Forefathers of 'Mad Men': 5 Advertising Adaptations Pre-dating Don Draper

Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Vincent Kartheiser, Jon Hamm, Robert Morse, Elisabeth Moss/Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC
Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Vincent Kartheiser, Jon Hamm, Robert Morse, Elisabeth Moss/Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

At last! “Mad Men” returns for a highly anticipated fifth season with a two-hour premiere on March 25. After its extra-long hiatus, we’re eager to welcome back Don, Roger, Joan, Peggy, the dramatic storylines, and, most of all, the lavish period aesthetic (the clothes! the furniture! the architecture!) to our screens.

While it offers up juicy storylines and plentiful eye candy, “Mad Men” is an unhurried narrative about the American advertising industry. Following in the tradition of previous films and television programs about the business, the drama, as implied in its title, is all about the madness of Madison Avenue. If not engaging in wild schemes (rivals Doris Day and Rock Hunter in “Lover Come Back”), these fictional ad executives struggle with disenchantment (breadwinner Teri Garr in “Mr. Mom”) or insanity (Richard E. Grant and his boil in “How to Get Ahead in Advertising”).

Here are five fun adaptations involving the advertising industry.

”Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948)
In this comedy based on the 1946 bestseller, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy star as Jim and Muriel Blandings, who outgrow their tiny Manhattan apartment. Due to false advertising, they buy a Connecticut house that turns out to be a major fixer-upper. While the renovations go on and on, ad man Blandings struggles to invent a slogan for client Wham Ham. Hilariously, the film’s marketing campaign consisted of building and raffling off seventy-three “dream houses” all over the U.S.

”Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957)
Frank Tashlin directs his (very) loose adaptation of the popular play. Tony Randall stars as TV ad writer Rockwell P. Hunter, whose attempt to nab a movie star (Jayne Mansfield) for Stay-Put lipstick leads to him playing along with her publicity schemes. From its hilarious mock commercials to its parody of media and celebrity, the movie is a sharp spoof of the advertising industry as well as the star machine.

”Good Neighbor Sam” (1964)
In David Swift’s movie of the novel, Jack Lemmon plays family man Sam Bissell, an advertising writer hired by a straitlaced client (Edward G. Robinson). When a misunderstanding forces him to pose as the husband of his wife’s friend (Romy Schneider), Sam’s attempts to hang on to the account without exposing the truth become classic farce.

”How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1967)
Swift also directed this version of the musical, itself inspired by the satirical Shepherd Mead book. It follows J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse), a cheerfully ambitious window washer who, guided by the eponymous manual, races up the World-Wide Wicket ladder to become Vice-President in Charge of Advertising. In a nice twist, Morse plays Bertram Cooper, co-founder of Sterling Cooper, on “Mad Men.”

”99 Francs” (2007)
Featuring his trademark visually kinetic style, Jan Kounen filmed the bestseller by Frédéric Beigbeder, who was fired by his advertising firm after the novel’s release. Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) plays ad executive Octave Parango, whose hedonistic lifestyle gradually deteriorates into existential despair and leads to a blackly satirical condemnation of consumer culture.

What are some of your favorite movies about the advertising industry?