Of all the metaphors this season, the strongest seemed to be the horse. That could seem old, pony-furred hat if we were not in the strong hands of the Mad Men writers room. The partner of the wayward man making his claim on the land; the embodiment of stubborn independence; since cigarette ads immemorial, a symbol of virile Americanism. Of course horses are also chattel, and we Americans will gladly take our spirit animals, chop them up and serve ’em to our pups if there is good business to be had, even if we have to lie about it. Also, horses can kill you! (RIP, Papa Whitman.)
§ Off to Nevada! A 1934 article on Nevada’s divorce law in Fortune magazine described the town as “Population 18,500. Elevation 4,500 feet. Reputation: bad.” At the turn of the century, divorce laws were so draconian that couples would temporarily migrate to states with looser laws. Places like Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada lowered their residency requirements to get a chunk of the transient divorce trade. Nevada came out ahead by dropping it’s residency requirements from 3 months to six weeks! During the dust bowl, locals entered the divorce trade by offering lodging to couples looking to get their marriage-as they put it in the ads-Reno-vated.
§So where did Betty get her chutzpah-or as a WASPY mainline ‘brat’ of her ilk might call it, ‘moxy’-to declare D-day on Don? Henry Francis? Betty Friedan? Or was it all that sultry bath time? Here’s a particular passage from The Group that may have resonated with our white-nosed Betty. Kay, a college grad in a unhappy marriage to a creative type named Harald, fantasizes about taking the train to Reno:
She had loved him at first, she reckoned, but he had tormented her so long with his elusiveness that she did not know, honestly, now whether she even liked him. If she had been sure of him, she might have found out. But things had never stood still long enough for to decide. It sometimes struck her that Harald would not let her be sure of him for fear of losing his attraction: it was a lesson he had learned in some handbook, the way he had learned about those multiplication tables. But Kay could have told him that he would have been far more attractive to her if she could have trusted him.
As was stated by the fussy man in the glasses, the state of New York very much did not want you to get a divorce! The legal grounds for divorce in 1963 was adultery, which had to be proved in open court (could you imagine the adulterer damp with sweat on the witness stand?). The idea of divorce due to incompatibility was not really legally absorbed until the late 1960s. Nevertheless, at the time, unhappy couples were pushing matrimonial law along-one disillusioned alimony case at time.
§ Speaking of disillusionment! Don’s revulsion at being sold off has to do both with his free-pony-roaming the-silvery-plains sense of individualism (DREAMY) and also McCann Erickson’s noxious reputation in the 1960s. ‘Giantism’ was their business ethos. Beginning in the early 1960s, McCann-Erickson, then known as Intergroup McCann-Erickson, gobbled up a mid-sized shops and retained them under one umbrella, but still forced them the compete for clients. This had an upside: two agencies could be under the McCann Erickson parent with one shop servicing American Airlines and the other shop servicing TWA. And a downside: the fear, at the time, was there would be leaks and betrayals between agencies. In 1964, Nestle left McCann-Erickson because they also serviced Carnation. Continental also withdrew their business because McCann was in bed with other airlines. “Bigness is an evil,” a Nestle executive explained, “that strains relationships that ten years ago were very warm and close.” Oh my God, can’t you see Bert and a guy from Nestle drinking warm milk together and saying that to each other? Then being super sad?
The parallels continue (and perhaps will give us some clues as to what happens next season. Preemptive historic spoilers! Like Kennedy!). The head of McCann, a man named Harper, responded publicly about hemorrhaging clients and money one year with this pissy little quote: “We can’t support people with little thoughts or little dreams.”
Eventually, to keep their clients happy, Harper was sacked. One member of the board of directors for McCann said of Harper: “We thought of him as a genius with one glaring weakness: little sense of people.”
So, lesson learned from season three, life, et al: Never take relationships (particularly those with ladies like Peggy Olsen) for granted.
If you skip forward eight years, McCann Erickson will reclaim its glory with this very un-Draper, dance around the maypole bullshit ad:
And in the same year, 1971, it will be made illegal to advertise tobacco products on TV, billboards or radio, which may prove a challenge for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce… or will it?
Perhaps the boutique shops that peddle vice will serve as base camp for the refugees of Madison Avenue after the 1960s. Or perhaps it will be the death blow.
You can always get more Footnotes with Natasha Vargas-Cooper here.