Retro Nation

Entertaining September 20th, 2011

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I admit it freely, I am a Mad Men junkie. Why wouldn’t I be? It reminds me of my childhood, during which my mother and all her friends smoked Salem 100s and I got paid ten cents apiece to make my father’s after work martinis. Parties were fun—grown people usually ended up dancing on tables; someone might depart with someone inappropriate. The women wore hairpieces piled up on their heads and the men all looked great in narrow suits and skinny ties. My mother listened to Ella Fitzgerald and the Beatles and loved the detached cool and sly humor of Johnny Carson and Dean Martin the most. Both my father and my grandfather had a key to  the Playboy Club.

All that smoking and drinking meant that people knew what to do with their hands. The men’s stances were sexy and slightly amused, but always upright, never slouchy. The women were invariably flirty but ever so slightly challenging at the same time. No one was beaten down by the stock market or the burdens of being a soccer mom. For one thing, there was no soccer.

Sure, I know women had a tough time in the workplace, the lack of civil rights for minorities was abominable and shocking, and all that smoking and drinking (not to mention adultery) was probably not all that good for people. But there must be something about it people miss. Otherwise there would be no Mad Men, nor its current round of copycats, The Playboy Club (the TV show, not the real deal, though they are reopening some of those too), and Pan Am.  I can’t wait to see the latter—I used to fly Pan Am with my grandmother, who would make sure I was dressed as immaculately for travel as she was, another habit of the era that has tragically fallen by the wayside.

Last night, I did see the premiere of the Playboy Club, which featured some rocking good music by Ike and Tina Turner stand-ins, a Don Draper doppelganger named Nick Dalton, and such snappy lines as: “Smart, who needs smart? You’re the only man I know who puts his hand up a girl’s skirt looking for a dictionary.” At one point, Nick offers to take a bunny to the Pump Room, a one-time pinnacle of old-school glamour that had always had a table ready for Sinatra and served the best dry martinis in town. Like everything else from the era, it is being brought back by no less than Ian Schrager (see my Chicago diary in this week’s Fetch), who has been known to spot a trend or two.

At this point we may well be too far gone into our own Twitter-spewing, reality-TV-show watching era to recapture some of the best bits of the former one. Though it would be lovely if people regained an actual sense of humor, knew what to do with a woman’s wrap and what to wear on a plane, or learned to flirt a little. In the meantime we have TV, as well as the images in the fabulous new book The Rat Pack (see The Unseen Rat Pack on Fetch this week) to remind us.

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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