How I Got Here Mar 21 2012

The Reality Behind Mad Men's Sex in the Office

By damian ghigliotty

When AMC's "Mad Men" Season 5 debuts Sunday, March 25, viewers can expect to see more of the steamy sex, chauvinism and back-stabbing that the television drama portrayed in the first four seasons.

Jane Maas, 80, knows what really went on in the ad world of the '60s. The award-winning advertiser and contributor to the "I Love New York" campaign has written a book just in time for the season's debut. "Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond," sheds light on what advertising life was really like.

When Maas started her career at Ogilvy & Mather in 1964, men called the shots and women tried to level the playing field through their sexuality, she said. "It was one way for women in advertising to say 'The ball is in my court.'"

With her children grown and her husband, Michael Maas, and former employer, David Ogilvy, no longer alive, she said she can now tell it like it was. Some of her recollections were echoed by her past co-workers.

"There was obviously sex going on, but I'm not sure it was rampant. Maybe it was everybody but me," said Ken Roman, a former chairman and chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather, who worked with Maas. "There was more of a focus on doing good work, having fun and a lot of joking. But David Ogilvy himself was married three times and there were stories about how many affairs he had."

FINS spoke with Maas during a break from her 40-city book tour. We asked her the question everyone watching "Mad Men" wants to know: Was there really that much sex in the office?

Damian Ghigliotty: As you point out in your book, there was a lot of casual, and not-so-casual, sex going on between men and women in advertising in the 1960s. Did women do as much seducing as men?

Jane Maas: Not quite, the men were doing more of the seducing. There were a few women who used their sexuality to make a point or to get ahead, but they were the minority. Most of the women I spoke to about it spoke anonymously. A few were completely candid about it, like the former Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy employee Linda Francke, who said she lost her virginity to the account executive on Lime Jell-O. When she told me that, I said, "Well, I guess I can't include it in my book," and she said, "Sure you can. I've been married three times, who's going to come after me?"

DG: How did the sexual affairs differ from agency to agency?

JM: Sex at places like Young & Rubicam, I'm told, was quite overt. To the point where a lot of the agency's people met at the Lexington Hotel and the desk clerks didn't bat an eyelid if you got the key at noon and returned it at 2 p.m. Ogilvy & Mather was much more discreet about the intra-office affairs. That's because of the culture that David Ogilvy had established.

DG: Back then women held less influence in the workplace. Did sex allow them to level the playing field?

JM: I think women have always done that. It's not so much about using one's sexuality to get ahead as a copywriter or to get a raise, as it is to say, "You are playing by my rules now." Look at Greek Mythology. There's Helen saying, "I started this war."

DG: You do write about one colleague who openly admitted to sleeping with her boss to get a promotion. Does that still occur in the advertising world today?

JM: It sure does.

DG: Are there cases now where men are sleeping with their female bosses to get ahead?

JM: Absolutely. I have a variety of clients these days and I sometimes see women in situations where they have several men reporting up to them. There are some cases where you can see the flirtation going on, where a man reporting to a woman is essentially wooing her. That certainly would not have occurred in the 1960s.

DG: When did that change happen?

JM: It's been happening very gradually, between the Civil Rights movement and the short-lived Women's Liberation movement. I think what has helped it is that more women have been coming into advertising, communications and journalism. A larger mass of women means more able women.

DG: Do women in the professional world still need to use their sexuality to some degree to stay competitive against men?

JM: I'm not sure we need to use our sexuality as much as we like to use our sexuality. Not in a blatant way, but through those little forms of flirtation that give us a sense of power. It doesn't work if you're yelling, "Sit down, shut up and I'll tell you what to do!"

DG: One male executive admitted to you that a woman he hired rose to outrank him, and later fired him. From what he told you in your conversations did it seem like a cutthroat decision on her end?

JM: Without naming names, I am very close to the man involved and I know the woman involved well. She's not a cutthroat person. I believe she was retrenching in a tough economic time and let him go because he was older. I guess you could say he was expendable. Knowing her, I believe she felt sorry for having to do that. David Ogilvy counseled us all when we rose into any management position that if it ever makes you feel good to fire somebody, you are in trouble.

I thought it was a very courageous admission on the man's part.

DG: How do you view the way things are depicted on the show "Mad Men"?

JM: I don't think it has captured the passion that we had about creating good advertising, nor the fun we had. God, we had a good time. We liked each other and admired each other and respected each other. Of course there was jockeying for position, but people didn't throw each other under the bus. As I watch "Mad Men" I have to remind myself that of course they are doing a drama and they have to have conflict, therefore people have to throw each other under the bus.

DG: You've been called a real-life Peggy Olson. Which characters do you relate to the most on "Mad Men"?

JM: Peggy is similar to me in that she's very ambitious. She reads all of the research, she digs into the product. People might not consider her particularly sexy, but they do respect her. There is one episode where she and two of her colleagues smoke pot, but she's the only one after doing so who comes up with a creative idea.

Joan is another strong woman. She's using her sexuality, but she's a very pivotal person in that office and that's because of the strength of her personality. She and Peggy both disapprove when Don Draper announces that he is going to marry his secretary. It's Joan who says cynically, "Oh, he's going to promote her to copywriter because he won't be content being married to a secretary."

DG: What do you think of the contraception debate going on in the presidential campaigns right now? Do you think health insurance plans should cover the cost of birth control for female employees?

JM: I'm furious about it! And I'm a Roman Catholic. I think it's just terrible that there is even a debate about it. I think contraception should be as a natural as being able to put a Band-Aid on something. How dare people in this day and age try to dictate who can have access to contraception, especially when we are so threatened by overpopulation. There are many men and women now who have decided that they don't want to have children. Where are their rights? How cruel and how stupid! I'll probably be excommunicated for saying that, but that's all right too.

Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com



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