Closeted in ’62: Sal Romano in Mad Men

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 9, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays

The hit HBO show “Mad Men”  features a closeted homosexual.  Salvatore Romano, the married  Italian American art director at Sterling Company,  has a crush on Ken Cosgrove, a young account executive at the agency climbing his way up the corporate ladder. mm-6

In the first show of the series,  “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Sal replies to Dr. Guttman’s statement about smoking and  a death wish: “So we’re supposed to believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous.” (Sound a little like the life a closeted person might lead?)

Sal married. His wife, Kitty, was a neighborhood girl in Baltimore, Sal’s hometown.  They moved to New York and live with his Italian-speaking mother in an  apartment in  Brooklyn or Queens.

In Season 1/Episode 8, “The Hobo Code,” Sal is the recipient of an overture from Elliot, a salesman from Belle Jolie. They met earlier in the day at a presentation of an ad campaign for Belle Jolie: “Mark Your Man.”   After work, Sal met Elliot for drinks at the bar in the Roosevelt Hotel.  They share a drink as Elliot rhapsodizes about the wonder of New York City. Before long, their conversation changes tone.  Elliot reaches across the table and drinks from Sal’s glass.  The sexual tension is obvious, but when Elliot asks if Sal would like to go see the view from his bedroom Sal declines, clearly embarrassed. “I know what I want to do,” he says. madmen7-sal

In Season 2/Episode 7, “The Gold Violin,” Sal’s orientation becomes a little clearer.  Ken Cosgrove, the man inspiring Sal’s smoldering longing, has written two unpublished novels and became the target of office jealousy when his short story, “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning,” was published in the Atlantic Monthly. But Sal seems to understand the creative, vulnerable, writerly side of Ken, and when Ken asks him to review one of his new stories, Sal invites Ken to dinner at his apartment.

When Ken arrives at Sal and Kitty’s apartment. Sal says he loved Ken’s story, “The Gold Violin” which was inspired by a violin Ken saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (“It was perfect in every way except it couldn’t make music,” says Ken.) Throughout dinner, Sal fastens on Ken’s every word, as if they are as delicious as his own cooking. (Needless to say he’s oblivious to his wife’s needs.) He’s especially thrilled when Ken lights his cigarette (some obvious symbolism).

After Ken leaves, Kitty breaks down in tears, saying Sal left her out of the conversation the entire night. “Do you even see me here?” she asks. “I am so sorry,” he replies. It wasn’t an intentional thing to hurt Kitty, because Sal really does care about her.

As he’s cleaning up, Sal discovers a lighter that Ken left behind. Sal lovingly puts it in his pocket.

The tension–and the torment–of homosexuals, especially married people, was the norm in 1962.   It is still very much the case today–a person who is sexually attracted or in love with a co-worker, a friend, a fellow student, a neighbor, a member of their religious community–but must refrain from saying or acting on their feelings, and can only communicate their interest  and  desire in very veiled ways. 207_salvator_kitty_ken

Ironically, the actor playing Sal Romano is a very out gay man, Bryan Batt.   He and his partner, Tom Cianfichi, have been together for more than 18 years.   They own a home decor and furnishing store, Hazelnut, in New Orleans.

As an openly gay man, Batt was asked how it was to perform as a closeted man during the ’60s. “He’s so much more reserved than I am: great posture, very calculating, always analyzing what’s going on around him because he has to fit in. The hardest thing about playing him is that I’m an open book and Sal is not…as a gay man it’s very interesting to play this character because people forget what people had to go through at that time.”

Being married is also a perfect cover entertaining clients or nights out with the boys from work. He can go to strip clubs and say, “No, I’m married,” so he’s not forced to participate in the hanky panky.

Batt also commented that people stop him on the street to ask when is Salvatore coming to come out.   “My response is, ‘To what?’  There was no real gay community back then. There’s been so many great strides made in just a short amount of time to have a vocal gay community.”

Were feelings more poignant when we were closeted?

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One Response to “Closeted in ’62: Sal Romano in Mad Men”

  1. Meera Says:

    Hi there,

    I am writing my dissertation thesis on Mad Men, and this particular article was extremely helpful. I was wondering if you let me know where the interview of Bryan Batt can be found in its entirity so I am able to reference correctly.

    Kind Regards,
    Meera Depala

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