Donald Francis ‘Don’ Draper is a fictional character on AMC’s Mad Men. That doesn’t stop Don Draper from being voted the most influential man in the world by Askmen.com. Mad Men, set in 1960s New York advertising world immediately has the lure of the swinging sixties. In that Don Draper is a shining star. Has an ego people pay to see.
His is a rag to riches story but saying that it is chequered is an understatement. His life is an illusion. An illusion of a happy marriage with Betty Draper and three young kids lasted more than it was supposed to considering his long list of extra-marital affairs. But illusion in the other sense that he actually living on an identity he stole while he got a chance to while stationed in the Korean War. For a long time we didn’t know that he is actually Richard ‘Dick’ Whitman, born to a prostitute who died while giving birth to him and sired by a dad who never stopped reminding him that he is a whore-child.
In a way, he is responsible for his half-brother hanging himself for Don never wanted to go back to anything from his last iteration. He has lived two lives- one as Dick Whitman and now as Don Draper. The Don Draper iteration is scared of his Dick Whitman past. Only by the time he either confides or people find out on their own about his identity theft does he slowly begin to stop worrying about it .Nonetheless the truth has the potential to make him immensely worried. And it does, in the form of IRS or US Government security checks.
Don has lied, cheated on women and been downright disrespectful, he is a chain smoker and drinks copiously. However that description is painting him in broad negative strokes; for the man has some positive qualities on display. He is cynical and arrogant, yes. But he has his own code of ethics that he goes by. He insists on honesty, forthrightness and chivalry in people working for him. He is protective of people who he sees potential in and he is quite likely to admonish rude and crude behaviour towards women in workplace. This although hasn’t stopped him from seducing his secretary and letting another one seduce him. For him, there is not even a contradiction there. What makes him an asset is his sheer talent and the ability to spot it. Another thing that he has is insight. He knows who or what has potential. Just see what Peggy Olson has become under his wings. She shares the most meaningful relationship with Don based on mutual admiration and respect. Women in workplace had it tough in 60s, but Don has always treated as an equal. That apart, the only woman Don has been really happy with is Megan Calvet. He has changed since he popped the question to Megan Calvet. Megan has had the most evolving part in Mad Men from being a receptionist to now an aspiring actress, and in between that she graduated to being Don’ wife and a copywriter at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP). The rise is quick and meteoric.Megan is a great step-mom to Don’s kids, especially with Sally. Megan dealt with Don’s ex-wife Betty poisoning Sally’s mind with calm, poise and emotional intelligence defying a twenty something. She threw a surprise birthday bash for Don at their classy New York apartment and performed the sensuously classy Zou Bisou Bisou with whole ad agency in attendance. Don was irked but blushed still. She even salvaged the Heinz Beans account even as it was gone for all money and Don was in awe of his wife. Don is finally happy in his second marriage .He even told Pete Campbell that that kind of life is not worth throwing away. But we know that Don is not really comfortable with successful wives. Even a ravishing model as Betty did become a housewife. The friction in the Don-Megan is whether Don admits it or not, is Megan’s acting aspirations. And as Megan’s mother pointed out, she has an artist’s temperament without necessarily an artist’s talent. How much of that can Don really entertains is quite a query. Megan is desperate enough to knife a friend for a part in a mere Butler commercial and Don is not head-over heals with her anymore.
The affection remains, which is surely going to be stretched as she gets her wings to fly.Sure he was against helping her get the ad and that is why he told her ‘You want to be someone’s discovery not someone’s wife’. Megan took a creative shortcut and Don is the sort of guy who will never take shortcuts to his creative process.Don’s nonpareil creative genius remains. Pulling out words and insights that none saw. Take Kodak’s Slide Projector for instance right here.
For he also wrote that courageous ‘Why I’m quitting tobacco’ letter after losing the Lucky Strike Cigarettes account which has had such an impact that it is just called ‘the letter’. And this is the same Lucky Strike for which he came up with ‘It’s Toasted’ line in a stroke of genius.
The women in his life are a reflection of his thoughts. And he was downright unhappy by the manner in which SDCP bagged Jaguar, even though the creative pitch had great merit in it. Don was clearly against the Jaguar dealer’s sleazy proposition with Joan. Don Draper has immense respect for Joan Harris that was evident in the sparkling conversation they had in bar after she accompanied him to the Jaguar showroom.
With his office wife and protégé Peggy Olson moving on to be Copy Chief at rivals Cutler Gleason & Chaough (CGC) ,Don might find himself alone at work and if he responds in kind to “are you alone?” query by the unknown blonde, it might be back to his philandering, womanising ways again.That shouldn’t surprise anyone, but Don Draper can always spring another surprise. One that might be completely out-of-the blue. As his media buyer Harry Crane said ‘Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.’