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« Sick Day: My 1960s TV Sitcom Cure | Main | Interview With a Diva »

November 16, 2009


You nailed this one!

My unease with Betty doesn't have to do with her smoking, or even her drinking. Like you, I was raised during that time and never expected my mother to be a playmate. She and my father had their friends and we kids had ours. However, her detachment from her kids goes further than that. There's a frigidity there and a lack, not just of interest, but of basic affection that even Don (Dick) can't help but comment on. Yes, her choices in those days were limited, but her children will pay the price and that is what is most disturbing about her for me.

There's a photograph of my mother, very pregnant with me, sitting in a lawn chair with her Marlboro Reds perched atop her pregnant belly. It's one of my favorite photos. Not cause she had a nicotine addiction but it's sooooo late 60's.

What a great post. You've almost got me wanting to watch Mad Men again.

I must confess whenever I watch Mad Men I think of you and Sue and your mom.

I have never watched Mad Men due to my lack of cable in my life, but recently I saw the movie "A Serious Man" which also is set in the 60's. This family is Jewish. And Danny I couldn't help but think of you while watching it. Have you seen it? If so, I would love to know what you thought. I liked it in a strange way, but I do believe you need to be Jewish to really appreciate it. I overheard 3 women talking about it after the movie ended and they (not being Jewish) hated it.
I saw it with Debbie and she also liked it. ( I have been meaning to contact you about this so I am glad you prompted me with your blog to do so).

Oh my god, this was brilliant. And I haven't even seen Mad Men. Yet.

wow danny! the pictures are amazing, and your analysis is fascinating, and spot on! I totally resonate with everything, and now I am compelled to go dig out all my sixties pics of my parents! Personally i adore betty draper! AND, i know she cuddled with her kids and read them lots of stories, as our moms did w/ us!

Very good post, Danny. The parallels you draw between the Drapers and the Millers are really interesting, and I love the side-by-side photos of your mom and Betty.

I think Betty is very complicated. She does act cold, but I sympathize with her because of Don's philandering and her limited options. Her decidedly non-confidential therapy sessions in the first season really hit home how confined she was in her role as mother and subservient wife. And the scene in which she cries about her sadness to the neighbor boy Glenn as he waits for his mother outside the bank--that was brilliant. Even though her judgment is questionable, I understand why she would fall into the arms of Henry Francis. Imagine finding out that your husband is not only a cheater but has lied about his identity, and here's a completely different type of guy who makes you feel desirable and offers to save you from your miserable marriage. I can't wait to see how the Reno thing works out.

Danny, what perception. You must know that I was there, on the scene with your folks, The Millers...while living our separate lives, ours paralleled including getting divorced in the 70's, being very adult at 18, I quit college to marry at 18..Mom and I had an unspoken kinship. All the hairdos, clothes, high heels, smoking and drinking while pregnant; as you say, playing at being grown up. You must have been a precocious child to get such an accurate sense of the times. Hope all is going well with your little family. It's obvious you are a parent of this generation and a poster child for dads. Love, Betty

Great post, Danny! Though I had to skip some parts as we're only in Season 1 here... I'm looking forward to see what happens with the Drapers and all. It's such a brilliant show and it captures so well what it had to be living in that time... and what a difficult time for women, as you mention... Loved your mom pics too!

Great post and wonderful photos of your mom. I've given a lot of thought to this as well recently and have come to the conclusion that my "Mad Men" era mother was both a product of "her time," as well as of the emotional problems that have plagued her for her entire life. My parents weren't as wealthy and educated as the Drapers. My dad, the same age as Don Draper, was a high school graduate who worked with his father in one of Pittsburgh's steel mills and my mother, somewhat older than Betty, never even finished 8th grade. Intellectual and sophisticated she most definitely is not and never was. Yet the manner in which she treated us was so nearly identical to Betty Draper and those children that I feel I can no longer blame it all on her mental health problems. It has given me new insight into her character. My parents were also older parents than these characters, not having children until they were well into their 30s for some reason, although they, like the Drapers, had married in the early 1950s. I used to think this was part of their problem, too, but now I see that they were just probably behaving the way everyone did then.

My mother only escaped my father's abuse, constant lies, and philandering through his early death. She never considered divorce ("No one did that then," she's told me repeatedly) and her choices in future husbands, except for the last one, were always terrible. She was very submissive in every relationship and has been completely lost since my stepfather's death in 2005. How often when I think of her and my grandmother before her I wonder, "What if . . ."

Thus I don't think we should judge Betty Draper by our modern standards or I should continue to judge my mother by my standards. I think the Henry Francis character is kind of a creepy older guy (that actor looks positively elderly next to January Jones) with a "Barbie doll" fetish who will still constrain her but who knows, I may be proven wrong. As another poster said, it's complicated. It was for my real-life mother and it will be for Betty, too. I would have cheered Betty more if she had left Don with no man for a "life raft," but I gather most woman didn't do that then. It was financially impossible in the days before "no-fault divorce," according to my mother and grandmother. I also think damage to those children is inevitable because of that lack of basic affection, as someone else pointed out. You can already see Sally Draper becoming frustrated at not being heard or having her concerns taken seriously. Having lived through that I know you can overcome it, but not without help, or even limiting or cutting contact with certain people from your past.

I still have to watch Madmen.

I think it's hard for people today to realize how few options there were for women back then. You can't judge them by today's standards.

I was raised in the 70's and things were a lot different. Sure, my mom still smoked and drank in front of us. But she had a career as a commercial artist and was a lot more fulfilled than women in the 60's seemed to be.

You sum up the feelings of so many who grew up during that time (myself included) and articulated the emotions generated by the parenting (or lack thereof?) by my own mom and dad. It took me years to try to understand what your article laid out for me so easily.
Again, you make it great to hear what you have to say. Keep talking!

You forgot to add my favorite Betty Draper moment: When she gives Glenn a lock of her hair after he catches her on the toilet. Stay classy, Betty!

You've helped me prepare for the one episode I will watch next season (I am notoriously impatient with the TV); I had no idea what was going on in the one episode I saw this season. You cleared it all up. Thanks!

While I cannot relate to Betty's being like my own mother (you've met my mother, right?), I absolutely agree with you about every other aspect of the show. The details about the 60's--not only the sets and wardrobe, but the way the characters act--are uncanny. Alan and I love the show, and are now in post-season depression (kind of like the period from October 31 through April 1 for baseball fans).


My sister and I are always arguing about Betty's demeanor- I say, like you, it was the time. Not too much rolling around on the carpet with the kids in the early 60's but most of us turned out alright!

I love your side by side pictures of Betty Draper and your Mom.

I also grew up in the 60s. My mom tried (in vain) to limit our TV watching. She called it the "one-eyed monster". But, I remember she would ending up watching it with us sometimes against her own will.

I love Betty. I think she accurately depicts so many of the struggles women were going through in the 60s. Finding another man was the only way out of a bad marriage if women wanted to survive financially. Otherwise, they just stayed in the marriage and suffered.

This post is going to make me look for reruns of the show. I've never seen it but I also love the photos of her and your mom. I grew up in the 5os so tv being still new was a big source of our after school time, and i did my homework in front of the tv, multi-tasking.

Oh Wow, excellent essay. I'm a little younger than you ('67) but I remember and well know that parents were very different to their kids back then. My mom used to drop us off at the local swimming pool all day, every day, all summer long from the time we were seven! Unthinkable nowadays, but back then every one in our town did the same.

Your mom looks quite stylish! Love the blue coat.

Danny, this is one of my favorite non-Charlie posts ever, and I haven't even seen the show.

My mother was not like yours, but the behaviors and attitudes of those years are exactly as you described them. My mom smoked and cocktail-ed through all four of her pregnancies....and she drank buckets of coffee. It was no big deal back then.

The rule in our house was that you could leave when the sun came up as long as you returned by dinner. Other mothers would feed us lunch, reprimand us, or make us wash our hands, depending on whatever neighborhood we were in. As a child, it was my goal to stay as far away from grown-ups as possible...unless they had snacks. :-)

I love Mad Men. The photographs of your mom are so beautiful, she does look like Betty doesn't she?

I'm a child of the 70's and even I could see exactly what you are saying and completely agree.

It was a completely different time.

Great post! I live in Europe now and one thing that people tend to accuse American film (and tv series) makes of is of filling "period" pieces with current values. Mad Men breaks that cycle. None of the characters should be juded for what was simply accepted in the 1960s. It cannot have been easy for women. Or men for that matter. Don't judge Betty or the others for acting in a way consistent with the times.

Danny - most of what you say here about Betty is on the money. I totally get why she is the way she is, but I feel that the writers of the show are either not giving the character any of the nuances that they give other characters or that January Jones is perhaps failing as an actress to bring them out. When it comes right down to it, no matter what most of the other characters do that may seem deplorable, they are offered some sort of "out" that makes you continue to want to follow them. Betty Draper just grates on my nerves because she's so depressingly written and/or acted with no redeeming value.

I agree with you completely, Danny. I love Betty Draper. She reminds me of my grandmother (who was about 39 in 1960) and I have a great affection for the character as a result.

OK, first off I have to say I discovered your blog only about a week ago and have been on a total archive binge ever since!

Secondly, when I watch the next season of Mad Men, I'm sooo going to picture Sally Draper as having grown up to have your sister's family and life...

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