It all started with a party. In the sixth episode of the third season of Mad Men, the offices of Sterling Cooper threw office manager Joan Holloway a surprise send-off on what was to be her last day in the office. On the same day, as the party raged on, new Co-Head of Accounts Ken Cosgrove announced that he had landed the business of John Deere, and the celebration suddenly included a John Deere riding lawnmower. In a high-rise. In Manhattan. The rest, as they say, is television history.
Also in attendance were the higher-ups of Putnam, Powell, and Lowe, the British agency that had purchased Sterling Cooper the season before, including a promising young executive named Guy MacKendrick, who was supposed to take over as the new chief operating officer. “Supposed to” is the key phrase in that sentence, because as you can see in the full clip, Sterling Cooper secretary Lois Sadler lost control of the mower and ran over his foot, sending blood and tissue and sock flying onto the faces of some of her shocked co-workers. It was abrupt and gory, and kind of hilarious, especially for a show not exactly known for its abruptness, gore or hilarity.
Since the episode aired — since the instant it happened on screen, to be more accurate — this moment has been one of the most memorable in the show’s entire run. With the first of the final seven episodes of the series premiering this weekend, we decided to look back and talk to some of the main players in the scene to get the full story. We spoke to the mower, Crista Flanagan (Lois Sadler); the mow-ee, Jamie Thomas King (Guy MacKendrick); and two of the actors who got sprayed with blood, Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane); as well as showrunner and creator, Matthew Weiner.
What follows is a brief oral history of the infamous Mad Men lawnmower scene.
A Scene Intended To Lighten Things Up
“… and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s this new guy who comes over to take over the office and you’re going to run over him,’ and I was just laughing.”
CRISTA FLANAGAN (Lois Sadler): Somebody called and said, “Hey, we need you for tractor rehearsal,” and I had no idea what they were talking about because Mad Men doesn’t let the scripts out ahead of time. And I was like, “I don’t understand.” And they said, “We don’t know, you just have tractor rehearsal.” I kept thinking, do we all go to a farm? We must all go to a farm.
RICH SOMMER (Harry Crane): I thought this was where we jumped the shark. And I read it and was as shocked as I’m sure any viewer who watched the episode was. Totally didn’t see it coming. I remember saying to Michael Gladis and Aaron Staton, “Is this it? Is this where it happens? Is this where we did something so crazy that we’ll never be able to come back from it?”
FLANAGAN: I showed up at the studio, and there was a guy with a tractor in the parking lot, and he had set up these orange cones for me to practice driving. The tractor had a clutch and it was stick shift, and there was this whole thing happening. I could drive it, but I practiced in the parking lot and Rich Sommer and Aaron [Staton] came out. I remember them running out and saying, “Oh my god, do you know what you’re doing on the tractor?” And I said, “No, I have no idea what’s happening right now.” They were laughing, and they were like, “Oh my gosh, there’s this new guy who comes over to take over the office, and you’re going to run over him,” and I was just laughing.