Essays on Joan
Eight of TV's top female writers defend, adore and dream up fantasy dates with "Mad Men's" leading lady.
NAHNATCHKA KHAN: The Genius of Joan
Joan is all women. That is not a typo, I don't mean "all woman," although she is obviously that, too. I mean that there are parts of every woman I have ever known in her. She is elusive yet attainable. Aspirational and a cautionary tale. Joan is my best friend, my nemesis, my lover, my mother. She is confident and scared. Prideful and amoral. She can take care of herself yet still expects someone to come to her defense. You want to be her, and you want to steer clear of her. Were there really women like that? Are there still? Could they actually exist in the mundaneness of the real world? Can you text a person like that to meet you for breakfast burritos? Can she throw on jeans and a T-shirt and be there in 20, or would she show up two hours later, dressed for the Oscars and randomly accompanied by Karl Lagerfeld? Has she ever thrown up from drinking too much at a beer bust? Drunk-dialed an ex to tell him she's been stalking him on Facebook and whoever that girl is in those Lake Havasu pictures is clearly a slut? Obviously, we'll never know. But the point is, we -- at least I -- WANT to know. And that, to me, is really what is so genius about Joan. She feels like everyone you've ever known and like no one you've ever met.
Khan is executive producer of ABC's Don't Trust the B-- in Apt 23
MARLENE KING: My Friend Joan
Friends disappoint each other. No one's perfect, and we expect it. So why was I as distressed as Don Draper when Joan Holloway prostituted herself for a partnership at the agency? I felt a wave of sadness wash over me as I watched her follow through with the decision to sleep with a mildly repugnant car dealer for 5 percent of Sterling Cooper and voting rights on the board. The thing about Joan is, my adoration for her is unconditional, and I forgave her immediately. This is what my Sunday-night friend has taught me to do. I've watched her not survive but thrive in a world that objectifies women and belittles their contributions. Shoulders back, head held high, she struts forward through the sleek halls of the agency, never looking back. She's got the guts and has earned the glory. And let's face it, Joan has manned up more than any Mad Man in Manhattan. What is a friend if not someone who inspires us? She is grace. She is dignity. She is Joan. I raise my martini to toast her success. Congrats, Joan. You deserve everything they give you. And I think we might wear the same size. Can I borrow that red dress?
King is executive producer of ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars
CLAUDIA LONOW: Wy I Love Joan
1. Let's start with the name "Joan." Joan -- a name for people whose parents are too lazy to say "Joanne." This name has fallen out of favor. I think it's because you can't say the name without raising an eyebrow and following it with a "Not again, Joan" shake of the head. What happened to all the Joans? Joan of Arc, Joan Blondell, the old-timey TV show I Married Joan. (Imagined commercial for I Married Joan: I don't know what you did with Joan, but I married her!)
2. You know how in modern times when a star gains weight, gossip magazines proclaim that they "love their curves" but you don't believe them because these days "curves" is code for "fat"? Not only does Joan love her curves, everyone else does, too. Joan should invent the lady gym Curves, but the only exercise would be putting on a fur coat and giving bitches the "side-eye."
3. Pen around the neck. Why don't I do this EVERY DAY? I can't find a pen RIGHT NOW. If only I had a pen around my neck, right? Neck pens for all!
4. Joan sticks with things. That hairdo? She's going to have it when she's 80, only it'll be higher. Also, Joan's not addicted to shopping. Girlfriend has, like, five dresses. She must live at the dry cleaners.
5. Joan's mom, or "Double Joan." Take Joan, multiply her with Joan, and you have Joan's mom.
6. Christina Hendricks plays Joan: She's brilliant, funny, sad, beautiful and my imaginary best friend.
Lonow is exec producer of ABC's upcoming How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)
JENNY BICKS: Joannie and Me
Joannie asks me what I am doing after work one day, and my fantasy is that we are going to bond over men and martinis at the Monkey Bar. The reality is that she takes me shopping for foundation garments at Bonwit Teller. She doesn't understand why I dress like a 12-year-old boy. I explain to her that in Hollywood, there are no rules. I tell her stories of producers dining at the Ivy in long johns. She is suitably unimpressed. She twists the pen around her neck and says she thinks that sounds sad. Nothing is sexier than a man in a good suit. Speaking of good suits, I am dying to ask her about Roger and the baby, but there is a geriatric saleswoman shoving me into some kind of brassiere-cum-torture device in the dressing room and honestly, I can't breathe in it. When I emerge from the room tightened and heightened in all the right places, Joanie is pleased. "Now that is better," she smiles. I look in the mirror at myself in a very fitted silk sleeve dress, and I pull a face. "I don't know. … I'm worried that people will make assumptions about me. Like, I'm slutty or I shop exclusively at thrift stores or I'm an actress auditioning for Mad Men." She looks at me, confused. "Mad Men?" I wave it away. "It's a great TV show, you'll see it someday." Joanie takes me in. "It doesn't matter what people think -- it matters how you feel." She hands me a lipstick from her pocketbook. "I have to get back to work. Put this on. You look like you just woke up." And as Joanie saunters out of the intimate apparel department, I realize I do feel different. I feel taller. More confident. Ready to take on the world. And when the construction worker on Lexington catcalls at me, I own it, turning and waving at him. Which is precisely when I trip on the subway grate, fully exposing my $2.75 girdle.
Bicks is executive producer of Showtime's The Big C
CHRISTINA WAYNE: How I Differ From Joan
I'm not a Joan. Far from it. I'm a Peggy with attempts to wear my squareness on the inside. Joan is the girl I judged for sleeping with her married boss, pitied when she allowed her fiance to rape her on the office floor, marveled from afar the gravitational pull of the male gaze toward her melon breasts and zaftig form. She wasn't the type of girl I'd befriend, either. She was all Marilyn when I tended to seek out Jackies.
A river of generational and opportunity divide Joan and me -- or so I thought until the "A Night to Remember" episode. Joan takes on the task of reading scripts for the TV department handling broadcast operations. She does a great job, only to find out after the fact a guy has been hired. She was never considered. Her response? A smile. That night, alone in her bedroom, the weight of her disappointment appears as a deep red mark on her shoulder caused by her constricting bra strap. Surprisingly, I wept for Joan … and then for me (I was going through my own prickly work situation) and our shared feminine burden.
Gender issues at work are now far subtler and unspoken but still leave painful marks. It's the differences in the way Joan and I respond to these issues that set us apart. In a WSJ article, the Frontier Communications CEO raises this issue: "Men selectively listen," Mary Agnes Wilderotter says. She recalls making points in boardrooms, then watching the group take note of a male later saying the same thing. "When that happened, I'd stop and say, 'Do you realize I said that 10 minutes ago?' Women have to take responsibility for the dynamic around them; you can't just say, 'Woe is me.' "
When similar situations have arisen for me, I've always spoken up. But I've suffered the consequences of speaking your mind versus taking the victim route like Joan. When that happens, you question yourself -- should I have just smiled? No. I have a 2-year-old daughter, Auden. If I just smile, where does that leave her? So I don't see Joan anymore across the river on a distant shore but a drowned Ophelia sucked under by her girdle cage and myself in the river fighting against the tide, carrying my 2-year-old daughter safely to shore. As I place her down, I urge her to run, as I have so many times as she's dashed down our street toward home. "Run, dear Auden, run, but don't look back, you might fall."
Wayne is president of Cineflix Studios and was AMC's senior vp scripted series at the time of Mad Men's launch
HEATHER MCDONALD: My Fantasy Night Out With Joan
I arrived at the bar first and put my pocketbook on the stool next to me to save it for Joan. I ordered my usual champagne cocktail. I saw Joan enter wearing her favorite emerald-green sheath. I waved her over, and as she walked through the restaurant, two busboys were so mesmerized by her that they crashed into each other, causing even more heads to turn. Joan looked at me and bit her lower lip so as not to laugh. This isn't the first time Joan's curves have caused men to hurt themselves. Joan sat down, and before she could order her drink, the bartender presented her with champagne and informed us they were compliments of the two gentlemen at the table behind us. They weren't bad, and we were both hungry.
A working girl should never turn down a meal, especially when it's shellfish. Joan and I ordered shrimp cocktail and the special, lobster tail. They were in New York on business and staying at the hotel. I studied how Joan gently touched the man's forearm and giggled at his joke, one we'd both heard three nights prior. As I finished my cherries jubilee, one of the men suggested we go up to their suite for a nightcap. Joan politely declined. He grabbed her waist and said, "Don't be such a tease. Are you going to make me beg?" Joan turned her head and calmly said, "Next time you buy two women dinner, you might want to remove your family portrait from your wallet before paying the bill." We both stood up and Joan looked over her shoulder and said, "Enjoy your time in Manhattan, gentlemen."
McDonald is a comedian and writer for E!'s Chelsea Lately
MARGARET CHO: What Joan and I Have In Common
I love Mad Men, and my favorite character -- possibly my favorite fictional female of all time -- has to be Joan Harris, nee Holloway. My own character on Drop Dead Diva, Teri Lee, enjoys parallel attributes to Joan, even though ostensibly we are, through the magic of time travel and television, existing some 40-plus years apart.
We are both office mavens, ever at the helm of our own gorgeous womanly heft, wielding it handily in between desks and hard chairs, holding all of the world hostage with our controlling yet gentle condescension and simmering sex appeal. One of the few differences between us is that I don't wear that astonishingly flattering pen on a chain, functioning like an arrow pointed down to where all the good stuff is, hanging gleefully between Joan's breasts. In my opinion, it's truly the luckiest writing implement on earth. Ahhh -- to be a pen and live in the deliciously appointed rooms of Joan Harris nee Holloway!
Also, I don't get to wear any of those ferocious and divine undergarments, which act like a secretary for her own curves and give Joan her glorious shape and magnitude. The girdles and garters and conical bras encompass her spherical perfection, and her stinging wit and fearsome intelligence act alongside accordingly so that whatever she is saying or doing, you are paying close attention.
My fantasy night with Joan would include gin cocktails and clams casino, possibly in Monte Carlo or the isle of Capri -- far from the milieu of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. If I took her away, I could have her all to myself. We would gamble and win always, celebrating our jackpots in a decadently appointed European hotel/pension, and at the piano or maybe on the floor, you would find us daintily dipping salty potato chips into champagne and offering them up to each other with a cheer, just like Marilyn Monroe did in The Seven Year Itch because we are women and we are beautiful and proud, and we bask in our own glory, as all women everywhere always should.
Cho is a comedian and stars on Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva
GALE ANN HURD: In Defense of Joan
Joan is a complex and layered portrait of an independent woman encountering the societal boundaries of her era and the advertising industry. She's initially notable for her sex appeal, but it quickly becomes apparent that, although unacknowledged, Joan is actually the smartest person in the room. Her ability to speak her mind frankly is both impressive and endearing. Joan manages to remain in control, often having to endure unfair and uncomfortable situations without wallowing in self-pity or pride. Although she could be perceived as morally compromised, Joan's choices are more defensible given the restrictions of her world.
It's almost impossible to talk about Joan without referencing the May 27 episode, "The Other Woman." There has been considerable debate about whether or not her actions were true to her character. Many of the male characters on Mad Men routinely make morally reprehensible decisions, and it barely registers in the blogosphere. But when Joan, who is in many ways the heart of both the agency and the show, makes the choices she does, the audience is challenged to rethink their worldview. Regardless of whether people are mourning the betrayal of her character or her character's betrayal of herself, they care deeply. And isn't that ultimately the greatest triumph of exceptional storytelling?
Hurd is executive producer of AMC's The Walking Dead