by Tom McBride

A Mad Man’s Mindset List®….

In both The Mindset Lists of American History and The Annual Mindset List, Tom McBride and Ron Nief offer an “indispensable” (Brian Williams) and “mesmerizing” (Associated Press) way of tracing the American past…. Here McBride and Nief offer their unique perspective on one of America’s favorite TV characters….

As AMC’s Mad Men continues in its latest season, it is time to take historical stock of its leading character: the outwardly handsome but subtly tortured Don Draper. A brilliantly successful man in the sexist, alcohol-soaked early 1960s, Don’s personal life remains a mess from which we viewers do not wish walk away.

A Little Background

Don Draper (real name: Richard Whitman) was born in the American South in 1924 and is thirty-six (36) when he begins to work as an account executive for Sterling Cooper, a small but prosperous advertising firm in New York City. (Coincidentally, an actor named Jon Hamm, born 1971, is also 36 when a new series called Mad Men began in 2007 on the American Movie Channel.)

When Don Draper was born, President Woodrow Wilson and Louis Sullivan had always been dead.

Woodrow Wilson’s dream of an internationally activist America also seemed dead, but in the end Wilson’s vision would flourish in such ventures as the war in Korea, where young Dick Whitman, then 29, changed identities with his dead lieutenant so that he could get out of the war.

Louis Sullivan died broke and disgraced, but his vision of skyscrapers survived and flourished. Don would work in a high-rise in New York City. His boss Bert Cooper, said of an elderly secretary, “She was born in a barn and died on the 39th floor. She was an astronaut.” It’s also a tribute to Sullivan.

Born the same year as Don were

Lee Marvin (like Don, a future well-spun macho man);

Gloria Vanderbilt (like Don, a marketing genius, with her specialty of cosmetics);

Marlon Brando (who played famous movie roles seeking emotional truth, from which Don always tries to escape);

Doris Day, an actress whose identity was so well-spun that Oscar Levant would quip that he knew her before she was a virgin);

Rod Serling (who, like Don, had a fertile imagination about how to shape reality); and

Elizabeth Short, the infamous Black Dahlia murder victim in Los Angeles (like Don, she was looking for a new and more glamorous identity).

 Here’s Don’s (Dick’s) Personal Mindset List

(based on the year he was born: 1924)

1. The author Bruce Barton has always written that Christ (not Don) was the world’s first successful ad man.

2. No one has ever gone broke buying IBM, a brand new company.

3. There’s always been a media company and dream factory called Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

4. The coolest man was not the debonair Don but silent President Calvin Coolidge, as Republicans drank a new “Keep Cool With Coolidge” cocktail, consisting of raw eggs and various fruit juices.

5. Smoking ads have always been directed at women, with celebrities such as aviatrix Amelia Earhart endorsing Lucky Strikes (later spun as “toasted” by Don at Sterling Cooper) and with slogans such as “reach for a cigarette, not a sweet.”

6. A brand-new cigarette was Marlboro, touted to women as being as “mild as May” and sold complete with an ivory tip.

7. Foreshadowing the presence of talented Peggy Olson and canny Joan Holloway at Sterling Cooper, a top national issue while Don (Dick) was in his crib was whether or not women should work outside the home.

8. Anticipating the later work of Sterling Cooper and other ad agencies, there have always been national fads sold and spun by mass media, such as books of cross word puzzles, complete with attached pencils (the B&O Railroad even put dictionaries in their passenger cars for crossword aficionados).

8. The fleet football player Red Grange has always been known as “The Galloping Ghost,” another example of the new power of mass-communicated slogans and catch phrases.

9. Texas Guinan, a racy and colorful nightclub owner in New York, has always greeted her customers with “Hello, suckers”—a line that the cynical and image-selling Don would have appreciated.

10. Methodists have always lifted their ban on dancing and theatergoing—though not necessarily in the American South where Don (Dick) was born.

11. As Don was part of the last generation of American men to wear hats, he might have been amused to learn that the most fashionable hat during the year he was born was the bowler.

12. Nearly forty years before Don was decisively against Peggy’s idea that Harry Belafonte should become the spokesman for Fillmore Auto, both major political parties struggled with whether or not to condemn the powerful Ku Klux Klan, which had major influence as far north as Indiana.

13. A popular opinion was that Henry Ford had saved America by giving men a tension relieving substitute for prohibited booze: the Model T (banned liquor would not become a problem for Don, however; maybe that’s why we rarely see him in a car).

14. With a sign that sexism didn’t begin with Don Draper, a popular ad slogan said, “Thousands of men are denying their wives Packard Six cars.”

15. In an early sign of the information revolution on which Sterling Cooper and other ad agencies would later seize, news has always been overtaking dance music as the principal content on radio.

16. There has always been a Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving: great advertising.

17. The Toastmasters’ Club has always been promoting better public speaking and impression management in men.

18. Foreshadowing Don’s later problems with the FBI’s inadvertently finding out who he really is, J. Edgar Hoover has always been the bureau’s director.

19. In a sign that image and do-overs didn’t start with Don, singer and model Fanny Brice has always been willing to vouch for the nose job her plastic surgeon did on her.

20. Cigarettes, which boosted morale between battles in World War I, have always been endorsed by everyone from Santa Claus to doctors to generals and have always been more popular than pipes and cigars. (By the time Don came to Sterling Cooper every adult American would smoke an average of 4,000 of them yearly.)



July 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

Don Draper was born in rural Pennsylvania, not the American South. Nor was he born in 1924. He was either born at the end of 1925 or June 1926.


Gina P

July 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Actually, Dick Whitman was born in Illinois and he was born in 1926. Still an interesting article though.

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