Commentary

'Drunk Exec Barfs At Bergdorf's': Is That You, Don Draper?

“Drunk Executive Barfs at Bergdorf’s,” read a recent headline on Page Six of the New York Post. The piece went on to describe a drunken, pasty-faced man who sauntered into the tony BG Restaurant inside the specialty store, taking a seat at the bar.

He got more and more hammered as he started bragging to strangers around him about his job in advertising. He then left for the men’s room; on his return, he vomited all over the counter. Apparently, a few of his fellow stool-sitters were splashed. (And a Burberry coat was the collateral damage.)

Then he paid his bill, staggered out, and left everybody else with the stink.

What part of this story is harder to believe: That in 2015, when the three-martini lunch has gone the way of typewriter ribbons and pensions, ad execs still behave this sloppily in public? Or that, almost 60 years after the 1960s, drunken people still actually brag about being in advertising?

What’s more, why did anyone care?  Why was this story so sticky, getting picked up online and in print all over the world? Four words: Just like “Mad Men”!

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The show has become a shorthand emblem of American culture in the 1960s, and despite the puke, we yearn for that connection.

Certainly, this behavior evokes everything about the show, which was never shy about letting the characters’ bodily emissions fly. Indeed, Don Draper once showed up drunk at a funeral and vomited. (And Peggy assisted him at least once in the Sterling Cooper mens’ room, aka, the vomitorium. ) The always dapper Roger Sterling spewed on the agency carpet once after returning from lunch.

Despite everything that’s messy and depressing about the show, we still very much want to buy into the American dream it presents. Early on, Don Draper’s famous line to Peggy, when she was young and scared and had given birth outside of wedlock and given the baby away, was “This never happened. You won’t believe how much this never happened.”

Series creator Matthew Weiner’s genius is in tapping that part of the national psyche. We hope that, like Don, who screwed up repetitively, we can always get another chance to remake our lives — to expunge the puke and start again.

Sorry about all the repeated talk of regurgitation. Every time I think that we only have seven episodes left to go, my own stomach, starts to churn. The series gets resurrected, appropriately enough, on April 5, Easter Sunday. It runs through May 17and then it’s finito, cut to black.

So what am I so afraid of? Well, I found “The Sopranos”’ ending a little punitive at the time. With that incredibly ambiguous cut, David Chase seemed to be saying, “I’m not your Daddy. Figure it out for yourselves.”

Weiner is similarly into faking us out. He’s led us to believe many things that haven’t been true. (The suggestion that Peggy’s sister was raising her baby, for one.)

Naturally, the notoriously secrecy-obsessed showrunner isn’t giving away a thing before April 5. I had to laugh at his response to questions about this season’s promo poster, which shows Don at the red wheel of his Cadillac Coupe De Ville, seemingly preoccupied, holding a cigarette and staring into the rear-view mirror. 

“It’s designed to tell you that Don is going somewhere,” Weiner told the Vulture department of New York magazine. “[W]e see him in his car, and we see that he’s alone, and I think you just have to basically feel that there’s going to be a sense of motion.” Gee, that’s definitive.

Last year’s half-season ended with the moon landing in 1969 and the death of agency founder Bert Cooper (who soft-shoed in socks off this mortal coil, singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”) And then as a way to yet again save Don, Roger sold the agency to McCann, which has repeatedly come in for peltings as the embodiment of a big, bureaucratic, old-school organization. That’s not optimum for Don.

The final seven episodes are called “The End of an Era.” And from what it looks like in the promo photos, they take place in the early 1970s. There was plenty of turmoil then, from the Watergate Hearings to inflation to a recession. Visually, macramé and brown shag carpet was big. The clothing was also pretty hideous: polyester shirts with huge collars, nylon dresses, elephant bell-bottoms and platform shoes replaced what had been structured and tailored. 

“Mad Men” viewers responded strongly to the sense of glamour and nostalgia in the clothing from the '60s; the wardrobe got uglier and more clown-like in the ‘70s. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Don in a polyester leisure suit, but it could be revolting.

And with this easing up on formality and bras and girdles, the sexual revolution also hit the suburbs. Don seemed to be way ahead on this. Otherwise, couples who had married young in the 1960s started feeling resentful of all the freedom that they had missed. The movie “The Ice Storm” captured the swinging that ensued, and how much it damaged the kids in the family.

Things were not getting prettier in the world of advertising, either. The much-ballyhooed Creative Revolution of the 1960s gave way to a more-conservative  formula in the 1970s. Rosser Reeves’ USP (unique selling proposition) came back into fashion. Think “Accutron is accurate,” which shows no creativity at all.

So did “Nameonics,”  the turn on Mnemonics  associated with James J. Jordan Jr., who came up with lines like “Renuzit doozit” for the air freshener and “Aetna, I’m glad I met ya” for the insurance company.

Meanwhile, Don has been losing his passion for advertising for  quite a while. Expect many conflicts for him at McCann. We don’t know where his marriage to Megan stands, but it seems over. My hope is that he continues to connect with his kids, especially Sally.

But I get the impression that Betty will continue to show her narcissistic coldness -- as, with her much older husband, she feels more and more left out of the loosey-goosey culture. Which probably means Sally will get thrown out of additional boarding schools.

“Mad Men” is all about rebirth — and Don, like the country, seems to find that in California. I think he’ll go back there.

So who is the falling man so dramatically foreshadowed in the opening animation? I’m worried about Pete, who never feels powerful enough. Last we left him, he was being really unfair to his ex-wife, Trudy, not wanting to let her move on with her life. You recall he had that Lee Harvey Oswald-like rifle propped up in his office in Season Two. I’m just feeling something ominous from his corner.

During the "MM" press tour last month, the question of a spinoff came up. Jon Hamm joked that it would be “Better Call Pete.”

Weiner has always put the kibosh on that sort of talk. He recently told TV Guide: “I’m not interested. And I won’t budge on that. I love that this is it. If people are left wanting more, then you did your job right.”

So on April 5, we will watch, hoping for a good death. I hope that, as with the Bergdorf guy’s leave-taking, it doesn’t leave us with a stink.

17 comments about "'Drunk Exec Barfs At Bergdorf's': Is That You, Don Draper?".
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  1. Jane Farrell from Freelance, March 18, 2015 at 6:56 p.m.

    Excellent explanation, Barbara, of how ads changed from the 1960s to the 1970s, and not for the better. I somehow think that Don is not willing to make that transition.

  2. Kurt Baumeister from Self, March 18, 2015 at 7:15 p.m.

    Another great piece, Barbara!

  3. chuck husak from august, lang & husak, March 18, 2015 at 7:36 p.m.

    Yeah, Barb -- don't forget one of the all-time nameonic campaigns…
    Tum…ta-tum tum!

    Hey, MM should never have occurred in real time. Much juicier to have been permanently ensconced in the 60s, instead of "progressing" into the 70s with that decade's toxic siamese ad- cousins of focus groups and psychographics. Who wants to see an industry jamming at warp speed to suddenly skid to a corporate shuffle? If this were an Arnold movie, it would be…RISE OF THE GROWN-UPS. Just my two cents (and worth every penny)...

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, March 18, 2015 at 8:13 p.m.

    We've all experienced an addiction to a well-written, well-acted television series, as HBO intended with The Sopranos and amazing successors like Six Feet Under. Network series like Dallas and Dynasty just went nowhere once the initial conflicts had grown stale. (Bobby Ewing waking up in the shower after a season long dead end dream, for example?) The only one I've personally felt has achieved a flawless story arc was Breaking Bad. Mad Men has changed significantly from its first seasons, and seems to be stumbling around, looking for the trap door. I'm so past caring.

  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 18, 2015 at 10:48 p.m.

    Dean Fox-- Understood. I have no doubt that this season will begin very slowly, and there will be complaints. By the last 10 minutes of the last episode, though, Weiner makes magic. I did like the Six Feet Under ending, where we got to see how and when every character died. (Well, it was about undertakers, after all.) Perhaps St. Elsewhere had the most brilliant ending of all time-- that the entire series was a dream, as seen in the snow globe of Westphall's autistic son.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 18, 2015 at 11:33 p.m.

    So far, when watching MM I relate to many of the stories, but my agency experience didn't begin until the mid-late 70's. Now, with MM in the 70's, the comparisons will be more pronounced Phila. style. Hope it is sticky.

  7. Daniel Schuman from Twist, March 19, 2015 at 8:48 a.m.

    LOVE THIS. Awesome appetite-whetter!

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 19, 2015 at 9:03 a.m.

    We all predict, now it's time to wait for the returns. Don't bother me on Sunday nights.

  9. Susan Patton from Susan Patton, March 19, 2015 at 9:12 a.m.

    Huh? Peggy’s sister was raising her baby, no?

  10. Peter Rabot from Munn Rabot, March 19, 2015 at 9:15 a.m.

    I'm sorry. I will control my drinking. I apologize to everyone who got splashed, especially that woman in the fur coat...

  11. Robert Rosenthal from Rosenthal Heavy Industries, March 19, 2015 at 9:25 a.m.

    Great. "almost 60 years after the 1960s, drunken people still actually brag about being in advertising?" ~ made me LOL, as the kids say.

  12. Alice Henry Whitmore from Freelance writer , March 19, 2015 at 10:41 a.m.

    Great article, Peggy. Er, Barbara. You have actually made me want to watch the last season of this show. MW owes you one.

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 19, 2015 at 10:48 a.m.

    Susan Patton-- I believe that whole thing with the priest was a fake-out, a way of showing that Peggy had changed her religion and converted to the Holy Church of Advertising. And in the end, it seemed to me that it was not her son whom her sister was raising. There hasn't been any allusion to it since the third season or so, so I'm hoping it will be resolved by the end. They did bring in this neighbor-kid, Julio, who was just about the age her son would have been, and showed her making a family with him. (She mentioned that she had left him at home during the Burger Chef presentation, to look more Mommorial.) He moved, so we will see!

  14. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 19, 2015 at 10:32 p.m.

    Barbara... Barbara... Don't get upset. It's not real. It's a TV show. Don't worry about Don's kids, they'll be OK... They're actors. Never forget, in the early 70's, Mary Wells of all people said... Hard times call for hard advertising, and proceeded to turn WRG into Ted Bates. As for the vomiting clown at BG, he's head of planning at "Commonwealth," the agency that stabbed Goodby in the back for Chevy. Their latest campaign is "Attract Attention." He certainly did that... Wanker.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  15. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 21, 2015 at 9:26 a.m.

    Can't help liking those simple taglines from 1970s ("Aetna, glad I met ya."). Having survived the 60s and 70s I seem to appreciate themes that don't tax my weary brain.

  16. Dan Skinner from ConAgra Foods, March 23, 2015 at 12:57 p.m.

    Reading your column prompted me to seek out the original NY Post column. How shameful (but not shocking) that the NY Post would take Disegi's admission of guilt and plea for discretion and include that at the end. The news value of the original story is questionable; to tack on a quote from a man who admits to a mistake but hopes to salvage his livelihood makes it even worse.

  17. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 24, 2015 at 9:36 p.m.

    Aetna, glad I met ya...nothing compared to another line from the same agency: Nobody elches tastes as good as Welch's.

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