Behind Every Mad Man…

With the return of AMC’s Mad Men this Sunday, hordes of Draper-crazed viewers will get their fix of whiskey breath, nipped waists and double lives. But the larger story—that of the early 1960s—is told by journalist and Mad Men obsessive Natasha Vargas-Cooper, whose just-released book, Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America (Collins Design, 2010), lends real-life context to the show’s most memorable scenes and references. (An early piece of the project can be found right here). From the Rothkos on the walls to the evil of McCann Erickson, learning about history has never been quite so sexy.

GOGOL: Has the allure of the show ever made you consider jumping ship from editorial and going into the ad world?

VARGAS-COOPER: Oh my god! Who told you? There were moments when I spent weeks pouring over the same ad thinking, “This is my calling! I get this!” But actually I get it for 1961, not for 2010. I don’t know how the ad guys pull it off now–you have to be so sophisticated, while constantly tickling the desires of a mass audience that has seen it all.

GOGOL: If you were a character on Mad Men, who would you be?

VARGAS-COOPER: Rachel Mencken, no question. She seemed to be the only lady that could cut through Don’s bullshit. I miss her.

GOGOL: It’s pretty brilliant that you’ve taken this television phenomenon and put it in historical context. What inspired you to take your blog to the book world?

VARGAS-COOPER: Originally, I never even conceived it as a book. I just hoped it would be a loved blog. But once I got an excited phone call from Harper’s, I decided that I was going to pour the intensity into this project like it were pentagon papers.

GOGOL: In the book, you talk about Burnett’s belief in the persuasive power of visuals over words. Do you agree with this? I mean, you’re a writer!

VARGAS-COOPER: I do! I do! I do! This is why I spent a giant chunk of my advance on buying and licensing all the rights to the pictures you see in the book. Remember great music videos?

GOGOL: What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

VARGAS-COOPER: Taking a position on history. No entry is neutral. If I didn’t have something fresh or intriguing to say on a topic, I wouldn’t write about it.

GOGOL: Are there ads out right now that have inspired you?

VARGAS-COOPER: Right now I’m a big fan of Dos Equis most interesting man in the world ads. It’s totally the same strategy David Ogilvy used with the Hathaway man. They remind me that people out there don’t think we’re all slobs.

GOGOL: What character draws you in the most? And who would be most likely to pick up this book, were it coming out in their “lifetime?”

VARGAS-COOPER: Sorry, I’m a sucker for Don and his multitudes. He flips all these emotional triggers in me–his alpha instincts, brooding introspection, that tension between rebellion and convention, his love and fear of women–he just does it for me!  Salvatore would read this book, it’s totally his scene, bless his beautiful heart.

GOGOL: Any upcoming projects of note?

VARGAS-COOPER: Not yet,  I’d like to fall in love again.