Mad Woman in New York

You’ve watched Mad Men I hope. Because if not, you won’t understand what it was like to work in advertising in New York in the 60s and 70s.

We moved to New York from California in 1962 when I was 12. father worked in public relations for a major company and could have been the doppelganger for Don Draper. He was not quite as good looking, but he had the same suave style and bad habits. We even lived in the same town that the fictional Drapers lived in.

No, I didn’t start working in advertising at age 12. But I did go into the city several times to visit my father at his office. Those were the days when a teenage girl could ride the train from Ossining to Grand Central by herself, walk to the RCA building at 50 W. 5oth Street, take the elevator to the 42nd floor, and say hi to her dad.

I loved the office. I loved the desk overlooking Rockefeller Center. I loved the typewriter. I especially loved the phone, and picked it up and pretend-talked into it every time. I vowed that whatever my life held in the future, it would involve a phone.

Uh huh. Well, in high school I had some fun with writing — stories for the high school creative writing journal (yes, those were the days), a column for the newspaper on fashion (!), and copy editor of the yearbook. I remember my first published story at the ripe old age of 15, “Last Summer’s Sand.” All about returning to a beach vacation and reliving the previous summer’s “romance.” (Read “crush.”)

I’ve written in an earlier post (“Retiring”) about college and almost getting a job writing radio commercials. And about my first jobs in advertising. It wasn’t until I moved back to New York to marry my first husband that my real advertising career started. The marriage was all wrong (even his mother said so) but the career wasn’t. I worked for a supermarket chain putting together (in those days this required excellent cutting and pasting skills) newspaper ads for the weekly specials. I moved on to public television where I did a monthly magazine, sold advertising space with cold-calling, and begged for money on air.

And then I was hired as a copywriter/producer for an advertising agency where I met the most adorable art director. The first week I was asked to produce four 15-second commercials for a bank. I had never done a TV commercial in my life (I think they thought working in public television gave me a leg up). My concept was a puzzle that was pieced together by an off-camera hand and the line, “We fit the right loans to your needs.” Pretty good, huh.

So I asked the adorable art director to create the puzzle pieces. He labored over them, but they were so well made that it would have taken the off-camera hand 30 minutes to put them together. I solved the problem, and the adorable one and I fell in love.

I wasn’t exactly Peggy Olson (see earlier reference to Mad Men), but the world I entered was very much like the show. Sexist, sleazy sometimes, rampant with kickbacks and booze and dirty dealings.

The stories are so cliche.

Three months into the agency job, my boss asked me to meet her in the ladies room. From one stall to the other, she told me that she was leaving, taking all the clients and the employees, setting up her own agency, and would I like to join her. Uh, okay. I was told by the HR director that hired me for my first job that it was because of my legs. When a later ad agency boss suggested to a client that I would be fun to work with, the client cornered me in a cloak room and, breathing heavily down my neck, offered me a red Corvette.

But I had fun too. I did some great work, won a few national awards, had one of my campaigns appear on the cover of Time magazine,  produced a commercial with Vanessa Williams (at the time, recently dethroned as Miss America for appearing nude in Playboy) (link:VD Commercial), and gained enough experience to open my own agency (with the adorable art director) when I finally moved back to California.

And that was the start of another chapter.


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