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1964, the year of ‘Mad Men’ Season 4

Cast of 'Mad Men.' Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3

From the Oval Office to Banana Republic, anticipation for Sunday night’s season premiere of “Mad Men” is reaching a crescendo. When Don Draper and his colleagues return to the small screen this weekend, audiences will rejoin them for Thanksgiving 1964. As the advertising execs strike out on their own to form Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, their frame of reference may shift as the world around them is reshaped by major historical events since Season Three concluded in December 1963. Racial segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory over Republican challenger Barry Goldwater. And the British invaded — with mop-tops and electric guitars. Need to Know provides a snapshot of some key cultural touchstones of 1964.

The World’s Fair

The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair filled Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens with an array of “firsts” that would have a lasting impression beyond the fairgrounds. Corporations dominated the exhibitions. The most popular attraction was the General Motors Pavilion, where visitors rode automated chairs through a “Futurama” exhibit featuring forward-thinking scenes from daily life. Ford introduced the first Mustang. General Electric partnered with Disney to create “Progressland,” a circular auditorium featuring anthropomorphic robots demonstrating the history of electricity. Disney showcased his audio-animatronic technique in the “It’s a Small World” attraction sponsored by Pepsi. Both exhibits have been relocated to The Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The 12-story tall Unisphere sculpture remains in place in the park.

It’s a mod, mod world

While the tailored silhouette of the early 1960s continued to dominate the workplace, the British Invasion introduced more daring mod styles fresh out of the shop windows of London’s Carnaby Street. British fashion plate Mary Quant popularized the term “miniskirt,” though French designer André Courrèges also laid claim to inventing the hyper-short style. Courrèges introduced the go-go boot in his 1964 fall fashion show. These styles would gain traction as the decade continued. American Norman Norell refined the look of the culotte. Along with Courrèges, Norell emphasized trousers as appropriate work attire for women. With her tall, lean frame, model Jean Shrimpton became the poster child for a new fashion ideal, moving away from the more hourglass figures favored in the 1950s and early 60s.

The British invasion

Beatlemania rocked American shores. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” climbed to number one on the singles chart two weeks after the album “Meet the Beatles!” debuted in the U.S. in January. Millions watched from home as the four skinny rock musicians from Liverpool appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964. Their popularity ushered in a wave of British talent, from Petula Clark and Herman’s Hermits to the Kinks and the Rolling Stones.

Hollywood endings

Walt Disney created an enduring film icon by casting Julie Andrews as practically perfect “Mary Poppins,” while Audrey Hepburn portrayed Eliza Doolittle in the film treatment of “My Fair Lady,” a role in which Andrews had triumphed on Broadway. Although “My Fair Lady” was named best picture at the Academy Awards, Andrews beat Hepburn in the best actress race. Sean Connery starred in the third installment of the James Bond franchise “Goldfinger.” Stanley Kubrick’s satirical look at the nuclear arms race, Dr. Strangelove, was released. The Beatles transferred their talents to the screen in “A Hard Day’s Night,” while “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,” starring a 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

In living color

Color television started to take hold when NBC began broadcasting over half of its schedule in color — ten years after the technology was introduced. In 1964, only two percent of American households had invested in a color television set. ABC introduced “Bewitched” and “The Addams Family” in prime time, while CBS countered with “The Munsters” and “Gilligan’s Island.” NBC also launched long-running favorite “Jeopardy!” Originally hosted by Art Fleming, the game show has been in production continuously since Alex Trebek took over in 1984.



  • mattymatt

    Oh my, Dr. Strangelove did indeed come out in 1964 but it certainly wasn’t a James Bond film! Though it would have been fun if it were.

    That World’s Fair in Flushing is quite a sight to see these days. Highly recommended for any fan of suburban decay.

  • Fred

    Peter Sellers…rolling over in his grave….perhaps you meant “Dr. No”?

    I suppose it could be interesting to cast James Bond in Strangelove and Sellers in Dr. No!

  • Catherine Quayle

    Egad! Thanks for the correction, mattymatt. We must have been caught up in the excitement of the Mad Men premiere. We have fixed the error.

  • Sherri Stewart

    I started watching last season when I realized I was approximately same age as Draper’s daughter. I was 10 in 1964 so her clothes, room and everything in their home is so familiar. I was in a minority in that my mom worked at the bank in our town and was not the classic stay at home mom of the 50′s and 60′s. Will be watching tonight and taping Masterpiece theatre.

  • maxi

    =) 1964 was the year of goldfinger.
    horrible movie. just saying.

  • Joyce

    Although I was only 3 years old in 1964, I remember going to see Mary Poppins and the excitement about color TVs. I also remember listening to I Wanna Hold Your Hand and having my own small pair of white gogo boots, but I think that was in 1965. I love the way Mad Men has revived the memories and the fashions of that era.

  • Katie

    Ah, memories. I was 12 and we were the first in town to have color TV. People would come over just to watch Disney in color!

  • Gemma

    How could you have missed the 64-1/2 Ford Mustang? And, as for color TV, Bonanza was the show to watch.

  • Margret

    I too can identify with Sally Draper,I turned 11 in 1964 and this show has brought back memories of this time in my life.From The Beatles, to the fashions, to the way women were treated as second class is oh so familiar.I love reliving this era thru this show…so much fun.

  • Tony

    I liked Mad Men when it first came on though I admitted I wondered why there was no representation of many other cultures and neighborhoods. Then I woke up. The focus was on what it was! OK, kewl with me…and memories of those shiny suits flooded back. Those dresses and they way they fit and held and pushed, sigh.. I was but a kid but wondered why women went to such lengths to push and girdleize themselves…. put on so much make up….NOW I remember.

    GREAT show now….espeically Dons maid/babysitter ( Deborah Wills Lacey )who I went to High School with, had a small part in a H.S. p[ay with, had a crush on ( still do too ) and have always loved to see in various movies and shows, especially in Robert Townsends’ movie ” Five Heartbeats”. But she alone didn’t win me over.

    The entire cast, love them or hate them, the acting, the writing, the storyline, the clothing, the language, the interjection of real life issues,…..just wonderful! I can only hope people start dressing this way again and NOT those Bell bottoms and Nehru jackets/shirts I wore in the 70′s….

  • Carl

    I only saw the 1st 5 minutes of the new season, but couldn’t believe they skipped over the Beatles/Ed Sullivan era. After spending a whole episode on JFK and to not see how the Beatles arrived and took the edge off the assination is beyond me. (Plus all the marketing to be had by the kids “Woolworths”) They really skipped a whole year going into 64-1965. I’ve been watching the show with great expectations but the new season 4 really from the start let me down “BIG TIME” , hence why I turnrd off the TV shaking my head. Maybe I’m too in tune with the current events of the era which I thought MM was as well. To me it seems like just another soap oprea now, “whos banging who, and whos succeeding or failing” D- on this season

  • Cari

    I could get over what a rotten mother Betty is (plays). The kids are constanly shoved in front of the TV or sent to their rooms. No conversation or dialog about their feelings. I on the other hand choose to rot my brain with counless hours in front of the TV with zero opposition from my parents. I’m partially brain dead now! Thanks mom and dad.

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