The Woman Who Toppled Madmen

I left grad school to take a job with Gardner Advertising, Saint Louis’ second-largest ad agency. Clients ranged from Busch Beer and the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals to Puppy Chow and Chuck Wagon dog food, to Jack Daniels whiskey.

Even during the mid-1970s, chain smoking chauvanists with liver issues dominated the ad agency world. Every day I witnessed another real life episode of Madmen. Until Mary Wells bought Gardner.

When Mary Wells Lawrence was denied the presidency of one prestigious ad agency, she founded her own. Wells Rich Green broke the Madmen mold and shattered male-dominated adspeak. She dressed Braniff jets in Caribbean colors, urged dyspepsiacs to “plop plop fizz fizz” and gave us I ♥ NY.

She was “the first female chief executive of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange,” according to the New York Times.

At Gardner, the transition was anything but smooth. When Anheuser Busch quit the agency and took Busch Beer (a brand Gardner created in the 1950s) to another agency, the ax fell on many employees including me. Mary Wells had no idea I existed. I was way down the list, still learning how to write like Lem Motlow talks (Google it). As a savvy business mind, to her credit she kept several Madmen on the payroll, those with Hollywood connections.

It was the first time I got a pink slip from an employer. But not the last. Early on in my idealistic view, getting fired was a horrific event. Now I wear my accumulated severances like battle ribbons.

Not sure how much Saint Louisan John Hamm knows about the Gardner Madmen. Or the woman who toppled them.

Mary Wells Lawrence died this week in London. She was 94.

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