The real Don Draper

HBO’s critically acclaimed Mad Men has been a phenomenal success in recent years. Set in the Madison Avenue Advertising world of the 1960s, the show focuses on Creative Director Don Draper and those he encounters in the office and at home. Admired for its historical accuracy, visual style and talented cast, the show has reignited people’s interest in Ad Land (well in Ad Land as it existed in the 1960’s anyway!)

Jon Hamm’s portrayal of the ruthless, hard-drinking, philandering, sexist ad man that is Don Draper has been integral to the shows fame. Despicable, charming and ultimately intriguing, Don Draper has entered the public consciousness. However the focus of this post is not the fictional character of Don but rather the actual ad man known as Draper Daniels, upon whom Mad Men’s producer, Matthew Weiner has freely admitted that the shows protagonist is loosely based

Draper Daniels was a legendary character in American advertising. He was also the Creative Director of Leo Burnett Chicago in the 1950’s and the ‘father’ of the infamous Marlboro Man campaign. Whilst similarities between Don and he exist – appearance, job title, creative talent, drinking habits –Daniels’ wife (Myra Janco Daniels) believes the similarities stop there. Although she freely admits that she once found her business partner and future husband “asleep behind his desk after a two-martini lunch had turned into a four-martini lunch!” In fact Myra describes her now deceased husband as a “disgustingly honest, very respectful, soft-spoken creative genius” who made a “fabulous partner, both business and personal”.

 

Born in upstate New York to a Quaker family, Daniels began his career working as a salesman at Vicks Chemical Company hawking Vicks VapoRub door-to-door, before landing a copywriting job at Young & Rubicam’s ad agency in NYC. He subsequently moved to Chicago to head up the Young & Rubicam office there but was soon snatched up by McCann-Erickson as a Copy Chief. Then in 1954 Leo Burnett poached Daniels to be the head of his creative department where he was placed on a large and problematic cigarette account and tasked with ‘making the general public feel safe about smoking.’ Daniels decided to focus on the company’s specialty brand of filtered cigarettes, which had up until 1957 been marketed toward women. The brand was called Marlboro. Daniels repositioned the brand; targeted men rather than women and subsequently bequeathed Marlboro Man to the world.
On the back of this success; Burnett won big accounts like Maytag Appliances, United Airlines and Allstate Insurance and became the largest ad agency outside of New York. (Interestingly Daniels resigned from Leo Burnett in 1962 once he realized the ills of cigarettes and briefly left the ad business to join the Kennedy administration, partly to atone for the guilt he felt about promoting a product already then linked to lung cancer.)
Daniels later set up his own advertising agency having bought Roche, Rickerd, Henri, Hurst, Inc. – the agency where Myra Janco, his later wife, was executive vice president. Myra’s account of their courtship and subsequent marriage does much to shed light on the man that was Daniel Draper.

“One day, after he had been with us for about two years, Dan came into my office with a card in his hand. He showed me the card. On one side, he had written out his own best character traits. Then he turned it over. On the other side he had written out mine. Mine were better than his, so I knew he wanted something. I thought, What in the world has got into him?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for nine months, Myra,” he said, “and I think we would make a great team.”

I said, “I think we are a great team. Think of what we’ve accomplished so far this year.”
He said, “I’m talking about a different sort of merger. I’ve decided I’d like to marry you.”


A few months later in 1967 he swept her to the courthouse and insisted on marrying her there and then. Their marriage lasted until 1983 when Draper Daniels sadly passed away following a battle with cancer and a brilliant career in advertising.

Another of Myra’s accounts about her life with Daniels, I believe, helps further paint a picture of the man who permanently changed the fortunes of Leo Burnett and to a degree the face of advertising. The man who formed the basis for one of the world’s most famous fictional advertising characters.
“Years later, in Florida, after Dan lost his battle with cancer, I was cleaning out his old highboy chest and I found two rolls of nickels in a drawer. I had no idea what they were doing there—but I thought immediately of Vivian Hill, the woman who had introduced us back in 1965. I remembered how Vivian used to keep these rolls of nickels lined up in the crevices of her desk drawer and would often make bets with people. I was still in touch with her so I rang her up and said, “Vivian, the strangest thing happened. I opened up the drawer to Dan’s old highboy and I found two rolls of nickels, like the kind I would sometimes win from you.” And she started laughing.

I said, “Why are you laughing?”
“Didn’t he ever tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
So Vivian told me a little story about Dan, a story that I didn’t know: The morning after I had met Dan in 1965—the night we talked for five hours, then went out for hamburgers at the Wrigley Building—he had gone to visit Vivian and said that he wanted to buy the company. I knew that part, but I didn’t know the rest of it. He also told her, “Vivian, just for your information, within two years that woman is going to be Mrs. Daniels.” She bet him two rolls of nickels that he was wrong. The day after we were married, in 1967, she paid off the bet.

Dan kept the nickels”
Interesting man, no?
Charlie x
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