Veteran ad exec says 'Mad Men' really were about sex, booze

A: I smoked three to four packs a day. Everybody smoked at all times in all meetings. Once, when I was sitting in a meeting for the Contac account, I had a (lit) cigarette in my hand and another in the ashtray. When I put down the cigarette to do a chalk talk, I tried to light the piece of chalk.

Q: Was some of that smoking to kiss up to tobacco company clients?

A: We had two R.J. Reynolds brands (Winston Super Kings and Carter Hall pipe tobacco). The R.J. Reynolds guys would get off the elevator on our floor where we had two of those tall ashtrays filled with sand. The RJR guys would claw through the sand to see if there were butts from any other brands. These were executives. They wanted to know what our people were smoking.

Q: Did those clients smoke?

A: One time I went to visit RJR in Winston-Salem (N.C.). They hosted a big party at some country club, and they had a giant dance floor with everyone milling about. I walked up to the balcony and looked down and noticed that everyone was holding a cigarette — all the clients and all of their wives. But something wasn't right. I noticed that none of the cigarettes were lit. They were simply holding them. They believed the statistics.

Q: Do you still smoke?

A: I haven't touched a cigarette in 20 years. I have heavy allergies and developed asthma. The doctor said if I touched another cigarette, I'd die.

Q: Did agency execs really dress so snappily in the 1960s?

A: Yes, people dressed. We went to Brooks Brothers to get our uniforms. We certainly dressed better than any other business. Since we weren't bankers, doctors or lawyers, we could wear suits that were high fashion. The amount of money we had to spend on clothes, well, this was the kind of money we thought we'd never have. All for writing a headline or some body copy or doing a nice layout. It was more money than we could possibly spend. A lot of people were afraid it would go away. And it was that fear that led people to drink, smoke and screw around.

Q: As long as you're alluding to it, what about all the office sex depicted on the show?

A: There was a tremendous amount of sex. I don't know of a single marriage that survived that time. My first marriage ended after 24 years.

Society had changed. Suddenly, it wasn't just the WASP establishment living the good life. Suddenly, there were ethnics and kids — who once hoped they could earn $12,000 per year — earning fortunes.

All of this money shocked us people in the middle of it. We lived a Hollywood life. Did I grow up thinking I'd ever be paged at the Beverly Hills Hotel? Did I ever think I'd make so much money writing ads? No. It was a lot of people in a great celebration.

But no one wanted to go home. It was too good. There was too much booze, too many cigarettes and too many women. People found themselves in this wonderful gold rush. Mad Men only touches on how wild it was. It was beyond whatever I thought could happen to my life.

Q: Can you give one example of this "tremendous amount of sex" at your former agency?

A: We used to have an agency "sex" contest near the end of every year. … We'd go to a no-name Mexican restaurant, … and we'd drink giant margaritas all day. It was an idea I had when I realized our people were spending too much time talking and thinking about sex, and not working it.

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