Mini MM: It All Began at Heller Furs

 Posted by on September 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Season 1, Season 4
Sep 022010

Although, like everyone who participates in BOK, I watch MM for its sweeping thematic issues and love reading and commenting on them, I find that by Thursday, it’s time to concentrate less on the forest and get lost in the trees. Hence, this week’s “mini” MM: Betty’s fur coat ad, circa 1953.

Deb’s already mentioned this in her most recent post, and I can see why she had trouble connecting the dots. You only see the ad for a few seconds, and at first glance you could actually think that it is someone else. Although it’s in the early 50’s, the Betty portrayed in the full length white coat, looks older and harder, even though she’s only in her early twenties then. It’s a stunning snapshot of the cold, almost matronly look that’s going to crystallize and harden in 1964-65 when she changes husbands. on the Basket can d(And alas, between coming back from vacation, figuring out our new comment program and trying and not succeeding in installing a video capture program for Betty’s fur coat ad, which I wanted to accompany my post–unless someone else o that–I regret there are no visuals for you to judge for yourself).
There are several reasons why this detail is key. For one thing, that fur ad is a tangible artifact of the story of Don and Betty’s courtship, which we learned about in the psychiatrist’s office in Season 1. This is what I love about MM–no detail is too small or forgotten; it rewards the patient and careful viewer, even if the pay-off comes, as in this instance, 3 years later. That’s why, even though the show’s great cinematically, it always seems more like reading a novel to me.

Heller Furs is where it all began–the rich girl turned model, coveting the fur coat she was wearing for a photo shoot but couldn’t afford, and the poor boy, besotted by her beauty, desperate to step into her world and all he thought it could bring him–somehow finagaling to get it for her. Once again, there’s shades of the class differences that permeate this episode–the have’s who were born knowing which forks to use and the have-not’s who can copy them, but who somehow are always separated from them by a clear, plastic membrane. We’ll never know exactly what Don did to get that coat for Betty, but he was determined to cross the class line no matter what it took.

And how ironic, that despite the ad’s then-revolutionary sentiment–that you don’t need a man to buy you a fur if you really want it– the poster girl for those sentiments actually waited in real life for a man to buy it for her. Or, for that matter, that Joan did the same. If a fur represents the ultimate luxury for a woman in a materialistic society, what better estimation of her worth as a woman than having a man buy it for her? Or to put it another way, as Betty said, if she continues to maintain her beauty, “she’s earning her keep.” What better payment, then, of “services rendered” than a fur coat?

When you watch MM, it’s so easy to impose our 21st century sensibilities on those of nearly 50 years ago. When it comes to men-women relationships, though, I often wonder how much has really changed, or what got lost along the way, and if things are really any better in 2010. As January Jones said, the men of the MM era were chauvanistic and condescending, but “at least they opened the door for you.” I hope that these days more women are in fact not waiting for a man to buy them a fur–and now it’s considered ecologically unsound–but sometimes, when I see MM, I wonder.


  39 Responses to “Mini MM: It All Began at Heller Furs”

  1. "despite the ad’s then-revolutionary sentiment–that you don’t need a man to buy you a fur if you really want it– the poster girl for those sentiments actually waited in real life for a man to buy it for her."

    But we don't know that Don actually bought the coat. We just know that he got it. Somehow or other. Maybe he stole it — isn't that how he got Polly doggy? Or maybe he won it in a wager. Or he traded something for it. In any case, I don't see Don working hard, scrimping and saving every penny so he could buy the coat, but I do see him doing something very clever in order to get it.

    I do see your point, but to me, the wording in that ad was very specific. The wording wasn't about a man giving a coat to a woman; but about buying it for her. Two very different things. It also points again to the man with the checkbook, and possibly underscores so many of the themes about prostitution which permeate the series.

    • I don't doubt that Don did something that wasn't kosher to get Betty the coat. In fact, she even referred to it as "Indian Trading" when she saw the shrink. However, a fur coat still represents the ultimate luxury that money can buy, so whether Don actually bought it or not doesn't matter so much as the fact that he was giving her something that represents money and power–and that that's what he knew he had to do to win a girl like Betty. He was still subscribing to the whole notion, whether he actually paid for the coats in dollars and cents that whoever has the bucks–or something that represents it- like a fur coat –has the power. The ad seems revolutionary to me for the times in that it was suggesting women–not men–buy their coats.

  2. Maybe the implication was, "Don't wait for him to think of buying a fur all on his own; give him the idea to buy you one!"

  3.… here's a screenshot of the ad. didn't know how to post it.

  4. Thanks Aves, I uploaded it.

  5. That link isn't working for me, Aves. Here's another link to the ad in case other people are having the same problem accessing it:

  6. It's funny you mention the class line because I can remember in the flashback where Don is asking Anna for a divorce one of the things, I believe, he lists he loves about Betty is that she comes from "a good family" (read: wealthy, elegant, Main Line, classy; all things he was aspiring to be).

  7. I think the whole episode was structured to put the upper-class Roger in front of a poster of the upper-class Betty while treating Don like something that was stuck to his shoe. Roger was acting as a proxy for Gene Hofstadt while forcing us to shuffle our mental chronology.

    In general, MAD MEN only goes back to provide motivation for later decisions by Don. The idea that Betty knowingly married a man very much like the one Anna Draper adores is a pretty major one.

    Couple that with the drunken call-back of the speech from "The Wheel" and it suggests that the season is about to take a major turn.

    • I don't think Roger treated him like something stuck to his shoe, but just really didn't consider him at all other than as the guy selling him a fur. At most, he ended up seeing him as a minor annoyance.

      • That was sort of what I meant.

        Roger seemed to consider Don unworthy of consideration, except annoyance. It was a reminder of the class difference between them. By extension, it reminded us of the class distinction between Don and Betty.

        • I see what you're saying, but I still can't go there completely. I'm sure class does play into it, but I think a lot was that he just wanted to buy a fur — no muss, no fuss. In his mind the chances were no high that this guy had the makings of a creative genius. We know it, but why would he?

          Also, just as a doctor wouldn't want to examine people in social situations, Roger didn't want to be pitched at that moment.

          I also think there was classism at work with Gene, but mostly I think he was pissed that Don was a mystery man. He probably wouldn't have been thrilled with Don's roots, but it would have been better than having a daughter married to a man who was a complete enigma. He thought his son-in-law was shifty. Gene seemed, all in all, like the kind of guy who could have appreciated at least some of Dick Whitman's story.

          • Don is (or rather was) pretty good at reading people. It was his main survival skill. You have to assume that if Gene Hofstadt was open to a son-in-law that bootstrapped himself out of rural poverty that he would have played that card. You do not raise a daughter in the Main LIne and send her to Bryn Mawr with the expectation that she will marry a salesman.

            After all, Betty went straight for a very upper-middle class type in her grief.

  8. Previously on Mad Men it was mentioned that when he first met Betty Don was writing ad copy for a fur dealer.

    Now, in episode 406 "Waldorf Stories" Don is shown not only as a furn salesman at Heller's, apparently he was alone in the store when Roger walked in.

    At the time I moved from Greenwich Village to California in 1950 I had many friends in the fur business. We remained in contact for many years. On my frequent return visits to Manhattan I often stopped by fur stores near the Mad Ave Ad District. Never did I see any salesman similar to Don.

  9. "Never did I see any salesman similar to Don."

    Meaning: none so young? none so handsome? none so hungry/ambitious?

    Makes total sense to me, that Don's career progression from car salesman to head of creative for a Madison Ave agency would include a hybrid salesman/ad copywriter for another luxury product (even if he had to con his way into the ad agency).

    • None so Gentile?

      The question about how or if Don paid for Betty's coat — how about how or if Don paid for the coat upgrade that Roger gave to Joan?

      My guess is that Don wouldn't hesitate to steal from his boss in an effort to upgrade his station in life.

  10. Under "Were things better then or better now", I think one can argue that making a coat from animal fur is probably less damaging to the earth as a whole than using most other materials (Although it is pretty damaging to the specific little furry animals involved).

    While MM reminds us how much we've improved in a fairly short period of time, it can also show us where we've tossed out the baby with the bathwater.

    • "Throwing out the baby with the bathwater" I take it you mean perhaps we shouldn't have thrown out anything because after all men DID open doors for us.

      I think some of us get caught up in the glamour of the show and forget how bad women's lives were.
      We couldn't even control our own bodies then. Even though Joan seems to have had no problem getting abortions it was quite the opposite for most young women who were left alone by their man with no help. I knew a young woman in who committed suicide when she found herself left alone and pregnant. People maybe don't know or don't remember how young women were ostracized and looked down upon if they were single and unmarried. They would do anything to end it. Many had botched abortions and died. Others went to term, gave the babies up for adoption and suffered for the rest of their lives. Peggy seems to have gotten over it quite easily, or maybe not.

      Do some think it was OK the way men ogled and made humiliating remarks to the women in MM, especially at the beginning?

      Was it OK for women to be kept out of many, many endeavors, simply because of their gender?

      Yes if you played the game, looked like Marilyn Monroe, and giggled at all of their jokes maybe life was fine. But then again look what happened to Marilyn.

      I don't think there was any baby in the bathwater to begin with.

      I don't miss those days one iota and am hoping for some real militant women's libbers to appear and give these pigs their comeuppance. And I'm hoping Peggy doesn't have to get naked in a hotel room with a slob like Rizzo for that to happen.

      • I was actually thinking on a much more superficial level:
        "bathwater" = chain-smoking, etc.
        "baby" = men's hats. I still feel cheated that hats went out of fashion when I was still a kid.

        And, as to the rest, much of what we DON'T miss about that time (ogling women, humiliating remarks, etc) still goes on today. Some of it is even worse (e.g. pop music lyrics, etc.).

        We need to stay vigilant, never assume a battle is permanently "won", and please, PLEASE bring back men's hats in my lifetime. Once before I die I would like to wear a fedora without feeling like an art school drop-out. πŸ™‚

  11. How did Don procure the coat for Betty? Free copywriting in exchange for the fur or at least a sizable discount? He's already given it to her by the time we see the ad.

  12. Betty's sensiblities would predate the 1950s – she came of age in the late 30s, early 40s war time and was undoubtedly heavily influenced by her mother. Peggy would have been more influenced by the early-mid 50s as she would have been a teen then.

  13. It’s possible the coat was what’s called “a consideration” to Don for writing and directing the ad. It’s like airline employees getting free tickets or hotel employees free rooms. Don could have said, “I won’t take pay but I’ll take that coat.”

    I doubt Don made up the difference on Roger’s coat. But everyone in the fur trade always offers a deal.

  14. I wonder if Mr. Heller claims to have discovered Don, too.

    • I wonder if Mr Heller is named after the author of one of my favourite books…I hope so, Matt Weiner.

  15. I just ran quickly through all the "Mad Style" posts over at TLo's blog ( ) for Betty, to see if we ever see that coat again. Although they don't focus on every outfit she wears, Betty does not appear in a long white mink in any of them. She does have a white fur stole and a black, presumably mink, fur coat, so clearly Don kept providing her with this ultimate luxury.

    The idea that Betty knowingly married a man very much like the one Anna Draper adores is a pretty major one.

    And Dean, it also provides a lot more context for her discontent in S1, which has morphed into this incredible anger. Don must have been slowly changing all through the time she knew him, becoming this inscrutable character and losing at least part of what she had loved about him, whether she realized it or not. I have no doubt Betty, when they met and wed, would have consciously focused on his drive and ambition, not to mention his good looks, while subconsciously being attracted to his bit of goofiness. That's exactly what he lost in becoming the perfect suburban husband/father figure and it ultimately drove them apart. Is that like 2 tons of irony or what?

  16. It's also a different kind of irony.

    Most women marry men to change them; turns out, the more he became Don, the less Betty liked/loved him (b/c she actually fell in love with Dick).

  17. I don't think Betty was trying to change the man she thought she had married, nor that he lost something because he became "the perfect suburban husband." He wasn't–and he lost a lot more than "his bit of goofiness." He was lying to himself and to Betty about who he is, plus repeatedly cheating on her. I think she would have been completely happy with a true "perfect suburban husband," but that's an illusion. She hasn't realized that yet because Don's lies and affairs are so much more obvious. Now she thinks she's found her dream–with a little father-figure added–in Henry. But we'll see how it plays out….Or maybe the dream can come true, but then won't allow for any growth or joy….

  18. #24 Dean, I just heard an interview with Tony Blair in which he talked about how he and Princess Diana were able to “manipulate” people (his word). He said they both could size up people and tell them what they most wanted to hear. Really brings to mind Don.

    I think Don and Grandpa Gene were alike in the sense they were self-made, and Gene knew exactly what Don was up to with Betty. I just realized: she doesn’t ride any more, does she?

  19. Roger hated Don's ad. It had the effect of knocking Roger's silver spoon out of his mouth. To Roger, furs were purchased only men for a special woman. It had exalted status for both the purchaser and the woman. Joan must be very special to Roger if he buys her a mink stoll. Don, however, along with Heller, knows that women who had the means to afford a mink would like to select their own. A full length mink coat went for about $1000. Remember that Pete in 1960 earned less than $4000 a year. When Don purchased a mink coat for Betty, it was his annoucement to the world that he had arrived; and was a force to be reckoned with on Madison Avenue. Roger also got another silver spoon slapped out of his mouth. Remember when Roger told Don that he does'nt respect money, it is a comment about status. Roger has always looked down on Don.

  20. Bob K, thanks for a good theory for why Roger disliked the ad. I didn't understand why, and I think you're right.

    Speaking of imposing 21st century sensibilities on the characters, when Don propositioned Fay (Faye?) at the bar and she said "I think you're confusing several things…" it sounded too 21st century to me. Just not the way people spoke back then, even cutting edge market research executives?

    Ecowise or not, I just bought a fur coat recently, and I bought it for myself.

  21. Boy do I agree, sfcaramia!

  22. Enjoying all the in-depth analysis. And having been born in 1951 – I have the memory of my mother luxuriating in a nutria coat similar to the Betty model picture. The feeling exuding from that poster is accurate. On a lesser note – I can see how Sally has inherited and is diplaying her mother's traits. The coquetishness, flirty eyes and manipulation already in place. Despite all the acrimony that goes on between Betty and Sally, she is her mother's daughter.

    • I see Sally as an odd hybrid of Don and Betty. She has her mother's mannerisms, but also some of Don's personality. She lied to Carla when she was talking to Glenn on the phone. She also didn't reveal who trashed the house, which seems like more of a Don thing than a Betty thing. I'm not sure if manipulation is more a Betty trait or a Don trait.

  23. Will Peggy be the first woman on the show to buy herself a fur,like in Don's ad, and not wait for a man to buy her one?

  24. Something I noticed: I don't think Don started cheating on Betty until he was settled in at Sterling Cooper. He seemed way too…I don't know…pathetic, green, peppy?….not the suave womanizer he became. He probably worshiped Betty for a number of years.

  25. Couldn’t it have just been a Heller coat that was borrowed from the store for the photo? Perhaps I am missing something on that.

    I completely agree that Betty fell in love with Dick, and also think that they both started off well-intentioned. I don’t believe she would have cared that much about his beginnings if he hadn’t lied to her about it – on top of cheating, disappearing, and lying about so much else beforehand. Betty always knew that Don had no family and no money. She certainly never thought he was upper class. I don’t think he married her because her family was well-off, by “good family” perhaps he just meant stable.

    I hadn’t thought of Roger hating Don’s ad, but I totally see that now.

  26. I always wonder what their wedding would possibly have been like. How could a young woman raised on the Main Line marry a man who had basically no family to invite to the wedding? Don is an enigma, with a concealed past. Who from the Draper/Whitman family would have filled one half of the church? Attended the reception?

  27. I love how Anna’s ghost was holding a suitcase. She’s all packed, and ready to go.

  28. Wouldn’t it be something if Sally turns out to be like her paternal grandmother? A late hippie-early disco version (she’ll be 20 in 1974)……just a random thought

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.