Romy Shiller

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

A conversation with a real Mad Man

In News, TV on January 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm

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‘Mad Men’ television show opening credits:

About:  Mad Men is an American dramatic television series. The series airs on Sunday evenings on the American cable network AMC and is produced by Lionsgate Television. It premiered on July 19, 2007, concluded its fifth season on June 10, 2012, and has been renewed for a sixth season.

I absolutely adore the television series Mad Men. The series has won several awards, including fifteen Emmys and four Golden Globes. It is a 1960s drama set in fictional advertising agencies called Sterling Cooper on Madison Avenue in New York City, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The aesthetic of the show is great – I feel propelled to the 60s. The style of clothes, hair, furniture… The seemingly endless amount of liquor and cigarettes. The loose morals.  The goal to get the account or the girl. Women are bigger, curvier, sexier.

I had the opportunity to ask a real Mad Man a few questions. His name is Marty Baker and I was impressed with his candor and amazing sense of humor. He is a dashing, chivalrous, charming older man  – they just don’t make them like that nowadays.

Marty Baker has a unique ‘insider’ perspective on a very popular television show. Marty embodies an aspect of pop culture history. He lived what is now a fabulous story:

 

Romy: First of all Marty, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Marty: My pleasure to travel down memory lane with you.

R: What year[s] did you work as an advertising guy? What were your responsibilities?

M: I started at BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne) in 1953 in the mailroom after college at $29.50 per week gross which going to 40 hours gave me a gross of $35.  Was living at home where I gave my Dad $10 weekly.

Worked up to Assistant Account Executive. Then went to Ogilvy & Mather as an Account Executive around 1956 to work on Schenley Whiskey, Christian Bros, Wines & Schwepes Tonic.  In 1959 I was recruited to Doyle, Dane Bernbach as a Senior Account Executive.  In those days, Ogilvy and DDB were the hottest creative shops in the USA…if not the world!

In the 14 years I was there I worked up to Sr. Vice President, Management Supervisor.  I was, what was later called, “A Suit”.  I handled US Rubber, Keds Sneakers, Uniroyal Tires, Royal Golf Equipment, Lees Carpets, Ponderosa Steak Houses, Seagrams plus a few other accounts.

R: What do you like about the series ‘Mad Men?’

M: How can I count the ways? It brings me back to the “good old days” hearing expressions and seeing actions that really take me back!  All portrayed is very accurate except they don’t really show what mavericks and characters some top and not so top creative types were.  Also, tensions between creative types and account types were always there.  I was often told that if I was good to my wife and kids as I was to my creative teams I would win Husband and Father of the year Awards! 

Love the clothing, cars etc.

R: Can you tell me which expressions and/or actions you resonated with?

M: “Entertaining clients.” Strategizing on presentations.

R: What don’t you like about the series ‘Mad Men?’

M: We had more indiscriminate sex than they suggest.  Remember, the Pill became popular just a few years earlier so the ladies could relax and the guys could enjoy!  No HIV then just VD which was easily handled.  Also, tremendous amount of entertaining of clients or being entertained by print, & broadcast media.

R: Did “entertaining” include sex? If so, would escorts be provided? What was standard “entertaining” practice?

M: Most entertaining involved dinner, shows & sporting events.  Some may have provided escorts or access to houses like Polly Adler’s but I never did it.  On a business trip to San Francisco a client sales manager took me to a top college football game and then suggested that we could meet for “dinner and …” with a couple of lovely ladies but I declined.  I always preferred finding my own!

R: Were there office romances? Did men have sex with their secretaries? Were you aware of extra marital affairs? How rampant were these?

M: Not infrequent at all! One of our vice-presidents told his wife that he had a late night meeting with a difficult client. (I did this more times than I can remember.)

About 8:30 that evening, his wife was flipping channels on the TV to see if anything interested her.  She happened to pause on the baseball game – which she never watched – and was about to change channels when the camera zoomed into the stands and showed a couple in hot embrace and kiss…they came up for air…and there was her hubby.

I had several affairs over the years but only once with my own secretary.  Much less complicated with someone else’s or with other gals in the agency.

R: Are there similarities between the television show ‘Mad Men’ and what you experienced? If so, please elaborate on the similarities. Did you smoke? Drink? Wear hats?

M: OMG!

I always wore a felt hat, sometimes called a Fedora with a colorful, little feather thing in the hatband on the left side.  In the summer I wore a straw hat.  Hats began to go out of style when Kennedy was elected.  He was the first President to go hat-less and the hat industry hated him!

Watching the show startles me to realize that all of us smoked EVERYWHERE!  At a desk, conference table, restaurant, athletic events, in bed…both before & after!  It was unthinkable to answer a phone and not light up!

I don’t recall having liquor so readily available in our offices…and as the guy handling liquor accounts I sure would have them.  Always had samples but seldom drank in office.  However, drinking with clients, among us in various lounges and on business trips was rampant.  Lots happened!

A few were true alcoholics.  One of my first bosses, a brilliant man who wasn’t worth a damn in the morning but after three Martinis at lunch was incredibly good died at age 45 with cirrhosis of the liver.

R: There have been so many shifts since that time – which shift has made an impression on you?

M: The truly brilliant creative guys like David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach had their most notable successes working from their gut…not from focus groups like political parties do.  Clients could CYA if they reached decisions based on research so they wouldn’t have to take the blame if it didn’t work out.

R: What does CYA stand for?

M: Cover Your Ass.

R: Were there any black writers? Any female writers?

M: I never saw a black writer…many female writers…very few female art directors.  The only black of any sex I can recall was a man, Clarence Holt, who worked at BBDO as the “negro market specialist”.  I always thought that was a laugh!  Here was a black that graduated from an Ivy League school, dressed in Brooks Brothers clothing and lived in lily-white New Canaan, Conn.

R: Marty, we are very privileged to have your account of an extraordinary time and situation. Thank you so much!

M: My pleasure, Romy! 

 

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Hitchcock

In Film, review on January 2, 2013 at 10:03 am

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Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Alfred Hitchcock

Movie Synopsis: Touted as a biographical comedy-drama that presents a behind-the-scenes look at the film Psycho, which was marred with controversy due to complaints about violence, nudity and other sexual content and claims that a body double was used in Leigh’s place during the shower murder scene. It will also focus on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville. The Hitchcock plot follows the troubled financing of Psycho, the directors battles with Hollywood censors and Hitchcock’s desire to prove to his doubters, his wife and himself that he still had an edge. [http://www.filmdates.co.uk/films/4726-hitchcock/]

 

 The film is based on a book by Stephen Rebello, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of PSYCHO (1990). Anthony Hopkins is Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren is his wife Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson is Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel is Vera Miles, Toni Collette is the assistant Peggy Robertson.

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picture from Psycho (1960)

It’s always fun for me to see a film about the making of a film. In this case Hitchcock is a drama about the making of Psycho. Hitchcock was doing in film what was considered risky and new. He actually financed Psycho himself because big studios would not back him. He mortgaged his house. He had trouble with the censors. Showing a toilette on screen at the time was a huge no-no. The censors were concerned about the shower scene. That scene and the whole film in general are iconic; it is so hard to believe they were problematic.

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Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville. Helen Mirren is nominated at The Golden Globes for this role: BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA. She was outstanding here. “I really wanted to show that inner strength Alma had.” To see a very strong, creative and talented woman on screen is rare.

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Unfortunately, the great Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock was miscast. I found his makeup distracting – not his fault, of course. I imagine though, that a fabulous performance might have lessened my distraction – who knows? Portraying a historical figure can be tricky. Successful examples are Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.

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Scarlett Johanson plays Janet Leigh. She played her as sweet and was straightforward in her portrayal  – there was no complexity or layers

Jessica Biel is underrated as an actress. Even though her character, Vera Miles, was minor she brought a memorable, challenging performance.

James D’Arcy played Anthony Perkins but was given very little to do. The little he did was very realistic.

Toni Collette is one of the best actresses out there. It is always a great pleasure for me to watch her and here she does not disappoint. She breathes life into her character who is pretty tough but never one-dimensional.

I kind of wish that the script by John J. McLaughlin, mirrored a Hitchcockian sensibility. It could have been edgier, taken risks. It felt safe, commercial – Hollywood.  Psycho, released 52 years ago, breaks with those conventions.

The direction by Sacha Gervasi is the same as my concern with the script – unimaginative and safe. It was capable but not original. He directed a documentary about a Canadian heavy-metal band called Anvil! The Story of Anvil and won an Emmy Award in 2010 in the category of Outstanding Arts and Cultural Programming. I hope he tries again.

The film does look at the relationship between Hitchcock and Alma amidst the making of Psycho. Mirren says, “Alma was incredibly creative and positive, and I think that they had a strong bond that was glued together by drinks and by laughs.” Indeed. His drinking was a contentious dynamic. There was a lot of jealousy and suspicion but their loyalty to each other in this film was undeniable. It is refreshing to see untainted love. Smarminess in Hollywood film seems to pervade but here amidst complications there is a positive feeling. Then again, by many accounts he was an Ass. A realistic portrayal of their relationship? Doubtful. My wishful thinking is probably just that – wishful.

A made-for-television film called The Girl suggests that Hitchcock would have left his wife for Tippi Hedren but feelings were unrequited on her part. Hopkins said, “Well [Hitchcock] had some problems… he was quite a difficult man. He had strange relationships with the actresses.”

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It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of Psycho fraught with so many problems and obstacles. There was such a determination to get the film done – it was like a combination of stubbornness and integrity. I am the kind of person who really respects an alternative, creative vision. Sticking to ones guns in the face of adversity is truly admirable.

A review that I read by Jerome Christensen said, Psycho glories in narrative fractures and perverse behavior; it subverts the expectations of an audience already habituated to Hitchcockian suspense by pushing even further, masterfully administering a dose of sheer shock. Hitchcock, on the other hand, struggles to arouse even suspense.

I agree. The film was interesting but bland. It was informative but careful.