Now... back to Season 2 of Mad Men which kicks off on Valentine's Day, 1962.
2.01 "For Those Who Think Young"
In the first half of the episode, Don and Betty Draper (Jon Hamm & January Jones) are at the Savoy for the holiday when they run into an old roommate of Betty's, Juanita (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) out with a much older man. They exchange small talk and Betty asks for Juanita's phone number. Awkwardness ensues. Don has to inform his wife, inscrutably naive about sexuality as ever, that her old friend is "a party girl".
Betty, who loves to gossip, embellishes this encounter for her best friend Francine (the wonderful Anne Dudek) the next day.
Betty: ...she was in the lounge of the Savoy. She didn't look cheap except for this two carat stone. But she wasn't with a date. She was with... a companion.True to form the Mad Men writers don't explain the time capsule reference but for movie buffs and Elizabeth Taylor devotees this particular movie note is well detailed.
Francine: I don't understand.
Betty: Don agreed with me. He was an old man. She's a call girl.
Francine: Really?! BUtterfield 8. I wonder what that's like?
BUtterfield 8 as a movie title refers to the phone number of call girl Gloria (La Liz). It's fitting then, that this subplot begins with an inappropriate phone number request. The sexually scandalous hit film opened in November 1960. Famously La Liz wears only a fur coat in one scene and what is Betty Draper's valentine's gift from husband Don but a fur coat. During their girl time gossip session, Francine teases that if prostitution means fur coats from Don than sign her up!
BUtterfield 8 may have been pop culture shorthand for "prostitute" in the 1960s but if people recognize the title today it's usually only as an Oscar footnote. Though the film isn't anything like a "respected" classic, its enduring infamy is as a major chapter in the career of one of the all time great stars. By the time BUtterfield 8 premiered, Liz Taylor was already more scandalous than her character Gloria "the slut of all time!" would ever be and in 1962 when this episode takes place she was still the subject of endless headlines. In our 2010 tabloid culture this is the norm but none of our modern stars can match Liz Taylor for sheer sustained bang for tabloid buck.
Consider just five years in her life and try to imagine how mammoth she'd be today given the 24 hour news cycle. I bet she'd dwarf any other star including Angelina Jolie (who is occasionally compared to her)
- 1957 Liz marries producer Mike Todd and turns 25 years old. She's already been famous for more than a decade and this is her third husband. The newlyweds attend the Oscars where he wins Best Picture for Around the World in Eighty Days (pictured left). In the summer she gives birth to a baby girl, her third child.
- 1958 She receives her first Oscar nomination for Raintree County. Four days before the ceremony, Todd is killed in a plane crash. Later that year she begins an affair with Eddie Fisher (also a huge star at the time), Todd's friend and the husband of her friend and fellow movie star Debbie Reynolds. As if that weren't enough drama for one year, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hits movie theaters.
- 1959 She marries Eddie Fisher.
- 1960 Liz becomes the highest paid actress in Hollywood history signing on to Cleopatra for a cool million (the salary will balloon). BUtterfield 8, in which she co-stars with Eddie Fisher, is released but production on Cleopatra shuts down when she becomes ill.
- 1961 She receives her fourth consecutive Oscar nomination for BUtterfield 8 and during the Oscar voting period she has life threatening health complications. She is even pronounced dead at one point. She wins Best Actress while still in the hospital prompting Shirley Maclaine's famous quip "I lost the Oscar to a tracheotomy". Filming on Cleopatra resumes.
Enter Richard Burton....
There never was a star like La Liz and there never will be again.
Suggested related post
78 Appropriate Ways to Celebrate Liz Taylor
Other cultural references in this Mad Men episode
Cinema: Pinocchio, Gone With the Wind | Books: Meditations in an Emergency | Celebrities: Jackie Kennedy | Special thanks, as always, to Mad Men fansite "Basket of Kisses" for goading this series into being.