed for a second season, tonight’s homemade popcorn party will be able to unwind without any valedictory notes muting the festivities, and the program is being presented without any commercial interruptions so that the actors on screen can squeeze in an extra smoke or two.”
Will there be a Harvest of Shame reference? Edward R. Murrow’s famed TV documentary on working conditions of migrant workers aired Thanksgiving weekend, 1960.
I remember my grandfather bringing out those carousel slide holders on Thanksgiving and showing al the grandkids pics from his travels. I still have some stored away.
Geez, Glen lost a tooth.
The shunning of flesh and blood, Don passes his curse of ambition to Peggy (via Ayn Rand).