April 13, 2010
 

Live On Mad Ave--The Real Men and Women

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By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

The first thing you notice walking up Madison Avenue toward 34th is their faces. You'll spot them a block away in the windows of the Science, Industry and Business Library. George Lois. Mary Wells. Ed McCabe. Roy Grace. They're tall vertical, black-and-white photos, nearly twenty feet tall. Each of their expressions is serious and focused, yet each of the four looks approachable and friendly.

The exhibit, "The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue and Their Impact on American Culture," has been stirring comment since its opening in June and will continue through September 26. As you step down the circular staircase into the displays, what's first revealed on a wall is Bill Bernbach's philosophy about who Doyle Dane Bernbach originally hired:

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Brilliance and niceness. This was DDB's philosophy and it sets the tone for the exhibit, which has been curated by The One Club and much of which was created through the 1960s. You can understand immediately why the "Mad Men" of the AMC-TV series don't get it. They stare at ads like VW's "Think Small," (which Don Draper has noticed on his commuter train), and ponder over ads like Ohrbach's "I Found Out About Joan" with the kitten posed in the hat and cigarette holder (Ohrbach's being one of Bill Bernbach's personal accounts), and they haven't a clue what this creative revolution is about. The one thing the mediocre talents at Sterling Cooper understand is that they're not part of it.

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That's why in the exhibit, it's the enlarged portraits of the women that initially catch your eye--particularly if you're thinking Peggy was about the only single mom in town making ads with the hard-drinking guys. There's Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who practically defined New York retail advertising at Macy's and Gimbels and was making $90,000, twice Don Draper's salary, at about the same time. There's Shirley Polykoff, who created "Does She...Or Doesn't She?" for Clairol at FC&B and made millions of women want to live their life as a blonde. There's Diane Rothschild, who grew her career at DDB with Roy Grace and then started a first-tier agency serving Range Rover and J&B.

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The faces may not be familiar, but the work--ah, the work. You'll be amazed how much of it is permanently branded in your mind and perhaps even in your heart. Mike Tesch's dazzling panorama of award winners below from Ally & Gargano, Lee Clow's "1984" Apple teaser from the '84 Superbowl. Mary Well's "End of The Plain Plane" that actually persuaded Braniff to paint its entire fleet different colors (and convinced Braniff's president, Harding Lawrence, to marry her). There's a tv monitor showcasing various commercials, but the exhibit is primarily print, much of it posters like Ed McCabe's iconic Maxell shot of the kid in the chair being blown away by that Maxell sound (still one of the largest selling posters on college campuses worldwide). And of course there's the Marlboro cowboy created by Leo Burnett in 1954, still the one and only global campaign in the history of advertising that's run over half-a-century without the need for regionalization or updating.

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Just before you walk downstairs into the exhibit, there's a glass display of books about advertising written by some of these legends. One is a work of fiction published in 1991 about an ad agency woman at the very top of the ladder, who's having some (though only some) of the same problems poor Don is experiencing week after week. The novel was written by Reva Korda, who was David Ogilvy's copy chief and one of the most powerful women in advertising for decades. The dust jacket of the hardcover edition pictures an elegant woman seated alone in her corner office, gazing out her huge, gleaming windows at the surrounding canyons of Manhattan. The title of Reva Korda's novel is "Having It All."

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