What do Rush Limbaugh, Rainn Wilson (“Dwight” from “The Office”), and Drew Carey all have in common? Hint: It has nothing to do with their appearances, their professions or their ethnicity. Give up? All three are big fans of the TV program “Mad Men,” and they are eagerly collecting the Mattel versions of the advertising characters.These three famous AMC viewers are besotted by the imagery and the appeal of the award-winning show’s set design, wardrobe, teleplays and casting. As Rainn Wilson jokingly said, “I watch ‘Mad Men’ to learn about debauchery and self-loathing!’”
For those who haven’t been following the antics of Madison Avenue ad executive Don Draper and his button-down colleagues, the cable-TV program takes an uncompromising look at the 1960s culture of three-martini business lunches, smoking wherever and whenever one pleased, and openly “flirting” in the workplace before it became known as “harassment.”
The show pops with visuals that are straight out of a Montgomery Ward catalog, and the makeup and the outfits that the players wear are eerily accurate. It’s as if your family’s photo album has been raided, and your parents or grandparents have been rejuvenated and are now beaming into millions of homes worldwide.
“Mad Men” takes place back in the days when “men were men,” and a combo of chauvinism and arrogance were the necessary ingredients for a young executive’s rise at the workplace. (Women on the show, by and large, are left to languish in the stenographer pool, hoping that a well-turned leg and a nice neckline will land them a hubby and a happy home in the suburbs.)
Plugging into that vibe is difficult for both men and women who have grown up or prospered in the post Ms. Magazine world. It seems nearly impossible to believe that these throwback behaviors were once everyday etiquette, and the rampant antifeminism was not only accepted but was applauded.
Perhaps it’s because of this connection to a world that once was, and never will be again, that the episodes have built up such a formidable male base. And, most likely, that is why the three aforementioned celebrities are outspoken in their appreciation for the series and their desire to own the dolls.
It’s fitting that Mattel would be the company to manufacture these tie-ins. After all, its biggest success has been “Barbie,” the “teenage swimsuit fashion model,” who arrived on the scene in 1959. Though she’s slimmed down her figure, but has broadened her careers and identity over the passing decades, the vinyl beauty was made in the days when the “Mad Men” mindset was in full swing. More than likely when she was first sculpted, Barbie hoped to move into her dream house with hubby “Ken,” who would be carrying the mortgage alone while Barbie volunteered at various civic groups and the Junior League.
However, an avalanche of post-Kennedy Era changes snowballed and snowballed, and Barbie soon became a free-spirited, groovy Malibu sunbather with a twist-n-turn waist. Ken was relegated to accessory status.
The dolls that Mattel launched to coincide with the July 25 premiere of Season 4 salute the antihero Don Draper, his long-suffering wife, Betty, his advertising colleague, Roger Sterling, and the firm’s office manager, Joan Holloway.
Interestingly, Holloway, a curvaceous redhead with the physique of Jayne Mansfield, is portrayed by actress Christina Hendricks, who has been taken to task for her buxom and hippy silhouette. The Barbie translation of the Holloway character actually has a more slender shape than the real-life actress. Funny, that the dolls and the show turn back the hands of time, but they can’t handle a real-life hourglass figure!
The “Mad Men” line took more than a year to bring to the marketplace, and Mattel personally received the green light to go ahead with the project from the program’s creator, Matthew Weiner, a self-admitted Barbie enthusiast.
Designed by Mattel stalwart Robert Best, the dolls capture the nuances of the gray flannel suits, the hemlines, the dress palettes, and the jewelry for both the women and the men (cufflinks are very important). “The show has such a beautifully art-directed look. The color of the room or the cigarette case, all of it is thoughtful,” Best has said.
With Season 4’s arrival, the characters will be hitting more speed bumps on their highways to happiness. Their lives might lose some of the “Bewitched” and “Dick Van Dyke Show” sheen. Will Mattel provide cartons of cigarettes, cases of booze, handwritten alibis, and divorce decrees to help the dolls navigate the wrecks that are speeding their way?
These dolls aren’t intended for children—the price tag of nearly $80 each should make that very clear. These are definitely intended for the adult collector and, in many cases, the adult male collector.
Nowadays, a man can’t come home from work, change into a smoking jacket, prop up his feet, have his wife put his slippers on him, and then sit in the recliner, reading the sports page, indulging in a nice pipe and a snifter of brandy. Meanwhile, the Mrs. quietly and efficiently finishes preparing the latest Good Housekeeping recipe in the kitchen.
Those days are long gone, but once a week they come alive for millions of viewers. Perhaps the “Mad Men” dolls are bound to be a guilty pleasure for disgruntled and disenfranchised men everywhere. They might be the 21st-century equivalent of the old “GI Joe” doll.
Whereas Joe used to let little boys feel like they were single-handedly winning the latest overseas war, the Don Draper and crew dolls will let grown men feel like they are winning the battle of the sexes. It’s a skirmish that has been waged for generations, and the early 1960s were the last hurrah of male dominance. These dolls are a great testament to the ad men who once shaped what Americans wanted to buy, to own, to need. In 2010 they’re on the shelf themselves, and their sales results will be very interesting to monitor.
It’s no wonder that the AMC original series “Mad Men” loaned itself so easily to a “Barbie” doll translation. The cast, in its meticulously rendered costuming and coifs, were the perfect fodder for the Mattel treatment.