Sterling-Cooper sells the season

Behind the scenes of the Phoenix' s Gift Guide, starring the cast of Mad Men
By CLEA SIMON  |  December 10, 2009


"Hey, Harry, who spiked your eggnog?”

“Very funny.” Harry Crane, the chubby head of television, grumbles, embarrassed to be caught out. Sure, he’s late for the meeting. But what did his colleagues know about the pressures of the new medium, the electronic age? What do they know about real deadlines? He looks around at the assembled bunch, suddenly very aware that the candy-cane bowtie — an early gift from the wife— might not be office appropriate. “So, guys, what’s going on?”

“The Guide to the Season supplement?” Pete Campbell, always a kiss-ass, says it as if everyone knows. Harry looks over at Peggy Olson, usually a more sympathetic face, for explanation.

“You know, the holiday special section?” She raises her eyebrows up to those peppy bangs. “Christmas and, well, Hanukkah, and all that?”

“The Season supplement.” Harry takes a seat and looks longingly at the bar. It’s nearly 10, and Roger Sterling is pouring something dark and deep into a glass. But Harry doesn’t dare ask the agency’s silver fox for a nip. What is the boss doing here anyway?

“So, I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer.” Paul Kinsey is using that hep talk again. “We go green and red.” He waves his pipe. “Holly. We get Sal back in to film something wild. A party. A punch bowl.”

“A lawsuit,” Roger mutters. A grunt of agreement from Pete.


“Well, what have we done in the past?” If Harry’s supposed to come up with ideas, with this head, he may as well find out.

“The usual, holiday specials and that kind of thing.” Pete waves his hand. “Old hat.”

“Squaresville,” agrees Paul.

“A little dull.” Peggy nods, a solemn look on her face.

From the corner, a low voice says, simply, “Snow.” Everyone turns, but Roger waves them off. “Bert Cooper,” he stage whispers. “The war.” Slightly embarrassed, they all turn away.

“The point,” says Roger, settling into the leather desk chair, “is the client. The Guide to the Season supplement has to reach beyond what the other agencies are willing to offer. I’ve been cultivating this crowd for years, but there comes a time when oysters and whiskey just won’t cut it. And I can’t keep sending girls — sorry, Peggy — ladies over, either. Not these days.”

“That’s a mercy.” Peggy gets up to pour herself a drink.

“Pegs, would you?” The perky copywriter turns with a look that shuts Pete down cold. “Never mind. We’ve got work to do.”

“So, what’s everyone thinking of?” If he is going to be the butt of jokes, Harry figures he may as well ask. “I mean, I’ve got to start thinking about how much time we want to buy on the Big Three.”

“Like television matters to anyone,” Paul says to nobody in particular. “Like it ever will!”

“So, I’m thinking presents. Big, colorful presents.” Pete looks around, waiting for the applause. Silence. “With ribbons on them. Big honking bows, like the Rockettes wore last year on their —”

“This is the Season supplement, Pete.” Peggy could be a bit schoolmarmy at times. “We want warmth, not trashy glitz. I’m thinking a mother, with some kind of halo around her head, bestowing warm mittens on her darling little girl.”

Paul snorts, and Harry dares a collegial smile. “What decade are we in anyway?” Paul gestures, flinging ash. “No, I say we go with the party theme. We can show the hi-fi blasting. Girls in Capri pants. Music notes making all the hips swing.”

“Presents — and a feast!” Pete breaks in. “A big turkey. Booze! All the women wearing jewelry, the good stuff.”

“Like he’d know.” Roger is talking to Bert Cooper, now curled into a fetal position on his tatami mat, but he’s made no attempt to keep his voice down.

“Well, it’s the same party idea, see?” Pete speaks fast and hopes he isn’t blushing. “Only upscale. Big time. For the people our clients aspire to be!”

Now it’s Peggy’s turn to roll her eyes. “The dinner table could work.” Her voice implies otherwise. “But not the glitter. We’re talking important family occasions here. Rituals, and we should acknowledge them.”

“That’s why I say presents, and lots of ’em!”

“Sleds — sleds and horses. Big white ones on, you know, those runner things? That would work on Walter Cronkite, I think.” Harry can’t elaborate, but he’s got to contribute something.

“Mistletoe!” Pete’s not giving up. “Tinsel!”

Peggy ignores him. “A crèche, maybe? Or, well, a menorah?”

“A what?” Harry leans behind Pete to mouth the question, almost silently, to Paul, who shrugs. But before the chubby media exec can ask anyone else, another voice is heard. Stepping out from the shadows in the corner of the office, a tall figure, dark, dapper. His voice the deep and reassuring sound of reason in a season of panic, the calm before the deadline.

“People, people.” Don Draper moves into the light to address his crew. He’s holding a tumbler of whiskey. His dark eyes seem to glow. “You’re missing the point, all of you.”

Nobody speaks. Enlightenment awaits, and after an unusually pregnant pause, Don begins.

“The Season supplement isn’t about presents,” The master stares off into that middle space from which he mines all his ideas. “It’s about something ethereal. Something in the air. The scent of pine. Of wood smoke. The first time you kiss a woman wearing fur. It’s that special feeling you’ve been waiting for.”

“It’s Santa Claus?”

Harry doesn’t even merit a look.

“It’s a spirit. A mood.” Don rhapsodizes, in the grip of something bigger.

“Like when you were little and you couldn’t wait to sit on Santa’s lap?” Peggy is madly scribbling. Pete looks over, but she won’t meet his eye.

“Like when you are anticipating something you’ve never quite had before. Something wonderful. Something you’re afraid you’ve lost.” Don steps over to the window. Looks out. Drinks. “The Season.”

Silence falls over the office as the entire staff gapes in awe. He’s done it. Once again, Don Draper has nailed it. The Guide to the Season isn’t about any particular gift, just like it’s not about any particular holiday. It’s a feeling. A sensation. A supplement.

From the corner, a single voice: “Snow.”

Related: Our Don Drapers, Ourselves, Drink like Don, What Would Joan Do?, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Holidays, Walter Cronkite,  More more >
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