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.
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.
Check out Don Share's post over at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog, about Mad Men's Frank O'Hara product placement.
What poem should Don Draper read next? Ashbery's "The Instruction Manual" (Some Trees, 1956) gets my vote.
Jon Hamm and January Jones as Don and Betty Draper
At the end of the episode we see Draper reading "Meditations in an Emergency," walking to a mailbox to send a copy of the book to an unknown person (presumably his forbidden lover) and reciting the words to himself as though he were beginning to decode a secret road map to his own life.
Within minutes of the broadcast, "Meditations in an Emergency" was the top search on Google. Volcanic.
Prediction: All new and used copies of Frank O'Hara's collection of poems will be sold out on Amazon by the middle of the week.
Since the season premiere of Mad Men on AMC last night, people have been scrambling and googling to find out more about the poet Frank O'Hara and his book Meditations in an Emergency. In the show, the man reading it (with horn rimmed glasses and curly hair: code for highbrow) is sitting next to Don Draper at the bar of a midtown cafe -- like perhaps Larre's, where O'Hara, professionally a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, lunched often. Draper asks the man about the book. "You probably wouldn't like it," he is told. But Don buys it, we see him reading it in his office, and the episode concludes with Don's voiceover reading the fourth and final part of O'Hara's poem "Mayakovsky" in Meditations in an Emergency.
The title of the book began as a very sophisticated literary joke, an allusion to John Donne's "Meditations on Emergent Occasions." But as sometimes happened in O'Hara's poetry, the joke turned out to have a surplus of meaning. His poems are meditations -- but not the kind that comes after hours of quiet thought; they proceed from the heart of noise; they are written on the run, in a hurry, on a lunch break, in a perennial emergency. O'Hara's poems perfectly capture the pace of a New York day in 1962. He is a master of the art of gentle self-laceration: "Now I am quietly waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern."
For more on Frank O'Hara's life and work, and his central importance in the whole New York art scene in the early 1960s, I hope readers will look at my book The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. You may read an excerpt here or there. The introduction appears in an issue of the online magazine, Jacket.
The title poem of O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency appears in Great American Prose Poems.
See also "A Poet in the Heart of Noise" in the New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1993. -- DL
We watched the season opener of AMC's Mad Men last night and have lots to say about it but for now we want to thank the writers for putting Frank O'Hara's "Meditations in an Emergency" front and center more than once.
Can you name the poem Don Draper recited in voice-over during the closing scene?
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.