These days, people associate Madison Avenue in the 1960s with the long-running hit television series “Mad Men.” For Jane Maas, much of the drama of the advertising industry of that era — the boozy business lunches, constant smoking and blatant sexism — was real life.
Maas worked her way up as a female copywriter in advertising offices in the ’60s, ultimately becoming one of the first women to reach the top ranks of the industry. Advertising Age, the industry trade publication, included Mrs. Maas among the 100 most influential women in advertising and described her as a “real-life Peggy Olson,” the “Mad Men” character portrayed by Elisabeth Moss who starts the show as a secretary and becomes one of her firm’s creative minds.
Maas, perhaps best known for helping to bring the “I Love New York” campaign to fruition in the 1970s, died Nov. 16 at 86.
Mrs. Maas, who recalled witnessing even more drinking, more sex and more sexism in her office places than “Mad Men” depicted, had a similarly dramatic trajectory. Ever clad in high heels, a hat and a brassiere that she said made her breasts into “javelins,” she trekked across the most venerable names in New York advertising.
She recalled that finance, cars and liquor were off-limits topics for female copywriters: Male bosses “figured we didn’t know how to balance our checkbooks,” she said years later. “They figured we didn’t know how to drive a car.” And alcohol, she added, was “what they used to seduce us, so that was clearly out.” Products more suitable for women, according to the prevailing view of the day, included dish soap and toilet cleaner.
Jane Anne Brown was born in Jersey City on March 14, 1932. Her father was a school principal, and her mother was a homemaker. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and a master’s degree in English literature from Cornell University in 1955.
She started out at Ogilvy and Mather in the 1960s, rising from junior copywriter to creative director. In 1976, she became senior vice president at Wells Rich Greene, where she worked on the New York tourism campaign that featured graphic designer Milton Glaser’s iconic heart. It was credited with helping to revive the city after its near miss with bankruptcy and its worsening reputation for crime.
In 1982, her appointment as president of Muller Jordan Weiss made her one of the first women to lead a major New York advertising firm. In 1989, she became president of the New York office of Earle Palmer Brown, where she retired as chairwoman.
Mrs. Maas chronicled her career in two books. The first, “Adventures of an Advertising Woman” (1986), was an apparent riposte to “Confessions of an Advertising Man” (1963) by David Ogilvy, the founder of the firm where she got her start. The second, “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond” (2012), was the spicier of Mrs. Maas’s two accounts.
If the boss “wanted to go to bed with you, you had to ask what mattered more: your self-respect or your career,” she wrote, recalling the injustices to which women were subjected, and the indignities to which some submitted. The worst offenders among the men were senior executives, she reported, because they had offices outfitted with doors and couches.
As for the drinking, she recalled that her colleagues did not indulge in shots in the office during the morning — one of the few departures from reality that she found in “Mad Men.” She did, however, encounter an executive who once steered her toward Scotch instead of Perrier because the Scotch, he said, was cheaper.
And the sight of a woman in a position of authority rarely failed to surprise. At a meeting with American Express, the client assumed she was a secretary.
Mrs. Maas acknowledged a certain irony to her career: As she pursued the professional success made possible by the growing feminist movement, she contributed to advertisements that perpetuated certain sexist stereotypes. Among those ads was one for Maxim coffee, in which the actress Patricia Neal declared that “I use Maxim because I think it’s excellent. But — more important — my husband thinks so, too.”
“I look at that commercial,” Mrs. Maas told Advertising Age years later, and think, “Did I really write that drivel?”
Mrs. Maas did consulting work into her 80s. Her professional books, besides her memoirs, include the influential guide “How to Advertise” (1976), written with her colleague Kenneth Roman, who later served as chief executive of Ogilvy and Mather.
Her more personal writings included a novel, “The Christmas Angel” (2013), and the book “Christmas in Wales: A Homecoming” (1994) about her efforts to trace her family history, which she co-authored with her husband, Michael Maas.
He died in 2002 after more than four decades of marriage. Survivors include two children, Kate Maas and Jennifer Maas Jones, both of Charleston, S.C.; a sister; and a granddaughter. Kate Maas said her mother died at her home in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and that the cause was lung cancer.
Mrs. Maas recalled a degree of deception within the advertising world, particularly for working mothers struggling to balance work and children in a business environment that had no tolerance for competing demands. When a child was sick or the nanny failed to show, a woman was better off saying a migraine had kept her home from work.