May 022012

Don: Dads get mad sometimes.
Bobby: Did your daddy get mad?
Don/Dick: He did.
Bobby: What did your daddy look like?
Don/Dick: Like me, but bigger.
Bobby: What did he like to eat?
Don/Dick: Ham. And this candy that tasted like violets. Had a beautiful purple and silver package.

Three Sundays

The first time we ever witness Don speaking of his father with any affection, (or at least nostalgia), he speaks of those candies, the ones he had gifted Peggy sometime prior to the start of Far Away Places.

It’s also an insight into Don’s love for advertising. A little boy’s remembrance of the product packaging, and an instinct for the impact that can have.

I accurately pictured the package of candy as soon as I saw the scene. I’d never eaten them, but I knew they’d been around forever, and I knew it was going to be in older candy/stationary stores, or in diners near the cash register, that I could find them.

When seagirl, Deb and I were scheduled to have our magical lunch with Jon Hamm, I knew what I wanted to bring him. And I went nuts. Couldn’t find them anywhere. I just kept hitting the wrong candy/stationary stores, the wrong diners. (I also wanted them for our Season Three finale party, so I needed a lot of them). I finally found them.

My nephew Arthur, fell in love with them. My good friend Valerie found them to be disgusting. Ironically, they taste like flowers, and some people have a powerful adverse reaction to them. Why ironically? That’s exactly how Megan reacted to the orange sherbet. (I don’t get that at all, for the record—it’s citrus, not floral. But okay. And I do get it about the violet candies; have had that reaction with rose flavored ice cream, though not with these candies. Today’s lesson: palates are both sensitive and individual.)

When we sat down for the legendary lunch, I handed a pack to Jon. “Nicely done”, was his response. Because he loves me so…


  65 Responses to “The Violet Candy”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while because I like eating perfumy things, and Mad Men being what it is, I want to draw out more meaning. However, maybe there’s nothing beyond the fact that both Peggy and Megan were involved with a perfumed food. Peggy sought and couldn’t find hers, a gift from Don; Megan didn’t ask for and didn’t want hers, also a gift — though forced — from Don.

  2. Parma Violets, as I think they are here, are awesome. Good call, Archie!

  3. Any chance Don said his father loved “ham” because he’s Jon Hamm? Eh. Ham was (is) a popular food, so maybe it’s just a writing coincidence. Or maybe it was a writing “wink” to the actor.

    • Ham is not only a popular food, but in its cheapest, most processed form (canned), it requires no prep and can be eaten hot or cold. Maybe it’s just a nod to the fact that Don grew up poor.

      • I’m sure you’re probably right. I’m sure there were a whole bunch of depression-era implications that I’m not familiar enough with.

        • Heh, I’m certainly not Depression-era-age, but my relatives are. Plus, I love food.

          • Sorry! That was not my implication (Depression-era). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (being old). And of course there’s nothing wrong with loving food. 🙂 🙂

      • Was ham always a processed food, though? Didn’t people have to cook it during the Depression? I’m asking because I honestly don’t know.

      • Ham is an easily home grown form of protein. Pigs are easy to raise and one good size hog can feed a family for a long time,,, you use everything but the squeak so to speak. During the depression my family had a few chickens, a milk cow and two or more hogs. This fed a family of six rather well. My Dad always loved ham because that was the ” best of the hog” rather like tenderloin.

    • This week Abe said something like “(ham’s) my favorite”. – which seemed odd to Mama Katherine (and to me).

      So we know Abe is not strictly kosher. Of course, news doesn’t stop for Shabbat – so Abe is probably not observant in that respect either.

      • It seemed odd to me, too. It reminded me of a random anecdote a friend told me some months back. He didn’t grow up in a kosher household, but he told me that the first time he ever went to someone’s home and they brought out a baked ham, it struck him as… wrong. And his family ate pork, they just didn’t cook it or buy it. Another family friend once told us about taking a client from out of town to the 2nd Avenue Deli for lunch and the client (who was not Jewish) ordered milk. Everyone gasped. No one kept kosher, but it’s one of those things that just seems like “no”.

        Abe’s comment might have been a way of downplaying his Jewishness for Momma Olson’s sake.

        • There is nothing shocking about a non-Jewish person drinking a glass of milk with their sandwich. I will say as a Catholic girl, I wasn’t even aware of many of the Jewish dietary traditions until high school/college. Why should everyone gasp?

          I rewatched the episode. I love Mrs. Olson. She came with a cake clearly with the idea that she was giving a cake to celebrate an engagement. Instead, she was battered with this open disrespect of her daughter by Abe, and the heartbreak that Peggy didn’t think more of herself, which Mrs. Olson clearly said to Peggy that Peggy should.

          And the cat advice was great. A dog is a better companion for loneliness, but with Peggy’s work schedule, she doesn’t have the time or inclination to devote to a dog.


          • Everyone gasped because they were so unused to it, not because the visiting client shouldn’t have ordered it. In other words, they were momentarily thrown even though they themselves didn’t keep kosher, and even though the client wasn’t Jewish. I think even Christian New Yorkers knew enough not to ask for milk at the 2nd Avenue Deli.

            And that goes double for Jews of Abe’s generation, even if they weren’t religious. Here’s the way they usually ate pork: Chinese take-out, or processed ham already sliced. But cooking up a big old ham like Peggy did for dinner? That was fairly unusual. There are some cultural taboos that are so ingrained that they just seem jarring even when you yourself flout them and know consciously that it’s not wrong to do so, is my larger point. At least, up until a certain era. I should’ve clarified that.

          • We made ham at home in the 1960s, and clams, and other tref stuff because we were not only not Kosher, we weren’t religious at all and my mother (the cook) was second generation American-born. Very assimilated.

            So also did many Jews. It really depended on your family and how assimilated they were. Another good book is called From My Mother’s Kitchen by food writer and former NYT food critic Mimi Sheraton. It’s a cookbook/memoir about growing up in a food-conscious household in 1930s NYC. Mom as a terrific home cook and Dad was in the wholesale produce business. They knew good food. They ate everything good you could find in NYC, at home and out.

        • Abe’s comment might have been a way of downplaying his Jewishness for Momma Olson’s sake.

          I thought that might be the case too. I’m not saying he doesn’t like ham, he very well might, but I have a feeling it’s not necessarily his “favorite.”

        • Abe’s comment might have been a way of downplaying his Jewishness for Momma Olson’s sake.

          Peggy made a ham. She wouldn’t have if Abe was uncomfortable–Mama wasn’t going to balk at chicken. Abe was probably raised in a kosher home, but if he was a Red Diaper baby, he might not have been. Relationships to Jewish law are as varied and manifold as Jews.

          • Why probably? My mother’s family ditched every formal aspect of Judaism the minute they got here in the early 1890s. They lived in a completely Jewish world (Boro Park, Brooklyn) but it was secular/ethnic. No religious practice at all. Food, Yiddish, yes, but no religion.

            The World of Our Fathers by Irving Howe is an excellent book for anyone who is curious to know what the big wave of NY Jewish immigrant experience looked like. It was quite diverse and complex, of course. You’re talking about millions of people.

            • Probably because my parents were born in Brooklyn in the late 1930s, like Abe, and I know a little of what that world was.

      • Abe is probably a red-diaper baby. Did you ever watch Radio Days? There’s a scene in which Woody’s uncle goes to talk to the communist neighbors next door because they’re playing music on Yom Kippur (big no-no, especially in a Jewish neighborhood). He stays there an awfully long time and he comes back to Woody’s home gnawing on a pork chop, declaring himself a communist. I hadn’t thought of that until just now!

  4. Bobby, version 2, was the best. That was the most heartbreaking scene ever.

    • Yes! At that age, they’re not even really acting, so he came across as a really authentic little boy. Actually, I think all of the Bobbies have been good, even though John Slattery made a little joke about how hard it is to find a little kid that doens’t stare into the camera (although I think he was just sticking up for January Jones more than anything).

  5. Sorry, I know I’ve harped about this on earlier threads, but I can’t help wishing we could have seen it when Don gave Peggy the candies. What were the circumstances? What did he say when he gave them to her? Clearly they are a talisman for her. I find it hard to believe he would have told her about Archie Whitman. So much of the Don/Peggy relationship is based on things understood but that remain unspoken. Maybe he gave them to her and the circumstances, or just the expression on his face, let her know that it meant more than he was saying, and she just intuited how much it meant to him.

    If I ever have the confidence to write Mad Men fanfic, that’s a scene I would try to write.

    • Melville,

      Oh, please write this scene as fanfic — you can do it, and I bet it would be amazing!

      • Agreed. You’d have a ready audience here!

      • You convinced me.

        [Written when I should have been doing something more productive]

        The elevator doors parted and the crowd spilled into the ground-floor lobby. “G’night, see you to–” began Peggy. She stopped talking and walking when she saw Don had stopped stock-still in front of the little news stand on the way out to the street. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Did something happen?” But Don wasn’t looking at any of the newspapers. His attention was fixed on the candy display beside the cash register. He reached out and picked up a small roll of candy. The wrapper was purple with silver trim. Slowly, he turned it over and stared at it. “I didn’t think they made these anymore,” he said in an odd, low voice she’d never heard come out of him before. His face looked different, too, with an expression like … what? She wasn’t sure.

        “Fifteen cents,’ said the news stand guy. Don started, as if waking from a dream. He fished in his pocket. “Do you have any change?” he said, turning to Peggy. She pulled out her coin purse and handed him the silver. “Thanks,” he said, and handed it on to the man.

        Slowly they walked away from the news stand, Don still turning the roll of candy over in his hand as he stared at it. “I’ve never seen you eat candy.” said Peggy, still trying to read Don’s expression. Even after 5 years, this was one she hadn’t seen before. “I don’t,” he answered. He continued to stare at the little purple and silver roll for a few more seconds. Then the odd unreadable expression faded away.

        “I don’t,” he said again, turning to her with his more familiar tight smile. “Here.” He handed her the candy. “What?” said Peggy.

        “You keep it,” he said. “You paid for it.”

        “But I …”

        “It’s alright,” he said. “You keep it for me.” The tight smile softened a bit. “Some memories aren’t worth hanging onto. Good night, Peggy.”

        “Good night, Don.”

        She watched him walk out the door to the street. For a few more seconds she stood and stared at the purple and silver roll in her hand.

        She opened her purse and carefully placed the candy inside.

        She wondered: Memories.

  6. We didn’t even see this actual moment happen, but I thought it was the sweetest scene of the season so far!

  7. I always thought they were meant to mitigate/disguise bad breath, like Sen-Sen, which is why they were sold by the cash register at cheap restaurants. Archie was a boozer — maybe he used them to cover up his drinking. From that perspective it’s quite fitting that Don likes them, since he probably has awful breath from all that smoking and drinking.

    • You’re right- this candy is known as “smoker’s candy”- it supposedly is the best at killing smoker’s breath. It doesn’t taste great, but it definitely covers up all the booze and cigarettes- which is perfect for Archie and Don lol.

      • So, maybe his sharing this candy with Peggy is not as benign as it seems. It’s part of the legacy of bad behavior that he’s been passing down to Peggy. I know in the 60s writers and creative people were still supposed to do all manner of things “normals” didn’t. it as part of their job as artists not to be like other, “boring” people.

        Bad behavior was supposed to go along with the creative personality. In my experience people who live life on the edge (especially when it includes substance abuse, fast cars and multiple partners) don’t last all that long, creatively or otherwise.

        Sleeping on the office sofa, drinking during the day (or anytime, for any reason, or no reason), smoking, anonymous sex and generally doing things that by today’s standards are considered unhealthy and not conducive to a long life.

  8. Roberta,

    “Nicely done,” indeed! I was hoping there would be a post about those violet candies.

    Three Sundays is on my top ten list of all time favorite MM episodes, and season 5 has been filled with so many wonderful callbacks to earlier moments.

    I always loved how Don referred to the violet candies, and if I accurately remember that scene with Bobby #2 it came after Don threw Bobby’s robot toy against the wall because Bobby would not stop playing with the robot at the dinner table. Betty was pissed because she wanted Don to punish Bobby. Instead, it turned into such a poignant scene between father and son. Bobby apologizing and Don saying something like, “Dads get mad sometimes.” Don later telling Betty that his father used to beat him.

    One of the best episodes (along with the Hobo Code) IMHO for giving insight into just how painful Don’s childhood was and how deep it cut to his core. And, also provided a glimmer of hope that Don would not do to his children the things that his parents did to him. Don has often been an absent parent and he boinked Sally’s teacher, but we have never seen him do the overtly cruel things that we know and imagine Abigail and Archie did to him.

    • Wonderful post.

      It is a bit off topic, and I guess I do not keep up with these things as I should; but, is there an official explanation as to why MW has been able to maintain the magnificent Ms. Shipka as Sally while we have had as many different actors play Bobby (to borrow my grandmother’s saying) “as Carter has pills”.

      • I read somewhere — don’t remember where — that MW said that the problem with all the boys who played Bobby before Jared Gilmore was that for their age, the boy actors were not as mature to play the scenes as he wanted them. I think the trick with Jared Gilmore was that he was actually older (more mature) but was small for his chronological age so that MW could get him to play the scenes he wanted. I had also read that MW had commented that we didn’t really know Bobby yet, which I took as maybe we would get to know more about him in Season 5, but then Jared Gilmore took another role during the longer hiatus between seasons 4 and 5. Not clear what will happen with the Season 5 Bobby since his scenes so far have been so limited. However, we did learn from Sally that “Bobby pees in his pants.”

        I also think that there might be a contrast effect — Sally is such an amazing character, and Kiernan Shipka is such a phenomenal actor for her age, that making Bobby that interesting or having depth (even if that were possible) might be distracting. I imagine it would also be difficult to find an actor who could play Bobby at the level that Sally is played.

        Just once, though, I would love to see Don ‘throw the ball around’ with Bobby.

    • I hope that someday we can see another meaningful scene with Don and Bobby. I love Sally and all the focus on her, but I sometimes miss not getting the chance to understand Bobby as well.

  9. Lovely post, Roberta. I was hoping you’d connect your gift for Jon (that magnificent goofball) to the pack of Choward’s Violet that passed between Don and Peggy.

    I’m a little obsessed with retro candy. I had childhood favorites that have since disappeared (the Marathon Bar, braided caramel covered in chocolate, that I loved simply because it was big), but others are back, and I’m learning fascinating stories about them all.

    Example: my favorite lollipop when I was a child was Charms cherry flavor. It was so simple, no Tootsie Roll or bubblegum inside, and I was a kid who liked simple things. So when the retro candies (Big Cherry, Jordan Almonds, Flicks) started to come back, I made a beeline for the little packs of Charms hard candies.

    Now I learn — from a book I’m reading, Lost in Shangri-La — that these Charms candies were packed in military survival kits in WWII. Their size is ideal for a small kit, and I guess they withstand heat very well (which would explain why they were once called “tropical candy”).

    Only thing I’d add is that Choward’s Violet have been around since their debut in Depression-era Manhattan. From this piece of information I would guess we have more to learn about Archie Whitman: he may have been a violent drunk, but he liked new, nice, innovative things.

    • Oh, Anne B, have you read Steve Almond’s Candyfreak? If you haven’t yet, you must, if you love the stories behind small, old candy companies. You know Twin Bing? That’s one of my favorite old candies, and one of Steve’s stories revolves around that company.

      • Oh my God YES. I had to break up with that book, though, when I discovered his feelings about coconut.

        I know, dude, it’s a texture thing, and certainly you’re entitled to your opinion … but try making licorice allsorts (my Dad’s favorite) without coconut. Just try.

        My favorite retro-candy story has to be the rebirth of Flicks, which were painstakingly revived by a childhood fan and trained chocolatier. He even placed the “new” Flicks factory in its “old” home state of California. Nice!

        • I used to hate coconut (unless it was fresh). But now I love it. I would never try to make licorice with coconut. but then again, I don’t like licorice.

    • I liked Chuckles, but not the green one.

    • I take credit for calling Roberta and saying YOU HAVE TO WRITE THAT UP. I thought it was so wonderful. When she thought of it originally, I was just floored by her thoughtfulness and cleverness. Both. And really, you should have seen the look on Jon’s face. It was kind of “Joan, what a good idea,” if you know what I mean. I was touched.

      • Thank you, thank you, for helping me imagine the look on Jon Hamm’s face.

        I love you both so much. For so many reasons. <3

    • I’ve long had a weakness for Life Savers. Your comment made me wonder if it is also “retro”.

      Wikipedia states that the original five fruit flavors started in 1935.

      And check out the “Vi-O-let Life Savers Ad from 1921”:

    • Is something “retro” if it’s still popular?

      These are still sold – but seem old (so I checked – wikipedia rocks).

      Baby Ruth – first introduced in 1921 (the company claimed it was named not after George Herman (Babe) Ruth – but after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter, Ruth Cleveland – 17 years after her death!)

      Butterfinger – 1920s
      M&M’s – 1941
      Mars Bars – 1930s
      Snickers seems more modern, somehow – but was introduced in 1930 (!)
      Kool Aid – 1927

      C. Howard’s Violet Candies – “early 1930s in a small industrial loft on Broadway”

      Tootsie Roll – 1896

      Tootsie Pops – 1932

      My mom liked Sen-Sen – “late 19th century”

      Altoids – seem very retro because of the packaging (and they are – early 19th Century)

      Milk Duds – 1926

      Peggy proudly pitched her idea to Popsicle – early 1920s

      Sugar Daddy – 1925

    • Anne B I love Retro Candy too! Because I wasn’t allowed much candy as a kid, don’t think I ever had a marathon bar but I remember seeing them. There are shops that specialize in vintage candy, I saw Flicks at a store in San Diego

  10. Sometimes Vermont Country Store carries a lot of old-timey candies. Pricey though.

    I also found it funny that the violet candies were mentioned in the same episode where Roger drops acid. For what it’s worth, I found this on Wikipedia (for the song “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix):

    “The term ‘purple haze’ has been used to refer to LSD, due to the form sold by Sandoz, called Delysid, which came in purple capsules.”

    Now yes, I know that Roger and Jane’s doses were served on sugar cubes — I was going for imagery. carry on.

  11. I just bought one at Economy Candy in NYC. It smells fantastic and I don’t want to open it and eat it. The wrapper is so pretty!!

  12. Also this post reminds me of my childhood. I’m an 80s/90s kid and my grandfather used to give my sister and I the Andes chocolates with the green mint centers. Anyone remember those? He’s been dead for 10 years but if I come across them again, I would automatically think of him! 🙂

    • Andes mints are still around, and though my tastes have moved on, I’ll still eat a tray of them without trying really hard. However, now they make these BIG FAT ONES for easter (are they making them year-’round now?) that are far superior.

      Those remind me of my grandparents, too, but the candy that really turns me into a kid at heart is Fannie May chocolates. I was practically weaned on them, since Grandma & Grandpa always had a box of them — sometimes an assortment, sometimes just Pixies or Trinidads. Grandma still gives me a half-pound of Mint Meltaways for Christmas every year, a tradition that’s been going on for a good 20 years now.

  13. Don should have brought back a big box of See’s chocolate every time he went to California. That is the good shit, then and now.

  14. I’ve always loved Choward’s Violet, even after a friend once told me “they taste like the way your grandmother’s purse smells.”

    • MY grandmother’s purse smelled like Licorice Nips. Hard, nasty little things, but refreshing if you had a stale taste in your mouth.

  15. All this time, I’ve been thinking Peggy said *Dawn* had given her the candies, which should have made no sense to me. Those two names are going to cause me trouble!

    • Ah, you see, if Peggy had kept her Brooklyn accent, that wouldn’t be a problem because she would pronounce Dawn as “DAW-ahn” with two long drawn-out syllables and Don as, well, Don. I first learned English with a Queens accent and that’s how we pronounced it. Coffee, by the way, was “caw-fee”.

  16. My aunt introduced me to C Howards when I was a kid– only we both loved the lemon flavor, not violet. I was such a fan, in fact, that she even got me whole boxes a couple of times for my birthday (with 24 packs I’m thinking…)
    I highly recommend trying them. I’m of the mind that the violet ones taste strange–but those are certainly the most well known flavor. But there’s spearmint and peppermint too. I was thrilled to see Mad Men do a C Howards shout out not once, but twice! Someone in that writers’ room must love them. Matt maybe?

  17. Somebody say candy??


    I too love Charms. The packaging even reminds me a bit of Don’s violet candies, in that it’s silvered and jewel-toned.

    Wish Milkshake candy bars would come back!

    I was thinking of buying the Candyfreak book you guys mentioned. Now I will.

    At a recent festival near my city, a retro candy tent was set up, with buckets upon buckets of old-time hard and soft candies. My classroom treasure chest is now overflowing ;O) I had to teach my kiddies how to bite off the tip of the fake juice wax coke bottles.

    Ah. Youth.

  18. hi…laughed at the comment about the deli on 2nd avenue…i was a good catholic girl dating a nice jewish boy when they took me to that deli….didn’t know i thing about not having dairy with meat……the waiters had a field day with me….laughing at me, making fun of what i ordered…..i was so embarrassed i left the deli and wandered around the city and got lost before my future husband found me…..needless to say i wasn’t very impressed with his “family” but we still laugh about it!!!!!!!

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