Mad Women: Jane Maas's Memoir Sheds Light on Women Living in the Mad Men Era

People often ask Jane Maas, pioneering '60s and '70s "ad girl" and author of "Mad Men" myth-busting book Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the Sixties and Beyond, three questions whenever they meet her.

"Were women really treated like second-class citizens back in the '60s like they are on Mad Men?"

"Yes," answers Maas.

"Did you guys really have three-martini lunches like they do on Mad Men?

"Yes," she says again.

"Was there really all that sex in the office like there is on Mad Men?"

To which Maas answers, "Unequivocally, yes."

The last question seems to be the most popular, and certainly wasn't an embarrassing topic for society members present at the American Advertising Federation awards banquet, held this week at the Junior League of Houston, who giggled as the 80-year-old spitfire indulged in a saucy reverie about her life in the '60s-era, male-dominated advertising world.

Becoming an ad girl, or copywriter, said Maas, was actually a mistake. After graduating from Cornell University, she unsuccessfully tried to become an actress in New York City. One day, while she was walking down Broadway and commiserating with two other out-of-work actor friends, a producer from the television show Name That Tune walked up to her and asked, "How would you like to be a contestant?"

Maas happily agreed. Afterwards, she was asked to stay on at the show, this time as a contestant interviewer and a scriptwriter for the show's master of ceremonies. However, the quiz show scandals of the 1950s ended her stint, and from 1964 to 1976 she worked at advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, starting as a copywriter, then as creative director and agency officer. From there, and during the span of her career, she opened her own advertising office, won New York's Advertising Woman of the Year award, was elected to Bucknell and Fordham's Board of Trustees, led the "I Love New York" campaign -- the list goes on.

In spite of the many things Mad Men gets right, Maas was quick to point out some annoying fallacies. For one, Peggy Olsen's perpetual hatless state is a concern; copywriters, she said, always wore hats in the office to distinguish themselves from secretaries. Also, though triple-martini lunches were commonplace (for men), drinking in the office -- in the morning, no less -- was not.

"We kept a bottle of Scotch in the drawer if we were working late and had one drink an hour before going home," said Maas, but no 9 or 10 a.m. carafes.

And the backstabbing portrayed on Mad Men? Forget about it.

"We liked and respected each other enormously," said Maas of her copywriting colleagues. "Mad Men doesn't reflect that."

There's another question that bothers Maas, one that has nothing to do with Mad Men, one that led to a more serious answer.

The last chapter of her book is titled, "Have You Really Come Such a Long Way, Baby?"

"No, I'm afraid we haven't," she said in a flat tone. As a career gal's inspiration (despite being "awarded the National Organization for Women's "Most Obnoxious Award" two years in a row for her chauvinistic wife-cleaning-the-house ads), Maas doesn't see much progression in the way of the women's movement. Where during her time, women were fired from jobs for becoming pregnant, Maas is witnessing more and more women in their '40s and '50s voluntarily leaving the workforce. Meanwhile, younger, fresh-out-of-college types are contemplating the very same issues that her generation was torn over: how to be a good mother, how to be a good wife and how to have a good career.

Her advice?

"Either you won't be able to go to the soccer game, or you'll tell the boss you'll miss the big meeting," said Maas. "You're going to have to set priorities."

In the end, she added, in true "mad woman" fashion, "This is something that women are going to have to solve."

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Altamese Osborne
Contact: Altamese Osborne