Jan 152013


In the title song of the 1970 Broadway musical Applause, based on the same source material as the movie All About Eve, a character who is a Broadway dancer describes the titular sound as “the sound that says love.” This gives rise to a show-stopping, pre-A Chorus Line meta-production number in which a group of scuffling young performers perform a pastiche of multiple Broadway hits, all the while singing about the fact that they put up with the unpleasantness that goes with being a “Broadway gypsy,” because that sound makes them forget everything else. (The video, which appears to be a home tape made of a 1973 television broadcast, is low quality, but a pretty fascinating historical document. And I couldn’t find lyric sheets, my apologies.)

When Megan goes to see this show in 1970, I wonder if she’ll love it, or hate it. Maybe it depends on how her career is going. In other words, does she actually want to make art, even if only two people ever witness it during her lifetime, or is it (as I suspect) the roar of the crowd, the feeling of being chosen out of thousands, that she really aches for, regardless of what it’s for?

If you are the kind of person who must have applause, there’s really no substitute for getting it. Having ten people applaud you in the conference room for your Heinz campaign isn’t going to cut it; you need that thunderous standing ovation. Having a husband and friends who love you is great, but you need those roses thrown at you from the crowd, or you feel empty inside, like your life hasn’t even started yet. Maybe Megan, when she took the job as the SCDP receptionist, didn’t want to feel that way anymore, didn’t want her happiness to be contingent on whether she’d be stopped for autographs after work or not, knew what the odds were against her and tried to make herself not want it. But if that’s a true need of yours, it will raise its head, no matter how hard you try to hold it down.

Don, on the other hand, would find it to be a horrible burden to have what Megan yearns for, to have people thrusting autograph books in his face every day. He likes applause, sure — who doesn’t? But like most people, he wants to be able to turn it off after a few minutes. When you are a star, there is no turning it off; your audience doesn’t just love you, they crave you, the same way you crave hearing all their hands clapping hard and fast, and they want to eat you up. Which is, of course, the dark side of craving applause and actually getting it. Maybe those semi-anonymous Broadway dancers have the best of both worlds: they get the cheering and stomping, and they also get to walk to the store without being pestered. And since Megan doesn’t really need money — the lack of which seems to be these dancers’ main complaint — maybe she’d enjoy that kind of a life. But without the intensive dance training those dancers have received since they were little kids, that’s probably not a door that’s open to her; for her, it’s fame or bust. Could Don ever really understand what that feels like, understand that his love alone is not a substitute for that magic sound, and that her need for it could lead to public exposure for him, too? He’d better, or he’s probably looking at divorce number three.


  9 Responses to “Applause: Megan, Don, and the Sounds that Say Love”

  1. Since nothing is uttered on Mad Men without having a distinct purpose, the conversation between Peggy and Joan, in The Codfish Ball, is very foreboding – but I’m not sure in which direction. Joan declares, “she will be a failing actress with a rich husband.” And Peggy then says, “I think she’s just one of those girls. She’s good at everything.”

    One of these ideas is going to come true. I’m dying to see what the outcome is.

    This was a great post Meowser, and my heart broke a little when you said, “If not, he’s looking at divorce number three.” I feel sad for Don when I think of that. His search for some kind of real love takes him in all of the wrong places, but I do feel like it is an honest search.

    If he does get to divorce number three, I think he’s going to end the series shucking life and advertising, and just driving along the Pacific Coast Highway of California, by himself.

    • Maybe both of those things are true! Maybe she will be great at it AND she’ll be ignored. Happens to actors all the time.

  2. I think Don likes praise when it is deserved but does not want to draw too much attention to himself. He couldn’t even give a proper interview to a newspaper reporter in which he had to answer questions about him and his work. I think Don realizes that Megan’s acting may come between them because to his displeasure, it takes her away from home but he probably doesn’t realize that if she is successful and is then brought into the limelight, he will be dragged into it too which would be very undesirable for him. Quite possibly her failure will also be a thorn in their marriage because then Megan will be very unhappy. He truly is in a no-win situation with Megan’s acting career. If he doesn’t encourage it or if she is no good at it, she will be miserable and not the upbeat person he saw at Disney. If she is good at it, she is away from home and the focus becomes on her and her life. The only saving grace is that this is in the 1960s and not 2013 where Enterntainment news has become the norm. The adage “happy wife, happy life” may not translate into happy husband.

    • Another advantage of it being the 1960s is that plenty of terrible actors found work. 😛

      • Megan may have been upbeat at Disneyland but depending on her acting and singing chops, she may end up a performer at Disneyland!

        I confess, this clip from Applause reminds me of everything I hate about some Broadway musicals; the super-egos, the talk-singing, and how the characters obsess over theater, if only to hear that applause. The applause is their validation, I get that, but shows like Applause and A Chorus Line left me, for one, less sympathetic for the characters, and made want to yell ‘Get a life!’ Although I don’t love it, I understand the underlying dynamic; These are desperate, (mostly) talented characters who desperately want validation in their lives, perhaps with wounded self-esteem.
        Megan has mostly struck me as confident character, willing to tackle obstacles to achieve her goals. We saw this as she cleverly seduced Don, yet once she married him she’s come to live out the adage that having is not necessarily as pleasing a thing as wanting. She never really wanted to ace in advertising, but longed to be back on stage. Whether she finds true happiness there and is able to stay with Don we’ll just have to see. I think if she should become a superstar, Don would be conflicted and ultimately left alone again if he can’t accept it. I think Don still has old-fashioned ideas about what a wife is, and although we’ve seen him bend a little in S5 (no complaints about Megan’s bikini’s) I suspect there will be a rocky road in S6. I can’t wait.

        • Maybe she seemed so confident because she is a good actress?

        • I am so enjoying thinking about this post and the comments. I think there is really something to be said about the possible parallels between Don and Megan:

          * they are a carnal match

          * they both like recognition for their talents, but how much?

          * they may indeed each live by “the adage that having is not necessarily as pleasing a thing as wanting” (think Don’s words….”When a man walks into a room….”)

          * they are clearly both driven and motivated to achieve the things they want, or maybe the things they just think they want

          Jon Hamm said in a recent interview that he just completed shooting episode 6 of season 6 — the waiting is killing me

          Megan and Don may be more alike than not, which could easily lead to a very rocky road, indeed.

          • Yeah, when Don proposed to Megan, he probably didn’t have clue one that she was such an attention junkie. But she probably didn’t know that either, or at least didn’t want to admit it was true. There are potentially some fascinating dynamics in their relationship that I don’t think the writers have quite gotten to the bottom of yet.

            But certainly Megan is not Betty 2.0, not a bit; if she wants something, she’ll say so. Betty probably craves applause, too (Souvenir and Shoot were pretty good indicators of that), but she’d never let herself even think about it, let alone say so out loud, which is probably at least partly why she’s as cranky as she is.

          • I don’t think Betty craves applause, she craves validation. Which is understandable given how Don ignored her and how dismissive people are of her because of her appearance and for being a housewife. She’s also very introverted, unlike Megan, who can’t bear not being the centre of attention at all times.

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