Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What they don't sell at Banana Republic.

       People always want to know if I watch "Mad Men". My standard answer is that I don't like soap operas. The truth is I don't like to see my life on television.

       When I was starting out, advertising was considered a glamorous occupation, sort of like hedge funds are now. I was a big hit at parties, always being asked what working in an advertising agency is really like, and of course, I over-glamorized it at every opportunity.

       I told my friends how I spent my days thinking up multi-million-dollar ideas for Wish-Bone salad dressing or Jim Beam Bourbon. They asked me what I did when I got to work in the morning (discuss Johnny Carson office to office in the creative department with my coffee in hand). What were some of my accomplishments last week (wrote a song, "I've got those acne blemish blues", for a new Helene Curtis skin preparation). What celebrities I wrote commercials for (stage star Shirley Jones saying "how do you like my buns?" as she reaches in her Sunbeam oven).

       Later, the stakes got bigger when I worked at Chevrolet's agency. I got to tell my non-ad-agency friends about production trips to L.A. to cast commercials, and how the production people got that Impala convertible on top of Castle Rock in Utah. (The car and model were flown atop the rock by helicopter. She was so scared an engineer had to hide under the car, to keep the model calm.)

       As my career progressed, I spent more time being me and less time exaggerating. But somewhere on a high shelf in my clothes closet today is a photo of me from the "Mad Men" days. I was walking on Lake Street in Chicago, felt hat on my head and hands in the pockets of my raincoat. I was whistling as I walked, as I do now, often to the embarrassment of those with me. The photo was taken by a guy who handed you a small brown envelope; if you put two dollars inside and mailed it, in a week you'd get your picture.

       Today if you'd like to see what I looked like in those glamorous days, all you have to do is go to Banana Republic. I hear their new "Mad Men" collection is terrific.

       But I don't think the pockets come stuffed with cocktail napkins with headlines for ads written on them, or the receipt from last night's taxi home because I worked past seven, or a claim check for the grey hat that I hope is still waiting for me in the cloakroom across from the bar at Riccardo's.



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