Betty slaps Sally
Children are playing outside
Don drinks in the pain
EMMY AWARDS THIS WEEKEND
Jane Lynch will win prize
Great glee splurge through cameras
If Conan wins, too
Betty slaps Sally
Children are playing outside
Don drinks in the pain
EMMY AWARDS THIS WEEKEND
Jane Lynch will win prize
Great glee splurge through cameras
If Conan wins, too
First of all, I would like you all to know that I keep putting my name in the heading titles not because I am an unrepentant narcissist (or at least, not just because) but as per Stacey's instructions. Stacey, if I'm allowed to stop doing this, or somehow misunderstood--which is possible, even probable--please let me know.
Bon. On y va.
I'm egregiously late in posting today. I wish I had a good excuse, but there's only one I can muster: it's that today is a Monday. Some of you may know what that means. It means that apart from my other commitments--eating, washing, therapy, Googling my own name, crushing the dreams of young actors trying out for my new play--I spent the entire day online, reading recaps of Mad Men. And reading the accompanying comment threads about Mad Men--sometimes several hundred comments long. And then watching the behind the scenes video about Mad Men. And communicating with other people about Mad Men And the rewatching last night's episode of Mad Men. And then reading yet more recaps of Mad Men.
In short, I spent my Monday, as I do many Mondays (ah, the aimless life of the freelancer!) engaging with Mad Men the way I once did with works of literature.
On its face, this isn't particularly surprising. I have written at length about my overidentification with Betty Draper, in styles both humorous and grave. I even wrote this, which I felt pretty damn smug about. So I'm definitely a little more invested than the average bear, or even the average New York City Media Professional who consumes the show the way she consumes vodka sodas at a Lower East Side one-hour open bar. And Mad Men, it has often been noted by cultural critics far more astute than I, seems to think it is a novel. The parallels and narrative threads, the long pauses before anybody speaks pregnant with unspoken prosaic description; the way everything is a symbol and nobody quite says what they mean.
It cries out for analysis. It fairly begs for it. If there's not a college course teaching it alongside Cheever and O'Hara, there will be soon.
Yet, I finish my day feeling empty. I'm not going to say cheaply snide things about how it's just a TV show, that these characters aren't real and it's stupid to care about them, because if that was true, then we would all be out of a job. Sometimes, the only things worth caring too much about aren't real. But it did leave me hungry for simpler days, before television got so ambitious and self-important and wonderful. When you didn't have to engage with things. When you could just watch Perfect Strangers after you finished your homework and not talk about it all fucking week. When the world looked perfect, with nothing to rearrange.
From the great TV genius, Ernie Kovacs. People are hot or cold about him: either you find this hysterical or you don't. It makes me ROFLMAO, as the kids say in cyber.
Trivia: Kovacs is the one getting beaned. Edie Adams, Ernie's wife, is playing the piano. Who is the one with the mallets? No fair looking it up.
I urge you to watch tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad, which finds Bryan Cranston’s Walter White adjusting to the dissolution of his marriage while declining to abandon one big reason it dissolved: He still wants/needs to make meth to pay the bills. He goes to a new location to ply his chemistry-teacher skills and acquires a new assistant, played by David Costabile (the scruffy villain from last season’s Damages, among many other credits).
New Assistant finds it comforting to quote Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer” to justify his illegal, and let’s face it, immoral ways to God and to himself. Cut to our Walt sitting in his new cheap apartment, a copy of Leaves of Grass on his lap, poring over the pages silently.
It’s a terrific moment in a terrific new season of Breaking Bad, which digs deeper, with each succeeding episode into questions of what makes a man or woman “bad,” what needs to be done to protect one’s loved ones, and constantly asks the viewer: “How far would you go? Not here, you say? You’re lying to yourself, then.”
Breaking Bad airs on AMC, home of Mad Men, which returns with a new season in July, it was announced earlier this week. Me, I can easily await MM when there are new hours of Breaking Bad to watch. The two shows could not be more different. If Mad Men is a novel of manners for TV (John O’Hara meets Louis Auchincloss in Updike/Cheeverville), Breaking Bad is working thriller territory mapped out by the likes of Charles Willeford, David Goodis, and Jonathan Latimer.
It’s lean and mean (a cop takes an axe to the back of the head in the opening minutes tonight), but thanks to the inspiration of creator Vince Gilligan to insert a middle-class nebbish into the role usually occupied by the cynical sharpie in most thrillers, it never lets ordinary folks like you or I to step back and say, “Oh, I’d never do that.” Breaking Bad is all about what you’d do if you were desperate enough. “And from time to time,” as Whitman writes, the show makes sure that you have “look’d up in perfect silence at the stars,” contemplating the full measure fate.
From a distance, Britain (the UK), can appear a weird place – especially these days. It’s just had a week of travel chaos with its skies completely shut down due to an Icelandic volcano. It is in the midst of a major election (to be decided in 12 days) that has been wildly galvanised by its first ever leaders debate on television (!). And one of its most popular TV shows is (still) Doctor Who, about an undying eccentric “time lord”. Current hit records include Kate Nash’s “My Best Friend Is You” where a chirpy British lass writes about sex and dating in frank terms, and Paul Weller (of The Jam) wanting to “Wake Up The Nation”.
Britain has been slow to come out of the recession, and, with its youth knife crime, wildly drunken villages and inner cities, class divides (whole swathes of the population still can’t easily access college education), and obsession with celebrity (especially overpaid footballers and size-zero models and starlets) is sometimes called Broken Britain. For others, like Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, richer than Prince Harry, Britain seems to be working just fine. It’s been observed that America and England are divided by a common language, and, as Hugh Kenner was one of the first critics to point out, the British love-affair with international modernism in art and poetry was of limited duration, to say the least.
Charles Bernstein and John Ashbery are coterie poets here, read by few and feared by most who do read them – let alone Hart Crane or William Carlos Williams. Few American (or Canadian) poets are published in the UK. There is a sense of isolation, even xenophobia, in some poetry quarters – and why not? The popular Tory party wants to pull out of membership in Europe. This is a kingdom united, more often than not, in the idea of its superior difference.
First off, let me say right now that I know next to nothing about cars. I do know how to drive (both automatic and manual, I'm proud to say); I know where to put the gas in; and I know not to leave the headlights on when I turn the car off. Other than that, I'm pretty much clueless. I can stay clueless, too, because both my husband and my son Micah are total gearheads, and I refer all things automotive to them. Despite this -- or maybe because of this -- I am completely addicted to the BBC car program (or programme, as they spell it), Top Gear.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a combination talk show/automobile review/stunt extravaganza/three-ring-circus. It is co-hosted by three presenters: Jeremy Clarkson, a very large (six foot six inches, I believe) car expert, journalist, and hater of all things green; James May, a shaggy, highly intelligent and exceptionally well-read journalist, whose nickname is "Captain Slow" and whose rumply, absent-minded professor mien I confess I find quite appealing; and Richard Hammond, a Davy Jones (of the Monkees, not the ocean) lookalike who nearly lost his life five years ago when an Indy-style racecar he was testing for the show flipped and speared him headfirst into the ground.
There is also the Stig, Top Gear''s "tame racing driver," who tests the featured cars and whose identity is ever-secret, although we do know he is a professional driver and that he is fond of listening to self-improvement tapes in foreign languages while hurtling around the test track at very high speeds.
The talk-show element of Top Gear consists of short interviews with celebrities, usually from British television and most of whom Americans have never heard of, then the celebrities do their own laps around the test-track in cars which most Americans have also never heard of (the steering wheels are all on the wrong side, too). The celebrities' lap times are then posted with much ceremony - for a long time, the fastest celebrity driver was Simon Cowell, whom, though British, I have heard of.
Top Gear also does serious reviews of cars, and, according to Micah, the reviews are thorough and honest; I wouldn't know, and as I said, I am completely unfamiliar with most of the cars, anyway (what the hell is a Panda?).
For me, the best part of the show are the challenges. Every other week or so, the three hosts are given a task by the producers, usually something that is well nigh impossible, like driving from Germany to northern England on one tank of gas. Each man chooses his own vehicle, and the winner gets bragging rights. Did I mention that they are each given a (very) limited budget with which to purchase a vehicle? So the cars in question tend to be very vintage and very decrepit (no brakes, for example), and sometimes the challenges are really insane, such as driving across the Kalahari Desert or over a 17,000ft Bolivian volcano (this last challenge almost killed both the presenters and the vehicles from lack of oxygen - they had to turn back and go around the volcano before they all died of altitude sickness). In most of the challenges, Clarkson provides the most bluster and bravado; Hammond is the pluckiest; and like the tortoise, May is slow but steady, as his nickname implies. They spend a lot of time arguing and getting lost and so on; they also accidentally set things on fire a lot, and it really is very funny.
The best and funniest challenges are when they have to modify their clunkers, as in the following clip. In this episode, they are tasked with creating cars that will also function as boats; the finish line is on the far side of reservoir.
In this second clip, we find out what a trio of gearheads would do with an Olympic ski jump, a team of rocket scientists, and a Mini Cooper. What indeed?
So that's my confession. Ridiculous as it is, I love Top Gear.
to plan for tonight's The Thin Air poetry cable show. Producer Mitch Corber brings us another episode in this landmark series, with footage of David Lehman's recent reading from Yeshiva Boys at the New School, along with footage of fave's John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and others. Set your alarm for 8:30 p.m, and tune your TV dial to Channel 67, Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Associate editor Cindy Sostchen-Hochman tells us it's going to be a great show!
In a narcissistic slight of hand actor Michael O’Keefe interviews himself about his poems, Christmas and other matters significant to him and him alone.
Q.: Michael, nice to have you here.
A.: Pleasure to be had and here.
Q.: You’ve published a book of poems recently.
A.: You’re quite right about that.
Q.: But enough about poetry tell me about the meaning of life.
A.: Hey, let’s get back to poetry, Interlocutor. Unemployed actors know very little about the meaning of life. They can’t even hold a job in the real world. That’s why they became actors in the first place.
Q.: How did you become an actor?
A.: I was dropped as a child.
Q: And why publish a book of poems?
A.: I thought you’d never ask.
Q.: Oh, I wouldn’t leave you hanging.
A.: No, but you sure can’t interrupt a guy who’s trying his best to say something about poetry.
Q.: Sorry. I’m all ears. Tell us about your poems.
A.: The book is called “Swimming From Under My Father,” and…
Q.: Why not just “Swimming Under,” or “Swimming From?” Why “Swimming From Under…?”
A.: Oh for Christ’s sake. Can’t you keep quiet?
Q.: I hardly think using Christ’s name in vain on Christmas Eve is an appropriate way to celebrate the holiday.
A.: And I don’t badgering me with interruptions is the way to interview me about my writing.
Q.: I’ll be the judge of that. Your first blog for BAP was about Christmas and Barbara Stanwyck. Do you think the reason you’re single at your advanced age has anything to do with an inability to connect with someone in the real world? And isn’t that why you hold Ms. Stanwyck in such high esteem? She is, after all, only an illusory presence for you.
A.: Advanced age? Have you ever been knocked cold by an interviewee? Because, Brother, I am about to sock you in the jaw.
Q.: Whatsa matter? Did that hit close to the bone?
A significant pause ensues as Mr. O’Keefe waits for Mr. O’Keefe to collect his thoughts and regain his composure.
A.: William Carlos Williams once said that while it is difficult to get the news from poetry men die miserable deaths every day from lack of what is found in its pages.
Q.: (In an Irish brogue) Did he now?
A.: When you did become Irish?
Q.: (Continuing the Irish brogue through out the rest) Ach, get away. Sure, I’ve been this way all along.
A.: Look, I only have so much time. Can we please just settle into a conversation about my poems?
Q.: I’ll not be badgered by ye, ye unemployed actor with yer high falutin’ book a poems. Poems is it? What’s next? Philosophy? From an actor yet. Bollocks!
A.: God, you’re a nuisance. What does “Bollocks” mean anyway? I hear Irish and English people use it frequently but no one’s ever made clear what it means.
Q.: It means, “testicles” ya ignorant git.
A.: Gross. How the hell did that ever make it into the lexicon of modern speech?
Q.: Oh no ya don’t. I’ll be asking the questions around here, Mr. Fancypants.
A.: These are jeans.
Q.: And I’ll wager ya spent hundreds of dollars on them.
A.: What if I did?
Q.: Yer not a real poet. Real poets suffer fer their art. You wouldn’t find Jane Hirshfield or Henri Cole in a pair of jeans that cost hundreds of dollars.
A.: Perhaps you’re right about that.
Q.: A course I’m right. And that’s all the time and space we have.
A.: I thought space-time was unlimited. Kind of like a fourth dimension. I’ve heard string theorists go on about it.
Q.: Brilliant! Next time I’ll interview one a dem. Tune in next time for, “String Theory. Math or Religion? You decide.”
A.: Oh, bollocks.
Why are there going to be rave reviews of the season finale of Mad Men festooning the internet today? Because MM creator Matthew Weiner gave his fans what they’ve been dying for all season, even if they strenuously denied wanting it — that is, liveliness, jokes, action, and even the suggestion of a few plot-line resolutions. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN LAST NIGHT’S MAD MEN SEASON FINALE.
Yes, the marriage of Don and Betty took a turn toward dissolution. Yes, the children clung to the parent who occasionally shows them some semblance of affection. (That would be Don; I know it’s sometimes hard to tell with the Drapers.)
But after all the agonizingly calibrated anguish that began this season with Sal’s love-that-dares-not-speak-its-name-in-1963 hotel scene, and continued on through Betty’s zombie-like attraction to a man who’s more like a safe father-figure than the safe father-figure she started being snippy with when her real father died, Mad Men finally had to get a little madcap in its season finale to keep us primed for its next batch of new episodes.
The season-ender was directed by Weiner, and it turned out to be an extremely well-choreographed, wacky 1960s sitcom about starting an ad agency, with scenes of slamming-door farce set in the hotel room where the firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is taking shape. Instead of going the screw-the-viewers route his old boss David Sopranos Chase regularly travelled, Weiner brought back fan-faves, foremost among them Joan. (You know Sal cannot be far behind.
For the rest of Ken Tucker's EW piece, click here.
As part of its all-Deborah Kerr day, TCM showed "The Hucksters" at midnight last Sunday, the day of the ballyhooed opening of the new (third) season of "Mad Men." About the Madison Avenue geniuses of soap jingles, the 1947 movie is underrated on its own terms and contrasts usefully with "Mad Men."
Like Don Draper in "Mad Men," but even more so, army veteran Vic Norman is the movie's informing personality and Gable is great in the role. Maybe that's because he is playing a version of himself. With his dashing looks and charm, and his ultra-male confidence, Vic can talk his way from being, say, a nobody who can drive a truck to being Hollywood's acknowledged "king," the very embodiment of Rhett Butler. The script does nice things with the notion that sincerity is something you can imitate or simulate. Looking for work as the movie begins, Gable buys a new necktie, because it makes him look sincere. I wondered whether Lionel Trilling saw the movie, which anticipates an argument he makes in "Sincerity and Authenticity."
Gable can sell nearly anything to almost anyone. and when he walks into an ad agency and demands to see the top man, he naturally walks out with the firm's biggest account. Don Draper has epiphanies that guide him unerringly; Gable has his swagger and charm and uses shrewd psychological ploys to get people to do his bidding. He can make a veiled threat sound like a pep talk to get a guy to do the right thing, can bet a nothing hand as if he were holding a straight flush, can con an agent into a rock-bottom contract for the agent's client -- in this case a second-rate comedian named Buddy Hare (played by Keenan Wynn). The stand-up comic in "Mad Men" is nasty. Buddy Hare is just juvenile.
The movie has Sydney Greenstreet, always fun to watch, as an entertainingly boorish villain, on whose oversized white hat Gable pours a pitcher of water. The hero as a good guy with a conscience who turns his back on Mad Ave: Gable makes impressive speeches ("your foreman is fear") after deciding that he'd rather have a defeated opponent's "forgiveness" than his "respect" and be sincere instead of playing at it. The movie -- which exists on the edge between comedy and drama -- was adapted from a novel that was undoubtedly angrier and more biting.
As befits Hollywood's "king," Gable is regaled with a double dose of frabjous femininity. He has Deborah Kerr, a general's widow, on one arm, and Ava Gardner as night club singer Jean Ogilvie on the other. In the terms proposed by "Mad Men," he gets to woo the high-slung proper Jackie ("I like being on a pedestal, but don't overdo it") and to revisit a romance with soulful, low-slung, big breasted Marilyn ("the cocktails are in the icebox"). The plot obliges Gable to be honorable, Gardner to be understanding, a model drinking buddy, and demure Kerr in her stud earrings and short hair to win the man. Kerr is a wonderful actress, easy to embrace in her convertible under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her best moment: "Stop being a breadwinner and kiss me." But Ava is a rare enchantress. She is 24 and this is her breakout film. Her best moment: when she-- the former Mrs. Artie Shaw and the future Mrs. Frank Sinatra -- explains that singing on the beat (as in George M. Cohan's "Over There") is square. "Modern singing is soft and off the beat," she says. But of course Gable, hep from the start, knew that all along.
Jon Hamm and January Jones. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.
Click here for Bruce Handy's behind the scenes view of the show and its creator, Matt Weiner, in Vanity Fair.
Here, from the New York Times, is Alessandra Stanley's preview of the new season.
(To the left: Christina Hendricks as top secretary and chief voluptuary Joan -- the greatest piece of ass of all time, as boss Sterling tells her, even if she is unmaried on the wrong side of 30
From Stanley's review:
The show’s period clothes, cocktails and allusions to Hitchcock, Bob Dylan and Frank O’Hara are no longer new. Neither are the narrative feints that spike suspense by deflecting it — though the trick continues to work. There are still mysteries to even the most closely examined lead characters. Peggy; Joan (Christina Hendricks), the office manager; and even Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), the weaselly account executive, are so familiar, yet they remain enigmatic — protected by a thin, exotic veil of weirdness.
And, most of all, so does Don’s beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), who is in the last stages of pregnancy with their third child and worried about her increasingly senile father, Gene (Ryan Cutrona). Betty is even more concerned that her brother and his wife have designs on their father’s property.
Don, an incorrigibly unfaithful husband but a loyal spouse, decides that the old man can live with them. Gene repays the hospitality by instructing his granddaughter to read aloud to him from Gibbon’s history of the fall of the Roman Empire. When Don comes home, Gene asks acidly, “How’s Babylon?” >>
Hail to the Chief
In White Sox jacket
walking with Albert Pujols
roots for the Sox but doesn't hate the Cubs
met Stan Musial met Bob Gibson
two for two in predictions
North Carolina (NCAA basketball)
So who's going to take it all?
It's a little early for that.
Is the NL finally catching up to the AL?
David Wright singles
Shane Victorino singles
Throw gets away
And the game is tied
And then untied
by a Prince Fielder
ground rule double
And the NL has the lead!
It's about time, Obama says.
Hey, what does Law and Order Criminal Intent have against poets? In last night's episode, "Passion" an arrogant poet/editor pimps out his young attractive assistants to potential financial backers. During tonight's episode, "Folie a Deux" a poet who is likely involved in the caper (I'm writing this mid-show) is a plagiarist. Why so many poet-criminals?
Maybe one of the show's writers is an aspiring poet. What do you think?
Leading up to the new season will be a Season 2 marathon starting Mon., Aug. 10, from 7AM to 8PM EST. Also, starting today (Jun. 10), Season 1 of Mad Men is available On Demand in both standard and high definition. Season 2 will be available starting Mon., Jul. 20. The pilot episode from Season 1, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," is now available for live streaming on amctv.com.
Czech journalist Milan Dezinsky interviews David Lehman for Eurozine about the history of the Best American Poetry here.
Beginning Sunday at midnight, AMCTV will reprise season two of the celebrated series Mad Men. See the Mad Men blog here for a discussion of how Frank O'Hara's poetry hovers over the sequence of events that take place in 1962.
I was searching YouTube for footage of Ernie Kovacs' character Percy Dovetonsils; I thought the comedian's portrayal of an effete poet might make for an amusing entry here. Turns out there's not much Dovetonsils material available, but what I did find was a small mind-blower: Footage from Kovacs'game show, Take A Good Look, which aired from 1959-61, a year before his death in an auto accident.
Now, I knew Kovacs' work from his startlingly surreal sketch show, but this gimpse of Take A Good Look shows Kovacs in fine, deconstructive form working in the game-show genre:
At the top of the show, Kovacs plays around with the audio in a disorienting, technologically sophisticated way for the era, playfully confusing the home viewer about who's talking. The opening credits verge on abstract art, fracturing famous faces by showing close-ups of only parts of them: noses, chins, ears. Ever genial, ever-puffing on a long cigar, Kovacs greets his panel of celebrity guests, Ceser Romero, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Jim Backus, doing so in such a blithe, chipper manner, who almost don't catch Kovacs' throwaway insult: "We're going to explain the game to you at home, and to the panel, who aren't particularly bright." He nods to the era's game-show scandals by noting that the prize money is "three hundred dollars--not enough to be crooked."
You get the feeling the game was less important than the way in which the game was presented, a signature of Kovacs' delightfully self-conscious style.
Let me introduce myself as the guest blogger for this week. I grew up in Culver City, an enclave of Los Angeles frequently called the true homeland of the movies because it hosted M-G-M, Selznick, Hal Roach, and other studios. I attended UCLA and Brown, and have taught since 1970 at the University of Michigan, where I have edited Michigan Quarterly Review since 1977. My first two blogs will be movie-and-poetry themed and then I’ll move out to other areas. Reader feedback is welcome!
I keep a folder of poems-since-1994 about the movies. What a huge majority are mournful remembrances of the dear departed! Mark Rudman on Mary Ure. Alexander Theroux on Thelma Ritter. Anne Carson on Monica Vitti (pictured, right). John Yau on Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. Mary Jo Salter on Myrna Loy. Paisley Rekdal on Bruce Lee. Barbara Hamby on Roy Rogers. Reynolds Price on James Dean. (Aren’t Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott ever going to weigh in on Marilyn?) It’s no surprise that poets haunt the Forest Lawn of famous ghosts for their subject matter, since elegy is their business. Still, one wonders about the obsession with celebrity portraiture in so-called contemporary poetry. I mean, haven’t we advanced at all from Vachel Lindsay’s lament for John Bunny in 1915?
I guess not. In a recent essay in Boulevard David R. Slavitt remarks, “What movie stars are for,after all, is to provide an iconography for our private lives. From their enlargements, distortions, and simplifications, we find a kind of clarity.” I find in this statement the kind
Well, last night we discovered to whom Don Draper mailed Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency in Episode 1 of this season's run of Mad Men. When Don asked the recipient if she'd read it, she said that she had, that it had reminded her of New York and that (I think) it made her sad (or did she say that it made her worried? Help me out). In any event, I wonder if she had a particular O'Hara poem in mind. I love it that they tied up this loose end.
p.s. The title of next Sunday's season finale is "Meditations in an Emergency." Maybe FOH will make an appearance.
Tonight's episode of Mad Men was filled with even more cultural markers than usual. It's late September 1962. Kurt, who comes out of the closet in a matter-of-fact "European" way, has taken in Bob Dylan at the all-star hootenanny in Carnegie Hall (9/22/ 62). There are riots in Oxford, Missisissipi, on the day before James Meredith takes his first class at Ole Miss. President Kennedy sends in the troops (9/30/62). Kurt has no TV, which means he will "miss the playoff" -- presumably the
Dodgers versus the Giants in a three-game series necessitated by their
finishing the regular National League season in a dead heat (10/1-3, 62). (The winner will lose to the Yankees in seven games.) The working of the MIRV missile are explained in tones of wonderment and awe.
The symmetry between Roger Sterling and Don Draper is pointed. Roger leaves his wife to be with a twenty-year-old brunette who writes love poetry; Don, in Los Angeles, allows himself to get picked up by a wealthy twenty-year-old Pembroke dropout, also a brunette, who is reading The Sound and the Fury. She prefers their sex to Faulkner's prose. Over the closing credits Johnny Mathis's tenor voice croons Irving Berlin's old standard, What'll I Do? -- stating Don's dilemma in a phrase.
Next week: It's just about time for the Cuban missile crisis.
On Mad Men it's the summer of 1962. I've just turned fourteen. Marilyn Monroe just died. The press wonders: Suicide or Accident? (Only later will theorists postulate that she was murdered.) The girls in the office are taking it hard. Theme of invisibility: the black elevator man who feels for Joe DiMaggio, how Betty's friend feels in her marriage. Betty is reading Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. Floyd Patterson is still heavyweight champion -- for a few more months. (Sonny Liston waits in the wings.) The song Marilyn Monroe sings over the closing credits is "I'm Through with Love," lyrics by Gus Kahn, music by Joseph A. Livingston and Matt Malneek: "For I must have you or no one, / And so I'm through with love."
Ken Tucker's thoughtful critique of Mad Men and its liberal sprinkling of cultural markers made me think of some of the hints scattered like handkerchiefs in Othello's path this season: Marilyn Monroe has just sung happy birthday to the president in Madison Square Garden, the music on the radio ranges from schmaltzy all-strings Theme from a Summer Place to Brenda Lee, Abstract Expressionism has triumphed in the marketplace though no one knows what to say about a Rothko, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is Broadway's hot ticket.
A Funny Thing was pretty terrific -- hats off to Stephen Sondheim -- but Mad Men has more in common with another show popular on Broadway in 1962, the Pulitzer-winning How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, a jubilantly satiric presentation of office life on a New York street rather like Mad Ave. Like How to Succeed but with, of course, major differences, Mad Men sneakily celebrates what it overtly lampoons. (You might switch around the verbs in that last clause.) Perhaps the best reason to connect the two is the fact that Robert Morse, who played the lead in How to Succeed (on Broadway and in the 1967 movie), is ensconced in the chief exec's office here. Finch (Morse's moniker in the musical) was in a hurry to get to the top, and here he is, forty-six years later, still there, though now he is "Cooper."
It's almost time for Sandy Koufax's first no-hitter, Marilyn's demise, the replacement of Jack Paar by Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight show (October 1), the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the arrival of the Beatles.
I have refrained from commenting on Mad Men in this precinct since I sense a great enthusiasm among the BAP gatekeepers for a TV series I find intelligent, lovingly crafted, and yet often irritatingly mannered and obvious. Why is it, for example, that whenever a Mad character turns on the TV, he or she just happens to come upon, say, Jackie Kennedy giving a tour of the White House? The regular historical coincidences strain credulity, and are cute, not acute.
But I have been enjoying the second season of Mad Men more than the first because the cracks are beginning to show in the porcelain foreheads of important smoothies like Don Draper, and I found the episode in which he appeared at the bedside of post-natal Peggy, advising her to forget about the baby she’d just birthed, to be at once shocking and thrilling (yes! Don is the only person independent-Peggy would take advice from!).
This past Sunday, art intruded upon the business of Madison Avenue in two ways. Robert Morse's Cooper had acquired a Mark Rothko, and the painting, mounted in his office, became a deep-orange litmus test for his underlings, its saturated colors seeping into their workaday minds. Everyone immediately supposed its abstraction was some kind of test of whether they "got it" or not, and by extension, were able to understand and fawn more effectively over their frequently inscrutable boss.
And then there was the wining and dining of Cooper Sterling Accounts Manager Ken Cosgrove by the excruciatingly closeted art director Salvatore. Ken, you may recall, has had a short story published in The Atlantic Monthly, which immediately made him the envy of many copywriters at the ad agency. (As someone whose first job was as a proofreader at Ogilvy & Mather straight out of college, I can tell you this rang very true. At the time I was also freelancing for Rolling Stone, and I had more than one copywriter tell me to flee the ad biz before I got promoted, and one middle-aged fellow who closed the door behind me and asked furtively how one got published in Jann Wenner's magazine. I think my response was an eloquent, um, you just have to like a lot of punk rock, send in your clips, and say yes when asked to review crap like Black Oak Arkansas.)
Ken the published literary writer is pure catnip to the sensitive, unhappily married Salvatore, and the scene in which Salvatore had Ken over for dinner — gazing longingly into the younger man's averted eyes as Ken lit his cigarette, while Salvatore's wife looked on in quiet agony — was one of Mad Men's… most clunkily obvious moments. Sometimes I think of series creator Matthew Weiner as Daffy Duck, slamming us -- whom I imagine he sees as a collective Elmer Fudd -- over the head with a baseball bat, screaming, "Get it? Get it? Boy, they were repressed in those days! These people were desthpicable!"
Weiner has upped the art-versus-life quotient this season, starting with the earth-quaking Frank O'Hara reference in the season premiere. I’m not sure it's really working. I'm much more caught up in the inter-office politics involving head secretary-queen bee Joan, and, on the homefront, the way Don's wife Betty has become so mercurially, cavalierly cruel to their son. These subplots strike me as being, if anything, more "literary" than the overt art-referenced scenes. Between the secretaries and the children, Weiner and company are evoking similar themes in the work of writers such as Richard Yates, John O'Hara, and Christina Stead the best way you can on television: by not overreaching for profundity. Perhaps you disagree?
We'll have a blue room,
A new room,
For two room,
Where ev'ry day's a holiday
Because you're married to me.
Not like a ballroom,
A small room,
A hall room,
Where I can smoke my pipe away
With your wee head upon my knee.
We will thrive on,
Keep alive on,
Just nothing but kisses,
With Mister and Missus
On little blue chairs.
You sew your trousseau,
And Robinson Crusoe
Is not so far from worldly cares
As our blue room far away upstairs.
Unless my ears deceive me, that's Perry Como singing "Blue Room" (Rodgers and Hart), the song Betty says she liked so much in high school. Feeling romantic she gets Don to dance with her. Though there is some merit in Don's criticism of Como ("makes everything sound like Christmas"), the singer's rich baritone was never better than when he did such Rodgers and Hart songs as "Blue Room" and, in the late-1940s docupic with Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart, "Mountain Greenery."
The pertinence of the song in last night's episode is that it is, after "Tea for Two," perhaps the second greatest pop-lyric ode to married bliss: "where every day's a holiday because you're married to me." Perfect, for an hour in which everything connubial goes wrong: Don and Betty are interrupted by their kids in an all too rare amorous moment in bed; the couple argues and has a shoving match; the bed breaks; the stereo breaks; the little boy burns himself and has to be taken to the emergency room, the little girl accompanies dad to work and overhears. . . too much.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.