Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bye, Bye Birdie (1963) & Mad Men

This film has been on and off my Netflix queue for goodness knows how long. I was interested in watching it but would always push it off to the side (I do that a lot it seems). However, a few weeks ago on a lazy Sunday evening, I was watching my favorite TV show Mad Men and Bye Bye Birdie (1963) was an important part of the storyline. The folks at Sterling Cooper (the fictional advertising agency at the center of the TV show) were given the assignment to come up with a commercial for Patio Cola. The opening sequence of Bye Bye Birdie (1963) is shown to the board. It features the bubbly '60s icon Ann-Margret in front of a blue screen singing the title song "Bye Bye Birdie". What seems to be a very plain set up, is actually quite alluring. Ann-Margret's vivacity, the shock of the blue and the catchiness of the tune gets you all riled up for the movie that follows.

Beware of Mad Men spoilers below!

The men are captivated by the clip and enamored by Ann-Margret and how she oozes youthful sexuality. They want to do a spoof-type commercial for the soda Patio Cola based on this clip. Everyone thinks it's a great idea except for the one lone female in creative, Peggy Olson, who thinks it won't work. Patio Cola is a diet soda with the intended target of young women who are trying to maintain their figures. Recreating the vivacious reprise into commercial form is selling sex to a male audience, who wouldn't necessarily want to buy the soda anyways. No one listens to Peggy and they continue with the project.

Salvatore, the repressed gay man in a sham marriage, is put in charge of creating the commercial. He's an illustrator in a time when the public demands more and more photography, so this is a great way for him to use his creative juices. He puts together the concept and explains the project to his wife. This results in probably one of my favorite scenes of the show. The subtlety and the indirectness of this scene says so much! Just look at his wife's face as the scene progresses. Genius!

Well the commercial fails big time. The Patio Cola people just don't like it. There is something off about the commercial. If you get a chance to see it, you might know what their talking about or you might be confused. I thought there was something off about it too. As though the girl in the commercial was trying too hard to be Ann-Margret. As though this commercial was trying to be sexy, but it just came out seeming forced. As though you feel a little molested after watching it! When everyone leaves the boardroom, Peggy has a very triumphant look on her face because she knew the whole time that this would be a complete failure!

So after all of this, I was DYING to see Bye, Bye Birdie. I put it at the top of my Netflix queue and it was sent to me almost immediately. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The musical numbers were good and even the bad ones were still enjoyable. What I like most about it is that it explores teen culture as well as the effects of the burgeoning pop culture amongst youth. Conrad Birdie is a popular, hip-swinging singer who has all the girls swooning. In a not-so-very-veiled reference to Elvis Presley, Birdie is being shipped off to war and his music company wants one last chance to make some money off him. A big media appearance is just their meal-ticket. Starry-eyed Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret) wins a contest to get a kiss from Birdie live on the Ed Sullivan show. A whole media-storm infiltrates Kim's town and everyone comes down with Conrad Birdie fever. The women are all flustered and the men are all disgusted. Hilarity inevitably ensues.

I think that it was very wise for Mad Men to include Bye Bye Birdie (1963) in the show's plotline. If the film both spoofs and exemplifies pop culture, then an advertising agency in the 1960's would definitely look to it for inspiration, especially if the film itself becomes part of the contemporary culture that it mocks/explores. If you are a fan of Mad Men and haven't seen this film yet, please take some time out to watch it! In fact, make sure you research any cultural references you see on the show. Even if you don't watch Mad Men (and I know some of you out there even dislike the show), watch the film anyways!


  1. Loved the use of this on "Mad Men" as well.

  2. As though this commercial was trying to be sexy, but it just came out seeming forced. As though you feel a little molested after watching it! When everyone leaves the boardroom, Peggy has a very triumphant look on her face because she knew the whole time that this would be a complete failure!

    The use of "BYE-BYE BIRDIE" in "MAD MEN" irritated me. It seemed as if Matt Weiner had portrayed that opening scene without really understanding what it was about. And I hated the manner in which Peggy criticized Ann-Margret's singing without realizing why the actress was singing in that manner. The episode and Peggy's character left a bad taste in my mouth. Also, it was Roger Sterling who guessed correctly. He said that the only thing lacking in the commercial . . . was Ann-Margret. And he was right.

  3. To each their own...

    Yes the commercial WAS missing Ann-Margret. She has that x-factor that made her so famous. The Patio Cola girl didn't.

  4. Great post! I love whenever Mad Men references pop culture. It's one of my fave shows too

  5. Raquel, Wonderful!
    I suppose you noticed the double Swedish connection in the Ann-Margret episode of Mad Men. Not only is Ann-Margret 100% Swedish but when Peggy is looking for a room mate she ends up with a Swedish girl... coincidence perhaps but i prefer to think it was intentional. In episode six there's another Swedish reference when Betty Draper offers don some Swedish Meatballs. Interesting!

  6. O.M.G.
    I freaking LOVE Bye Bye Birdie! It may as well been my first classic movie...I still know almost all the songs! My friend & I yell "We love you Conrad, oh yes we doooo" at each other in the hall as we pass each other. We get a few stares. But it's so fun!

  7. I always loved Bye Bye Birdie. It is a great look at pre-Beatles, American teen culture. And it has some of the wittiest dialogue in any musical I've ever seen. I love most all of the musical numbers (although I prefer the version of "One Last Kiss" from the Nineties television remake).

    I think it was brilliant the way Mad Men handled Bye, Bye Birdie. And very interesting, given the year. It's 1963, and teen culture is about to change a really big way very shortly....


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