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Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune , Published May 07 2012

Real ‘mad woman’ tells the other side of advertising business

DULUTH, Minn. - It’s just a small detail, really.

But they got the hat wrong.

“Women copywriters wore hats in the office,” insists Jane Maas, who began working in New York City advertising in 1964 and is still at it. “We even wore hats to the ladies room. It was a badge that you weren’t a secretary.”

On the popular AMC-TV series “Mad Men,” when secretary Peggy Olson gets promoted to copywriter, she should have kept her hat on.

Maas should know.

She was a copywriter then at Ogilvy & Mather, a large advertising firm in New York City. She was a pioneer, climbing the ranks in the male-dominated industry to eventually become an agency president. And some have said that Mad Men’s Peggy Olson was based on her.

Despite the success of the ’60s-era “Mad Men” about Madison Avenue advertising executives (hence the show’s name) and those who work for them, it wasn’t until the show’s fourth season and the release of a book about the real mad men of Madison Avenue that a friend suggested Maas write the female version.

And what better title than “Mad Women?”

So Maas, who has written two other books about advertising, did just that, based on her experiences and those gleaned from more than 100 interviews. She’s telling it like it was for herself and others.

When the Duluth/Superior chapter of the American Advertising Federation learned Maas would be in St. Cloud for her book tour today, they jumped at the chance to bring her to Duluth for their Tuesday luncheon at Grandma’s Sports Garden, where she’ll speak and sign books.

“We had gotten extremely positive feedback from other ad club groups,” said Jamie Loftis of the local chapter. “They had referred her to us. We’re super excited.”

“Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond” was released by St. Martin’s Press on Feb. 28. The cable series “Mad Men” returned with a new season on Mar. 25, after 17 months of production problems that left the show’s loyal fan base hungry for more of the show. So the media and fan frenzy upon its return has been great timing for Maas’ book.

“There’s been so much television and newspaper articles being done,” Maas said. “And they swept me up in most of those interviews. All have asked, is it legit? I’ve just been riding that wave, going hubba-hubba-hubba.”

So is the show legit?

A lot of it is, she said.

“It’s wonderfully accurate in terms of the ways women were treated as second-class citizens,” Maas said in a telephone interview Friday. “Secretaries were asked to get ice for drinks, to run out to get coffee and pizza. There was a lot of sexual joking and bantering. All that second-class citizenship of women, they got right.”

The divide between working and stay-at-home moms is also spot-on.

“Working mothers were looked down on by almost everybody,” said Maas, now 80, who was a working mom then because she wanted to work. “If you had children under age of 12 or 14, it simply wasn’t done to work full time. Other mothers regarded me with great suspicion. Their husbands or my male co-workers regarded me with sympathy, thinking I probably had to work. So it was uncomfortable to be a working mother in those days.”

Women often got paid 50 percent less than men for doing the same job, she said.

“And the terrible thing was, we were accepting of it,” Maas said. “We were so pleased to be making it in a man’s world. And that’s the way we felt about it.”

While women copywriters were generally limited to writing ads for products found on supermarkets shelves, such as soaps, toilet bowl and drain cleaners, their male counterparts got the luxury accounts including alcoholic beverages, finance and car accounts.

How about those puffy skirts, nipped-in waists and confining undergarments the women wear on the show?

“Mad Men” gets the clothing exactly right,” Maas said, noting office manager Joan Holloway’s and copywriter Peggy Olson’s attire.

“We wore suits,” Maas said. “And we always wore high heels. Everyone in “Mad Men” is always in high heels. Even in the seduction scenes, they get the undergarments right — the slips, garter belts, stockings with seams.”

And the incessant drinking by the ad executives?

“The three-martini lunches was definitely going on,” Maas confirmed. “Men at advertising agencies went out to lunch every day and would drink two or three martinis and come back and try to go back to work. Women weren’t going out to lunch every day. For us, it was part calorie-control and part we figured someone had to stay at the office and get the work done. Because they weren’t in very good shape when they got back.”

But a scene from an early episode that has ad executive Don Draper coming in hung over at 10 a.m., saying he doesn’t have an idea for the campaign but would have one in time for the day’s presentation, would never have happened, Maas said. They would have been working hard on it for two weeks, with no drinking.

How about the constant smoking on the show?

They got that right, too, says Maas, who admits to having a two-pack a day habit herself back then.

“My God, we smoked everywhere and constantly,” said Maas, who admits to even smoking when her newborn baby was brought to her in her hospital room. “I cradled her in one hand and smoked a cigarette in the other.”

How about all that sex?

“There was a lot of sex,” Maas said. Sex between secretaries and bosses happened a lot; sometimes it was very deliberate on the part of women to get promoted, she said.

She offered several reasons for the frequent liaisons: The pill had become available, so neither men nor women were afraid of pregnancy anymore. A revolutionary spirit was happening in the advertising business as rules were being broken. And women still were subservient to men.

In the book, Maas says that the series has split the advertising world into two camps: those who love the show and those who don’t. Which camp is Maas in?

“I have a foot in both camps,” she said. “I’m really hooked on the drama of the series. I just wish they would portray the positive aspects of what we were doing. It paints a really negative picture of the business, throwing people under the bus to further their careers. It also seems to be an industry of alcoholics.”

The truth is, they were having a wonderful time, she said.

“God, we were having fun,” she said. “We were so excited about the whole revolution in advertising that was going on. We loved each other. We respected each other. And we were willing to work day and night for the agency.”