Live-Blogging Mad Men: The Debt to Cary Grant


“With Summer TV this Good, Who Needs Fall?” asks the TV Addict. And I’d answer: me. I’m looking forward to the new season, and hoping against hope that House will be less formulaic. I think the summer season is vastly overrated – I’m don’t care for John from Cincy, except to see old Deadwood actors gainfully employed. Damages? Army Wives? The Closer? Nah, parting gifts for all, Johnny Olson.

But Mad Men…well, it’s held our interest. And I do mean “our.” I’d have checked out halfway into week two without the crowd on this lovely blog. (I’ll admit it here: The Bronx is Burning is better than I originally gave it credit for). But I must admit, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about George Blandings.

Now, Mr. Blandings was first and foremost an advertising executive, before he tried to be a general contractor on a fixer-upper in Connecticut – a good 60 years before Flip this House hit cable. I’ve also thought a lot about Mrs. Blandings. that would be Myrna Loy, but it’s for a whole other reason, and really a bit prurient for this post, I’d think. Myrna Loy. Well.

But back to Cary Grant’s George Blandings. A dullard really, with good comic timing – and not much of an ad man besides. Sort of like Don Draper – except for the comic timing. Don’s a dullard, a lousy ad man, and he’s no fun at parties. Can’t do the pratfall. No self-deprecation in his bag of tricks. No, Blandings was the better character. And his slogans were better than Draper’s:

Compare the price – Compare the slice. Take our advice: “Buy Wham!”

If you’d buy better ham, you’d better buy Wham!

This little piggy went to market,
as meek and as mild as a lamb.
He smiled in his tracks when they slipped him the axe –
He knew he’d turn out to be

Beats the hell out of the Bethlehem Steel work, that’s certain. Amazingly, Cary Grant played not one but two crucial ad men on the screen: Blandings and Roger O. Thornhill from North by Northwest. Both careers were merely foils, silly little pursuits that set up situations the directors could exploit – comedic or dramatic, or both.

So Don Draper, a year after Thornhill hit the screen in that creamy, matted Technicolor, has neither a spy caper nor a goofy, madcap home renovation to offer. He’s merely dark and haunted, but why? Tonight perhaps we find out.

Back shortly – pre-episode predictions welcome.

And here we go – Matthew Weiner” “one the periods of greatest promiscuity.” Hmm.

“Creative helps sell” – a pre-sex line mid-town hotel line if I ever heard one. Not that I have.

Andrew Sullivan is a fan – so far (he’s sticking around like the rest of us, intrigued and waiting for something to happen):

What intrigues me about the program is the incredible attention to detail. The producers have really done an amazing job of capturing every aspect of life in those times precisely accurately. I was only a child during that era, but it all looks right to me. For example, in one scene the lead actor opens a can of beer and it is the old fashioned flat-top can that one needed a can opener to open. It made me wonder where they found those old cans, which haven’t been manufactured since at least the 1970s.

I can see where the plot is going. The men are in total control and appear to have it all. In their own way, so do the women. But none of them are happy. Their lives are empty and meaningless even though they have achieved the “American Dream.”

Yeah, but there’s no good reason – at least nothing that’s come up so far. Perhaps tonight.

“They need their own accounts, beyond the family.” Executive accounts. This was once recommended to me as a good way to manage money, as a matter of fact. Keep some money aside, for, well, what comes up. No sense worrying the little lady.

And then there’s this from the Club for Growth blogger Andrew Roth (who sees the show as a sort of economic-social report from the early days of consumer growth):

Just from that, you know there’s an underlying arrogance to the show and its leading characters. And that’s definitely the case, but I think the show actually revolves around a line from the pilot episode that any game theorist can appreciate. One of the “mad men”, Salvatore, said, “We’re supposed to believe that people are living one way, and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous.”

And as the main character, Don Draper, puts it, “Advertising is based on one thing – happiness”. But the show isn’t about happiness at all. These guys are married, but misogynistic. Back then, divorce was unacceptable, even though adultery was common place. People smoke and drank at work (even doctors). They were reckless, but in control. And the show lays all of that on real thick.

More like reckless, but out of control – big brother. So Don Draper has a secret little brother. A hidden life. And Don’s a Dick.

“Can’t you even say my name.” That’s twice. Back where?

Note: why are the women in this series so incredibly uncomfortable in their own skins? It’s unsettling – like they literally can’t stand to be who they are, in the clothes they’re in, in the relationships they have. Wives, secretaries, lovers all – seemingly trapped. And, I fear, not in character, not in society, not in 1960. But in costume.

Lance suggests it’s a theme, but I think it’s the clothing. It’s so perfect, that it stifles. Yet is never seemed to make, say, Lucy a stiff – she moved. As Lance says, so did Laura Petrie – and our moms.

Jim Wolcott suggests we’re off by at last a year – JFK-land in style and young family worship at least way before Camelot (which, of course, was named after Kennedy was dead).

Oh, and once again Don Draper whiffs at a pitch meeting. If you ain’t eating Wham, you ain’t eating ham.

“…the wrong business…” – Man, I’d like to learn more about the damned business. Wasn’t this the go-go times of the new consumer? Where’s the innovation, the joy, the edge, the ambition.

Ah, and last week all you bleeding hearts were taken with Pete the Predator…aha! He wanted to whore his wife for a byline in the New Yorker. What would William Shawn think?

These people are incredibly horrible people.

55 Replies to “Live-Blogging Mad Men: The Debt to Cary Grant

  1. The sense I have is that these guys find themselves at 40 and in charge. They survived the war, and now they are successful in spite of themselves, it being difficult to fail over the previous 15 years of postwar economic expansion. They had relatively little competition for their positions until just about the era we see portrayed, and I see Don undergoing the existential crisis of feeling oneself a fraud, about to be revealed as such.

  2. The portentuous striking of cigarette on cigarette case, complete with metallic clang, is maybe the lamest touch yet.

  3. ladies and gents, I’m givin’ it 5 more minutes…i mean, c’mon: this is crappy even for soap opera

  4. Thinking about Tom’s opening with Cary Grant’s ad men characters:

    The look of the show is right—the clothes, the lighting, the decor, the beer cans, but there’s no period background sound. I don’t hear the late 50s.

  5. “As much as anyone can enjoy that sort of thing.” Yes, that about sums up a lot.

  6. And I don’t get the sense that these people are at all plugged in to their times. They reference them, but they don’t carry them in their speech or attitudes.

    I’m saying I don’t think any of these people saw North By Northwest.

    Or even heard of Hitchcock.

  7. Yeah, the constant ad pitches, the slogans, the advertising – and how about some street traffic noise? In a coffee shop in midtown, you’d hear horns and brakes squealing…

  8. why are the women in this series so incredibly uncomfortable in their own skins? It’s unsettling – like they literally can’t stand to be who they are, in the clothes they’re in, in the relationships they have.

    Isn’t that one of Weiner’s themes? Life was miserable for women then?

    We’re never going to bump into Donna Reed along the way, of course. But where’s Laura Petrie and Sally Rogers?

    Where’s my mother?

  9. Tom, the traffic noise in North By Northwest is exactly what I was thinking about. When Hitchcock gets the bus door slammed in his face, you can hear the street noise, even though, if I remember correctly, you actually can’t because the theme music’s playing. Hitchcock and other filmmakers back then could suggest sound.

  10. There’s a blog on the AMCtv site, and there is so much love for this show, it’s truly unbelievable. I think people are projecting a lot of themselves into what they are seeing. That may be a huge part of the strange phenomenon surrounding this summer series.

  11. I love that movie. Sometimes I look from our office windows on Second Avenue and look north, and the reflected glass curtain wals – brand new then – remind me of what was modern about North by Northwest.

  12. MA – yeah, dig the “I love when men were men, and women were women” quotes. Kind of validates my male fantasy theory about this series, eh?

  13. There is a style here, but it is completely unexpressive and joyless. That scene in the office with the wife and secretary typified it. It’s like something a bright undergraduate might have dreamed up after attending a couple of lectures on Brecht and Kabuki and an Antonioni double feature.

  14. none of this is even vaguely believable…filled with self loathing for sticking with it

  15. All right. That was one nice fake-out. I hate to see people/characters like Adam being crushed by morally bankrupt, evil people.

    What would have been so wrong to have that nice guy in the family? I’ll just wait for Matt to explain in the postlude–

  16. Blondie and the kids are going to Cape May. Wonder if I’ll see them there next month. Oh wait, this show’s set in the past; never mind.

    The way the scene w/ Adam was played, it was as if he were the Gay Past returning to haunt Don, not some long-lost brother-man.

  17. *There is, of course, more to the story with Draper/Whitman…*

    Maybe. Or, maybe they’ll just cue something by Journey and say, “f*ck ’em all.”

  18. You see, of course, how Draper used his “Private Executive Account” to pay his long-lost brother to leave him alone – see, very cleverly, the ad pitch came back to him…oh yeah, that’s writing.

  19. Wolcott, my same suspicions: The war buddy that could ask anything of Don, except to rip apart his life of lies.

  20. Roger Thornhill: I’m an advertising man not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives, and several bartenders dependent on me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.

  21. And Don didn’t whiff this week’s meeting: He truly didn’t want to participate in the he-man woman-hatas executive nookie account pitch, tired of the lies, for a change, or at least tired of the others’ glee at putting one over on the wives.

    As for the head secretary? I hate her, because I know if I were in the typing pool, she’d hiss and spread rumors and hound me until I knocked her on her ass, just so she’d be entertained by the police taking me away in handcuffs.

    She is bad juju, a woman unfit to dust Jennifer Marlowe’s emery boards, and a woman-hating woman of the first swamp-drained water. Sure, she makes internalized misogyny look like fun, but if we cringe at it when Joan Crawford does it, then we need to stay consistent, and distrust any hottie who does it, Girl Gone Wild or not.

  22. Ah, not what would William Shawn think — what would *Wallace* Shawn think? That there’s some good depressive playmaking material, I tell you what.

  23. Yes, I realize the live-blogging is over, but I just have to add that after watching last night’s episode, I feel like I’m watching a high school production… people trying to act mature and of a certain era, but still gnawing the scenery.

    And as for women being uncomfortable then- of the women I know who were alive then, most have said there was also comfort in clearly drawn roles and that they had significant support systems. They knew what they were supposed to do and what they were to wear and to them, it may have chafed after awhile, but this was also freedom compared to what their mothers had lived through. They weren’t playing that role through the eyes of someone who had lived through the 70’s etc. They were forming that role with visions of women who had lived in the 30’s and 40’s, etc.

  24. “I think people are projecting a lot of themselves into what they are seeing. That may be a huge part of the strange phenomenon surrounding this summer series.”

    Honestly, doesn’t that apply to an awful lot of supposedly “good” or “hip” shows nowadays. Have we developed some sort of post-modern style of writing where the audience adds in to cover up the weaknesses or enhance the strengths of a creator’s work? It seems like if you do something like MAD MEN or even THE SOPRANOS that people get overly exciteda about what it’s supposed to be or trying to be, passing over what it actually is.


  25. I’m two days late, but I loved learning that Andrew Sullivan has never heard of prop departments or set designers. “Where they found those old cans”? Good gravy.

  26. For the past few days I’ve been wondering what the 1959 analog to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” could be.
    “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn is the best I came up with, though it was already (already?) used at the end of Dr. Strangelove in 1964.
    Any better ideas?

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