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The 1st Black "Mad Man" Addresses The TV Show's "Race Problem" & More

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 10, 2014 at 3:49PM

The 1st Black "Mad Man" Addresses The TV Show's "Race Problem" & More
Roy Eaton

I never really have inserted my toe into the deep well that is the ongoing debate over Mad Men's so-called *black problem*. I suppose, as I shared in past posts, like the conversation over a similar *black problem* on HBO's Girls, I really haven't been able to muster up enough energy to care, likely in large part because I haven't watched either show with any consistency. Not that I haven't tried (I did watch the entire first season of Mad Men, and a few episodes of Girls. But that's it in both cases). I'm just not a fanatic. Also I also feel that my time and resources are better spent working to affect change where I feel genuine change is possible, instead of on band-aid solutions, like, as we saw in Girls, inserting what felt like token black characters in reaction to public outcry.

All that said, I do recognize others' attempts to wrestle with what some consider Mad Men's *race problem* and its historical accuracy (or deficiencies). We've even featured web series (2 that I immediately recall) which satirized the AMC hit drama series through an African American lens.

Enter 83-year-old Roy Eaton, said to be the first black creative in a general market agency - Young & Rubicam. In 1955 Eaton, the son of Jamaican immigrants, who grew up in in Harlem, NYC, was the ad industry's version of Jackie Robinson, and is thus now fondly labeled the first "black Mad Man."

After being drafted into the army during the Korean War, he worked at a hospital radio station where he learned the format for radio production, wrote, produced, and made ads for radio while serving in the army. That experience helped him later on in his advertising career. And thanks to a chance meeting with a Charlie Feldman, a creative director at Young & Rubicam, he was given an opportunity to use all of his talents. Eaton says that Feldman even called him "his Jackie Robinson."

And in his first 2 years working at Y&R, he created the majority of all the music produced there, and also worked as a copywriter. And the rest, as they say, is history. He retired in 1996.

CNN tracked Eaton down for an interview published today, which you can watch below. In it, Eaton talks about his experiences as the first "black Mad Man," memorable campaigns he worked on during his career, and, of course, addresses the debate over why there aren't any "black Mad Men" on AMC's hit TV show, sharing his general observations of the series.


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