“Mad Men” is a great way to experience the ad world — and, thanks in part to that world, the changing America — of the 1960s.
Miller Pope doesn’t have to watch a TV show about long-ago Madison Avenue. He was there.
A partner in a New York ad agency — and the youngest member elected to the Society of Illustrators — Pope was one of the many “Mad Men” who moved to Westport in the 1950s and ’60s. Their friendships — on the train, in New York and here in town — along with their hard drinking, sometimes scandalous social lives and civic contributions — gave Westport a unique reputation that remained for years, long after Madison Avenue lost its luster.
Pope has self-published a memoir: “Confessions of a MadMan: From Madison Avenue to Island Sands.” Although in desperate need of a copy editor — he writes of “dinning rooms” and “pool partys” — Pope has produced an insightful look back at a time and town that, for better or worse, is long gone.
Though many illustrators already lived here when Pope and his wife Helen went house-hunting, he was warned about “the Italians.” The Italians he knew were people like Michelangelo and da Vinci, and the ones he met in Westport turned out to among his best friends.
The Westport Library’s superb picture reference section; an art supply store “that rivaled the best in New York”; a “first class camera store” and Westport Country Playhouse all nurtured Pope’s creativity.
The Westport Artists club was “almost on a par” with the Society of Illustrators and the Art Directors Club in New York. And “famous illustrators, novelists, TV personalities, movie actors, playwrights, industrial designers and ad men practically crawled out of the woodwork.”
Local folks served as models for Pope’s drawings. His postman, he wrote, “probably appeared in more magazines than many movie stars.”
Pope forgets little from those days.
There was a bar car on one of the late afternoon trains from NY. I tried to make it whenever I could because it was a rolling cocktail party. Usually I had so much fun it was a disappointment when I reached my destination.
Often the contents of this mobile party spilled out of the merry capsule into Marrio’s [sic], a restaurant and bar which had the good fortune to be located just across the narrow street from the little Saugatuck Railroad station. Marrio must have been a happy man because his bar had eager customers fighting to get up to his bar and thrust cash into his paws.
It is a wonder that those of us from those heady days of the past survived. It seems that the consumption of alcohol was truly oceanic. It was not unusual for the ad people I frequently entertained to consume 2 or 3 martinis at lunch and then go back to work.
Of course, Mario’s (correct spelling) was not the only place Pope and his wife drank.
Helen and I had a lot of parties, and it was not too unusual for some of our guests to still be there when the sun came up. We worked hard and played hard.
Pope helped create Publisher’s Graphics, a business that centralized paste-up, photostats, typesetting, transparency-stripping and other mechanical work under one roof. It soon moved from an old icehouse to a converted factory on Riverside Avenue.
The location was perfect. Clients rolled off the train (and past Mario’s) to the book-producing factory. “And if that was not good enough,” Pope writes, “there were several excellent restaurants and bars right next door.”
As with any problem he’d faced in advertising, creativity was key. One project involved photographs of kids playing. He used local boys and girls, but the client did not want white children only. “I sent a couple of my guys over to Norwalk to hire a few minority kids,” Pope says.
In 1975, the Popes left Westport for North Carolina. They established beach and golf resort communities. He became a major force in publicizing the area — and remains active today — using, no doubt, the professional (and social) skills he honed back when “Mad Men” ruled the world.
Or at least Westport.
(For information on this and other books by Pope, click here.)