A Poster Redux For 'Mad Men': Double Indemnity

It’s deliciously fitting that Matthew Weiner, the exacting creator of “Mad Men,” chose designer Milton Glaser to create the promotional poster  for the AMC series’ seventh season, beginning April 13.

Talk about “Both Sides Now,” (a song that Weiner has used to dramatic effect in a past episode.) As we MM maniacs know, the show plays brilliantly with time, and memory, and the idea of duality and mirror images (aka “life’s illusions”).

As the designer of the original 1967 Bob Dylan’s “Greatest Hits” poster, Glaser’s work became the defining image of the time and Dylan. He reduced the Bard’s profile to a black silhouette, while his curly hair was aflame with colorful psychedelia.  Glaser even invented the typeface he used for the one word on the poster: Dylan.

That poster, in turn, greatly influenced the graphic design and ad worlds of the late 1960s, the time Weiner has so convincingly recreated with the show.

Except with this latest Glaser 2.0 version, the overall image also includes the MM-defining graphic of the back of Don Draper’s head, as he drapes his hand with its characteristic cigarette over the back of the sofa, so we can watch him watching.

Indeed, there’s so much duality and illusion to ponder here that thinking about it makes my own head spin.

So speaking of the doubleness, the designer can now bring the truth of his own experience over the years to the work, delivering a perfect double vantage point, a completion of the circle, right?

“Actually, that was a problem,” Glaser told me, when I spoke to him at his Manhattan office. “We had an existing, very powerful icon that people knew, so integrating those two things was difficult.”

It all began with the note he got from the producers that said “We want something like this” -- “and they had cut the hair part out of the Dylan poster and turned it upside down,” Glaser said. And, as he put it: “Very often you can no longer do what you once did. So it’s not exactly the same -- but it seems to be a surrogate for that period. It uses the same shaped forms of the original,” which he describes as “from turn-of-the century Paris, suggesting Art Nouveau and Oriental woodcuts,  reinvented for the United States in the 1960s and the West Coast  and the music business.” 

(At the time, it was Glaser’s response to the prevailing Modernist “Less is more” dictum: “Just enough is more,”  he felt.)

Ironically, at the time, every one loved the poster except for Dylan. As Glaser explains it, Columbia Records commissioned him for the poster, and then assembled the album of greatest hits without Dylan's permission or input. So Dylan claims never to have looked at the poster or listened to the album. How’s that for authenticity?

Meanwhile, on to Don & Company: If you recall, when last we saw him, he was a broken-down wreck, stripped bare. After being told to take a leave from Sterling Cooper for coming clean about his real identity during a Hershey meeting, he took his kids to look at the rotting whorehouse he grew up in -- implicitly admitting that he was also the same sort of fixer-upper.

Once again, Weiner is not giving anything away. But I’m relieved that the poster embodies the feeling of the late 1960s. As a fanatic devotee of mid-century design, I feared the insurgency of ‘70s polyester and macramé, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It looks like we return to 1969.

In the poster’s imagery,  Glaser has captured life’s elusive threads and connections. We see a woman’s face and a bottle of wine, among other things. It’s a complicated weave of present and past, creating the necessary depth of field in order to recreate the past.  And the search for patterns and connections makes  it psychedelic on the one hand, and kind of interactive on the other.

Certainly, Glaser’s recollections are merging into his ongoing life -- how meta can we get? The designer, still active in his business, explains it perfectly. As he told the New York Times: “This was supposed to evoke a feeling of what that moment in time felt like for people who actually experienced it, right? But most of the people who watch the show didn’t live through that era, so it’s a funny idea of simulating for people of what they don’t have any memory of and convincing them in a way that this is what it was like… It’s a complex philosophical issue.”

Yup. I’d explain it as “both sides now.”

Tags: mad men, tv
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13 comments about "A Poster Redux For 'Mad Men': Double Indemnity".
  1. Dean Fox from ScreenAngels Networks LLC , March 12, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.
    Barbara - Given our shared life experience in the New York advertising world, I really want to share your anticipation of the next, and final season of Mad Men. And I'm a committed fan of Matthew Weiner's work on The Sopranos and the earlier seasons of Mad Men. Yet, the last season or two of Mad Men have been major disappointments. There was a visceral truth and yet unpredictably psychedelic thread to the earlier seasons that has been lost. I'm just not feeling it anymore like before, and Mad Men seems less evolved and highly manipulative of late. I'm just not that excited to watch the coming season, Milton Glaser art or not, and the final series denouement is already anticimactic.
  2. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , March 12, 2014 at 8:21 p.m.
    I cannot wait for the season to start. The poster does the job for me, wondering how Don Draper of the early 60s adapts (if at all) to a changing world. I suspect he will have trouble. And should he even try? Given that he is finally facing his true self and sharing it with his children. Professionally, he must adapt. Personally...
  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , March 12, 2014 at 8:36 p.m.
    @Dean-- well, this coming season was supposed to be the last, but AMC and Weiner decided to split it in two, so we get 7 episode this year and 7 episodes next year, although they are shot at once. Last season seemed very slow to develop and repetitive. How many times could we see Don causing chaos, being self destructive, sabotaging himself and others? But since he has to start again from scratch (and it seems, perhaps, from LA) it should be interesting. THe kids are much older by now. I'm glad this season isn't the end. And Jonathan, I agree .
  4. Michael E. Keenan from Keenan & Company , March 12, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.
    Bravo! Barbara. Celebrating Glaser can't be done enough, a graphics giant in our business.
  5. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis , March 13, 2014 at 1:33 a.m.
    To be honest, I can't remember what was happening in the last episode. It's been too long since then, and that has been the problem (IMHO) each passing year. And I agree with Dean that the initial sense of anticipation has dissipated and the momentum is gone as well as my interest in the characters and their lives.
  6. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , March 13, 2014 at 2:41 a.m.
    Here's what I remember about 1969 that I expect Weiner will touch upon in the new season: Jets/Mets championships; Moon Landing; Chappaquidick; Woodstock; Charles Manson; "Midnight Cowboy"; and "In the Year 2525" and "Sugar, Sugar". Can't wait!
  7. Ruth Thomas from Second helping , March 13, 2014 at 9:32 a.m.
    as an Illustration major in the early 70s, Milton Glaser was an idol- the poster of Dylan is such an iconic snapshot of that time, it was so "of the moment"a little Peter Max taken to the next decade..which is what is occurring in MM as they leave the 60s...perfect. i look forward to seeing the conclusion of this show, but sorry it has to end. (sort of how i feel when i look at old pictures of those days)
  8. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners , March 13, 2014 at 11:59 a.m.
    Great poster but the show has become soap opera with advertising as a backdrop and the social upheaval of the 60s has become a signifier of time and place without much involvement or meaning. Having said that, I'm sure I'll watch. As they move to times within my memory, the show seems more and more a simulacrum of the period.
  9. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media , March 13, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.
    This article is a triple treat --- a current interview with Milton Glaser, unique perspective on his creative process for visualizing the final season of MAD MEN, and a fine piece of writing in itself. A great read.
  10. Bob Batchelor from Thiel College , March 13, 2014 at 2:34 p.m.
    Barbara, at least half my excitement for the new season of MM is reading your analysis and that of the many great commentators that have filled the column over the years. I've quoted you in several articles I've written on MM, including one in "Lucky Strikes and a Three Martini Lunch: Thinking about Televisions Mad Men," edited by Stern, Manning, and Dunn (Cambridge Scholars, 2012) which I recently learned is the most adapted text for MM in college classes (despite the high price tag). A second edition is coming out in time for the last half of the last season.
  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , March 15, 2014 at 6:58 a.m.
    I read the interview more than once (2 1/2 times to be precise) which (given the fact I watch TV now more than I read) was a surprise. Interesting thing to me about the poster is the black and white Don contemplating the 4-color (as they used to say) psycho-delic rendering as if he is passing judgment on it or wondering if his time has passed. Truth was that the style seemed to have been very short-lived, but as a short-lived fad it has lasted so long in our minds and we probably give it more importance than it deserves. I don't recall the "hip" agencies of the time falling in love with that movement although Wells's Love cosmetics seemed to embrace it a bit and VW did a print ad that said "Is nothing sacred?" and showed the beetle done up in Peter Maxy colors. The series showrunner writing off sequels and spin-offs in this case is probably justified; not so with Breaking Bad's Saul series and the possibility of Dexter's return.
  12. Jim English from FJC , March 15, 2014 at 11:49 a.m.
    Thanks Barbara. Love the ad history. Can it really be almost 50 years since Dylan's "Greatest Hits" and almost 40 since "I [LOVE] NY"? Thanks Milton Glaser ... and you too Wells Rich Greene.
  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , March 20, 2014 at 1:28 p.m.
    Thanks, commenters. It's been brought up that Peter Max better represented the period than Milton Glaser. But truth be told, Matthew Weiner bases most things on his parents' (upper middle class, educated) aesthetic at the time. They had Milton's WOR radio poster hanging in their house as Matthew was growing up, and that had a similar graphic that recalls the Dylan poster. So that's why he chose Glaser. Also, does everyone remember the Moshe Dayan poster over Stan's bed? Apparently, young Weiner had that in his house, too!