Saturday, June 27, 2015

The real Mad Men: tales of fear and loathing from Madison Avenue

If you are a fan of Mad Men, then you recognize brand names being bandied about, and people running around in advertising agencies, desperately trying to get new clients or hold on to old ones. It all seems like life and death. In a way, it is. Advertising is a tough racket, and the streets of Madison Avenue in New York City are probably bloodied by those who have been pummeled and beaten down in such a competitive and cut-throat business.

Jerry Della Femina was an advertising man who wrote a best-selling book, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor in 1970, telling tales of the high pressure advertising business. He told it in a very personal and funny way, though, and when I began watching Mad Men I wondered if they had used Della Femina’s memoirs as a jumping off point for the series.

Before the book was published, New York magazine did a two-part excerpt, a look at how advertising agencies work. I read the book originally in the early seventies (and it made me glad I was no longer considering that business for a long-term career). In re-reading the excerpts from New York I am surprised at how much I remembered, even after 45 years. It made an impression, just as the television series does.

Della Femina, though, did all right for himself. I saw online he had sold his house for $25 million. Not bad for an ad man.

Copyright © 1970 NYM Corporation

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