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'Mad Men' Takes a Look at Gay Life in the '60s

By Trudy Ring

Mad Men last night provided a well-executed glimpse into the lives of gay men in the late 1960s, looking at the criminalization of sexual activity and the incentives for entering into a marriage of convenience.

In the episode, gay adman Bob Benson (James Wolk), Sterling Cooper & Partners’ man in Detroit, is visiting the New York office along with Bill Hartley (Matthew Glave) of General Motors, an SC&P client. Hartley gets arrested for trying to “fellate an undercover officer,” and Bob has to bail him out of jail, in a scene that shows them getting verbally abused by a homophobic cop.

During the cab ride back to their hotels, Hartley tells Bob that GM is dropping SC&P to take the account in-house and that the company’s Buick division wants to hire Bob. That sets a plan in motion for Bob: He decides to propose marriage to agency partner Joan Holloway Harris (Christina Hendricks), with whom he’s long had a friendly relationship.

She turns him down, telling him, “You don’t want this. You shouldn’t be with a woman.” He keeps trying to persuade her, revealing his motivation by saying, “GM expects a certain kind of executive.” But he also claims he’s doing it for her: “Is this what you want? To be near 40 in a two-bedroom apartment with a mother and a little boy?” And he says he’s offering her more than anyone else ever will. Joan is adamant, though. “I want love,” she says, “and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.”

In case you missed it, you can watch the whole episode online at AMC.com.

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