OPINION: There were mad women too

By Marion von Alderstein | 6 December 2011

The publishers of my latest book were surprised to learn that women copywriters were not rare in Sydney in the early 1960s. In fact, they were around much earlier than that, tapping out headlines in the advertising departments of David Jones, Farmers and Anthony Horderns, great training grounds for bright creative minds. Too restless for the typing pool, some of us enrolled at the School of Applied Advertising in Grosvenor Street, and at East Sydney Tech at Darlinghurst, in the hope of gravitating to work that made use of our talents. 

My first break came in the late 1940s with a job as general dogsbody in the advertising department of Hordern Bros, a department store in Pitt Street when the strip between King and Market was elegant. Marisa Martelli, the chief copywriter there, took me under her wing and became the major influence in the direction my life was about to take. Mrs Donaldson was running the advertising department at David Jones, where Norma Watson was a copywriter and Doris Scott was in charge of the mail order catalogues. Zelda Stedman, deputy advertising manager at Farmers, headed a group of bright girls with artistic ability and a winning way with words.

With the arrival of television in 1956, agencies began to grow fat on the big budgets of Colgate Palmolive and Unilever, Kellogg’s, Johnson & Johnson, Samuel Taylor and Heinz, all of which aimed their products at women. Women were needed to find a verbal and visual language that appealed to that audience.

Women television producers began to infiltrate the industry in the glamour period of the 1960s, heady days when the tax office accepted restaurant bills as a legitimate business expense and  agencies pocketed upwards of 15% of gross billings. No wonder Beppi’s flourished. So did Fanny’s. Martin’s Bar and the Journalists’ Club were packed on most Friday afternoons. And there we were, along with the fellas.

The general perception that all of us spent our lives in the kitchen and at the Hills Hoist in those years is misguided. That’s one of the bits of encouragement I’d like the readers of my novel to remember. 

Marion von Adlerstein
Author
The Freudian Slip

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