Being gay in the world of Mad Men: what It was really like

What was is like to be gay during the 1960s on Madison Avenue? David Leddick (who was worldwide creative director for Revlon at Grey Advertising and international creative director for L'Oreal at McCann-Erickson) wrote an entertaining essay for Huffington Post about his personal experience of being a gay mad man.

After I left BBDO, a friend told me he'd overheard comments about me in the elevator, along the lines of, "So, they were in a lot of trouble here when the queer that was writing all the great stuff left. But then they found another queer who could write just as fancifully."

When I finally hit Hockaday Associates, a small agency specializing in high-end fashion, furniture, cosmetics, and the like, it was a different world.

All the art directors were gay, and all the account executives were women. The agency president was in fact a Miss Hockaday, and she had her own take on the 1960s. Everyone really dressed to the nines. Everyone was good-looking, and there was wall-to-wall green carpeting in the foyer. A lady with a cart served tea every afternoon at 4 o'clock. Clients came in and were overwhelmed by the chic and wonder of it all. We were famous in the advertising world because Miss Hockaday dropped the Elizabeth Arden account. After Miss Arden kept her waiting for an hour for a meeting, Miss Hockaday swept in and said, "Miss Arden, you are a tyrant. We do not want to have this account," and swept out.

Can we please have more scenes like this on Mad Men?

Being Gay in the World of Mad, Mad Men: What It Was Really Like


  1. I have to say I was really disappointed when Sal was forced out of the agency. He was a great character (and of course I’m assuming the actor didn’t just leave the show for other reasons so they had to write him out).

    They had a gay character as a client a couple episodes ago and they only managed to make jokes about him which served to make the characters making the jokes look dumb, but I’m not sure if they look dumb only to us or if they would have looked dumb then too. If this article is any indication though I’m glad anyway (and honestly not that surprised even considering the realism of the rest of the show) that this is something that the Mad Men characters are still well and fully behind the times on, and I hope they address it further. The “being behind the times” thing is a very strong thematic element this season.

  2. This association of queerness and creativity was pretty mainstream back then, even before Stonewall. In the Doris Day movie Lover Come Back she played an advertising executive. One of the guys working for her presented an advertising campaign story board to her, and she remarked that it needed work, since not everyone had a lavender kitchen. Her employee remarked defensively that his kitchen was lavender. She replied that not everyone was as creative as he was. It was actually surprisingly positive for the era.

  3. I enjoyed the article, but I don’t think the author is very familiar with Mad Men. 

    Sal was forced out because he refused to put out. Don knows full well that Sal is gay, but he says nothing on the issue until Sal refuses to be (essentially) a party favour for the representative of their largest client. 

    Remember also that Kurt, the copywriter, comes out to the staff with no consequence, and when Harry acts uncomfortable, Smitty balks and comments sarcastically: “What, like he’s the first homo you met in advertising?”

    One thing the show consistently shows is that minorities are “accepted” as equals in the workforce… just as long as they can be exploited when needed. So the perceived libertarian equality in the industry is not really equality at all, just commoditization. 

  4. I had the pleasure of working for a family where the husband was obnoxiously gay friendly. He was a successful and wealthy land developer/Realtor. He would only hire “the gays” in important roles. He trusted “the gays” implicitly. 

    As the story goes, while at a restaurant with his wife and six teen-aged children, circa late 60’s, a  gay waiter (by request) was taking his order. “If the chef is gay, we’ll all  have the Steak Diane. If he’s not, then give me the cheapest thing on the menu.”

    1. Perhaps he was in the closet, or had family who were gay.  Or maybe he just really liked “the gays” (can’t forget the scare quotes when talking about gay people!). Either way, I don’t what is so “obnoxiously gay friendly” about this.  I doubt this had any great affect on you or any straight person in the workforce during the 1960’s.  I am having a hard time caring about how annoyed you were by an “obnoxiously gay friendly” man who hired a lot of “the gays”.

      “the gays”.  Twice.  In scare quotes, no less.  And the sarcastic “pleasure”, as if working for a gay friendly man and his gay employees is just so terrible.  

      Oh, boo-hoo

      You’re really not the person to judge anyone for being “obnoxiously” anything.

      1. A ) Palomino is gay.
        B ) I get the obnoxious part if it’s like Kathy Griffin incessantly talking about “her gays” like we’re an accessory that she wears.

  5. Color me unimpressed about the exceptional and enlightened workplace that welcomed anyone, of whatever sexuality … eroviding they were young, good looking, and dressed to the nines. It’s nice to see a woman executive succeeding in the 1960s, and employing women and Gay men freely in positions of responsibility, but it sounds like the office had its own issues of bias to address.

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