"When Lee Devins arrived in New York and became part of the fascinating bedlam of retail advertising, she had no idea her career would be so dramatic." And dramatic it is! Mary Mannix's 1957 Lee Devins, Copywriter makes being a 1950s New York career gal sound like just about the swellest thing in the world. From the hustle and bustle of the copy room to the intrigues of the office, our heroine learns lessons about this exciting career — and, of course, gets the guy.The Industry: Why, the fascinating world of advertising copy, of course! Lee works directly for department stores, so it's a different ball game from Mad Men. The Tone: This is definitely a real "industry" CRFYM: a lot of the story is taken up with explaining the fast-paced advertising jargon, going through Lee's responsibilities, giving a picture of the industry as a whole. "Of course Lee conceded it was terribly important that they make their days; if they didn't they would soon be out of jobs. If they had sold eight thousand dollars' worth of merchandise the year before, they were expected to sell at least the same amount on the corresponding day of the present year." The Heroine: Lee Devins, a pint-sized redhead with a "saucy, tip-tilted nose" and a temper to match! After being a star on her college paper and earning a "Phi Bet" Lee is impatient with having to pay her dues. The Juvenile Lead: Hal Morgan, the insouciant young free-lance artist who shows Lee New York. The Costars: Lee lives with a friend named Myrna, an aspiring stylist working at a fashion magazine, and her aunt, a Medievalist, in a private house on Gramercy and Third! (Apologies to non-NYers but that's unthinkably amazing.) She also pals around with a young career gal named Kelly who shows her the ropes. The Plot: Lee comes to New York full of energy and ambition, ready to conquer the world of advertising copy. To her dismay, she finds that most of the stores she applies to are more interested in hiring her as a typist than the copy-writer she knows she can be. A lucky break sends her to a department store to write "schlack" (tabloidy sales copy.)
"It means, well, it means junk it up. Hit 'em over the head. It means a lot of bold, black type, lots of explamation points, lots of sensationals. You know, how low can advertising get!"
This in turn leads to a job at Chapin's Department Store. "
Lee's days were crowded: reading proof in the morning; calling recalcitrant buyers for copy; answering the phone that rang continually with complaints or requests from buyers; attending meetings; seeing new merchandise and getting the story on it; reading fashion magazines and the seemingly almost endless flood of fashion letters containing style information. Sometimes it seemed to her there was no time for writing copy."
Lee's clever copy for Christmas toys ("Caesar, the great elephant, who was in gingham clad/Marched thunderously bellowing beside the doll in plaid") and an expensive watch ("A Miniature Price For This Exquisite Sample of the Jeweler's Art") nets her stockings and jewelry as her own account. However, someone seems to be sabotaging her... The Wrinkle: It soon becomes clear that Lee's going to have trouble from a beautiful copywriter named Amy who used to date Lee's boyfriend Hal! When someone starts leaking Chapin advertising slogans to their arch rival, White's, it's clear Lee's being framed...but why? And by whom! The Resolution: Why, by Amy and some boyfriend at Whites! It's all an elaborate (and I do mean elaborate) plan to unseat one of the higher-ups, frame Lee, and somehow advance herself. She admits all this in a defiant monologue at book's end after falling for a ruse of Lee's involving fake jewelry copy and...you get the idea. Lee is vindicated! She and Hal get engaged at Hamburger Heaven (Burger Heaven, Empire Staters!) The Extras: One of the niftiest things about this CR is the picture of 1950s New York you see with Lee - Greenwich Village and its assorted bohemians (they eat spaghetti at an "artists' hangout"); museums; the automat; venerable restauarants like Luchow's. The real estate, of course, makes your side hurt. Here's Kelly's Village apartment:
"A big, old-fashioned room with the casement windows, the little white marble Empire fireplace flanked by bookshelves, the large denim-covered divan, the parquet floor, scatter rugs, and white tables. She knew the fire would be blazing merrily."
Grade: B+/A-. The writing's solid, the career background's thorough, the intrigue subplot not overly ambitious, and the picture of 50's New York is a total treat. Best of all, it's packed with strong female career characters. Although Lee has some trouble getting started, this doesn't seem to be due to her sex as much as her youth, since the industry seems dominated by women at all levels.