It was 1961. A brash young president had just been elected. Martin Luther King Jr. was calling for desegregation, and audiences were filling theaters to see West Side Story. Bouffants, hot pants, Soviets…this fascinating era may seem like ancient history to some, but for fans of AMC's award-winning drama Mad Men, the '60s are back!
Since it premiered in 2007, Mad Men has received rave reviews. Vanity Fair says it may be the best show on television, while The Boston Globe calls it "addictive." Each week, audiences get a glimpse inside the glamorous world of New York City ad executives who smoke, drink and cheat their way through the early '60s.
The drama centers on Don Draper, a dangerously handsome executive played by Jon Hamm. Jon says the high-powered men who worked on Madison Avenue back then referred to themselves as "Mad Men" and were often treated like rock stars.
"It was a perfect storm of being a businessman but also being a creative type," Jon says. "You had art and commerce mixed into one job, and so it had all of the sexy connotations of being a free-spirited artist, while also getting a steady paycheck."
On Mad Men, an ensemble cast and talented writers help bring the decade alive. Jon's character is constantly challenged by his seemingly perfect wife, Betty, played by actress January Jones.
Both Jon and January say the show's success has inspired the cast to work even harder. "It's been a passion project for everyone involved," January says. "[The praise is] flattering, and we just want to keep making it better and better and better for the new audience who catch on to appreciate."
Mad Men was AMC's first foray into original programming, and Jon says the fans have helped spread the word about the first two seasons. "When people start telling people, it grows sort of exponentially," he says. "With all of the awards and all of the attention in the press, this is the result. It's been great."
On Mad Men , the hairstyles, fashion and attitudes about smoking aren't the only things that seem outdated. Scenes in the Draper home and in the workplace give audiences a sense of what it was like to be a woman or a minority in the 1960s.
January says playing Betty has given her a greater appreciation of being a woman in the 21st century. "There's so many things we take for granted now," she says. "The biggest thing for me was just understanding the lack of choices that a woman had back then. … You went to college to find a husband. Then, you went home."
On set, January says the wardrobe, chosen by costume designer Janie Bryant, helps her get into character. The actresses wear pillbox hats and pleated dresses, as well as restrictive undergarments and girdles. "I walk differently. I stand differently. You hold yourself differently. It kind of forces a certain posture," January says. "It's a bit of a cheat as an actress to go on set and already feel strange and have, like, rocket tips."