Footnotes of 'Mad Men': "A Secretary Is Not To Be / Used for Play Therapy"

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper


If real intimacy comes from shared vulnerability, perhaps there is nothing that makes one feel more used than false intimacy. We saw examples of this all throughout last night’s episode: the invasive psychological test that went straight for the Freudian soft spot (how do you feeeeeel about your father?); Peggy’s wormy baby-faced boyfriend cajoling her into sex; the instant kinship between creepy Glenn and Sally; and of course, the great climax featuring a broken Don Draper who, after a lonely Yuletide party, breaks all his own rules not so much for a quick plow on the couch but for a sleepover with the woman who knows what his kids want for Christmas. It’s also the betrayal of intimacy that can bring out the most savage impulses in us-why Glenn was willing to trash Betty’s kitchen, in a ploy to help Sally out of the house she hates-and I can think of few other scenarios more humiliating than having your desire for intimacy taken advantage of… especially when you’re given a half-hearted non-apology and two crisp fifties the next day.


• There’s a coldness to the new digs, no? The modern design of Roger’s office serves as headquarters’ frozen center. The layout is far from cozy-it’s antiseptic, and frightfully full of symmetrical things. Roger chalks up the Stockholm style to Joan who, as we’ve learned, is a gal that prides herself on staying in touch. The Scandinavian influence was the big design fad at the time and has remained the iconic interior decor of the period (this sort of pop Scandinavian modern has also been adopted as a lingua franca of decor among young Americans today due in part to it’s unobtrusiveness and, on a different level, to a company called Ikea.) Tranquility through minimalism; uninterrupted lines, efficient instead of ornate design, neutral colors thought to soothe the eye and spirit: the critique of this sort of modernism is that it goes too far in soothing and actually numbs those who are exposed to it. It can become a visual novocaine that makes the visitor sedated but not relaxed.


• Freddy’s back (with the serenity to accept the things he cannot change and the courage to change the things he can). He’s a member of a fraternity that has only one rule for admission: a desire to stop drinking. It seems Freddy is somebody’s sponsor now, seeing as how he made a not-really discreet phonecall to his buddy at Pond’s, who had just spent an afternoon with a truly boozy Roger. We’re assuming Freddy took Roger’s advice from season two and checked himself into Hazelden. Hazelden was founded on a 217-acre farm outside of Minneapolis by a few members of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1949-it was intended for the rehabilitation of priests. But things changed fast; the American Medical Association categorized alcoholism as a disease in 1956, and Hazelden grew from 26 to 157 beds in the mid-60s. By the time Freddy would have gotten there, in 1963, their main facility was also just beginning to convert to coed. Turns out women sometimes had trouble with alcohol and drugs too… although at this time Betty Ford, who would become one of the first famous and public female faces of addiction, was just beginning to be prescribed the painkillers to which she would become addicted.

• Musical break! Here’s some advice to Don, via one of the founding texts for the ethos and aesthetics for “Mad Men”: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (featuring a bushy tailed Robert Morse).

A secretary is not to be

Used for play therapy

Be good to the girl you employ, boy.

Remember no matter what

Neurotic trouble you’ve got

A secretary is not a toy.ʉ۬

This play was produced in 1961. It snagged Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Drama Critics Circle Award before the movie version came out in 1967.


• Lee, the devious and rather evil and at-least bisexual Lucky Strike heir, got his Christmas wish: a pretty new Polaroid camera. Polaroid became a hot consumer item in the mid-sixties largely thanks to its advertising campaign by Doyle Dane and Bernbach. The ads were cheap looking and marketed the bulky camera with text heavy spreads that explained the new technology of “instant photographs.”

The team at DDB decided to focus on the pictures instead of the process. They hired photographer Howard Zieff to shoot a series of homespun pictures that gave the feel of a candid shot of typical but familiar snapshots of American family life: barefoot kids catching toads, Sunday dinners in messy kitchens, daughters giving living room dance recitals. To best communicate the simplicity of the product, the copywriters used only sentence: “It’s like opening a present.”


Polaroid’s TV campaign perfected the pitch. They captured moving and sentimental moments-an accomplishment in sixty seconds of commercial time about a chunk of plastic.

Polaroid sold millions of cameras for the first time in 1961.

You can always find more footnotes by Natasha Vargas-Cooper right here, or, you know, you can get a whole book of ‘em.