Ever since the series Mad Men went on the air in 2007, I've wondered if it drew any of its material or inspiration from a book called From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. The madcap memoir of an advertising executive named Jerry Della Femina, the book was published in 1970 and must have spent a year or more on the bestseller lists; I saw it every time I entered a bookstore in those days and must have read half of it during a thousand and one browsing sessions. Just a teenager, I couldn't imagine shelling out $6.95 for a hardback book.
Over the past weekend, I learned the answer to my question is, yes, the book helped inform Mad Men. My source is Della Femina himself, writing in a new introduction to From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. It's just been republished by Simon & Schuster, which -- swag alert -- sent me a free copy. (That spared me the mind-blowing irony of paying more than twice as much for a paperback version of the hardback I thought was insanely overpriced at $6.95.)
From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harboris as paranoid and as funny as I remembered it (the title comes from a pitch Della Femina suggested during a listless meeting about why his agency's efforts on behalf of Panasonic), provided you have a strong stomach for the slurs that were the ethnic and gender state of the union 40 years ago. Possibly the most instructive bit in the whole book is Della Femina's account of the strategy his fledgling agency employed when it was down to the last few dollars in its bank account. Firing the receptionist was out of the question, he writes, because what if a prospective client called and a man answered the phone?
Of course, some things have stayed the same. Recalling his lone foray into political advertising, Della Femina recounts his conversations with the handlers of Arlen Specter, then a Philadelphia prosecutor running for mayor of Philadelphia. "What's Arlen Specter for?" Della Femina asked. ""Arlen Specter is for getting elected," the handlers replied. Della Femina tried again: "All right, what's Arlen Specter against?" Replied the handlers: "Arlen Specter is against losing." If only more Pennsylvania voters had read From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, they could have saved themselves several decades worth of political sidestepping.