Meet The Real-Life Joan Holloway


When we learned that Christina Hendricks was going to be at Bloomingdale’s, and that it was possible to interview her, it was decided that I should bring along my large doll, coordinate our outfits and check it out.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t in the mood to be sociable; I was fighting a cold and had cramps and wasn’t sure about the doll’s new wig, which kind of made her look like Carol Kane just off the boat in Hester Street. Maybe it was just the towering wig, but the doll looked surly, too. We were neither one of us in any state to meet Christina Hendricks, and both in need of a drink.

Christina Hendricks was supposed to be presenting this clothing line, but at the last minute it turned out she had some conflict with London Fog, which she reps, so she wasn’t allowed to do anything except stand around for a minute — although she did so very beautifully and was predictably stunning. Then they rushed her backstage and all of us reporters were left hanging. Me, with a large doll in a matching outfit, which kind of amplifies the predominant mood of any situation and so, in this case, made things about a hundred times worse. There was, however, free champagne.

Since there wasn’t much to photograph after they shepherded Hendricks away, some photographers took our picture. Jaded by this time, we posed in a blase fashion, as if it was our due. A woman (who, it turned out, was from Missouri) approached me. “That’s cute,” she said. “Do you have a daughter?” Perhaps an even greater indignity, a very nice young woman came up and said, “you must have a blog!”

I’d had a lot of questions to ask Christina Hendricks: about pie versus cake, and what she thought of the doll’s new wig, and her own Mad Men Barbie and its outfits. And I wasn’t willing to go quietly. So I sought out this back room where they’d stashed her, somewhere near Furs, and tried to poke my head in. “You can’t go in there, honey,” said a voice, wearily. “I tried; got kicked out.” The raspy voice came from a woman of perhaps 70, chic in a Chanel-style suit. “I wanted to talk to her about advertising in the 60’s…I was there.”

Suddenly, the evening got a lot more interesting.

The woman, whom I will call JoAnne, worked in advertising from 1964 – 1968. In a small startup agency. “Just like on the show,” she said, “we started out of a hotel room, just me and three executives. We grew — and then we fell apart. But those years were a whirl.”

Tobacco, shampoo, cars — they did it all. And is the show accurate? “Oh, completely. Very.” The drinking? “Well, we weren’t drunk. And I was never a smoker, because my mother smoked so much and I didn’t like the smell on my clothes.” And how about the secretaries’ treatment? “They treated the girls — well, we didn’t think it was terrible. Now it seems that way. Although I always got respect. And no bosses like the guy on the show, more’s the pity. Although I was married.” So, I suggested, she was the Joan? “Well, yes,” she said, “but did I look like her?” She indicated the barricaded door. “In my dreams!”

I showed her my doll. “I like the gimmick,” she said. “Back in the day, that’s what we did at the agency — do what it takes to stand out. Of course, we folded. But those were a good few years.”

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