Women of Mad Men: inspired by mid-century movie stars (Joan)

Joan_s-roommateMany have speculated that Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant based certain female characters on famous celebrities of the period.

In an episode early on, the Sterling Cooper creative department comes up with an ad concept based on the fact that women are one of two types: Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. They have to pull the campaign after news breaks of Marilyn’s suicide in 1962, an event that leaves the entire secretarial pool in tears.

Joan is particularly devastated. When Roger Sterling, the partner with whom Joan is secretly having an affair, teases her about this, she bristles. “One day you’ll lose someone who’s important to you,” she sniffs.

Marilyn Monroe in bedThis seems so unlike the in-control Joan we come to know, future partner and CFO of Sterling Cooper. But at the time, she identified with the fragile and funny sex bomb with the heart of gold that was Marilyn. Here is Joan having a hotel assignation with Roger, the first time we realize they’re an item.

Joan & Roger season 1 And here is Joan is leaving the hotel after another, wearing her leopard coat and signature pencil pendant, and carrying her latest “gift” from Roger. Roger seems to give her a gift every time they meet. She takes this in stride as her due, early indications that Joan is comfortable with this kind of trade. It doesn’t seem to bother her that she got a canary this time instead of a diamond bracelet.Joan Holloway in leopard coatDo you see Marilyn in this shot? I don’t. There are images aplenty of Marilyn in fur coats, but this is an Elizabeth Taylor look. I see plenty of Liz in Joan, even in season one. Liz was fond of leopard too.

elizabeth-taylor-in leopardJoan Holloway getting emeraldsLike Joanie, Liz also looked great in a slip with minimal jewelry (but always some).

And here is Joan (left) in the scene where her reputation comes back to bite her when the agency partners set her up with that slimy car salesman, key to the Jaguar account. She’s insulted but decides to take Pryce’s advice and demand a percentage of the business in return. Don tries to stop her but is too late. The Jaguar rep smugly puts an emerald necklace around her throat, unaware of the deal she’s negotiated for going through with this.

It works out pretty well for Joan, but she pays for it, time after time, in boardroom humiliations – notably thanks to Harry Crane, who’s bitter about not getting a partnership for himself. Don, having witnessed these humiliations one too many times, finally takes revenge on the slimy car salesman and fires him, losing a key account for the agency at the same time. Instead of being grateful, Joan is furious.

“What was it all for?” she roars at Don, rattling her charm bracelet like a saber. (Joan is highly skilled at using her jewelry to emphasize a point.) We watched her dump her self-absorbed husband with similar dispatch. She doesn’t scream, she eviscerates.

Joan on Mad Men 1968Who is Joan channeling by this point – 1968, season 6? It’s pretty clear Marilyn is long gone by now. I can think of at least one scene where Marilyn loses her temper, at Clark Gable’s character when he tries to turn the wild horses into dog food, but she’s mostly shrieking incoherently.

I don’t think Marilyn ever delivered a blow like the one Joan levels at Don in this scene. You could say “fiery redhead,” but I’m thinking she’s channeling Taylor by now. Not the hysterical Liz in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, more like the Liz who stands up to Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Of all the female characters, Joan seems pretty guaranteed to be financially secure and fulfilled by her career. She didn’t get her storybook ending but maybe in the final season, we’ll be able to say goodbye to her knowing she’ll be okay.

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