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Real-Life Ad Exec Recounts His “Mad Men” Days

41MFEtvFmRL._SL160_Before there was Don Draper and Mad Men, real-life ad man Jerry Della Femina was living it up on Madison Avenue. Della Femina’s 1970 memoir From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (Simon & Schuster, 288pgs), one of the sources of inspiration for the hit television show, was reissued this month. The book, named after a tongue-in-cheek slogan rejected by Panasonic, exposes the true hijinks and excesses of advertising’s heyday. In an interview with NPR, Della Femina discusses his time as an ad executive. “Advertising was fun,” he explains. “I wrote that it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on — and we’ll never see it again.” Comparing the antics of the characters on Mad Men with his real life experiences, he claims the show has toned down the debauchery on Madison Avenue. “Obviously it was not politically correct, but everyone took part in it and we were just enjoying doing what we were doing,” he admits. “We thought the fun would never end.”

Although Della Femina openly acknowledges the sexism in the workplace during advertising’s golden age, he himself held very positive and progressive views on women in the office. “I always had more women working for me than men,” he states. “Women changed this business; they softened it; they made it better.” Cited as one of the 100 most influential advertising people of the century by Advertising Age, Della Femina says he’s most proud of the newspaper ad he wrote for publishing house McGraw-Hill in 1968. The ad, with the headline, “Before Hitler could kill six million Jews, he had to burn six million books,” won him the prestigious Advertising Writers Club award. Yet, he makes it clear that is was the money, not the creativity, that attracted him to ad work. “I had found my business,” he says, remembering his first advertising job and the surprisingly hefty salary that went along with it.

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