Liz Smith: “Mad Men” Spawns 1960s TV Frenzy

"Mad Men" dreamboat Jon Hamm

And more from our Gossip Girl: New shows capitalize on a “Golden Era” … The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones … “La Dolce Vita” restored … Happy birthday, Miss Monroe

“THE EARLY 1960s was a very romantic period in America. The Vietnam War had not yet escalated and the Kennedy era, at least until November of ’63, took over the country with style and bold sexiness. It was a time of tremendous creative expression and hope. America has never really gotten over the 60s—any part of the 60s”

So says our pal Hal Lifson who works PR in L.A. but whose passion is for all things 1960s.

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SO, HAL is going to be over the moon with two new TV series situated smack in the midst of that “golden” era before the Kennedy and Martin Luther King deaths — and before youth rebelled, grew out their hair, took “trips” that didn’t require trains, planes or automobiles, wanted to “make love, not war” and declared nobody over thirty was to be trusted.

The great success of AMC’s “Mad Men” is probably partially responsible for the renewed interest in this era. Listen, given the level of Hollywood creativity, if there was a successful series about, let’s say, Marie Antoinette, other networks would pop up with projects about Du Barry or Madame du Pompadour. There is nothing new under the sun.

Anyway, NBC is gearing up for “Playboy Club,” which will be based on the first and most famous of Hugh Hefner’s gathering spots in Chicago. Hefner and Playboy magazine are cooperating, so there will be lots of beneficial cross-promotion. (Playboy itself did a “Mad Men” themed pictorial last year, and has been leaning more toward retro recently.)  “Playboy Club” will star Eddie Cibrian, Laura Benanti (Broadway’s divine “Gypsy”), David Krumholtz, Amber Heard, Leah Renee, Jenna Dewan, and Naturi Naughton. Apparently, the show will be a soap-opera-ish drama with some crime thrown in. (Killer Bunnys?)
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AND OVER at ABC, they are prepping “Pan Am,” which is about a group of flight attendants (“stewardesses,” back in the day,) working for the iconic then-luxury airline in its early 60s heyday. This one stars Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner and Annabelle Wallis. I can tell you right now the plot is a staple that has been used at least a dozen times, usually at 20th Century Fox — three beautiful girls and their various adventures with men. Think “Three Blind Mice,” “Ladies in Love,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” and “The Pleasure Seekers.” And those are the few I recall off the top of my head.

So, get ready for more 1960s fashions and foibles on the small screen.

Oh, and the one that started it all? “Mad Men” finally returns for season five next March, with an episode directed by Jon Hamm, aka Don Draper.
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SPEAKING OF the 1960s and cultural icons, tonight in New York will be overripe with nostalgia.

Martin Scorsese, Vera Farmiga and Emily Mortimer are hosting the New York premiere of the “restored” version of Frederico Fellini’s 1960 classic, “La Dolce Vita.” In its tale of a weary reporter looking for some meaning to his life, the movie catapulted Marcello Mastroianni to international stardom, gave Anita Ekberg her crowning moment in film iconography (the blonde Amazon in the Trevi Fountain!) and introduced American audiences to the paparazzi. In Fellini’s movie they chase Ekberg all over Rome.

Gucci and the Cinema Society are sponsoring the night, which promises to be a long one. “La Dolce Vita” was epic in its originally released version. “Restored” usually means — more footage. Oh, well, there’ll be a big party at the fabulous Standard Hotel after, so the audience will be able to unwind after the intensity of Fellini’s black and white stunner. Pasta is sure to be served.

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THE COMPARISONS to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones never ends. Not even amongst the surviving members of those two supergroups. Recently, several of the old Stones revealed they were “jealous” because all four Beatles could (or were allowed to) sing, and for The Stones it was only Mick Jagger crooning, shouting and posturing at the mike.

Sir Paul McCartney chimed in: “The four of us were unusual. We could sing. We were an entity. Mick used to call us the four-headed monster.”

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ENDQUOTE: We began with the 1960s and we might as well end with them. “During the 60s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered.”

This is from Andy Warhol, who embodied the era in so many ways. He was also one of the most emotionless, opaque persons one could ever encounter. But I don’t think one should blame the times. Andy was just … weird.

I miss what he’d be saying about today’s cultural atmosphere. Actually, it has become so horrible that Andy might have retreated entirely. If he’d lived, I could see him today as a Pop Art Garbo, wanting very much to be left alone.

ENDFACT: Had she survived the summer of ’62, Marilyn Monroe would be 85 today. I can’t imagine it, but who knows, she might have surprised us. And even herself.

14 comments so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    3 gals looking for adventure…and love! Here’s a few more “The Best of Everything,” which I think is far more telling than “Mad Men.” Oh, and the campiest of them all… “Valley of the Dolls!”

    I find these revisionist era shows entertaining, but leery as lots of folks take them as gospel…

    Marilyn 85. And James Dean would of been 80 earlier this year… Sigh.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      “Neely…you shouldn’t mix pills with liquor.”

      “Eh….they work faster!”

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    “THE EARLY 1960s was a very romantic period in America. The Vietnam War had not yet escalated and the Kennedy era, at least until November of ’63, took over the country with style and bold sexiness. It was a time of tremendous creative expression and hope. America has never really gotten over the 60s—any part of the 60s”

    ______________________________________________________________

    Only if you were a WASP. A White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male.  Everyone else?  Well, women weren’t allowed in the boardroom unless they had inherited the company from their father or husband or were there to record the minutes, African-Americans were at the back of the bus and “Whites Only” was a common sign in this country, Jews were not allowed to buy homes in certain neighborhoods, many deed restrictions in fact still contain the provision, gays and lesbians who came out of closet were either masochistic or suicidal, and freedom of religion applied only to Christians although the WASPs enjoyed more freedom than others and Catholics, particularly Irish Catholics, were about as welcome in many neighborhoods as Jews despite the fact we had a Catholic, and an Irish Catholic to boot, in the White House. Those certainly were the “good old days.” Everyone had their place. And were expected to stay there.

    Most do not long for the “good old days.” But some do. And I try to avoid those who do.

    • avatar Jay Gentile says:

      Don’t forget the invisible homosexuals of the 60s, played to perfection by Bryan Batt on “Mad Men.”

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I didn’t forget them - I mentioned  ”gays and lesbians who came out of closet were either masochistic or suicidal,”

    • avatar flyonthewall says:

      You took the words right out of my mouth, Baby. I was just telling someone this the other day. Those who long for the good old days were those who weren’t stung by some social injustice or hardship of the times.

  3. avatar D C says:

    My hubby and I found Mad Men long after the rest of the world, and ordered it up on Netflix to play catch up.  When we saw the scene were Mrs. Draper is fussing at the little girl when she walks into the kitchen with the dry cleaning bag over her head.  She’s not worried about her suffocating, but instead whether the dry cleaning might have been left in a pile on the closet floor.  That just cracked us up, and we were hooked.  Then the neighbor slapping the hell out of someone else’s kid… we had to run it back and show our youngest.  Being born in 1960, I feel like I really missed out on “the 60′s” because I wasn’t old enough to appreciate what was going on around me.  I bet a lot of people who are eating this kind of programming up are just like me.  Trying to clear up the fuzzy memories. 

  4. avatar Richard Bassett says:


    We’ve had “The Golden Girls” and more recently, “Hot in Cleveland”. Writers following the lives of three girls must be conscious of the sign of the times. “Charley’s Angeles: The Movie” should have taught us that. I can no more see a TV series take off of three flight attendants (called ‘Stewardesses) in the 1960′s with the humor of 2011, than I can an entire movie of it. Why weren’t these ideas produced then? In the 1960′s a flight attendant had to be a specific height, weight, age and beauty based on a model of the 1950′s. There was tons of discrimination. Will this really go over with women in 2011? Weren’t there even stewardess schools back then? Six girls sharing the same apartment as they are never all there at the same time? Well, good luck. The last successful shows that brought us down memory lane was the 1970′s/ 80′s Happy Days, as well as “Laverne & Shirley” taking place on TV representing the 1950′s/ 60′s. Comedy is much less slapstick now and wittier verbally. If you do not have THAT, the show is never going to last. I remember living in Los Angeles (Century City) and going to one of the last Playboy Clubs of its original kind in 1980. A giant ballroom room with four elderly patrons at the bar. My wife and I were 23. It closed that same year. What kind of travel book did I have back then?  It became a mall in 1981. Again, time changes everything but I can see that it must have been quite the place in the 1950′s/ 60′s. I had to laugh at the ancient Rolling Stones still revealing jealousy when only Mick Jagger was able to sing lead. That is 50 year old jealousy. In that regard, we heard all of the Beatles sing lead but at 9 years old in 1965, I wouldn’t have known one for the other. All four had successful careers as solo artists, some more successful than others. My sisters were Beatle age fans and I had my obsession with “Lost in Space”. The two never combined. “Lost in Space” got lost in space somewhere when I was 11 and by the time I was listening to music, The Beatles were history. Things were so much better then. But at 12, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

  5. avatar marywells says:

    I must say, Baby Snooks, this time I fully agree with every single word you posted!
    Congrats for your commentary. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Those were my “fomative years” as in “forming my own opinons” as I went from chilldhood to “not-so-sweet” 16.  I knew something was wrong with the picture and invariably said so. My mother didn’t drive and we would go downtown on the bus for her weekly “splurge” at Neiman-Marcus. Followed by my weekly “splurge” at the lunch counter at Walgreen’s. I got away with riding in the back of the bus one day. Although of course my mother didn’t join me and acted like she didn’t know me. Another day we were nearly banned from Walgreen’s when I sat in the “Black” section. No grilled-cheese sandwich for me that day. I hit junior high and all my friends were Jewish.  They all had parties at the Jewish country club. I wanted to have a party at my parent’s country club, actually my great-aunt and uncle’s, and was “declined” when I asked.  And it was “suggested” I spend time with the church group on weekends. That ended when I started asking friends from the church group to the parties at the Jewish country clubs.  And several parents “banned me.”  I suspect the church did as well. I was sort of shunned when I would go to choir practice. No more solos were offered. Then integration arrived finally.  No black students but we had a black teacher. Several parents put their kids in private school.  My parents said something about  putting me in private school. I asked them what was wrong with having a black teacher.  I was told I just simply didn’t understand the world.  Actually I did.  And didn’t like it too much at that point.  Still don’t at times.

  6. avatar Paul Smith says:

    I am always surprised that anyone remembers the sixties. If you do, then you probably were not of the spirit of the anti-establishment, overdosing and unwashed generation. All the mass produced soft memories of those times are fictions to distract us from the vile goings on of our times.

  7. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    I am 58.  With an excellent memory.  So I remember all of the 60′s.  The 60′s that was still very much like the 50′s, and the 60′s that was like an earthquake of  tragedy and rebellion and new ideas.  (Most of those new ideas would not  see any semblance of fruition until the 70”s/80′s/90….and we are still  struggling, all of us.)

    While I don’t wish to go back in time, I do hold fond memories for the pop culture aspects of that decade—the music, the clothes, the various vibes.  The first James Bond movie. 

    But I left home at 15, just as the decade was at a boiling pitch.  So I’m sure my take on the times is skewered from that survivalist standpoint.  I knew what was going on in the world, but it was of more interest to me what was going on in my world.  Would I sleep on the street or would I find a kind soul?   

    People kept offering to take me to California.  But I wasn’t the flower-child type, despite my shoulder-length locks.  I stayed in Manhattan.  Quite wisely, I think. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      California was, well, fun in the 1960s. Even more fun in the 1970s. New York was fun too. But of course I was totally jaded by the time I hit 22.  It was suggested I go back to school. So I did. Even attended classes occasionally.  I think they gave me the degree to get rid of me. Attending a Catholic university and questioning Catholic teaching isn’t too conducive to harmonious relationship so to speak. It wasn’t that I was “wild” by the time I hit 16 so much as I just didn’t fit into the “Ozzie and Harriet” world of my parents. I did understand the world. And wanted to meet more of it.  Everyone and everything. 
      I met wonderful people. And some weird people. One in Los Angeles I’ve never forgotten. She had a “relationship” with a swan. Some magazine even wrote about her as I recall.  California was fun. And, well, a little weird. 

  8. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Baby!! Absolute perfection!! I was on the later end but I remember all you stated. Great story for those who don’t “get it”. I was 15 in Providence, RI coming home from downtown waiting for the bus. Met a young black guy who I’d known since childhood and hadn’t seen for a while. We hugged and chatted for a bit; my bus came, we hugged and a quick kiss and then I got on the bus for a 15 minute ride home. When I got there my mother told me she had had 5 or 6 calls telling her I had been “seen” with a “negro”. My wonderful mother said “oh yes, that’s Deirdre’s boyfriend, John, we just love him!”. She and my Dad were way ahead of the curve then. Taught all of us that it was the person, not their color or nationality that mattered. I have loved telling that story all these years. Even though New England was far more liberal then (at least by reputation) there were many people who were not at all ready for real integration.