Welcome to Newsweek’s time machine. To celebrate the start of a fifth season of the TV show “Mad Men,” set in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1960s, we’ve retrofitted this issue to the restrained design style of those times.
The idea arose from a conversation with the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, who remarked that the buzzing content of the 1960s Newsweek was frequently the subtext of his show. The office psychodramas in “Mad Men” ran parallel with a serial melodrama in the news that Newsweek covered with panache: civil rights, women’s lib, the Kennedy assassinations, Vietnam, man on the moon—even the dominance of that new tech phenomenon the Xerox machine.
We invited the Hill Holliday ad agency in Boston to collaborate on our cover shoot, and its creative director, Lance Jensen, had a brain wave: wouldn’t it be eye-catching for our pages to reflect not just the editorial look of the ’60s but also the advertising idiom of the time? The concept caught fire, and soon creative directors from agencies all over were diving into their vaults to dust off visuals from old accounts like Spam, Tide, Dunkin Donuts, and Hush Puppies. Ad agencies like Brand Cottage, not around in those days, went retro just for kicks. I spent a happy hour before Christmas trawling through ancient footage at the BBDO agency that featured an on-camera office tour conducted by a voice of God. A snippet: “And here we are at the entrance of Madison Avenue’s thriving advertising agency with that requisite of all successful agencies, a very attractive receptionist” (zoom in on winsome blonde).
We were in luck for the writer of the “Mad Men” cover story. Who better than Eleanor Clift, our Washington politics maven, who also happens to be our only Newsweek staffer from the 1960s? She wasn’t a writer back then, of course: female writers at Newsweek were verboten until the 1970s, when editor Osborn Elliott was confronted by 46 angry women in a class-action suit led by attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton, whom Elliott described in his memoir as “highly articulate, tough, militant, black—and pregnant.” They won, and Norton went on to be a congresswoman. At that time Clift was a secretary-cum-researcher, married, as it happened, to a Madison Avenue exec. She wittily testifies to the accuracy of the long-lunch and ladies’-man existence of many of her macho co-workers (who referred to their female colleagues as “dollies”), and in a personal “eureka” moment comes to see that her own biography is not unlike that of Peggy, the “Mad Men” character who strives her way out of the typing pool.
The content of this issue is new, and about today, but there are echoes aplenty from the past, all uncannily like the present. David Frum underlines the significance today of Romney’s 1968 campaign for the Republican nomination—Gov. George Romney, that is, Mitt’s dad. George was one of the East Coast liberals slaughtered by the right-wing assault on GOP moderates symbolized by the nomination of Barry Goldwater (“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”)—who was, in turn, slaughtered by Lyndon Johnson.
The iconic political commentator of the ’60s was the Cold Warrior Joseph Alsop, whom the KGB tried to compromise by photographing him having hotel sex with a young Russian male. Luck again: it happens that the brilliant actor John Lithgow plays Alsop in “The Columnist,” opening on Broadway in April. Today, writes Lithgow, the only media personality wielding a fraction of Alsop’s power is Rush Limbaugh.
The antidote to this unhappy thought can only be one—or three—of Christopher Buckley’s martinis (page 27).