Well, it’s finally over. Don Draper and his entire crew have now entered TV folklore. I was addicted to the show but got increasingly depressed watching it. First, because I found it to be one of the most existential series ever (Maybe “The Good Wife” comes a close second – the last show this season left Julianna Margulies exactly where she started – with nothing); and secondly because I lived some of “Mad Men” in my own life.
You see, my very first professional job back in 1971 was as an assistant to the editorial supervisor in the public relations and advertising department for New York’s Blue Cross. My boss, Betty, who taught me everything about the business, always seemed uptight and high strung, and now, after Mad Men, I know why. As talented as she was, like Peggy Olson in the series, she obviously felt insecure, surrounded by a bunch of womanizing, liquored lunch boobs much like those in MM. Hell, the chief of the department, George Goodlett, even came from J. Walter Thompson, one of the top ad agencies, having been the guy who dreamed up the slogan Blue Cross used for years: “There’s more to good health than just paying bills.” He was a chain smoker’s chain smoker (again much like so many of MM’s characters) and died of lung cancer a few years after I left.
Another heavy duty player I had less contact with but who still cast a long shadow was Dr. Ropper, head of Blue Shield, at that time a separate corporation. A total megalomaniac, he committed suicide in the garage of his Scarsdale, Connecticut estate after the two corps merged and he was left out in the cold – apparently with no other purpose in life.
Decades later, now a VP for Marketing for a multi-facility health system on Staten Island, NYC’s forgotten borough, I experienced some of the same pain and uncertainty MM’s characters did in the end when, just like their agency was swallowed up, my system merged with a much larger one. I went from being a big fish in small pond, with godfathers to rely on, to a very vulnerable small fish in a big pond, left to fend for myself. Many of the colleagues I had worked with for years were at a meeting one day and gone the next, like some Jewish family swept away by the Nazi in the middle of the night. While I survived the merger, I was passed over for the new head marketing job even though I had more experience than anyone else around the table, and realized then that my days were numbered and that it was only a matter of time before they would be through picking my brain. Fortunately, I had planned to retire early long before the merger ever happened and was one step ahead of them. Two years after the merger was finalized, I filed my resignation; three years after I left, the whole damn thing collapsed under the weight of bad management. My system was sold off like slaves at a slave suction, but the major player that had driven the merger was just closed down.
At my little farewell party attended by over a hundred of my business associates, my long time born–again Christian secretary, big boobed like Joan in the series, but as ugly as Big Bird, decided to get her comeuppance for all the expletives I would utter about many of these assholes after I hung up the phone promising them the moon.
“Ray, you always told to me to have a plan B in life,” said Elizabeth with a benign smile. “Well, I have a Plan C. After your little party we’ll discuss what it will cost you to stop me from telling all these people what you really think of them.”