With countless awards and accolades, Mad Men is one of the most successful television programs of recent times. Bursting onto the small screen in 2007, the 1960s-set show introduced us to a world of intrigue, sex, money and the complex lives of the enigmatic characters of Sterling Cooper. When it ended after seven seasons in 2015, it left a big hole in our hearts and our TV schedules, but our love for it has stayed as bright as a Lucky Strike billboard. Join us as we take a look at some behind-the-scenes secrets and little-known facts of AMC’s hit show Mad Men.
The Show Wasn’t Picked Up For Over Half A Decade
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It might seem like the show has the kind of winning formula that would get it instantly picked up by a studio, but this wasn’t the case. Creator Matthew Weiner was working on the CBS sitcom Becker, spending his every spare moment doing research for his idea.
He spent a week sketching out the idea for the show, but no one bit. The script remained untouched. However, it did land the impoverished writer with a job on HBO’s hit mafia show, The Sopranos. Little did Weiner know, in three years his world would take off.
A Cable Network With No Experience Took The Bait
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For a writer, ideas never really die, they just spend some time lingering around until they either take off or they don’t. Luckily, Weiner never gave up on his idea for a 60s show. He knew that if someone would just take a chance on it, the script would hit it big. He wasn’t wrong.
AMC, a cable network with absolutely zero experience in scripted programming stepped in and self-financed a pilot. Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, and John Slattery jumped on board…and the rest was history.
Don Draper Is Based On A Real Person
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While Don Draper is the brainchild of Weiner, the writer took elements of a real person as inspiration. Draper Daniels was a legendary Chicago advertising genius and the creative head at Leo Burnett. It was at this agency that he invented the Marlboro Man. This sounds awfully familiar to that big Sterling Cooper account, Lucky Strike.
In 2009, Daniel’s wife penned a letter to Chicago magazine, stating that Weiner had openly acknowledged that he “based his protagonist Don Draper in part on Draper Daniels, whom he called one of the great copy guys.” The character would go down in history, for more reasons than one…
The Mass Appeal Of Don Draper
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Jon Hamm wasn’t on our radar until he cinched the part of rogue ad executive and lothario Don Draper. After bagging the role, Hamm was suddenly catapulted to new heights of success. Even he didn’t think he was going to get the job, believing that creators would hire someone who had more acting credits.
Not only did his overt sex appeal keep us talking, but so did his penchant for portraying the subtle nuances of the tortured Draper. It takes a damn good actor to have women all over the world simultaneously excusing and falling in love with a character who consistently sabotages his own life. Hamm successfully did this.
The Show Boosted Lucky Strike Sales
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A major plotline in the show is Sterling Cooper’s desperation to keep their biggest account, cigarette company Lucky Strike. It would’ve been easy to use fictional brands in the show, but they’re all real. Cigarettes feature heavily in the series – after all, it’s set in the late 50s and early 60s, when the major health risks weren’t known.
In more than one scene, you even see a pregnant Betty puffing merrily away. Over the course of the show’s run, Lucky Strike’s profits skyrocketed. The company sold an additional 10 billion cigarettes. It just goes to show how we’re influenced by TV…but the profits didn’t stop there.
Mad Men Literally Saved Whisky
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If you’ve watched even a second of the show, the chances are you’ve caught someone with a drink in their hand – and it’s usually neat whisky. Don’s particular drink of choice, Canadian Club, gave distillers Beam the boost they needed.
After the show’s fifth season, profits were on the up for the company, after remaining flat for several years. Canadian Club even changed their strategy thanks to the free product placement they received from the show, opting to create a 60s-inspired whisky called Dock 57. The revolution had arrived, but it wasn’t the only thing that brought back nostalgia. Some of the cast did that just fine on their own…
The Actors Who Played Pete Campbell And Stan Rizzo Were 90’s Teen Idols
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While the majority of the cast were unknown actors, Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) and Jay Ferguson (Stan Rizzo) were well-known faces of the 90s. Kartheiser landed his first major role in the Christian Slater film Untamed Heart in 1993, which lead to bigger parts in Little Big League, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Alaska.
Ferguson got teenage girls hot under the collar when he starred as Ponyboy Curtis in the 1990 adaptation of The Outsiders. While these male stars may have been old-hat at the game, it was the women who were running things.
Who Run The World? Girls!
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Mad Men is set in an era where women were homemakers, wives, and supporters of their “great” husbands, the stereotypical breadwinners. A woman’s place was in the kitchen, or if she was in an office at all, she was a secretary. It might surprise you to know how behind-the-scenes Mad Men was a female-dominated world.
In 2009 when The Wall Street Journal went in for a sneak peek at the inner workings of the show, they discovered that seven of the nine writers on the show were women. Five of the third season’s 13 episodes were directed by females too. Girls weren’t just owning it off-screen though.
The Women Of Mad Men
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While the writers were busy working up a storm, the cast was making history on the screen. The show had the perfect balance between the high-pressure world of businessmen, while giving equal prominence to the way females were treated at the time and their desire to do more and achieve more. Peggy Olson was the epitome of the walked-over secretary, but the ride was about to get wild.
Over the course of the show, we saw the female characters grow in so many ways. Peggy went from meek and mild assistant to full-on advertising powerhouse, running her own department and calling the shots. Wise-cracking assistant Joan went from having an affair with her boss to becoming a strong single mother and a driving force in the office. Mad Men flipped the script on 60s stereotypes and it resonated with women everywhere.
The Draper’s Neighbor Glen Is Matthew Weiner’s Son
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The Draper’s neighbor Glen divided opinion. Some thought he was a lost little child of divorce in a time where it was still considered taboo, while others believed he was a straight-out creep. Whatever your opinion, you can’t deny the role was played beautifully by none other than Marten Weiner, Matthew Weiner’s son.
“He was cast because he was the best person available for the role,” his dad told NPR. “I was counseled against it from all the complications that could happen from him failing at that job. But he really nailed it, and he’s a really good actor.” This chance paid off, but he wasn’t the only cast member with a prominent relative.
The Actor That Plays Freddy Rumsen Has A Famous Brother
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Lovable but problematic Freddy Rumsen stole our hearts as the underdog that’s fired for his alcohol abuse after he drunkenly pees his pants and passes out before an extremely important client meeting. He championed Peggy from the start, singing her praises to Don – when he gets put on “leave,” Peggy gets his office. But who is the actor?
Joel Murray plays the part. He is the brother of comedy actor Bill Murray. You might remember Joel from way back, when he had a supporting role on Chuck Lorre’s Dharma & Greg.
Kiernan Shipka Never Watched The Show
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Vindictive little Sally Draper was played wonderfully by Kiernan Shipka. Back in 2013, Shipka had just turned 13. At the time, despite being on the show for a few years, she told The Huffington Post that she had never seen an episode.
“I’m probably allowed to watch them, but I don’t because I wasn’t allowed to at the beginning. Now, I figure it’s just best to sort of wait until the show is over and maybe when I’m 16 or 17 I’ll binge watch them or something fun.” Shipka is now 18, but the jury is still out on whether she’s watched.
Not All Of The Cast Were Given The Roles They Auditioned for
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It’s difficult to see anyone other than Jon Hamm in the role of smooth-talking Don Draper, but it could’ve happened. John Slattery (Roger Sterling) initially auditioned for the part. He wanted it so badly but conceded to Hamm.
“I went in to read for Don,” he said. “But they wanted me to play Roger. Matt Weiner claims I was in a bad mood for the whole pilot.” January Jones (Betty Draper) auditioned for Peggy twice, but creators knew it wasn’t the right fit for her. Weiner hadn’t written any scenes for Betty yet but offered it up to Jones anyway, and the role of Don’s first wife Betty was born…but did you know that one couple were together in real life?
Roger Sterling’s Wife Was Actually John Slattery’s Wife
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We love a good romance story, don’t we? And when it crosses over from fiction to reality, it’s even better. Roger Sterling’s first wife Mona is a force to be reckoned with, but Roger divorces her to marry his secretary, 20-year-old Jane. Despite the chemistry between his on-off love Joan (Christina Hendricks), actor John Slattery is actually married to Talia Balsam, who plays Mona.
The couple have been together for 20 years this year, and share one child together. The relationship may not work on screen, but it definitely works off-screen. It’s not easy to maintain a relationship in showbiz (just look at Brad Pitt and his two divorces) but these two set the bar.
The Show Dealt With Sensitive Themes
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The show transcended its era in many ways. Although it was set in the swinging 60s, the issues that it dealt with are still faced today. In a time before the Weinstein scandal had erupted, Mad Men thrust the spotlight on equality, sexism, female sexuality, and much more.
There was the sensitive storyline around Peggy’s pregnancy and her decision to adopt to move forward with her life and career, but it didn’t stop at women’s issues. Alcoholism was a key theme throughout the series, demonstrating how booze was a staple of bigwig offices and the downfall of many. In fact, the issues were real for some of the cast, too.
Jon Hamm Went To Rehab For Alcohol Abuse
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Playing a character who has a glass of whisky stapled to his hand at all times has to take its toll on you. In 2015, Jon Hamm spent 30 days at the Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut. At the time, Hamm didn’t talk about his demons openly with the media.
Releasing a statement via a publicist, the star explained his stay in the facility was down to ongoing struggles with alcohol and asked for privacy and sensitivity moving forward. Hamm told Esquire in 2012 that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Don’s drinking. “I don’t drink as much as Don Draper,” he said. “I would be unconscious if I did.”
Megan Draper’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” Song Went To Number One
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It doesn’t take long for Don to marry one of his secretaries too. After he divorces Betty, he hooks up with Megan. In one of the most sensational scenes filmed for the show, the beautiful brunette serenades Don at his surprise birthday party.
Megan’s parents are French, so it’s no surprise that she can speak the language fluently, as can actress Jessica Pare. The moment was so popular that Pare recorded a full-length version of “Zou Bisou Bisou” by Gillian Hills. The song reached number one on the Billboard World Music chart and was subsequently released on vinyl.
All Of The Cigarettes Are Fake
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All of the characters on the show smoke – and they smoke a lot. It’s in keeping with the time frame (before the real negatives of smoking were known) but can you imagine what the set would be like if the cast were smoking real Lucky Strikes?
It would be awful. Matthew Weiner once told the New York Times, “You don’t want actors smoking real cigarettes. They get nervous. I’ve been on sets where people throw up, they’ve smoked so much.” Fortunately, the show was shot in LA and California laws prohibit the habit in workplaces. Herbal cigarettes were used instead.
Joan’s Signature “Sexy” Walk Was Accidental
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Christina Hendricks became a worldwide sex symbol thanks to her role as the stunning and strong Joan Holloway. Known for her tremendous acting talents as well as her sensational curves, Christina admitted that Joan’s walk was completely incidental.
Rather than an intentional part of the character, the dresses were so restrictive that it made it difficult to walk normally. “It was that dress that sort of created the Joan walk, because it was literally me trying to get from one side of the room to the other,” Hendricks admitted during an interview. It was so well received that it became a staple.
The Blackface Scene Was Extremely Controversial
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As we’ve seen, Mad Men was praised on numerous occasions for it’s authentic tribute to the 60s. The writers kept it real, even when that wasn’t always well received. In the scene when Roger paints his face black and sings “My Old Kentucky Home,” it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to everyone.
“We had a lot of new writers,” said Weiner. “Who were kind of like, we can’t do this. They didn’t want their names on the story.” He went on to explain that the scenario felt necessary. “This was part of the framework of that time and it was so clear that we were criticizing it.”