60s Television Series, Movies and Books: 6 Must-see and Must Reads to Understand the World of Mad Men

With Mad Men currently on hiatus due to the long drawn out bitter Betty battle between Matthew Weiner and AMC (I was team Weiner, by the way), we’re all going to be fighting through some serious withdrawals over the next few months. With a summer void of the exploits of the boys and girls, women and men of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price, there’s going to be a serious hole in our lives when it comes to missing out on the sixties drama. Keeping this in mind, I have compiled a list of some sixties-born and/or related reading material and eye candy to get you through those long nights. None of the below look quite as handsome as Jon Hamm in a suit or Christina Hendricks’ fierce office strut, but at least none of them will end up engaged to their secretary for no apparent reason.

American Dreams
This three season drama aired on NBC from 2002 to 2005. American Dreams begins just before the Kennedy assassination and brought the sixties to television before Mad Men began. With solid performances, gut-wrenching scripts and the all too authentic backdrop of the American Bandstand, this show is far more family-friendly then the exploits of Draper and company. It centers around the lives of a white middle-class Catholic family in Philadelphia and features well-known artists re-enacting bandstand sets each week. With three seasons and a whole lot of plot, it is sure to keep your need for sixties TV sated while you wait.

Taking Woodstock
While the counter culture and LSD-infused free love movement hasn’t made its way to the Mad Men world just yet, Woodstock continually remains the centerpiece of many a sixties discussion. While the original Woodstock documentary proffers an excellent view of what it meant to be rolling around in the mud and music in 1969, Ang Lee’s film Taking Woodstock made the list because it shares one very important aspect with Mad Men and that is its deep appreciation and attention to character. This film, based mostly around the life of Elliot Tiber, chronicles the journey of a man who returns home to try to save his parent’s struggling New York resort only to become the reason that the famous music festival made it onto the Yasgar’s Farm. Starring Demetri Martin as Tiber and featuring endearing roles by Liev Schreiber as a cross-dressing gun-toting security man, Emile Hirsch as severely damaged recently returned Vietnam Veteran and Euegene Levy as Max Yasgar himself, this film is based on Elliot Tiber’s memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life and will easily get you just as emotionally involved as the Mad Men cast has for four seasons.

Sterling’s Gold, Roger Sterling
Suggesting this little book may be cheating, but what better way to wait out the Mad Men-less trenches this summer by delving into the book supposedly written by Roger Sterling himself. Available come April 26, 2011, this book received some preliminary reviews on Amazon and many people are not entirely happy. Many expected this to be an actual memoir as per mentioned on the show(which many would love to read), while the product contains a large compilation of things the character has already said on the show. That being said, it sounds as if it may be the perfect coffee table (or bar top) book to have around.

They Marched Into Sunlight, David Maraniss
David Maraniss’ masterpiece They Marched into Sunlight recounts the story of the Vietnam War, both overseas and back home. Masterfully written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, this book is nearly six-hundred pages of thoughtfully written history. Though entirely non-fiction, They Marched into Sunlight keeps you drawn in and occupied. You get to know the people mentioned so well that they feel like fully-realized non-fiction characters. Maraniss has the heart of the sixties in mind and we see exactly how one nation fought, fought against, coped and experienced the iconic war and time period. If you are a fan of Mad Men’s attention to detail, this book will end up being one of your favorites as it let’s you experience this history first hand.

Far From Heaven
Stylistically, this film resembles Mad Men. Set in a picturesque version of the fifties, it chronicles one family’s way of coping with the trouble around them. Julianne Moore plays the part of Cathy Whitaker, a housewife who befriends her African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert) with grave consequences, bravely and stunningly. Entirely authentic in performance, she is a sweet, endearing Betty Draper-like housewife who struggles with an unfaithful Manhattan husband (Dennis Quaid). This film turns the Leave it to Beaver world upside down on its head and is truly an astute example of story-telling. Though not technically entirely sixties-related, this film is perfect for a lover of AMC’s Mad Men and provides an excellent view into the world that Betty Draper and her neighborhood circle struggle to emulate.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book that catapulted the sixties into a second wave feminism and gave voice to millions of silently struggling housewives and woman across the nation is an essential text for anyone to read when working to understand the social structure and climate of the sixties era. The female characters of Mad Men (Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway and Betty (Draper) Francis to name a few) remain some of the most fully-realized and beautifully acted female figures on television. If you’re an advocate for any of those girls or just need a break from Don, Pete and Roger’s pandering misogyny this is the place to look. If after this you feel compelled to keep on exploring the issues of the sixties woman, check out Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born as well.