Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
America’s love affair with the sixties dates back to July 19, 2007.
That’s the day an unknown show made its debut on an obscure network known for John Wayne western reruns. Seven and a half years later, “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone while AMC has been home base for landmark shows like “Breaking Bad” and the Walking Dead.”
The man behind the madness? Matthew Weiner, a nice Jewish boy from Los Angeles, via Baltimore, who developed the pilot for the hit series while working as a writer for “Becker.” “Sopranos” director David Chase was reportedly so impressed by the script that he offered Weiner a job as writing for the HBO show.
“Mad Men” has won 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it seventh in its list of 101 best TV-series of all time. Starting April 5, fans will have seven final episodes to say goodbye to Don Draper’s broody genius, Betty Draper’s fabulous outfits, Roger Sterling’s memorable quips, and Pete Campbell’s plaid pants.
The Forward’s Anne Cohen caught up with Weiner by phone to ask him what comes next, what he kept from the set, and really, what’s the deal with all the Jews on “Mad Men”?
Anne Cohen: Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.
Matthew Weiner: My parents were first generation — both New Yorkers and all their parents were immigrants. They were raised in the classic bourgeois Ashkenazi Judaism. My mother and sisters were not bat mitzvah’d but my brothers and I were.
I was not much of a student. When I went in for my bar mitzvah training I was older because I had no other previous [Jewish] education. They put me in a class with kids who were much younger than me. The teacher would teach the class to me — and I was very interested in it. I wasn’t interested in the arguments; I was interested in the stories, in the parasha.I still feel like the story of Moses is one of the best dramas ever. There aren’t a lot of cultures that have a story like Jacob and Esau, where the more athletic first-born is undercut by the one who is loved by his mother and is intelligent. That says something about [us].
My parents kept kosher for many years but believe it or not I think the butcher died and they kind of stopped. I was raised with a real Jewish intellectual identity. Freud, Marx and Einstein — those were the holy trinity of the household I grew up in. There real pride in anyone who made it who was Jewish. My father is named after Leslie Howard.
My grandfather lived with us. He had been born in Russia and was part of a social club of landsmen and worked as a fur dresser in Manhattan. He wasn’t a particularly religious person but I would go to Temple with him until he passed away. I never saw my parents deny that they were Jewish. We never had a Christmas tree. We went to see “Gone with the Wind” and went for Chinese food.
If you’re anything like me, you’re currently anticipating a period of intense mourning: After seven magical, addictive seasons, “Mad Men” is coming to an end. Soon.
Season 7 of the award-winning show may be airing in two parts a la “Breaking Bad,” but it’s a sad reality that by close to this time next year, Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Betty, Sally, Pete, and all the other characters we’ve come to know and love (and yes, hate — I’m looking at you, Megan) will be but a distant memory to be revisited on Netflix in moments of nostalgia.
“Mad Men” is nominally the tale of Don Draper, 1960s ad man. But that only scratches the surface of what has morphed into one of the most carefully crafted, framed and nuanced shows on TV. “Mad Men” is the story of America. “Mad Men” is the story of a generation. “Mad Men” is the story of women. And “Mad Men” is the story of the Jews.
It’s no coincidence that the very first episode includes a rather shocking display of anti-Semitism: We’ve hardly even gotten to know Don when a slick, 1959 Roger strides into his office to ask: “Have we ever hired any Jews?” Don’s deadpan answer is even more revealing: “Not on my watch.”
Almost ten fictional “Mad Men” years later, we’ve come a long way. Sterling Cooper & Partners (formerly Sterling Cooper then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Cutler Gleason & Chough) has a full-time Jewish copywriter, the ever-neurotic Michael Ginsberg; Peggy has dated a Jewish man; Roger married a Jewish secretary (and then divorced her), and Don has acquired a taste for Jewish mistresses. The company courts Manischewiz as a serious client (and then gets fired). The Jews have arrived. We are, as it were, the perfect example illustrating Don’s signature line: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
And so, in honor of our favorite TV show, we bring you the definitive guide of Jewish “Mad Men” moments.
1.“Have we ever hired a Jew?”
How do you make Craigslist less creepy? Call in Alison Brie.
The Jewish “Community” and “Mad Men” actress was on Jimmy Kimmel, where the comedian had her read a series of “Missed Connections” entries out loud. They seemed almost romantic.
For those of you who have a life, Missed Connections, as described by Kimmel, are “messages from people who met or saw someone they were attracted to, but for whatever reason didn’t get their number.”
Cue mood music.
[h/t The Daily Dot]
In what is possibly the coolest birthday card ever made, an Israeli woman celebrated her husband’s special day by turning his life into a television opening theme.
Leigh Lahav inserted herself, her husband Oren, and their friends and family into such shows as “Mad Men,” “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” ” The Office” and more.
Who knew Herzliyya looked so much like Scranton?
It’s been quite the month for antisemitic comments and conspiracies. Just as the new ADL report reveals the continual presence of antisemitic incidents in American lives and online, a number of comments from celebs have brought the strain of bias back into the spotlight. First there was Mel Gibson’s alleged antisemitic threats against TMZ founder Harvey Levin, (really, Mel. We’re shocked. Shocked!) providing the backdrop for gossip wars between Radar and TMZ, the latter of which oddly claims the threats were negligible.
Then, hot on Mel’s bizarre and sad heels came the disheartening comments from Oliver Stone ( for which he has since apologized ), complaining about how the Jew-controlled media overemphasizes the whole “Holocaust” part of the Holocaust. This was particularly distressing news because darn it, Stone makes great movies!