When we found out that our author Judy Goldman — whose memoir Losing My Sister will be released in October — worked as a secretary and ad copywriter in New York City during the 1960s, we had to ask if she’d write a little guest blog for us as a celebration of Mad Men‘s upcoming series premier. (It’s this Sunday, March 25, at 9 p.m., for those of you living under a rock.) For anyone who can’t get enough martinis, cigarettes, skinny ties, and bouffant hairdos on the show, you have to read about the real thing. Enjoy!
The Original Mad Men
By Judy Goldman
1965, post-college, post-teaching English in Atlanta for two years, I planned to move to NYC with a friend — a long journey from my childhood in Rock Hill, SC. Just before we were to leave, though, she called to say she’d decided to get married instead. Uncharacteristically, I went on alone — and landed at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, a very proper place that was also home to girls from Katherine Gibbs, the secretarial school where students wore white gloves to class. My room was so tiny I could lie in bed and open the door.
I wanted a glamour job, and got one — at Filmex, which made TV commercials. I was assistant to a production assistant. So it wasn’t so glamorous. At $70 a week, I could cash my paycheck on the bus.
When ad agency execs came to view their commercials, my job switched to bartender. I still remember the pamphlet I had to memorize — how to make a vodka gimlet. A Manhattan. Black Russian. I could tend bar and engage in small talk at the same time. Be friendly, honey! Me, in my sheath dress and three-inch heels, brown hair streaked with blonde.
Judy, in her sheath dress and three-inch heels, brown hair streaked with blonde, at the switchboard.
Every day at lunch, I relieved the switchboard operator. Once, a guy in the studio called: “Honey, we’re having trouble with the sound system. Would you count to ten over the loudspeaker?”
I went slow. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
From where I sat at the front desk, I could hear the crew laughing. What was so funny?
Another call. “Sweetheart, we’ve just about got it figured out. Count again.”
That’s when I figured it out. My slow, Southern syllables.
I didn’t stay at Filmex long. Who wanted to work at a place where the guys never learned your name? The ad agency people seemed more my type; I especially liked the copywriters. And, I’d always loved to write. Copywriting seemed the obvious next step. Of course, the route to any good job for a woman began in the secretarial pool.
Next, Ogilvy & Mather — secretary to copywriters. Then: junior copywriter at Benton & Bowles. Two of us were hired the same day. We were told that the head of the agency was betting on me to surface first; the VP was betting on the other gal. I envied her. The VP was better-looking.
One month in, the other gal left to get married. Not to the VP. He was already married. Which, at times, didn’t really seem to matter.
It was up to me. During the day, I wrote ads for Vick’s Cough Syrup. Evenings, all those office parties.
Just before I’d started at Benton & Bowles, I flew home to see my parents, and my sister fixed me up on a blind date. Home again for date #2. He drove his Volkswagen Beetle to New York — date #3. That’s when we got engaged.
Three months after the head of Benton & Bowles bet on me, I left to get married.
I didn’t know then what I know now. That the life I’d lived for two years would one day be a TV program.
Judy Goldman is the author of two novels, Early Leaving and The Slow Way Back, and two books of poetry. Her new memoir, Losing My Sister, will be published in October 2012.
Her work has been published in Real Simple magazine, and in many literary journals—including Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Ohio Review, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner—as well as in numerous anthologies. Her commentaries have aired on public radio and she teaches at writers’ conferences throughout the country. She received the Fortner Writer and Community Award for “outstanding generosity to other writers and the larger community.” She’s also the recipient of the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, the Mary Ruffin Poole Award for First Fiction, the Gerald Cable Poetry Prize, the Roanoke-Chowan Prize for Poetry, the Oscar Arnold Young Prize for Poetry, and the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for Poetry. Judy lives with her husband in Charlotte, North Carolina.