Minneapolis ad execs recall their own 'Mad Men' era

Minneapolis’ own mad men – and women – experienced their own golden era in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

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From left, Allen Fahden, Sue Crolick, Fred Webber and Nancy Rice recall their “Mad Men” era advertising days.

Photo: Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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In the sixth season of “Mad Men,” which winds up Sunday, the action leading up to the Summer of Love has gotten as loosey-goosey as the dress code. Gray flannel suits, Brylcreemed hair and Old-Fashioneds have been ditched for wide lapels, sideburns and speedball shots.

The year is 1968 — a time when Minneapolis was experiencing its own wild and crazy advertising revolution. Progressive agencies such as Martin Williams, Knox Reeves and Carmichael Lynch challenged the buttoned-down office culture of local kingpin Campbell Mithun (which got a mention on “Mad Men” a couple of seasons back).

Minneapolis agencies were so cutting-edge that they attracted the eyes and ears of Manhattan big guns to flyoverland. We spoke with several of that scene’s players to get a feel for how much their world did and didn’t resemble that of Sterling Cooper & Partners.

« Don Draper: “Fear stimulates my imagination.” »

Lee Lynch recalls producing a TV spot — his fledgling agency’s first — with Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual for a car dealer celebrating its anniversary. The client had no money for production costs, so it was shot for free in the WTCN (pre-KARE) studio while the station aired Mel Jass’ matinee movie. The deal was, once the movie was over, so was the shoot.

Pascual showed up too late to rehearse. After flubbing his lines — with Cuban Spanish as his native tongue, he had a hard time enunciating all the consonants in “Chrysler” and “Plymouth” — he attempted to blow out the candle on a birthday cake, and missed. “He looked up with the dumbest ‘What do I know?’ look on his face,” Lynch recalls.

The spot ran as it was. “People kept calling up the next day, thinking it was great,” Lynch said. “They wanted to know how in the world we got Pascual to do that, and that’s how we made our rep.”

 

 

Roger Sterling: “They say once you start drinking alone, you’re an alcoholic. I’m really trying to avoid that.”

Don Draper: “So I guess I’m helping both of us.”

 

At favorite hangouts Charlie’s, Harry’s, Murray’s, the Rosewood Room and Schieks, the three-martini lunch was, indeed, a staple diet.

“We drank when we got business, and we drank when we lost business, and we were doing one or the other all the time,” Lynch said. “You didn’t dare meet with some creatives in the morning because then they drank all afternoon, and the next day they wouldn’t remember what you said.”

One day an account exec brought in a new client to meet Fred Webber, “and I was slumped over my desk, out cold,” he said. Allen Fahden, a vice president at several agencies, remembers “so many mornings you’d come in and there would be people sleeping on the couches in the conference room.”

Unlike the vicious battles for clients on the TV show, the rivalry among Minneapolis agencies remained somewhat friendly.

“Once we lost Bill Hogan, one of our key guys, to Bozell Jacobs,” Lynch said. “He had a beard down to his belly and hair down to his crack, so he cut them both and bought a sport coat to smarten up his image. When he left his apartment for his first day there, we kidnapped him. We put him in a burlap bag filled with chicken feathers and dumped him in the Bozell lobby. The creative director had to come in and cut him out of the bag. He thought it was funny. Bill didn’t, but he still came back to us a year later.”

 

“I’m Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke some marijuana.”

 

The parties often got as out of control as Sterling Cooper’s, though no one recalls anybody losing a foot to a riding mower. There was plenty of joint smoking à la Stan and acid tripping à la Roger, Lynch said, but that fad wore off — at least during office hours — because “they’d smoke, do some work they thought was great, look at it the next day and realize it wasn’t.”

“One art director plastered pictures of his face all over town, and underneath it read, ‘If you know me you’re invited to a party at my house Friday night,’ ” Webber said.

Fahden recalled a mystery party where “we all got on a school bus and first went to 501 Groveland where [restaurateur] Gordon Schutte comes out in a tux and has us taste Boone’s Farm and Mad Dog, cleansing our palates with Velveeta and saltines. Back on the bus a fat young comedian came on and started abusing everyone. His name was Louie Anderson.”

 

Peggy Olson: “Why is it that whenever a man takes you to lunch around here, you’re the dessert?”

 

Everyone seems to have worked with a roving eye like Roger Sterling, but no one wants to admit being him. “It’s not that they weren’t cads, they were just likable cads,” said copywriter Joan Ostrin.

Ostrin recalls being actually chased around a conference table by a senior account exec while cleaning up after a client presentation at a Bloomington hotel. She successfully resisted, but “I didn’t have a car, so he had to give me a ride back downtown,” she said. “That was a long, silent 12 miles.”

While clothing styles typically arrived in Minneapolis later than New York, the fashion challenges were the same. Sue Crolick, the first female art director at Campbell Mithun, said that miniskirts weren’t as carefree as they seemed.

“if you were presenting up at the board, you had to remember not to reach too high to write something because that skirt would go right up, too,” she said.

Men also had fashion issues, like polyester leisure suits. “If you walked too fast you’d catch fire,” said Fahden. “My uniform was cowboy boots, bell bottoms, a turtleneck and a long suede jacket,” he said. “I had a walrus mustache I could have used as a comb-over.”

 

Don Draper: “Let me ask you something: What do women want?”

Roger Sterling: “Who cares?”

 

Crolick, Ostrin and art directors Nancy Rice and Jan Leadholm were the Peggy Olsons of the Minneapolis scene, front-runners in a field that, like so many others, wasn’t used to women telling men what to do.

Rice recalled not being able to supervise photo shoots for accounts she was in charge of “because the client was going to be there.”

Crolick once worked for an art director who had a circle cut in his office carpet. He would remove it on occasion to reveal what was underneath — a Playboy centerfold.

Minneapolis agencies weren’t exactly leaders in making racially diverse hires or promoting acceptance of gays and lesbians, either, Webber said, with one exception: Dayton’s in-house ad shop.

Ostrin and Leadholm got their starts there. “Because it was mostly fashion, it was so theatrical, more like a circus than an office,” Leadholm said, recalling a co-worker who fit the Sal Romano persona, except he was out (and, it seems, a wee bit stereotypical): “He would get up at 3 a.m. every morning to shave so he’d have a sexy stubble by midday,” she said. “He’d give us unsolicited advice on what we were wearing, like, ‘Oh, honey, those sleeves are too puffy.’ ”

It could be just the nostalgia talking, but the movers and shakers of Minneapolis’ Mad Men era say today’s advertising is more data analysis than freewheeling fun. Tom Weyl, once president of Martin Williams, even sees the characters on “Mad Men” as a bit of a drag, for all their debauchery, tomfoolery and chicanery.

“They really don’t have as much fun as we did,” he said. “For us, it was always, thank God it’s Monday. We get to go back to work.”

 

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046









 

  • related content

  • Nancy Rice smiled as Fred Webber held up an old photo of the Minneapolis Advertising Club at Casa Coronado. Local ad-biz movers and shakers knew how to party, just like the characters of “Mad Men” (below).

  • Sue Crolick was the first female art directors at Campbell Mithun.

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