Femme Retail

On the television series Mad Men, Rachel Menken is a second-generation Manhattan merchant who gives her father’s department store an overhaul. In season one of the Eisenhower-era drama, which aired on AMC earlier this year, the workaholic abandons her dad’s bargain-basement demo- graphic and seeks the uptown dollars that have been loyal to Bloomingdale’s and other haute retailers for decades. She betrays the shtetl-minded marketing her father has used forever and turns her business over to the suits at Sterling Cooper Advertising.

There, she not only finds a new ad campaign and plans for a store redesign, she also falls for Don Draper—a “schicker goy,” as Menken calls him, and a married one at that—who seduces her into liquid lunches and couch sex.

Maggie Siff, the actress who portrays Menken, identifies with her character’s lust and tempta- tion. “For a while there I did favor the goys,” she says. “In high school, I attended these nerdy public speaking tournaments on the weekends. I met all these Catholics from an all-boys school and dated a slew of them…. They were the only ones around for me then, but the last nine years I’ve been involved with a half-Jew just like me.”

Siff met her present-day beau in Philadelphia, where her thespian career ramped up in local productions of David Mamet’s Oleanna and Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. In 2005, she got the lead in Rebecca Gilman’s Dollhouse at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The role was a “career- shifter,” the Bronx-born actress says, one that led her to roles in Law & Order and Third Watch, the upcoming sci-fi film Push and, of course, Mad Men.

Siff currently lives in Los Angeles but still owns her Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment, no doubt an asset when it comes to landing roles on the East Coast. “The pilot was shooting in New York and I knew all the casting directors,” she says. “As a theater actor, I respond well to a live audience. There’s only so much a person can read from a performer on tape. When I met Matthew Weiner [the show’s creator, who was also a writer on The Sopranos], I was able to exude a human and very real connection.”

And that connection comes across onscreen. Siff’s Menken may submit to the two-timing ways of her ad man lover, but she is the only female in the show who doesn’t punch type- writer keys like a wage slave or work an oven in a house dress. Consider the retailer a prescient role model for women’s lib.

“Rachel’s an outsider, yet she’s incredibly bright, educated and independent,” Siff says. “She’s not operating with feminist training or ideology. She just is what she is. You depend on her character to challenge Don on his crap, but, at the end of the day, she’s human. She wants someone interesting. When I watched the episode [where she gives in], it did cause me pain to see it.”

The second season of Mad Men is tentatively scheduled for production in February 2008, and Menken will be a recurring character. In the meantime Siff answers audition calls, a majority of which ask for a strong-headed Semitic woman. Not that she’s concerned about the typecast.

“Since Mad Men, I get called in for a lot of Jewish roles,” she says. “The one thing [about Menken] that I identify with is her intelligence and directness that a lot of female roles don’t have, and people associate that with the Jewish thing. If I lived my days out as a Jewess actress, there could be worse things.”

What do you think?

About The Author


The international media conspiracy and/or the new Jew review. Take your pick.

4 Responses

  1. mickeyd

    Maybe I’m reading between the lines here, but I take offense as being referred to as a Goy. To me, that’s like calling a Jew a Heeb. What point is being made here? Lost all respect for Maggie Siff. Maybe Maggie has issues with her Irish mother? Hope her and her beau are happy in their eleven year, 1/2 Jewish relationship as she stated….. best wishes, from a Goy.

  2. mickeyd

    One more comment… I went to an all Boy’s Catholic school (GOYS)…… and I’m far from being a nerd… not even close!

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