After delving and diving into D.H. Lawrence in episode three of the first season, we get a quaint bedtime story in episode four read by Betty Draper (January Jones) in her sultry and soothing voice I dare anyone not to drift off into a lovely dream after hearing.
We have, ladies and gents, our first fairy-tale in Mad Men.
“Church bells rang out and the air was full of flying birds.
What a joyous parade it was back at the palace.
No king could command anything finer.”
– Betty (S01E04, New Amsterdam)
Bobby is crashed out and Sally is wrapped in attention as Betty reads the final lines of a story in Nursery Friends From France (translated by Olive Beaupre) in S01E04 (New Amsterdam). One thing, I read the entire book and never found those lines. If anyone knows what nursery rhyme this comes from, I’d love to hear where it came from. I never found those specific lines in the version I read.
Regardless of whether the lines are indeed a part of a story from this book is one point, but its place in Mad Men certainly is not.
Fairy-tales such as those in Nursery Friends From France are perfect in connection to the Mad Men characters, and a theme in the show as a whole.
Betty is a princess, a queen, a royal, and a tragic figure in the end. She would easily slide into one of the fairy-tales in the book.
Betty is very much a conservative character that hearkens back rather than looking forward, and it’s no surprise she has this book (published in 1927), and is reading it to her daughter. It’s an interesting counter to Peggy and Joan discussing Lady Chatterley’s Lover from the previous episode. Betty is the counter to these two characters and very much a different prototype of a woman of her time. One that yearns for a conservative life where she stays home, raises the kids, and looks down on the divorcee, Helen Bishop. Oh Betty. Things are about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Peggy and Joan strive to change how society views women, while Betty digs in to the traditional mode (at least for now).
The episode digs more into the fairy-tale genre when Betty babysits Helen’s creepy son: Glen.
I love this kid (played by creator Matthew Weiner’s son Marten Holden Weiner). He’s so weird and perfect as a counterpoint to Betty, and later Sally. Glen calls Betty a princess, which, if her reaction is an indication is what Betty wants. Jones’ performance throughout Mad Men I’ve always found incredibly underrated. Watch her in this episode. She stands like a doll in a music box, and has such subtle and graceful changes of tone that are just incredible. She is one of the only major characters that must counter Peggy, Joan, Sally and Megan, and she does it so dang well. Perhaps it’s her stunning beauty that distracts from how truly talented Jones is. Who knows.
Back to the episode.
The classic French fairy-tale scene happens, of course, in the toilet.
Betty, sitting perfectly on the throne is interrupted when Glen opens the door to spy on her like a creep. Classic. Betty forgives her because she cannot resist her knightly suitor and his undying love. This comes back in a big way, and gets so much more complicated.
Betty even gives Glen a lock of her hair!
If you haven’t learned that he books in the show inform he plot by now, you haven’t been paying attention.
The rest of the episode picks up on the world of 50s-60s era princes and princesses with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Trudy (Alison Brie). The two are looking at an apartment they can’t afford and have an incredibly scripted and acted battle of gender roles in he “who has the right to mooch off their rich parents” vein. Trudy wins, and the kingdom is toppled.
Another classic trope in Mad Men: the self-made person (Don, Peggy, Joan) and the heirs to fortunes (Pete, Roger, Trudy, Betty). Trudy’s princess trumps Pete’s prince in a perfect reverse fairy-tale.
Peter’s heritage and Manhattan royalty also comes in to play, as well, when Don almost fires him. “Woah, woah,” says Burt Cooper. We cannot upset the royals, their courts, and their gossip.
This is the first, but not the last fairy-tale in Mad Men. Mad Men as a fairy-tale is an interesting discussion. There are princes and kings, queens, princesses, princes, fools, serfs, knights and church officials. Pay attention to how they develop.
Glen later appears “to rescue” Betty in S2E10 (The Inheritance). She calls his mom and he says, “I hate you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
SIDE NOTE: Betty finds birth control pills in Helen’s bathroom as she’s snooping around. This will come up in a later Mad Men book.
On to the next.