Is ‘Mad Men’s’ Don Draper Based On Marilyn Monroe?

Entertainment Features
08.21.14 9 Comments

Mad Men creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner was on Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast this week, ostensibly to promote his feature directorial debut, Are You Here? (which comes out on ITunes/VOD this Friday, I believe), but mostly, Weiner wanted to talk about Mad Men, Don Draper, and the final season.

It’s a fun time for the creator to talk about the show, too, because they have finished filming the series, and while there is still some editing to be done, Weiner is in mostly a reflective mode. He talked a lot in the podcast about the similarities between Don Draper and another character he used to write for, Tony Soprano, and suggested they were not that different. “Don is like Tony, except he doesn’t kill people!”

In fact, people kept asking Weiner in the beginning when Don Draper would get his own therapist, his own Melfi, with whom he could discuss his feelings. But that was another difference between Soprano and Draper: Men just didn’t talk about their feelings in the 60s (while Soprano proved to be an exception to that rule among the mafioso). “Depression” was not an emotional feeling then; it was an economic term.

It’s a great podcast, especially if you’re into Mad Men. A few other things stuck out to me from it. One, I loved that he talked about the difference between Mad Men and so many of the other prestige dramas at the moment. While he concedes that he loves shows like Breaking Bad and (obviously) The Sopranos, Mad Men works, he thinks, because the “stakes are familiar to people.” I like that, and it’s true: I’m not a womanizing, boozing ad exec (YET!), but a lot of the problems the characters contend with on Mad Men feel, at least, peripherally relatable.

Another interesting note is that, though it wasn’t exactly intentional, every woman that Don Draper has been with during the entire series run besides Betty have all been the same type. They may have been of different ages and occupations, Weiner said, but they were all basically the same brunette woman (even the one blonde mistress was a natural brunette).

But the best segment was when Weiner was talking about the creation of Don Draper, who he said is a composite of a lot of literary characters, plus men like Lee Iacocca and Sam Walton, who became successful businessmen but who hid their impoverished background because they were ashamed of it.

Most interestingly, however, was this quote from Weiner:

“There’s this incredible case study written about Marilyn Monroe, and when I was reading it, it felt the most like the personality of Don Draper than anything that I’ve ever read. Just the ‘Will anyone ever know me now that I’ve invented this person?'”

There really are some neat similarities because Draper, like Marilyn Monroe, began as someone else (Norma Jeane Mortenson and Dick Whitman) and both were conflicted because they wanted to people to love the identities that they constructed, but there was also something very lonely about that. People loved the constructs, but not who they really were because most people had no idea who they really were.

Certainly that’s something that Don Draper has struggled with the entire series. It’s a huge reason why he has a hard problem connecting and committing to women. Anna Draper is the only person who ever really knew — and seemed to love — Don Draper as Dick Whitman. That’s why he was so torn up about her death.

But then again, Pete Campbell knows his secret, and Peggy Olsen knows Don at his worst, and has seen him at his least “Don Draper” like, and those two — as the previous eight episodes have shown — are Don’s real family. Hopefully, they can save him from Marilyn Monroe’s fate.

Source: Nerdist

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