Sunday, February 18, 2018

10 Movies to Watch When You're Missing Mad Men, Part 5

I am down to the final two movies on my Mad Men themed list! 2)The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was released in 1956, and stars Gregory Peck as a Public Relations man trying to support his wife (played by Jennifer Jones) and two kids in suburban Connecticut, at a nonprofit corporation while at the same time haunted by painful memories of World War II, and his illicit wartime romance. When he takes a higher-paying job at a television corporation, his past comes back to haunt him unexpectedly, and he must figure out how to deal with the consequences, while at the same time, not losing the life he had built for himself.
The movie 1) How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying  (1967), holds a special significance to me, as it stars Robert Morse as an ambitious young window washer, who ruthlessly, and seemingly effortlessly climbs his way to the top with brash charm, verve, and cunning, qualities that would serve him well much later on in his career, as he went on to play senior partner Bert Cooper on my favorite show, Mad Men!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

10 Movies to Watch When You're Missing Mad Men, Part 4

The next two movies on my list are documentaries, one of them so aligned with Mad Men, that it's even referred to in the subtitle! Famed New York graphic designer Milton Glaser is the subject of the documentary, 4)To Inform and Delight: the World of Milton Glaser. Glaser, the first, and so far, the only graphic arts designer to receive the National Medal of Arts award, is the artist behind such iconic images as the I Love New York logo, the Bob Dylan Greatest Hits poster, and the DC Comics logo. He also co-founded New York magazine. And, perhaps not so coincidentally, he also designed the key art for the final season of Mad Men! 
Photographer Bert Stern is the subject of the documentary 3) Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, directed by his wife, Shannah Laumeister. A famed portrait photographer who was arguably one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, Stern photographed Marilyn Monroe in a series of portraits done six weeks before her death, famously called "The Last Sitting." Handsome and debonair, Stern (almost) lost it all in the mid-70's when he became addicted to amphetamines. Able to bounce back, he remained vital and productive almost till the end of his life, at the age of 83, in 2013.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

10 Movies to watch when you're missing Mad Men, Part 3

The next two movies on my Mad Men-related list are 6)The Best of Everything (1959) and 5)The Apartment (1960). Based on Rona Jaffe's best-selling novel of 1958 (of which Don is seen perusing in an early episode) The Best of Everything takes a look at the personal lives and professional careers of three independent young women who share an apartment in pre-feminist era New York. The three young hopefuls are making their way in the world and are at the mercy of several lotharios that appear throughout the film as supporting characters. Hope Lange stars as an ambitious secretary in a publishing firm. For the first time in a supporting role, Joan Crawford plays a high-powered editor, unlucky in love.
The Apartmentwritten and directed by Billy Wilder, stars Jack Lemmon as an ambitious young insurance company clerk who lends out his apartment to corporate executives for extra-marital trysts, in hopes of getting promoted. Shirley MacLaine stars as an elevator operator with whom Lemmon falls in love, unaware that she is having an affair with one of the apartment's users. The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and neither Lemmon nor MacLaine have ever been better.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

10 Movies to watch when you're missing Mad Men, Part 2

The next two movies on my list of Mad Men-like fare are: 8) Executive Suite (1954) and 7)The Hucksters (1947). In Executive Suite, the President of a large furniture corporation dies suddenly in the street. His underlings vie for who will be the next President. Backstabbing, blackmailing and general skullduggery ensue. The all-star cast includes Barbara Stanwyck, as the daughter of the firm's founder, who'd been in a difficult relationship with the newly deceased, Fredric March as the firm's comptroller, who seems to be strong-arming his way to the top, and William Holden, who stars as a handsome and idealistic young designer who isn't even sure he wants to be President.
The Hucksters stars Clark Gable and the parallels with Mad Men are quite evident. Gable plays an ad man newly returned from the war, and looking for a job to get him back in the game. Among his responsibilities at the job he acquires are appeasing an obnoxious client (played by Sydney Greenstreet), and reining in an equally obnoxious comic for whom he gets a TV show. He also, throughout the film, vacillates between a beautiful, brassy brunette (played by Ava Gardner) and an elegant, icy blonde (played by Deborah Kerr). Enjoy!



Friday, January 05, 2018

10 Movies to watch when you're missing Mad Men, Part 1

Although Mad Men ended more than two years ago, I find myself still missing it. To my mind, the single greatest TV show in the history of the medium, it had an impact that is still felt. Mad Men did not exist in a vacuum and in fact had many influences and progenitors. Here are some movie recommendations, two at a time, if, like me, you need some of that Mad Men infused flavor in your life today.

10) The Thrill of it All (1963) and 9) Lover Come Back (1961). Although Mad Men was a drama, it certainly had it's share of comedic moments to treasure. These two romantic comedies from the early 60's star Doris Day. InThe Thrill of it All,  Day plays a suburban housewife who follows an opportunity to star in a soap commercial, thereby arousing her Doctor husband's (played by James Garner) jealousy at her newfound success. In Lover Come Back, Day costars with Rock Hudson, who plays a Madison Avenue Ad Executive who will do anything to land an account, except play by the rules. The plot's machinations include Hudson disguising his identity throughout much of the film. Sound familiar?

Monday, December 25, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

Sticky Fingers: the Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine 

Like many of us, Jann Wenner, or "Mr. Rolling Stone" as he is sometimes referred, is something of a mixed bag, and as such is perfectly suited for a juicy, warts-and-all biography. Journalist Joe Hagan does not disappoint, working with complete cooperation (and later denunciation) from his subject. Leaning heavily on my three favorite topics, sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, Hagan unpeels all the layers from his famous subject. Unsurprisingly, Wenner is a fan first and likes to surround himself with whoever the leading rock icon of the moment is (both Bono and Bruce Springsteen are listed as godfathers to Wenner's children). He also seemingly thrives on feuding. Among the boldface names listed in the index as having had rifts with Wenner are the following: Bob Dylan, David Geffen, Ralph Gleason, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Annie Leibovitz, Paul McCartney and Hunter S. Thompson. In addition, Hagan also shows the relevance of the magazine that Wenner founded, Rolling Stone either being the first to uncover, or bring new light to, the Patty Hearst saga, and the Silkwood case, among others. They were also the publication that serialized both The Bonfire of the Vanities and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. By far my favorite factoid that emerges from this book, however, is that Wenner apparently belonged to a book club with David Bowie. Their read? Let the Great World Spin.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A Few Words About Barbara Pym

Few writers are as quotable as Barbara Pym, twice named in the Times Literary Supplement, as "the most underrated novelist of the century" (by Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil). Barbara Pym's novels spanned the better part of the last half century, and captured a very specific segment of society, that of the genteel middle-class English gentlewoman, most likely unmarried and in her middle years. Ms. Pym was nothing if not charming about many subjects, one of her favorites being the drinking of tea. To wit: "I was so astonished that I could think of nothing to say, but wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion" and "Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'do we need tea? she  echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury...' She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realize that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind. I mumbled something about making a joke and that of course one needs tea always, at every hour of the day or night." For more about Barbara Pym, see here.