Mad Men: Some boomers knew the glamor

If you didn’t actually watch the multi-year TV series Mad Men, you probably at least heard about it: a look back at the Madison Avenue advertising industry that shaped our society. Waynesville, North Carolina’s Paul Viau played a part in that business, and in the local paper where he’s now a columnist, The Mountaineer, he looked back on his role with “An ode to Don Draper: Farewell to the golden age of advertising as baby boomers once knew it.”

If you were, or still are, a big fan of AMC’s “Mad Men,” you’re hurting right now. It was sad to say goodbye to such a stylish and accurate depiction of life in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Carol Viau, the then Carol Singer, at work for a Chicago advertising firm in 1970.

Carol Viau, the then Carol Singer, at work for a Chicago advertising firm in 1970.

Especially if you lived the ad world up close and personal, as my wife Carol and I did.

Back in the day — or should I say heyday — I was a younger, poorer, and much less handsome version of Mad Men’s main character Don Draper. Carol, at the time — though we had not yet met — was a younger, dare I say ‘prettier,’ and unfortunately, less endowed version of Joan.

The parallels between our lives as young advertising professionals and the only slightly exaggerated “Mad Men” stars were striking.

We began our careers in the 1970s. I was a copywriter — master of turning a phrase, snappy headlines, and dramatic ad campaigns. After being promoted to creative director, I was as loose and evasive as Don Draper, but unlike the ‘Don Juan’ Draper of “Mad Men,” I was steadfastly loyal to my wife at the time, whose name was not Betty.

Now it’s Carol’s turn. Far away in the Chicago hotbed of advertising, the then Carol Singer began her career in the media department of an agency— famous for such creations as “The Green Giant,” “Charlie the Tuna” and “Tony the Tiger.”

Paul getting a playful buss from actress Linda Evans ... back in the days.

Paul getting a playful buss from actress Linda Evans … back in the days.

For the sake of her story, I will call this agency “McMann & Tate” — and if you are a TV trivia buff, you no doubt recognize that name.

To quote “Tony the Tiger,” Carol had “GRRRRREAT” expectations for a career in advertising, but she was the wrong gender— or so the executives thought. In an early employee review, Carol was asked, “What are your career goals?” She was bold enough to reply, “I want to become an account executive.”

Sadly, her supervisor rebuffed her with, “Women are not account executives at this agency.”

Carol had hit the gender ceiling in advertising during the 1970s, but she was undaunted. She bravely told her story to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and quietly waited two full years for an outcome. Finally, her ad agency was found in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Carol got her promotion.

Carol sought no financial settlement, just an equal opportunity to go as far in her career as possible. But the “Mad Men” of that era had their own form of payback.

Just like Mad Men’s Joan started her account career with Avon, Carol was awarded the feminine hygiene products of Kimberly-Clark. (And I’m not ‘padding’ this story — pun intended.)

It was 20-plus years into our separate advertising careers when Carol and I met in Miami. We worked at rival advertising agencies; I as a pony-tailed V.P. creative director and Carol as a V.P. management supervisor. We both had keys to the liquor cabinet at that stage of our careers.

Paul Viau today.

Paul Viau today.

Our bosses hated the fact that we were dating — and possibly sharing client secrets. We had to convince them that “We had better things to do with our time.” Those things included Carol wresting with the collateral damage of my being a widower and getting to know my 14- and 16-year-old sons.

Gladly, Carol Singer Viau accepted her new role as stepmother to two teenagers and wife to a grown-up who still acted like a teen himself. The family has lived happily ever after.

Now, back to the series “Mad Men.” What did you think of the ending?

We loved seeing the quintessential Coca Cola commercial with its still famous tag line, “I’d like to see the world to sing in perfect harmony.” And it brings up the question: Should we infer that Don Draper went back to New York to create this masterpiece? As Peggy asked him in their last phone call, “Don’t you want to work on Coke?”

(For those of you still trying to place the stand-in-name for Carol’s first agency, “McMann & Tate ” — it was the fictional advertising agency in the 1960s television sitcom, starring Elizabeth Montgomery as a woman with ‘special powers’ and Dick York as a frustrated advertising executive.

The name of that show is exactly how I still feel about my “Mad Men” career and my lovely advertising wife: “Bewitched.”

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing. It’s fun to hear from the real people who lived through those times.

    Couldn’t stand the show – “You’ve come a long way, baby” kept me from being able to stomach the sexism and just enjoy the entitlement and the philandering.

    And the anti-semitism, and the ageism, and the one-upsmanship. I understand the pressures – but have no interest in watching the mad scrambling.

    They had some very good actors. But I would rather watch Christina Hendricks in Firefly than on Madison Avenue.

  2. Nice story with a happy ending and I don’t mean Mad Men. I am with Alicia on this one, I never could enjoy the show for various reasons but especially the smoking. I am glad you and Carol were successful and got together in a happy life. I did catch the McMann and Tate reference and oh my, Linda Evans… 🙂

    1. Those were incredibly creative days in advertising. Many new and imaginative ideas were unleashed. And, the people set trends and styles, many of which live on today. But, I, too, never found the TV series to be appealing.

  3. You know when I first heard about the show, I didn’t want to watch it. I don’t have all fond memories of my early childhood in the 60s in NJ. My dad was a “madmen” of sorts (executive in marketing/sales in office furniture-I can still remember him trying to set up a magazine ad with my sister in it, going to the photo shoot) and even looked a bit like Don Draper. If I wasn’t in school I was often surrounded by endless streams of men in business suits, carrying briefcases through the terminal while I was doing my homework at either Newark, LaGuardia or JFK airports. Or at the bus terminal. Waiting for Dad. Most middle to upper class families back then were 1-car families so our mom had to pick up and drop off dad. Imagine its 10 at night and then plane’s been diverted or flight cancelled. (Happened often: plans diverted, flights cancelled–and less communication as we have now!) Then we have to drive all the way back to suburban NJ and the car stalls at midnight on the GW bridge. Then there were all the people my parents had to entertain or put up at the house. Not to mention the backstabbing tales we’d hear about over the family dinner. Such are my memories! SO THEN: I actually watch the show and I’m HOOKED. What an amazing series. It brought so much back for me. Memories that were both poignantly bittersweet and funny too. All those memories. Yes we lived that life style for a time. I think if my dad were still alive he would have gotten a kick out of the show. (Though he probably would have told me there wasn’t that much sex going on, at the same time!) Anyway, LOVED the series. Really surprised me I did, but I think that just shows how well it was written. I will admit I was kind of ready for it to be “done” because some of the character’s behavior was staring to wear on me, so was ready to wrap it up. But all the same, I do admit it did leave a “hole” behind when it was done. Meanwhile, I moved out to Silicon Valley in the 80s, worked for a well known computer company. But I could not watch that Silicon Valley series. No, I did not wish to revisit my wild and crazy youth. That was MY adulthood and I had to draw the line somewhere!

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