Jane Maas’s timing has always been impeccable. During her more than four decade career on Madison Avenue, she helped to create advertising that sold millions of dollars worth of products and one campaign that endures to this day—the “I Love New York” promotion that put New York City, New York State and Maas herself on the map. Her new book, Mad Women, hits shelves as the public eagerly awaits the new season of AMC’s Mad Men. The TV show may be fiction, but Maas’s book tells the true story of what it was like to work in the alcohol-soaked, tobacco-addicted, sex-obsessed atmosphere that defined the advertising industry in the 1960s.
Does the show get it right? Mostly, yes, says Maas. She lived through the era of three martini lunches, although said she only knew one executive with a serious drinking problem. “He was a creative director, and a brilliant one—until noon every day.” Everyone smoked a lot, even Jane. “I smoked two packs a day and told myself I enjoyed every cigarette, but I really chained-smoked without noticing that I was doing it.” She was aware that more than one male colleague left in the middle of the day, secretary in tow. “So the Hotel Lexington became a favorite trysting spot. It was just a few blocks from the agency, and the front desk clerks didn’t raise an eyebrow when you asked for a key at noon and returned it at two.”
What Mad Men brilliantly depicts is the subservient role women played in the advertising industry in the 1960s. The term “sexual harassment” was yet to be defined and well-educated women who landed jobs on Madison Avenue often worked in menial jobs, dependent upon their male bosses for job security. “The boss was in control of your salary, your raise, your career advancement…your life. If he wanted to go to bed with you, you had to ask yourself what mattered more: your self-respect or your career.”
Maas, happily married with two daughters, found herself fending off her boss, a creative director like Mad Men’s Don Draper who also looked a lot like the actor who portrays him, Jon Hamm. In 2012, she would report his unwanted advances to human resources. Back then, she didn’t have that option, not even telling her husband (in photo, above) because she feared what he would do. “There was an office manager, but he was a man….So, like many women, I endured battering, exhausting, cat-and-mouse harassment that went on for almost two years.” Ultimately, Maas went to the top boss at Ogilvy & Mather, David Ogilvy himself, who, watching her tear-up, agreed to assign her to another creative director.
There’s an irony about the advertising industry in the 1960s portrayed in Mad Men and fleshed out in Maas’s book: the campaigns designed to sell products to women were created by men. “Women weren’t even taken seriously as consumers. We were at best decorative fluff heads; our biggest concerns were ring around the collar and wax buildup on the kitchen floor.” The turning point came in 1966 when Mary Wells opened her own agency and convinced Braniff to paint its planes in rainbow colors. That got everyone’s attention. In 1976, Maas left Ogilvy to join Wells Rich Greene as a senior vice president. (Photo of Maas at top).
Besides providing a window onto advertising in the 1960s, Mad Women is a fun read. Throughout her personal life and career, Maas has rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. Her husband, Michael, was an architect, and her brother-in-law, Peter Maas, a writer and the author of Serpico, made into a film starring Al Pacino. Her classmate at Bucknell was Philip Roth. The two appeared in a college production of The Madwoman of Chaillot (above) and remained friends. When Roth was penning his book, Everyman, set in the advertising industry, Jane was his reality check.
She became good friends with Governor Hugh Carey after working closely with him on the “I Love New York” campaign, and was asked to plan his wedding to the wealthy Greek widow, Evangeline Gouletas. The event was star-studded and lavish, an evening to remember. “They were soon separated and then divorced. Like legendary Troy, Governor Hugh Carey was undone by a Greek woman.”
Maas made one misstep in her career: going to work for the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley. Promised the moon, the chance to run her own agency, Maas entered the agreement with high hopes. “Just as suddenly as it began, the honeymoon soon began to wane.” An established talent in the advertising industry, Maas found herself confronting the question, from others and from her inner self: how could she allow herself to be mistreated in this manner, by, of all things, another woman? She felt responsible for the staff she had hired. Where would they go if she left? And, would she be able to get another high-level advertising job? In the end, out of her own pocket, she paid her staff three months severance and became president of Muller Jordan Weiss advertising agency.
The last chapter in the book is titled: “Have You Really Come Such a Long Way, Baby?” Well, yes and no. More women now hold executive positions in advertising agencies, and, possibly because of that, print ads and commercials are less sexist. What hasn’t changed is the challenge all women face to balance career and family. When Maas started out with her two daughters at the Nightingale-Bamford School, she was one of two working moms in the class. That has changed, yet when Maas talks to younger women, she still finds them “guilty, frustrated, overwhelmed, and, yes, angry.” Her own daughters, looking back, are divided on being raised by a full time working mom. Her older daughter laments that her mom was never there, while her younger daughter remembers Maas a heroine that other moms wanted to emulate.
Mad Women is Maas’s third book. Her previous books include Adventures of an Advertising Woman and How to Advertise written with Kenneth Roman, still considered an important how-to guide. Now 80, Maas still works as a consultant.
All quotations are from the book.