Footnotes of Mad Men: Misfits, Horse Meat and Clark Gable


In Edward Albee’s 1962 play,Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, George, after having served as a punching bag all night for Martha’s verbal roundhouses, decides to have out with it. He and his wife had put on a pretty good act for a their guests, the young and obnoxiously naïve Nick and Honey. Right before George divulges his wife’s big secret-it is of Dick Whitman proportions-he starts to peel the label off his liquor bottle. He turns to a confused Honey and explains, “We all peel labels, sweetie; and when you get through the skin, all three layers, through the muscle, slosh aside the organs, them which is still sloshable-and get down to bone… you know what you do then?” Yes: go for the marrow! Nice, horsey marrow.

Wet and lumpy like pony-filled dog food! Wasn’t that ‘label’ foreshadowing marvelous? During the focus group scene-ahem!-a new label to slap on the same horse product.

“That name got us where we are. Do you think that was just luck?” the dogfood heiress cries.

“I’m not saying a new name is easy to find… But it’s a label on a can.”

So: they eat horses, don’t they? Yes, they do! And by ‘they’ we mean dogs and Europeans. Beyond any sort of animal rights advocacy, there’s an American cultural taboo about the human consumption of horsemeat, even though it’s perfectly legal. The horse, it seems, is too much a sentimental character in American mythology to be edible-even for our pets. But touting the savory flavors of equine chunks-that was once a selling point.

Like for Kalkan pet products, before they changed their name to Pedigree.

The movie referred to by Burt and the dogfood lady for the outrage it created over sliced pony parts was The Misfits, from 1961. The film was meant to be a sweeping Western with a dazzling cast: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Cable, Montgomery Clift, under the direction of John Huston, with a script by Arthur Miller. These beautiful screen stars rope and ride the elegant ponies (before they are sent to slaughterhouse for dog food. The ponies. Not the stars. That was the 30s. Poor Judy Garland). The fabulous film critic and historian David Thomson wrote that it was Huston’s love of ponies that made you look at the horses and “see the wild four footed miracle.”

The Misfits is considered an epic misfire, particularly because it was Gable’s last role and the strenuous horse-taming scenes apparently led to his heart attack. (He died in 1960.) In the same Thomson essay, he writes that Gable’s acute, grizzled performance was actually enhanced by the vague dreaminess of Marilyn’s. Additionally, he wrote this about Gable’s persona-it could now easily double for a description of Jon Hamm.

Gable succeeded on-screen because of the promise of force behind the smile-that’s what made the smile knowing… He was like Jack Dempsey in a tuxedo…. Joan Crawford said [being near him made her have] “twinges of sexual urge beyond belief.”

Hamm has that exhilarating algorithm of sexual command, poise and vulnerability that were all on full display as Betty forcibly peeled off the Don Draper label. In the Virginia Woolf scene referenced above, George and Martha seem forever tied because of their ability to tolerate furious confrontation and an exposure of personal failure. Does Betty have that same… should we call it courage?

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