From the Hilton to HoJo’s

 Posted by on July 3, 2012 at 7:00 am  Season 5, The Killing
Jul 032012

(Note:  7/2/12) I  wrote this before the end of Season 5, and SCDP clients have picked up with Jaguar and possibly Firestone, but we still don’t see Connie Hilton anywhere)

It is interesting to note that the more commercial clientele that SCDP is attempting to acquire reflects the decay of NYC in the mid-late 60’s, and I’m sure that this is intentional.   To think that just two seasons ago, Don was flirting with Conrad Hilton about hotel accounts, luxuriating in a grand Roman Hilton but now he’s excited about Howard Johnson’s?  The divide in class and taste couldn’t be more clear. I can’t imagine why the orange and turquoise atmosphere of HoJo appealed to Don — maybe he thought it will give him the same colorful vibe that Disneyland gave him, when his love for Megan was bursting into full bloom.  But it all ties in with the illusion of  happy commercialism hiding the slow disintegration of society in the 60s.

There’s decay in Don and Megan’s relationship too.  in Souvenir, Don buys Betty a beautiful gold charm of the Colosseum, in Far Away Places, he buys Megan a tacky orange backscratcher, which has ‘Howard Johnson’s’ stamped on it.  This is one souvenir that Megan won’t want to keep, for the memory it recalls would be too painful.

Slow decay also eats away the Manhattan’s shiny, mid-century veneer and it will leave behind the stained, gritty concrete of the late 60’s and early 70’s. In Times Square, the grand old vaudeville houses will devolve into tacky, triple-X-Rated cinemas. Crime and litter will increase, and fashion, once so elegant and tailored only years before, will transform into meltable double-knit polyesters with garish designs. (Hello Betty!)

I keep remembering Faye’s words to Don last season: “You only like the beginnings of things.”  I confess, I loved the beginning of MM, with its shiny, clean interiors and impeccable fashion, but as the 60s move forward, it will continue to age and soil, and no amount of  bright illusion that SCDP creates will cover the truth of a slowly rotting society.  I’ll miss that pretty illusion, but reality must intrude.


  13 Responses to “From the Hilton to HoJo’s”

  1. NYC won’t be alone. By the end of the 60s, many major cities will be experiencing urban blight and decay. That, and the social unrest common in the era, will make up a major part of Nixon’s rationale for running for president in ’68.

    If he’s still around, it’ll be interesting to hear Burt Cooper’s reaction to the “New Nixon.” I remember one commentator saying it was the greatest comeback since Lazarus, given his loss to JFK in 1960 and losing the race for California Governor to Edmund “Pat” Brown, in 1962.

    In previous seasons, we’ve seen or heard TV and radio news snippets, woven into the narrative and I’d expect to see a lot more of that, in S-6 and S-7. 1968 was an incredible year, with some new, major, dramatic development happening each month, at home or abroad.

  2. I see your point, but I think one of the overarching themes of the series is that the rot was there in the 50’s, but not where you could see it. The trinket from Rome was a gilded representation of the ruins of a civilization, given at a time when Betty was beginning to feel the rot in her marriage, and that it couldn’t just be glossed over as she had been willing to do over and over again previously. The outsides changed to match the insides. If you ask the people whose stories are not told at the forefront of the show people of color and poor people _ they”ll tell you that the rot was always there

    • The 50’s were so claustrophobic. the trinket was a symbol, but so small, so trivial. Thats why Betty hated it, she knew she was just staggeringly beautiful, and sexy , in Rome – and he did respond to her, but she wanted to be the person she was , back in Ossining.
      Don was so frightened of her being sexual- remember his fail on Valentines Day ? and his crushing comment on her bikini? I hope Betty comes busting out next season , she is full of rage,
      I hope she reads, The Feminine mystique”

      You are right, it was a sad and inadequate “souvenier” of a trip that turned her on and made her want so much more out of life- I feel so sad for her entoumbment in that ghastly gothic house.

      • Excellent points about the 50’s claustrophobia and hidden rot there. Yes, Betty’s trinket did represent the ruins of Rome and prophetically the ruins of her marriage, but at least it was gold!

  3. Don being excited about HoJo’s never rang true to me. I read lots of defenses of it (he loves pop culture! HoJo’s was cool then!), but I still don’t buy it.

    • I hear ya. It’s more like he was trying to find something to be excited about.

    • The HoJo road trip was, Don thought, a way to extend his honeymoon. Little did he know that trip would end it.

  4. Predictions: SCDP becomes SCDC with Peter being named a full partner. SCDC works on the 68 Nixon campaign. Harry Crane gets Nixon onto Laugh In. SCDC will expand further but new accounts will largely be older established brands that do not translate well to youth and boomers. Jaguar is a great example. By the late 60’s, sales will have started to decline because their target client is no longer at the center of pop culture. The E Type and sedans are no longer relevant to the Peace Generation. It would not surprise me to see the company land the defense contracting businesses of Dow Chemical at a time when the war is becoming less popular by the day. By the time that the ’70s come around the firm will be viewed as stodgy and old fashioned, while newer and younger thinking competitors pass them by. Look for Ginzberg to eventually leave and for Peggy to become an industry success at CGC.

  5. What is interesting about the sixties as a setting is that while objectively good things were happening (i.e. – Civil Rights, Second Wave Feminism), American culture almost totally fell apart. We have been slowly picking up the pieces of that great unraveling for the last half century. There are Right-Wing and Left-Wing myths about why that happened, but neither has ever been really satisfying. Neither the Establishment, nor the Hippies, really seem to be totally at fault for what went wrong.

    Like nearly all the great American cities, New York was shattered. The crime, litter and general dirtiness decimated its tax base and reputation. It has been luckier than places like Detroit that have never recovered and are being .

    Moreover, a good percentage of Corporate America was destroyed by the changes that were coming. Hilton has survived, but HoJos really hasn’t. American Airlines survived, but Mohawk is gone as the result of a merger.

    What is amazing is that despite all that disruptive change, guys like Don Draper never became irrelevant. Men born in the late 1920s that made their way to the top of American life stayed there forever. Hugh Hefner was born the same year as Dick Witman and he stayed on top through the rise of cable, home video, the Internet and reality TV. Mel Brooks (also born in 1926) went from stand-up to records to TV to film to Broadway. Andy Griffith (also born in 1926) was on TV every week into the 1990s.

  6. Wonderful observations, Therese!

    My take on Jaguar as a client reflects back on the theme of Gold Violin (2.07) … it’s the gorgeous vehicle that won’t start, much like Ken’s description of the gold violin he saw at the Met: perfect in every way, except it couldn’t make music.

  7. When Don was working with Connie Hilton, the Hilton account functioned as a kind of escape for him. Later, he used “meetings with Hilton” to explain to Betty his absences with Miss Farrell.

    So many things are interesting about the Howard Johnson’s trip. One, unlike the Hilton account, HoJo’s didn’t come direct to Don — Roger mentioned that little getaway, and Don seized on it. With Hilton he’d planned the trip to Rome alone; when Betty asked if she could go too, I think he was too surprised to argue. But with the upstate trip to HoJo’s, I doubt Don would have taken it if he could not also spirit his wife away for a long (working?) weekend.

    But to your point, Therese: yes. And I’d add that Jaguar turned out to be a tawdry sale, no matter how “beautiful” the cars are.

  8. apropos of nothing, but i was just watching a documentary on the band “the who,” and the film was discussing an album put out by the band in 1967 called “the who sell out.” i thought it was interesting that the products identified with the ‘sell out’ included heinz baked beans, jaguar, and a a skin cream (like clearasil)…just thought i’d throw it out there! 🙂

  9. GREAT post.

    I have always loved the recurring themes of New York as a city in decay….even though SC & SCDP do everything in their capacity to mask that.

    I find it fascinating that in S5—we see more bold and vibrant colors than we have seen ever on Mad Men. Yet S5 included a prostitution-forced-promotion, a lobotomy, a suicide. I explore some of those themes on my blog:

    Anne–very interesting how Don jumped on the HoJo trip. Definitely think a lot of that was a fun escape with Megan. But a mid-day trip upstate to see a motel, buying toy backscratchers? Doesn’t sound like any Don Draper I know.

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