The real Don Draper (Draper Daniels, who called himself “Dan”)

Draper "Dan" Daniels and Myra Janco in 1965.

As the fourth season of “Mad Men” unfolds, fans wonder:

  • Will Don Draper get it together, or continue to unravel?
  • Will Peggy or Joan just get fed up to the point that she slaps every man on the show upside the head in a vain attempt to inject some sense into them?
  • Will Betty and her new husband just be written out of the show? Please?
  • Now that it’s 1964, will the show work with a post-Beatles sound track, or will the whole martinis-and-skinny ties mystique evaporate? (Hearing “Satisfaction” in the background the other night really made ol’ Don seem more anachronistic than usual, which I suppose was the point. Although I suppose the “can’t be a man cause he doesn’t smoke/the same cigarettes as me” part was apropos.)
  • Is Don Draper actually modeled on real-life Mad Man Brad Warthen?

On that last one, to end your suspense, the answer is no: The uncanny physical resemblance is merely coincidental.

In fact, we have learned who the real-life model was: Draper Daniels, who called himself Dan (… were in the next room at the hoedown… Sorry; I can’t resist a good song cue). His widow wrote a fascinating piece about him, and about their relationship, in Chicago magazine. You should read the whole thing, headlined “I Married a Mad Man” — as my wife said, it’s an “awesome” story — but here’s an excerpt:

In the 1960s, Draper Daniels was something of a legendary character in American advertising. As the creative head of Leo Burnett in Chicago in the 1950s, he had fathered the Marlboro Man campaign, among others, and become known as one of the top idea men in the business. He was also a bit of a maverick.

Matthew Weiner, the producer of the television show Mad Men (and previously producer and writer for The Sopranos), acknowledged that he based his protagonist Don Draper in part on Draper Daniels, whom he called “one of the great copy guys.” Weiner’s show, which takes place at the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency on Madison Avenue, draws from the golden age of American advertising. Some of its depictions are quite accurate—yes, there was a lot of drinking and smoking back then, and a lot of chauvinism; some aren’t so accurate. I know this, because I worked with Draper Daniels in the ad biz for many years. We did several mergers together, the longest of which lasted from 1967 until his death in 1983. That merger is my favorite Draper Daniels story.

Reading that article, I wondered: If Don is Dan, who on the show is Myra?

As I read, I got a sense that it could be… Peggy. A woman who was a professional colleague of the main characters, a woman who had risen to an unprecedented role for her gender at the agency? Sounds kinda like Peggy to me — aside from the age difference. After all, Peggy and Don got awfully cozy that night of the Clay-Liston fight

We’ll see…

Peggy and Don on the night of the Clay-Liston fight (Feb. 24, 1964).

4 thoughts on “The real Don Draper (Draper Daniels, who called himself “Dan”)

  1. Brad

    By the way, I just discovered that great feature on the AMC site — they have still photos of practically every moment on the show. I mention that night that Peggy and Don fell asleep together on the couch, and there it is. I refer to the moment when Don is standing on the street with “Satisfaction” playing in the background, and the site gives me several shots to choose from. Cool.

    I appreciate that because ever since I got canned from the paper, I’ve really, really missed having access to the AP photo archives for art for the blog.

    True, this feature only helps me if I’m looking to illustrate something from Mad Men, or Rubicon, or Breaking Bad.

    But it’s a start. At least I’m covered there.


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