Oliver! Stumpy!

Yes, Jeff, I did see “Mad Men.” I’m gonna be doing some spoilin’ here, so take a minute and leave the room if you must and OH MY GOD THEY RAN A LAWNMOWER OVER THE ENGLISH GUY’S FOOT. I’m not sure what this show is trying to tell me this season, but for now I’ll settle for Joan’s deadpan summation: “One minute you’re on top of the world, the next some secretary is running over your foot with a lawn mower.”

At first I saw the sale of Sterling Cooper to Putnam Powell and Lowe (aka, the Brits) as the sort of thing dramatic series television has to do to stay fresh — that is, import some villains. Conflict = drama is Screenwriting 101, and when you’ve created a fairly vast cast and made them all “interesting,” the big risk is that the audience is going to start liking them, too, and then you end up with shows like “M*A*S*H,” where everyone wears a halo by the time the Very Special episodes roll around, and after that — meh. So you bring in some antagonists. “The Sopranos” paroled a new one every season: Richie Aprile, Ralph Cifaretto, Feech La Manna, Tony Blundetto et al. The crime-family story structure made it perfectly acceptable to bump each one off when their dramatic possibilities had been fully explored. Tony even said it out loud, before making his move on Feech: “Did I learn nothing from Richie Aprile?” Your writers sure did, Ton’. Other shows have to make do with more ridiculous farewells; remember when “L.A. Law” threw Rosalind Shays down the elevator shaft? That was awesome.

So the Brits, with their terrible swift sword of cost-cutting and bean-counting, are this season’s bad guys. I’m not so sure where they’re going with it, other than wacky symbolism — how amusing that the mower in question is an all-American John Deere. The show has too much respect for reality to have SC sold again at season’s end (at least I hope so). But once you’ve severed the foot of your parent company’s rising young star, you have to go somewhere with it, and I hope they have some ideas. If nothing else, it did wake up the season with a roar at close to its midpoint. I watched the scenes where Stumpy MacKendrick is being shown around the office, and was impressed by how…comtemporary he seemed, with his empty platitudes and English-accented bullshit. “You…are a very impressive young woman,” for instance. I can’t believe I used to swallow crap like that. I can’t believe people still dish it out.

(One of my old bosses was fond of writing mash notes to her favorites, little missives I came to call Wowsers, because they all started the same way: WOW. The remainder was full of empty superlatives that by their very volume and pitch were transparent crapola: WOW. I have never read a story as moving and funny as yours. I feel so grateful and proud to work with such a magnificently talented staff...and so on. She would have felt right at home at Putnam Powell and Lowe.)

And how amusing that the cost-cutting of this season — 30 percent of the staff, we’re told — somehow spared dumb Lois, promoted from the switchboard but barely capable of basic secretarial work, and certainly not able to navigate a riding lawn mower around an office full of tipsy partiers without maiming one.

My other favorite detail: The Brit-speak, shedjools and curriculum vitae and enjoy the delicatessen.

Someone — can’t remember who — mentioned that Joan’s gory dress in her final scenes foreshadows a certain blood-smeared pink Chanel suit coming by year’s end. Hadn’t thought of that. It’s even the same nubby wool.

So, Jeff, what’s your take? Where are we going with this?

Me, I got web work to do. Do I have any bloggage? Maybe.

John D. and Catherine T. finally give some dough to a working-stiff journalist, and it’s not me. But it is money well-spent. Here’s hoping his bosses don’t lay him off.

Roger Ebert came home from Toronto with bad news: Indie film is effectively comatose. There goes my second career. (Can you people tell I’m kidding when I say stuff like that? I hope so.)

Web work. Russian drills. Later.

Posted at 9:06 am in Television |

45 responses to “Oliver! Stumpy!”

  1. del said on September 22, 2009 at 9:18 am

    I take back any comments that started with “WOW.”

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  2. brian stouder said on September 22, 2009 at 9:33 am

    So I read the John D and Catherine T article, about the grant to the Mississippi reporter – expecting to see (somewhere near the end) a sentence on where the money came from. In that Mellon biography, several interesting people popped up, including Arthur Vining Davis, who now are only credits one sees on PBS shows. But the news article neglected this info, so I went looking, and found that he was a banker (owned Bankers Life and Casualty) – very Mellon-like. But the thing that made me laugh was that on the original board of directors of the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, as specifically called for by ol’ John in his will, and sitting beside Catherine and five other people – was Paul Harvey! And NOW I know the rest of the story!

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  3. Rana said on September 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Those Wowsers are reminding me of high school Latin. My teacher, a former priest, was in the midst of some New Agey spiritual midlife crisis and it rolled over into his teaching. (This was a guy who tended to irritably say “Bless you” when he was annoyed with you.) At one point he gave all the students a pencil with IALAC written on it – for I Am Lovable And Capable. I basically liked the guy, but this was stupid, largely because it felt so insincere (I mean, he may have believed it, but the rest of us were highly doubtful that a pencil was going to change our lives).

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  4. Deborah said on September 22, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Wow, what a fantastic post, one of the best yet.

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  5. John said on September 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

    And you are a very impressive writer! More so than this editor:

    “If the remains are confirmed to be from 1,200 B.C. it would coincide with the Trojan war period. These people were buried near a mote. We are conducting radiocarbon testing, but the finding is electrifying,” Pernicka told Reuters in a telephone interview.


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  6. Deborah said on September 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

    The MacArthur Foundation is in the historical Marquette Building on Dearborn in Chicago. In the lobby there is a very informative exhibit about the foundation and the MacArthurs as well as the history of the building. The physical space of the exhibit is not great design, but the touchscreen content is very well done. I do exhibit design so I notice things like this.

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  7. Dorothy said on September 22, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Wow, I’m so glad I watched Mad Men last night and already knew what happened. I also recorded yesterday’s Oprah because Jon Hamm and January Jones were on. The whole show was supposed to be Mad Men-themed. I can’t watch it tonight, though, cuz my first knitting class is this evening.

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  8. Jeff Borden said on September 22, 2009 at 10:48 am


    A recent story in the Chicago Tribune referred to a television series that reflected the “morays” of the time. And it was in a story by a reporter whose writing is usually excellent. The copy desk, or whatever remnants of it have been left behind all the layoffs after another, completely missed it.

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  9. moe99 said on September 22, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Actually I found a typo in Roger Ebert’s otherwise very interesting column (you don’t “deflect” from China, you “defect”). Of course I tried to post about it and I will bet it doesn’t make it past the censors. But now, I want to see each and every movie that has not gotten picked up by a distributor.


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  10. Jeff Borden said on September 22, 2009 at 11:07 am


    My guess that is a “brain dead” error on the part of Roger Ebert. It’s not that hard to type the wrong word –off by only a letter– but a good copy desk should have caught it. With the Tribune error, it’s clear the guy knew the definition of mores, but not how to spell it.

    The errors are appearing with such frequency that it hurts my eyes. A few months ago, in a large Sunday arts story, the writer misspelled the name of the subject throughout the piece, but the name was spelled correctly in the cutline beneath the photo.

    I have been blessed to work with the finest copy editor I’ve ever met in the business, a tough and no-nonsense lady who felt no urge to change copy unless it was wrong. Then, there was hell to pay. She pulled more bacon out of the fire than an army of short-order cooks. This quiet veteran, whose institutional knowledge was vast and all encompassing, was pushed out by the same sociopathic editor who drove me and 40% of the staff out the door during his 15-month tenure.

    Copy editors are probably the most unheralded people at any newspaper or magazine, but they are so critically important to establishing and maintaining a publication’s credibility. Good ones are worth their weight in rubies.

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  11. Connie said on September 22, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Those Wow notes were also a tactic of someone I replaced at a previous job. She spent all her time stroking employees and couldn’t put together a budget to save her life.

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  12. Connie said on September 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

    The menace of the public option as it pertends to public libraries. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/09/19/ED7B19P06H.DTL

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  13. Dorothy said on September 22, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Okay have to brag on my copy editor daughter since Jeff Borden brought up the subject. This was an email that she forwarded to me about the latest “Catch of the week”, which I’m sure you newspaper types are familiar with:

    Laura was nominated for several nice saves. The first was catching on the Biz page that the Nasdaq and S&P numbers were mixed up in the ticker, which she caught while proofing the page and seeing that it was different from the graphic at the bottom. We killed the page and were able to correct it for first run.

    Then Laura twice caught things on the op-ed page that had updated since the items had been written. One involved updates on tire tariffs; the other was a Leonard Pitts column about a magazine writer living off the grid who was holding a competition for readers to find him. She checked the magazine’s Web site about 8 p.m. and, sure enough, the writer had been found about an hour before. She called Roger to let him know and made some edits to make it clear the contest was now over.

    That’s a lot of due diligence on Laura’s part to make sure the paper is as current as possible. Great job, Laura!

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  14. Jeff Borden said on September 22, 2009 at 11:37 am


    Kudos to your daughter. She sounds great. And, even better, it appears her supervisors recognize the good work she is doing.

    Say, does she want at job at the Chicago Tribune? They could use her.

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  15. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Mad Men’s entire flotilla of characters seem to be flailing — and they’re pulling it off so realistically (this is what flailing among a whole bunch of other people flailing feels like) that i’m surprised at how much patience i still have for it . . . but either the John Deere scene was a rock-kicker that will set a great deal of other stones rolling, or it was a stunt to keep us alert while the general crumbling continues at a stately pace.

    Given the first ep of the season hint of “requests the honor of your presence . . . Nov. 24, 1963” i’m willing to trust them that this is all the former. And that like backfilling a big pile of gravel with a couple of shovels working, the collapse is almost certainly coming from a different slope of the workings than you’d expect.

    Deborah, did you see the WSJ piece on Ghost Ranch, with a nod to Abiquiu? Gotta run or i’d hunt the link – online.wsj.com somewheres.

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  16. Old-time Editor said on September 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I thought of Jackie Kennedy’s suit, too, so surely we were supposed to–those of us old enough to remember.

    I once saw “contemporary morays” in a Siskel story in the Tribune long ago, around the same time I saw a handsome cab. We can’t blame all the flubs on shrinking copydesks.

    My own favorite catch was “hare’s breath” for “hair’s breadth.”

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  17. Sue said on September 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    So is it “to the manor born” or “to the manner born”? I always thought manor but usage seems to go half and half.

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  18. Jen said on September 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Augh, I’m so mad that I never started watching “Mad Men!” It’s on my Netflix queue, but that queue is so dang long and my life is so dang busy that I’ll be lucky if I get to it by the end of next year. I hate it when I miss out on a good show.

    And … just for your amusement, I’m in the newsroom, listening to a scanner, and the police just got a call for a “vicious billy-goat.” I laughed out loud.

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  19. ROgirl said on September 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    contemporary morays=modern eels?

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  20. Rana said on September 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    The two that make me twitch are ones that are all too common among my students: “inciteful” instead of “insightful,” and “defiantly” instead of “definitely.”

    It lends a certain aggressive tone to even the most banal of arguments. 😉

    “Tow the line” is also common.

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  21. Dorothy said on September 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Jen I brought one of my two dogs into the office on the 11th – I had taken the day off. As I came around the corner with him (he’s the one that’s 95 lbs.), my co-worker Patty let out a little shriek and then said “Oh heavens, I thought that was a goat you had on that leash, Dorothy!” Billy goats are nasty little shits if memory serves.

    Laura is very happy in Virginia, but thanks for the suggestion Jeff. Hard to believe she’s been there more than four years now. She started after her graduation from Penn State’s Honor’s College as a Dow Jones intern.

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  22. Rana said on September 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Some of the most frightening apostrophe abuse I’ve seen in a long time: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/09/but-does-god-hate-trucknutz.html

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  23. Old-time Editor said on September 22, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    It’s “to the manner born.” It’s from Hamlet:

    HORATIO: Is it a custom?

    HAMLET: Ay, marry, is’t:
    But to my mind, though I am native here
    And to the manner born, it is a custom
    More honour’d in the breach than the observance.

    The Phrase Finder says it was probably coined by Shakespeare. Google is great!

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  24. jeff borden said on September 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    There’s a new apostrophe outrage in a print advertisement for Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren. “Nothing Get’s By Her.”

    Also, when the Chicago Cubs unveiled a really nice statue of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks last year, carved into the granite base was this incorrectly punctuated phrase most associate with Ernie: “Lets play two.” They were able to add a small apostrophe to the base the next day.

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  25. Julie Robinson said on September 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Not to nitpick, but shouldn’t that be associated?

    One of the AP stories about the Emmy ceremony referred to those who one awards. I can’t find it online; it must have been retroactively fixed.

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  26. coozledad said on September 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Rana: What’s their beef with Sport’s Nut’s? I thought God put ’em there.

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  27. Jolene said on September 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    The thing that struck me about the lawnmower incident was how the British bosses immediately–with no discussion that viewers were party to–that the poor fellow’s injury meant that he could no longer perform as an “account man”. The obviousness of this point was driven home by the observation that he could no longer play golf. Just one more indicator of the clubbiness of the whole enterprise.

    The riding lawnmower seemed a bit ahead of its time. I imagine they did the research to find out when they were introduced. I spent a lot of hours pushing a mower around our enormous farmyard as a kid–long after 1963. In fact, my family got a riding lawnmower after I left home, a boon to my younger siblings, but something that I experienced as a great injustice at the time.

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  28. Rana said on September 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I dunno, cooz. There’s a whole lot of crazy on that sign!

    (Amusingly, a number of the commenters on the associated thread are tallying up the counts against themselves. I think my total was around 7.)

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  29. Sue said on September 22, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Rana, shouldn’t that be “loud mouth[ed] women”? And “fallutin'” is incorrectly spelled, in ‘high fallutent sophisticated swine’.
    And wifebeaters – the spelling seems to indicate that they are against the undershirts, not the humanoids.

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  30. Rana said on September 22, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    There’s at least one patent for a “rider steered power lawn mower” that dates to 1952, so the concept was around. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/2620612.html

    (More patents here. The dates are at the very end of each page.)

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  31. 4dbirds said on September 22, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    So funny cooz. I guess my kids are all going to hell since they’re emos.

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  32. Jolene said on September 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    On another TV topic, did anyone watch “Brick City” on Sundance last night?

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  33. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 22, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    High Fallutent? (Not to mention “Bahi’s,” not to be confused with “Mahi-Mahi’s” which somehow didn’t make the list.) Are “P.K.’s” preacher’s kids (sorry, son) or “Promise Keepers”? And “Government Recipents” would pretty much sweep us all in. Perhaps it’s meant as an inclusive statement.

    Love to hear more about “Brick City” than i’ve gotten thru a number of Booker interviews on NPR. As far as i know, we don’t get Sundance, but my wife sometimes looks up and tells me “yes, we have that.” I’m still not used to having three digits on basic cable selections.

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  34. ROgirl said on September 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Maybe P.K’s are Politically Korrect’s.

    Funny that the list also includes racist’s, and it doesn’t include Jew’s.

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  35. Christy S. said on September 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    My husband is copy desk chief at a major city newspaper. His fave was an AP story that came across about a Catholic bishop who was carrying a “crow’s ear” — supposed to be crosier (a staff of sorts). We still laugh over the mental image of a garbed bishop walking around with that poor bird’s “ear” in his hand.

    As for Mad Men, I for some reason keep thinking there is going to be a revelation about Betty’s dad — that he abused her and then Sally — and that’s why Sally’s so freaked out over Gene (who I thought for sure they would start calling “Scott”). Dad definitely seemed to favor the “girls” in his life.

    But this show is starting to go the way of the Sopranos — they’ve developed so many story lines they can’t keep up with them now.

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  36. nancy said on September 22, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I worked with someone who swears his small-town paper’s movie critic described a film “so bloody, it was like watching a Peck and Paw production.”

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  37. coozledad said on September 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    OT, but why hasn’t anyone made a movie about Peckinpah directing a film? Pat Garret and Billy the Kid would work nicely, dealing with Sam’s end-stage alcoholism and the trials of Bob and Kris as they watch him disintegrate in the process of making his masterwork. Just a thought.

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  38. coozledad said on September 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Johnny Depp as Dylan, Pitt as Kristofferson.

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  39. Lex said on September 22, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve long since lost count of the number of times copy editors saved my butt over the course of 25 years in newspapers, but what sticks with me was the time one inserted a grammatical error into one of my articles. An article about metaphor.

    And speaking of misreading, Nance, I initially misread “Web work” as “Wet work” and thought 1) why is “Wet” capitalized and 2) whom does she have to kill?

    coozledad: That is genius. I saw that movie for the first time when I was 13 and have seen it many times since; I would pay good money to see a well-done docudrama about its making.

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  40. del said on September 22, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Rana @ 3. I’d forgotten about IALAC (I Am Loving And Capable). The counselor at my middle school gave us construction paper IALAC badges after a speech on the topic. Whenever anyone said anything hurtful to us we were to tear off a little piece of our badge to represent the damage to our self-esteem. We all had fun with it at recess as kids do, calling each other little turds and such and watching the badges dwindle to nothing. But all these years later I remember it.

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  41. Rana said on September 23, 2009 at 12:53 am

    dang, del, those badges sound bizarre! At least we could use the pencils. 😉

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  42. Peter said on September 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Wow, I’m sorry I came so late to this thread, but:

    1. Power riding mowers were around in the ’50’s – Brooks Stevens designed some fancy ones for Lawn Boy, among others, and one from the late ’50’s was displayed at the Milwaukee Art Museum;

    2. My mom worked at Banker’s Life for many years; the stories I could tell. One I will tell is that MacArthur didn’t make his money in insurance, but he used his insurance profits to buy cheap land in Central Florida. He was convinced that Orlando was going to go big, and he was right – a good chunk of Disney World is built on land purchased from MacArthur.

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  43. Dorothy said on September 23, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Have I told this one before? If so, who cares. I’m gonna repeat it.

    My dad was a mail sorter and one time he had an envelope addressed to a patient at a hospital in his route. Under the patient’s name was IN TENTS OF CARE.

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  44. nancy said on September 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Amazingly accurate malaprop, though.

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  45. LAMary said on September 23, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I remember the LA Times telling me that a Dutch singer had no trace of a German accent, and another time a Dutch director had moved to the US from Denmark. It’s all northern Europe so what difference does it make.

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