Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Three, Part I

"Mad Men"'s third season is two shows into its run, so perhaps it's time to look at some of the specifics of the AMC series' depiction of the substantial drinking life of Americans in the early 1960s, and Madison Avenue ad men in particular.

The time is spring 1963. There have been some fun alcoholic cameos so far. Roger Sterling, one of the chiefs of the ad agency Sterling Cooper, sent home some contraband Stolichnaya vodka while on vacation in Greece with his new, young wife Jane. Stoli did not become available in the U.S. until 1972, when PepsiCo forged a landmark barter agreement with the then government of the Soviet Union, in which PepsiCo was granted exportation and Western marketing rights to Stolichnaya vodka in exchange for importation and Soviet marketing of Pepsi-Cola. So Stoli in 1963 was an exotic beast. Roger treats it as such, only letting executives of his rank sample it.

Otherwise, in Episode One (titled "Out of Town"), there's the usual parade of Martinis and Old Fashioned. Nobody is cutting down. There's an interesting scene at the end of the episode where Bert Cooper, who usually abstains from drinking, indulges in a brandy after a hard day.

In Episode Two ("Love Among the Ruins"), Sterling takes some Bailey's Irish Cream early in the day, and pours his ex-wife Mona some Sherry. Copywriter Peggy Olson is bought a Stinger by a young lothario in an Irish pub. "It's called a Stinger," he says. "I don't know what's in it." (Thus, we don't know if Peggy got one with brandy or the more trendy vodka.) An old cocktail, it was nonetheless in the public eye at that time, featured in the 1957 film "Kiss Them For Me," starring Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield, and the 1960 film "The Apartment" starring Jack Lemmon.

Art director Don Draper and his wife Betty are taken out to eat by Lane Pryce, the new Limey overlord of Sterling Cooper since it merged with a British company. Pryce makes a big show of ordering a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild 1949. This is perhaps the most significant appearance of a specific wine on the series since it began, and is a signifier of class. The British were much more deeply schooled in fine wine than Americans at that point. Mrs. Laine, a picture of snobbery, tells the waiter, "I'm very impressed that you have this." Betty's only reaction (and he drinks while pregnant) is "That's delicious." I don't doubt it.

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