Thursday, May 8, 2014 | return to: arts


Bay Area ‘Mad Man’ tells it like it was

by abra cohen

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You could say that Fred Goldberg is the original Don Draper.

Draper, star of the hit AMC series “Mad Men,” is a womanizing creative genius at the fictional 1960s New York advertising firm Sterling Cooper. The character, played by Jon Hamm, is a “man’s man” who is easy on the eyes and pours far too many midday whiskeys at the office. 

Fred Goldberg, circa 1985
Fred Goldberg, circa 1985
“There was lots of drinking, a lot of smoking and a bit of sex along the way,” confirms retired advertising executive Goldberg, author of the new book “The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of a Mad Man.”

The Belvedere resident, who moved to the Bay Area in 1982, lived through the Golden Age of Madison Avenue in the ’60s. His tell-all book reveals his own version of “Mad Men.”

Goldberg claims the soap-opera aspects portrayed in the TV drama are not too far off from the real narrative.  

While “Mad Men” depicts an endless stream of office booze, “There really was more Colombian gold [marijuana],” Goldberg says, laughing. “I’d need to swim through the smoke to get to the creative room. I’d get high on the way.”

After graduating from New York University’s Stern School of Business, Goldberg entered the advertising world “by fluke” when he landed a job at Young & Rubicam. He worked his way up to senior vice president, becoming the youngest in the firm’s history at the time, he says.

His career in the industry, which began in 1967 and spanned nearly four decades, had him working on seminal accounts such as Apple, Reebok, Dell, Cisco and the ice-cream maker Dreyer’s. He later went on to start his own firm in San Francisco, Goldberg Moser O’Neill, and retired in 2000.

Amad_men_bookcover_normal_sizeJust like in the TV series, the ad business in the ’60s was white, male and “very WASP-y,” Goldberg says. “[Everyone] acted the same, looked the same, even their wives looked the same.”

The show does not depict many Jews, which Goldberg says was the case back then. “Mad Men” has one character, Michael Ginsburg (played by Ben Feldman), who is a copywriter and the show’s token Jew. “[The producers] have him nailed as the stereotypical ‘Jew,’ ” Goldberg says. “He’s smart, clever, idealistic, opinionated, outspoken, dark hair, smart-ass, rebellious and short.”

Goldberg, who was a board member of the Western Region Anti-Defamation League in the early ’90s, says that he was one of the only Jews in account management in his early days at the firm. “It changed over the years, but back in the ’60s, Jews were predominantly in creative and research.”  

There were only two large Jewish agencies — Gray, and Doyle, Dane and Bernbach — plus a few smaller Jewish firms that dealt primarily with the fashion and the retail industry, he says. With new attitudes in the ’70s and ’80s, the demographic in ad agencies shifted, and more women were brought into the ranks.

“Mad Men” started its final season last month.

While Goldberg is a fan, having been in the trenches, he watches with a critic’s eye. The series depicts some of the realities of the business, but it doesn’t capture how difficult it really was, he says. “[In the show] they throw ideas on the wall, go to the clients and bam! That’s it! But the producers don’t spend the time differentiating between a good ad and just an ad. Just getting an ad approved is the accomplishment.”

In his book, in addition to dishing about difficult clients, Goldberg writes a lot about shooting ads and an era of out-of-control spending. For example, he recalls one exec who “rented a Ferrari and billed it to the company account.”

Goldberg, who recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, adds that long-term unions were a rarity back in the day; the ad culture broke up many families. “The environment is conducive for bad things,” he says. “When you work so many hours that means you really have to manage that.”

“The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of a Mad Man,” by Fred S. Goldberg (394 pages, Council Oak Books, $28.95) 


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