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.