Jane Maas, trailblazing woman in advertising’s ‘Mad Men’ era, dies at age 86
WASHINGTON — No finance, no cars, no liquor. Those were among the advertising accounts off-limits to female copywriters when Jane Maas was navigating the boozy, smoke-filled offices of New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960s.
Male bosses ‘‘figured we didn’t know how to balance our checkbooks,’’ she recalled years later. ‘‘They figured we didn’t know how to drive a car.’’ And alcohol, she added, was ‘‘what they used to seduce us, so that was clearly out.’’
Products more suitable for women, according to the prevailing view of the day, included dish soap and toilet cleaner.
Ms. Maas, perhaps best known for midwifing the ‘‘I Love New York’’ campaign in the 1970s, died Nov. 16 at age 86. She became one of the first women to reach the top ranks of the advertising industry in the era dramatized in ‘‘Mad Men,’’ the long-running hit cable-television series.
Advertising Age, the industry trade publication, included Ms. Maas among the 100 most influential women in advertising and described her as a ‘‘real-life Peggy Olson,’’ the ‘‘Mad Men’’ character portrayed by Elisabeth Moss who starts the show as a secretary and becomes one of her firm’s creative minds.
Ms. Maas, who recalled witnessing even more drinking, more sex, and more sexism in her office places than ‘‘Mad Men’’ depicted, had a similarly dramatic trajectory. Ever clad in high heels, a hat, and a brassiere that she said made her breasts into ‘‘javelins,’’ she trekked across the most venerable names in New York advertising.
She started out at Ogilvy and Mather in the 1960s, rising from junior copywriter to creative director. In 1976, she became senior vice president at Wells Rich Greene, where she worked on the New York tourism campaign that featured graphic designer Milton Glaser’s iconic heart. It was credited with helping to revive the city after its close call with bankruptcy and its worsening reputation for crime.
‘‘Lots of men say they are the father of ‘I Love New York,’’’ she once wrote. ‘‘But I am its only mother.’’
In 1982, her appointment as president of Muller Jordan Weiss made her one of the first women to lead a major New York advertising firm. In 1989, she became president of the New York office of Earle Palmer Brown, where she retired as chairwoman.
Ms. Maas chronicled her career in two books. The first, ‘‘Adventures of an Advertising Woman’’ (1986), was an apparent riposte to ‘‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’’ (1963) by David Ogilvy, the founder of the firm where she got her start. The second, ‘‘Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond’’ (2012), was the spicier of Ms. Maas’s two accounts.
If the boss ‘‘wanted to go to bed with you, you had to ask what mattered more: your self-respect or your career,’’ she wrote, recalling the injustices to which women were subjected, and the indignities to which some submitted. The worst offenders among the men were senior executives, she reported, because they had offices outfitted with doors and couches.
As for the drinking, she recalled that her colleagues did not indulge in shots in the office during the morning — one of the few departures from reality that she found in ‘‘Mad Men.’’ She did, however, encounter an executive who once steered her toward Scotch instead of Perrier because the Scotch, he said, was cheaper.
Women, she recalled, were expected to quit their jobs when they became pregnant. And the sight of a woman in a position of authority rarely failed to surprise. At a meeting with American Express, the client assumed she was a secretary.
Ms. Maas acknowledged a certain irony to her career: As she pursued the professional success made possible by the growing feminist movement, she contributed to advertisements that perpetuated certain sexist stereotypes. Among those ads was one for Maxim coffee, in which the actress Patricia Neal declared that ‘‘I use Maxim because I think it’s excellent. But — more important — my husband thinks so, too.’’
‘‘I look at that commercial,’’ Ms. Maas, who held a master’s degree in English from Cornell, told Advertising Age years later. ‘‘Did I really write that drivel?’’