Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The fourth season of "Mad Men" begins this weekend on AMC. Don Draper and the folks who came over with him from Sterling Cooper - after it was inhaled by the British firm Putnam, Powell and Lowe, to begin Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce -will drink martinis at lunch, cold and dry; smoke cigarettes all day; chase gams; and wonder about President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. One of the founding documents that inspired the producers to make "Mad Men" was a 1970 memoir about advertising. "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor" was Jerry Della Femina's Madison Avenue memoir. His book has just been reissued and Jerry Della Femina, who still has his own agency and publishes a weekly newspaper and runs a watering hole in East Hampton, joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. JERRY DELLA FEMINA (Author, "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor"): Great to be here.

SIMON: You've got to explain that title these days.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Well, it was my first day at an agency called Ted Bates, and there I was, and they were talking about the Panasonic account, and they kept saying: We have to do something for the Japanese. We must do something for the Japanese. Big meeting and I finally said, I've got it, I've got it. They said, what is it? I said, the headline is: From those wonderful folks who brought you Pearl Harbor.

Well, it was the beginning of the end of my career at Ted Bates. I know that people were looking, saying, how did we hire this guy and how do we get rid of him?

SIMON: But you write in this book that in other ways, having a reputation for being - you dont say eccentric; you say crazy, was actually professionally helpful.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Oh, it helped a lot because it was a time when people just loved the whole sense of advertising was fun, and I wrote that it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on, and we'll never see it again. And I mean, if I had one martini at lunch today, they would have the EMS truck back up, and they would have to take me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: But in those days, a typical lunch, the bartender would be shaking the martinis as we walked in. As we were looking at our menu, the second martini - and then before the food arrived, the third martini would arrive. At that point, then, we would have two bottles of wine to go with our food. And then invariably someone - it was never me - but someone would say, you know, I don't think I'm going to have desert, I think I'll have a double scotch instead. And then we went off to work. And I hope the rest of the world was in the same shape we were because we did very well.

SIMON: You used to run an annual contest that would be unthinkable now.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Oh, my gosh, it would have been a disaster. Literally, from when we started the agency in 1967, we had an agency sex contest. And what did that mean? So, they would literally get a telephone list, and we're talking about as many as 300 employees. And they would vote for the person they most wanted to go to bed with. And so the two winners, the male winner and the female winner, even though they might not have voted for each other, won a weekend at the Plaza Hotel. It was quote, our secret, and it was sophomoric, but then we would all gather at a Mexican restaurant and lock the doors and we would have this wild, wild, wild party where I would then get up there and after God knows how many margaritas, I would announce the winners. And everybody's cheering. And the story I always like to tell was at one point, there was an older executive who I think possibly might have imbibed his first taste of cannabis, and he had a lot to drink. And at one point, his head went right into his dish. And sitting next to him was this woman who was our research director, and she said, it's okay, it's okay, he's fine - the guacamole broke his fall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I'm sorry. I'm trying to hold myself back from laughing because I want the record to show I'm appalled by all of this, but the guacamole just - the guacamole line gets me.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Obviously, it was not politically correct, but everyone took part in it, and we were just enjoying doing what we were doing. We were in advertising and it was fun, and we thought the music would never end.

SIMON: How's the rise of women in the workplace - not just the ad business -changed advertising?

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Oh, it changed it dramatically. And I'm very proud of this -I always had more women working for me than men. More women vice presidents than agencies three, four times my size. And people ask me, well, why did you hire and have so many women vice presidents? And I said it was just good business for me.

If I had a job that I was looking to fill and the salary was $100,000, men, you know, let's face it, if they were getting all the jobs, some of them were really, frankly, overrated. So most likely, I would have a man who really was only worth $70,000 looking to get this $100,000 job.

On the other side, there would be a woman who probably was worth $130,000, but she wanted this job because $100,000 was a lot of money at that time for a woman to be making in the advertising business. So women changed this business. They softened it; they made it better.

SIMON: Best ad you ever wrote, the one you did for McGraw-Hill?

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Yes, by far.

SIMON: McGraw-Hill, the old publisher.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: The old publisher, and my headline was: Before Hitler could kill 6 million Jews, he had to burn 6 million books. And I wrote that headline, and the ad won an award as the best ad of the year. And I have an award at home that I'm very proud of. It says Headline, Jerry Della Femina.

SIMON: Advertising less dependent on words now, more dependent on images?

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: It's a different world. It's all about art direction. Words really dont count that much. It's progress. Time goes on. I mean, my very first job was - I got an interview and I said, I'll work for nothing. And he said no, I have to give you something. And he said, I'm going to give you $5,200 a year. And he said, is that all right? And I remember biting my lip. I said yeah, yeah. He shook my hand. He says, I'll see you on Monday. And I walked out and I got to the ground floor, and I let out this scream. I mean, it was - I can still hear the scream. Fifty-two hundred dollars was the most any Della Femina in the history of the Della Feminas had ever been paid - and this was a token salary. I had found my business.

SIMON: Jerry, very nice talking to you.

Mr. DELLA FEMINA: Nice talking to you.

SIMON: Jerry Della Femina. His memoir, "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor," is 40 years old, and it's just been reissued in time for the fourth season of "Mad Men."

And you can get an even more behind-the-scenes look at the real world of ad men and the ethnic lines that divided the industry, at our website, npr.org.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: