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After Mad Men kicked off its Season 5 premiere with an era-setting scene of civil rights activists protesting on Madison Avenue, many critics found the opening “B” story to be uncharacteristically cheesy and obvious for the series.
A group of ad men drop water-filled paper bags onto a group of protestors before any familiar characters appear. When one protestor confronts the men, she gives an almost punchline delivery of “And they call us savages.”
Well, it turns out the line is quite authentic.
The New York Times points to an article from the paper’s May 28, 1966 issue, in which the incident of actual Young & Rubicam advertising executives heckling a group of activists is recounted.
“A container of water was pitched out of one of the windows of the building, splashing two spectators,” reads the story about more than 300 people picketing the Office of Economic Opportunity by Young & Rubicam. “Later, two demonstrators were hit by water-filled paper bags thrown from the building.”
Then, just as it happened in Mad Men, a young boy was struck with water, prompting several female protestors and his mother to go up to the ad office and confront the men — where Times reporter John Kifner witnessed the entire exchange that played out, almost verbatim, in the series. (A protestor named Vivian Harris was the one who made the “savages” comment.)
Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner received the article from the Mad Men writers’ head of research, Allison Mann.
“I was blown away,” Weiner said in an interview with the Times. “I just loved the level of outrage from the participants in the protest. It was so eloquently said, and it struck to the heart of the conflict… If I had concocted the story, I would have never written that. It was a great capturing of the lack of respect, which is to me what a lot of the show is about.”
Kifner, who was portrayed in the scene as a reporter jotting notes, does not watch the series — and didn’t know about the scene ahead of time.
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