In “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Mad Men’s pilot episode, Don Draper drops a hard truth on client/love interest (who isn’t his wife) Rachel Menken when he tells her that he’s “living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” Amazingly, that was 10 years ago. As fans of Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed advertising drama celebrate the beloved series’ 10th anniversary, we’ve gathered up 20 facts you might not have known about Mad Men.
Matthew Weiner dreamed up the idea for Mad Men while working as a writer on the Ted Danson sitcom Becker. He wrote the pilot in 1999.
In 2002, Weiner sent the Mad Men pilot to David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, as a writing sample. In 2012, The New York Times asked Chase how Weiner came to his attention. “We were looking for writers, as we always were, and he was submitted,” Chase recalled. “He told me later that he insisted that he be submitted—his agents didn’t want to do it. And what was submitted to me was the pilot for Mad Men. And it was quite good, and I met with him and he was hired. And then two or three years later, he took that pilot and apparently got somewhere with it.”
Before AMC signed on to broadcast Mad Men, Weiner spent some time shopping the script around. Considering its dark content, HBO seemed like the perfect fit. David Chase thought so, too, and delivered the script for the Mad Men pilot to the network’s executives himself. Though HBO has never made any official comment about passing on the series, according to a 2009 story in Vanity Fair, both Chase and Weiner told the writer that “HBO indicated it would make Mad Men on the condition that Chase be an executive producer, and Chase said he had further discussion with Weiner about directing the pilot, but despite being ‘very tempted’ by directing, he said no to both propositions, wanting to move away from weekly television.”
At least parts of Don Draper are based on a real person: Draper Daniels, the legendary Chicago ad man who, while creative head at Leo Burnett, invented the Marlboro Man. In 2009, Daniels’ wife even penned a piece for Chicago Magazine about the real-life Don Draper, noting that Weiner “acknowledged that he based his protagonist Don Draper in part on Draper Daniels, whom he called ‘one of the great copy guys.’”
Because The Sopranos’s final season was shot in two parts, Weiner took advantage of the hiatus he had to shoot the pilot episode of Mad Men. He was able to recruit several of his collaborators on The Sopranos to help. “Matt asked Alan Taylor to direct while all his buddies on The Sopranos were on hiatus,” Rob Sorcher, AMC’s former executive VP of programming and production, told TV Insider. “They shot the pilot in 10 days in Queens.”
Though Mad Men is largely a New York story, all but one episode—the pilot—were shot in Los Angeles.
In TV Insider’s oral history of the series, Weiner said that nearly a year elapsed between shooting the pilot for Mad Men and its second episode. “There’s seven years between when I first wrote the pilot, and then writing the second episode,” Weiner explained. “A lot about my vision changed in terms of how the storytelling would be done. Ultimately it was done very much in the pilot the way we continued to do it. But I didn’t know if it was just going to be a premise, or if we were going to be able to do something like that every week.”
John Slattery, who played Roger Sterling, originally auditioned for the role of Don Draper. When asked by ShortList.com whether he secretly hated Jon Hamm for getting the part, Slattery laughed that, “[Hamm] says I did, and not even secretly, but … no, I didn’t hate him, deep down. The thing is, it was apparent from the beginning how annoyingly good he was in that role. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to play something as subtle as he does. Trying to communicate so much from a guy who keeps his cards so close to his chest is almost an impossibility.”
January Jones auditioned not once but twice for the role of Peggy Olson, which eventually went to Elisabeth Moss. But Weiner had another part in mind for Jones, even if he hadn’t really written it yet. “I came in for Peggy twice,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “Matt said, ‘Well, there’s another role, but I don’t really know what’s going to happen with her.’ He didn’t have any scenes for me, so he quickly wrote a couple.”
In 2011, Weiner participated in a wide-ranging Q&A with Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin in Los Angeles. When asked about how Mad Men might have been different had it sold to HBO, Weiner replied that “Mad Men is TV-14, not even TV-MA. I’m allowed three ‘sh*ts’ a show. I can say ‘Jesus,’ I can say ‘Christ,’ but I can’t say ‘Jesus Christ’ unless he’s actually there.”
The old-school cigarette brand, which played a recurring role on the show since its very beginning, benefited from its association with Mad Men: The company nearly doubled its sales during the show’s run (selling an additional 10 billion cigarettes).
“My wife, Linda Brettler, is a big contributor to the show,” Weiner told Fresh Air. “She reads the scripts and so forth and really weighs in on things. And later and later in the process each year, actually, it’s gotten more helpful for her to see, like, what I’m trying to do and then weigh in on it.” Weiner points to a very specific example of this, with season five’s “Lady Lazarus” episode: “It’s the [episode] where Megan quits, where Megan rejects Don’s way of life, and Don doesn’t even know how painful it’s going to be … [My wife] pitched this idea that he opens it and sees that elevator is not there. And to me, yes, it is really physical danger—’I almost dodged a bullet.’ But what it was really about to me is, how do I convey to the audience that this man—because we’ve seen him react to things: he’s going to drink, he’s going to go and bang some stranger, he’s going to medicate in whatever way he does—how do we express the deep feelings of loss that he has as he says goodbye to his wife, to his idealized version of his romantic relationship?”
Weiner paid big bucks to close out that “Lady Lazarus” episode, spending $250,000 to license the rights to The Beatles’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”—which was a small price to pay for authenticity. “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of The Beatles performing,” Weiner told The New York Times. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”
Jessica Paré, as the new Mrs. Draper, stole the season five premiere when she serenaded Don with her sexy take on “Zou Bisou Bisou.” It didn’t take long for her performance to transcend television and take over the music world, eventually becoming the number one song on Billboard’s World Digital chart
Both Vincent Kartheiser and Jay Ferguson—who played Pete Campbell and Stan Rizzo, respectively—got a taste of what it feels like to be a teen idol back in the 1990s. Kartheiser’s career kicked off in 1993 with a small role in the Christian Slater film Untamed Heart; bigger parts in Little Big League, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Alaska followed. Ferguson’s fame came when he was cast as Ponyboy Curtis in the 1990 TV adaptation of The Outsiders.
Booze-swilling ad man Freddy Rumsen is played by Joel Murray, brother of Bill Murray.
“You don’t want actors smoking real cigarettes,” Weiner told The New York Times. “They get agitated and nervous. I’ve been on sets where people throw up, they’ve smoked so much.” Instead, they smoke herbal cigarettes. “They’re disgusting,” Christina Hendricks told Esquire.
In 2009, The Wall Street Journal went behind the scenes of Mad Men and discovered something interesting: It was a female-dominated world. At the time, seven of the show’s nine writers were female. And five of the third season’s 13 episodes were directed by women.
Glen Bishop, the Drapers’ creepy kid neighbor who obsesses over Betty before moving on to Sally, is played by Matthew Weiner’s son, Marten. “He was cast because he was the best person available for the role,” Weiner told NPR. “I would have never thought of him if he wasn’t my son. It was actually someone else’s idea, and 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.”
In 2013, then-13-year-old Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper, told The Huffington Post that she had never actually watched an episode of Mad Men. “I’m probably allowed to watch them, but I don’t because obviously I wasn’t allowed to at the beginning,” she explained. “Now I figure it’s just best to sort of wait until the show’s over and maybe when I’m 16 or 17, I’ll binge watch them or something fun … I’ll go on Netflix or something.”