Donald Francis "Don" Draper is a fictional character and the protagonist of AMC's television series Mad Men, portrayed by Jon Hamm. Up to the Season 3 finale, Draper was creative director of Manhattan advertising firm Sterling Cooper. He then became a founding partner at a new firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, after he and his superiors left their previous agency in advance of an unwanted acquisition. The agency later merged with a rival firm, Cutler Gleason & Chaough, to become Sterling Cooper & Partners while pursuing a contract from Chevrolet.
Donald Francis Draper is revealed through flashbacks to be the assumed identity of Richard "Dick" Whitman, born in Illinois to a prostitute and an abusive, alcoholic farmer, Archibald "Archie" Whitman. His mother died in labor, and his father was killed from a kick by a spooked horse, an accident a ten-year-old Dick witnessed.
Dick was raised primarily by Archie's wife Abigail, who was physically and emotionally abusive to him. She had a boy named Adam, who considered Dick his brother. The one person to show him any kindness as a child was "Uncle Mac", who taught him how to survive in the real world. Mac was "with" Abigail's sister and ran the brothel where Dick and his half-brother Adam grew up after leaving the family farm.
During this period of his life, he began to suffer from croup and was left under the care of a prostitute named Aimee. She takes his virginity in a way that Weiner stated concerned "His relationship to sex and molestation" and reviewer Abigail Rine described more directly as rape.
Whitman supposedly never finishes high school, and in his early 20s he runs away to enlist in the United States Army during the Korean War. Once deployed, he serves under the command of Lieutenant Donald Francis Draper, an engineer under orders to build a field hospital with only Private Whitman and shovels to assist him; all of his previous subordinates either deserted, or were captured or killed.
During an enemy artillery attack, Whitman causes an explosion by accident, killing Lieutenant Draper instantly. A seriously wounded Whitman switches Draper's dog tags with his own before passing out. He later awakens in an U.S. Army field hospital, presumed to be Lieutenant Draper, and is awarded the Purple Heart. He is sent home on a train with Lieutenant Draper's coffin (believed to be Private Whitman's) to offer the Army's regrets to Whitman's survivors. He avoids meeting the Whitmans at the train station but is spotted by Adam, whose parents fail to recognize him. Years later Adam tracks his half-brother down in New York, but "Draper" insists on leaving the past behind and coldly rejects him, ultimately driving Adam to suicide.
Whitman begins his life anew as Don Draper, working as a used-car salesman. Anna M. Draper, widow of the real Don Draper, tracks him down. He informs her of Don's death and confesses to his masquerade. The two form a close bond that continues for many years. Anna remains a supportive figure and confidante until her death from bone cancer in 1965.
The new Don Draper relocates to New York City, where he works as a fur salesman and attends City College at night. It is at this job that he meets his future wife, Betty, a model who does a photo shoot for the company. He tricks a drunken Roger Sterling into offering him a job at Sterling Cooper, and eventually becomes its Creative Director.
He is considered a major asset to the company, as he has considerable talent for understanding the desires of others and for effectively pitching and selling ideas. Because of this, he is occasionally courted by other advertising firms. Although his true character remains mysterious and heavily guarded, almost everyone at the firm is portrayed as respecting his talent. At the same time, many in the firm are also troubled by Draper's erratic behavior. Peggy Olson begins her career at Sterling Cooper as Draper's secretary, but with her boss' support she becomes a copywriter. Throughout the series their relationship is portrayed as one of trust and mutual respect, even as Peggy advances in her career and eventually leaves the firm.
Draper and Elizabeth "Betty" Hofstadt are married in May 1953, and eventually move into a house with an address shown as 42 Bullet Park Road, Ossining in Westchester County, New York. The marriage is a rocky one and Don becomes engaged in numerous affairs. In 1964, they file for divorce, and Betty marries politician Henry Francis. Don marries his secretary, Megan Calvet, after which they move to a stylish, Upper East Side apartment on Park Avenue.
In December 1963, Draper convinces Bert Cooper, Roger Sterling, and Lane Pryce, along with Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, Joan Holloway, and Harry Crane, to leave Sterling Cooper rather than take their chances when they learn their parent company is being purchased by rival firm, McCann Erickson. They form the agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP), working out of a hotel suite before moving to the Time-Life Building. Draper also leads a later merger with a rival agency. While the new agency is successful, at the end of Season 6, he is forced to take "a leave of absence" from the new firm because of his erratic behavior, which costs the firm a possible advertising account with Hershey Chocolate.
Draper works as a freelancer for a year while still technically on SCDP's payroll. Megan has moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, and asks Don for a divorce. Feeling guilty over his past infidelities, Draper gives her a generous divorce settlement. The agency eventually allows him to come back on the condition that he stops drinking on the job. He does his work well and eventually assumes his old position with the company. Following Bert Cooper's death, Roger Sterling, with Don and other partners' support, sells SCDP to McCann as an independent and separate subsidiary. The arrangement lasts for a year before McCann decides to fully absorb SCDP. McCann's executives groom Draper as management material, but he panics at the thought of being tied down and leaves the company in the middle of a meeting.
Draper embarks upon a nomadic existence as a mechanic, and in the series' final episode, "Person to Person", moves into a commune with Anna's niece Stephanie. In the last scene of the episode and series, he sits and meditates, with a smile on his face. His ultimate fate is left ambiguous: in their reviews of the final episode, some critics said that the episode's final shot—the iconic "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad, produced by McCann Erickson—implied that Don returned to the advertising world and created the ad, while others wrote that the episode did not provide a definite ending to Draper's story.
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Despite his outward disenchantment and egotism, the character of Don Draper demonstrates a strict code of personal ethics, insisting on honesty and chivalry in his subordinates, but not always in himself. He is protective of his subordinates, admonishing Pete Campbell in the pilot about his rude remarks to and about Peggy Olson. Draper is also protective of his colleagues; for example, he berates several subordinates for mocking Freddy Rumsen's episode of urinary incontinence, a symptom of Rumsen's alcoholism.
Draper adheres to a stricter code of business ethics than many of his colleagues. A Season 2 arc has him upset about being told to drop the smaller local Mohawk Airlines as a client in hopes of picking up American Airlines. In Season 3, he is hesitant to sign a wealthy client eager to pour his fortune into promoting jai alai, a sport the client thinks will replace baseball as "America's game", which Draper thinks is a doomed enterprise. He is also the only partner to protest a scheme hatched by Pete Campbell and a potential client that involves Joan's sleeping with a Jaguar Cars executive in order to secure the account. However, despite Draper's astute nature, it is not perfect clairvoyance, for Don himself loses a bit of money betting on a boxing match being confident of Sonny Liston's boxing abilities over Cassius Clay's.
Draper briefly becomes a confidant to art director Sal Romano, a closeted homosexual whom Draper finds in a compromising position with another man in a Baltimore hotel. On their way back to New York, Draper gently lets Romano know he is aware of his homosexuality and couches his comments about their London Fog account artwork to offer him advice about being cautious. Later on, when Romano won't give in to Lee Garner Jr.'s sexual demands, Garner has him fired. Romano goes to Draper for help, but when he explains what happened, Draper tells him he supports his dismissal, since Lucky Strike is too big a client to lose, and implies that Romano should have given Garner what he wanted. In contrast to the tolerant attitude he had earlier shown his colleague, he regards Romano now with homophobic disdain.
While the Don Draper character is not color-blind in matters of race, he recognizes the changes sweeping the country and acknowledges the advertising potential of "the Negro market". In the pilot, he is seen asking a black waiter about the waiter's cigarette preferences. In another episode, he attends a festive Kentucky Derby party hosted by Roger Sterling and watches with disgust as Sterling serenades his young wife in blackface. Draper and Pete Campbell seem to be the only guests who disapprove of, or are uncomfortable with, the spectacle.
Draper is loyal to many of his coworkers. He has close relationships with Peggy Olsen and Joan Harris. They are close friends but he has never had a sexual relationship with either. Draper and Pete Campbell dislike each other at first. Draper at first sees Pete as the son of a wealthy "old money" New York City family, who received his job because of his family connections not because of professional talent. But eventually Don and Pete grow to respect each other and a work friendship develops. Draper watches Pete become a smart and driven advertising executive. Pete realizes that Don is an important part of the firm's success and that Don supports Pete's professional development. Draper has a close relationship with Roger Sterling. They try to overlook each other's personal failings and support each other at work. Roger saves a drunken Don from drowning after Don falls into a swimming pool while they are attending a party in Hollywood. Don inspires Roger to refocus his efforts at SCDP causing Roger to engineer the firm's acquisition of the Chevrolet account. Roger fights to get Don reinstated at SCDP after his forced leave of absence.
Draper is occasionally shown to regret how he treats his family. When his wife gives birth to their third child, he has a conversation with another man in the hospital waiting room who says he's going to be a better man for his wife and child. Although it is implied that Draper has similar convictions, he later acknowledges to his second wife that he feels a general state of disconnect between himself and his children. Draper's one consistent display of parental behavior is that he cannot tolerate Betty's often harsh treatment of their daughter, Sally, and he has interceded on her behalf on those occasions.
Draper dislikes his father-in-law, Eugene "Gene" Hofstadt, but agrees to take him into their home when Gene is no longer able to live on his own. On several occasions, Draper shows more patience and understanding toward his father-in-law than his wife. After Gene's death, however, Draper tells his wife that he and her father hated each other.
Throughout the series, Draper displays signs of alcoholism, which eventually deteriorates to a level of alcohol dependency that endangers his job. By the end of season 6, having battled constantly with his crisis of identity, Draper is forced to take a leave of absence after revealing the truth about his upbringing to the would-be lucrative and prestigious client, Hershey's. His confession is brought on by a pre-presentation round of drinks, and is the concluding incident in a long line of other drinking-related incidents that lead the partners of SC&P to finally take action; they put him on indefinite leave. Draper is hired back during Season 7, with a sobriety clause in his new contract. He violates these terms when he realizes during a conversation regarding new business with Bert Cooper that he is no longer valued as an active player in the agency. The other partners however do not realize this because Freddy Rumsen, who has since achieved sobriety, receives a call from Draper and takes him out of the office under the pretense of seeing a New York Mets game thereby keeping him away from the office until he sobers up the next morning. By the end of Season 7, Draper has succeeded in curbing his drinking, and has secured his position at the new Sterling Cooper with the help of Roger. However, since his divorce from Betty he has consistently fluctuated between problem drinking and moderation depending on his personal circumstances.
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Don Draper met his future wife, Betty Hofstadt, when she was working as a model, later surprising her when he purchased a fur she wore during a photo shoot. With that gesture being the start of their relationship, Betty and Draper were soon married. The couple later has their first child, Sally, soon followed a son, Bobby. In Season 3, the Drapers have another son, Gene, named after Draper's recently deceased father-in-law.
Draper cheats on his wife repeatedly throughout Seasons 1 and 2. In Season 1, he is involved with Midge Daniels, a pot-smoking beatnik and artist who works out of her small apartment in Greenwich Village. Her bohemian lifestyle and friends do not appeal to Draper, but their relationship offers him an escape from his high-pressure job and life responsibilities. When Draper receives a bonus check of $2,500 from Sterling Cooper, he asks her to vacation with him in Paris. He changes his mind after realizing Midge is in love with a fellow beatnik, and instead stuffs the check into her blouse, telling her to 'go buy a car' with it. Draper doesn't see her again until Season 4, when Midge pretends to inadvertently run into him with the hope of selling a painting to help fund her heroin addiction. He agrees to visit her apartment but, after learning of her true intentions, quickly purchases a painting and leaves.
During and after his affair with Daniels, Draper pursues Rachel Menken, the daughter of Abraham Menken, the elderly Jewish founder of the upscale Menken's Department Store. Rachel Menken is educated, sophisticated, and a savvy businesswoman, assisting her father in running the family business. Despite bickering with her during their initial business meetings, Draper becomes close to her, and they eventually begin an affair. Their relationship collapses after he professes a desire to run away with her, prompting Menken to realize Draper simply wants to run away and forget his responsibilities. She leaves on a cruise to Europe and marries sometime before the beginning of Season 2.
In Season 2, Draper is seduced by Bobbie Barrett, the wife of Jimmy Barrett, an insult comic who is filming a commercial for one of Sterling Cooper's clients, Utz Potato Chips. They continue their affair, taking a trip to Bobbie's beach house in Stony Brook on Long Island, but their plans are interrupted by a car accident followed by his arrest for drunken driving. Unable to post bond with the cash on his person, Draper reaches out to Peggy Olson, who travels from Brooklyn to Long Island by car in the middle of the night and posts his bail. Bobbie Barrett stays with Olson until her injuries from the accident heal. The affair between Barrett and Draper continues until the "Maidenform" episode, when Barrett lets it slip that Draper's previous mistresses have been talking about his sexual prowess. Because he highly values his privacy, Draper is disgusted that his extramarital escapades are being gossiped about, and immediately ends the affair. Draper must continue his professional relationship with the Barretts. The Drapers and the Barretts meet at the Stork Club for a night out. At the end of the evening, Jimmy Barrett reveals to Betty Draper that their spouses have had an affair. When his wife confronts him, Draper repeatedly denies the accusations, infuriating his wife.
Draper's wife appears willing to put her suspicions behind her, however, when she sees the television commercial Jimmy Barrett made for Utz, her anger is reignited. She calls Draper at work and tells him not to come home. Following this, he moves into a hotel room. His father-in-law has another stroke, necessitating a visit from Draper at the Hofstadt home to keep up the appearance of a happy marriage. The Drapers pretend to be a happily married couple while visiting there. In his post-stroke confusion, Hofstadt openly expresses his disdain for his son-in-law, saying, "He's got no people. You can't trust a man like that." Distraught at the rapid decline of her father, Draper is seduced by his wife in the middle of the night, leading him to believe that she has now forgiven him. When they arrive home, however, Draper's wife tells him not to move back in, saying "We were only pretending." Betty Draper later discovers she is pregnant.
Draper impulsively decides to join Peter Campbell on a business trip to Los Angeles. In California, he meets a mysterious European viscount with a 21-year-old daughter named Joy. Despite telling Campbell that the trip is strictly business, Draper joins Joy and her "jet set" family of self-described nomads at their lavish vacation home in Palm Springs. He sleeps with her the same night then leaves Joy the next morning to visit Anna Draper, who convinces him to return home to his wife and family. Later, Draper returns to Ossining and tells his wife he "wasn't respectful" to her. Draper returns home and is told by his wife she is pregnant.
In Season 3, Draper has an affair lasting several months with his daughter's schoolteacher, Suzanne Farrell. Their relationship builds slowly over several accidental meetings and conversations laden with innuendo. They finally consummate their relationship in September 1963. On October 30, 1963, Draper plans a weekend get-away with Suzanne, believing his wife and children are out of town. While his paramour waits in the car, Draper enters his house to retrieve a suitcase and is stunned to find his wife at home. She reveals to Draper that she has found a key to the locked drawer in his desk and discovered the box of photographs and other evidence of his past life, as well as several hundred dollars in emergency escape funds. Forced to reveal his true identity, Draper never returns to the car and Suzanne eventually walks home. He calls her the next day to break off the relationship, even though they have not been discovered, in an unsuccessful attempt to save his marriage. Draper's wife, however, uses his lies about his life and past as an excuse to divorce him in order to marry Henry Francis, an aide to New York State governor Nelson Rockefeller.
Draper's womanizing hits its peak during Season 4, which takes place from 1964 to 1965. At the beginning of Season 4, set in 1964, Draper hires a prostitute to slap him during sex. Roger Sterling's wife, Jane Sterling, sets Draper up with Bethany, a friend of hers. During one weekend of heavy drinking, Draper goes to bed with one woman and blacks out, waking up with a different woman, and having no recollection of what has happened. He continues to visit the prostitute and pay her, eventually setting Lane Pryce up with a 'hooker' friend one night in his apartment.
While Draper is on a trip to California he visits Anna Draper in San Pedro, and attempts to seduce her 18-year-old niece Stephanie. Because she has known Draper since she was a child, she declines and tells him that her aunt is dying of cancer.
When Draper goes home drunk after an office Christmas party, he forgets the keys to his apartment. He asks Allison, his secretary, to deliver the keys to him. Having had a crush on him all along, she retrieves his keys and brings them back to his apartment, where Draper is barely conscious. Instead of leaving his keys and going back to the party, Allison invites herself inside and offers to cook for him. He refuses and collapses onto his couch. As she begins to leave, Draper makes a pass at her; she returns the attention and has sex with him. This later creates tension in their professional relationship when Draper tries to act as if nothing happened and gives her a large Christmas bonus to make up for her inadvertently hurt feelings. Confused and heartbroken, his secretary decides she can no longer work for him or the agency. She asks Draper to write a letter of recommendation for her; he tells her that she can write it herself and that he will sign off on whatever she writes. After she becomes enraged and throws a brass cigarette dispenser at him, she calls him "a bad person" before quitting her job and storming out in tears. Visibly shaken by the encounter, Draper later attempts to write a letter of apology to her, but then decides to leave it be.
Later in Season 4, Draper becomes friendly with Dr. Faye Miller, a consumer psychologist he frequently works with. At the beginning of 1965, before the two start dating, she informs him, "you'll be married by the end of the year." After fending off his gentlemanly advances on several occasions, she begins a romantic relationship with him. During an extreme anxiety attack over being discovered as the AWOL Dick Whitman after seeing what he believes to be FBI agents in his apartment corridor, Don reveals this piece of his checkered past to Dr. Miller. She sympathizes with him and offers emotional support, but also insists he confront the issues in his life and turn himself in. In an emergency, Draper asks her to look after his daughter; Dr. Miller warns him she is not good with children, is inexperienced around them and does not have maternal feelings. At the end of the same episode, his daughter suddenly shows up at the agency's offices and then flees from Draper when he tells her she has to go home to her mother. During her hasty departure, she runs down the hall then trips and falls into the arms of Don's new secretary, Megan Calvet. Dr. Miller feels forced into the situation and gets angry at Don for asking her to watch his daughter, telling him, "it felt like a test, and I failed."
As Season 4 progresses, Draper is no longer visiting prostitutes and seems to have settled down with Dr. Miller. Although he seems to be satisfied in his relationship with her, his secretary, Megan Calvet, seduces him in his office one night, telling him not to worry because she only wants to have sex with him and she won't make a scene about it. After their one-night stand, Draper is surprised by Calvet when she reveals she is intelligent, liberal, and eager to learn from him and Peggy Olson about advertising. With Dr. Miller's consulting firm no longer working with SCDP, she is pleased because she and Draper can now be "out in the open" with their relationship.
During the Season 4 finale, "Tomorrowland," Dr. Miller believes their relationship is stronger than ever. Draper's ex-wife, however, suddenly fires her children's long-time nanny. This leaves Draper scrambling to find a full-time nanny for his three children for their upcoming visit to California. Remembering how his daughter fell into the arms of his new secretary Megan a few months previous, Draper decides to take Megan with them so she can take the children to Disneyland and watch them while he is doing business on the trip. He goes to Anna's house one last time and Anna Draper's niece, Stephanie, tells him that Anna left him the diamond solitaire engagement ring given to her by the real Don Draper upon their engagement. Draper ends up sleeping with Megan during the trip and impulsively decides to propose to her with the engagement ring. He tells her the ring is very special to him and that he "finally feels like himself" with her. Megan accepts, and Draper returns to New York to let the agency partners and Joan Harris know about the engagement. He telephones Dr. Miller, breaking off their relationship by informing her of his engagement. Draper also informs his ex-wife as she is packing up the last moving box from the home they shared together.
When the fifth season opens, in May 1966, it is revealed that Don has told Megan all about his past and his real identity, and that, unlike with Betty and Faye, Don's secret was for the first time not confided under duress, as well as that Megan was sympathetic, accepting and loving in her reaction. It is also revealed that Don and Megan married sometime between seasons four and five (between October 1965 and May 1966) and have moved into a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue and 73rd. Over the course of the first year of his marriage to Megan, Don is besotted with Megan and her natural skill at her work. When Megan decides she wants to quit advertising to pursue her dream of being an actress, Don is initially skeptical and his feelings hurt, but wanting to make her happy, he relents. Don remains fearful of Megan's acting career, and they begin to argue with a little more frequency. One of these arguments is over Don's past relationships, when they encounter one of his former girlfriends, Andrea Rhodes. After encountering Rhodes, Don develops a severe fever and leaves work early to lay down. While he is sleeping, he hallucinates that Rhodes enters his apartment and forces herself upon him sexually even as he tries to tell her "no"; the fever dream climaxes with Don "killing" her. When he wakes the next morning, fever broken, he is terrified before realizing that it was all just a dream and that Megan has been with him all night, nursing him back to health.
In the sixth season, sometime before January 1968, Draper begins an affair with his married downstairs neighbor, Sylvia Rosen. In June 1968, the two of them engage in a days-long BDSM sexual role-play game in a Manhattan hotel. After having a dream about the two of them that she saw as an omen, she ends their affair. When Don later helps Mrs. Rosen's son avoid service in Vietnam, their affair temporarily resumes until they are discovered together by Draper's daughter. After this, Sylvia Rosen is not seen again for the remainder of the season.
Hamm's portrayal of Don Draper received acclaim from critics and audiences alike.
Dan Fienberg of HitFix wrote "Hamm's performance as Don Draper is the decade's definitive star turn, a breakout on par with—here's that name again—what George Clooney did on ER for a brief period of the '90s. All Jon Hamm had to do was convince producers that there was value in Jon Hamm and he's done that in spades. If Matthew Weiner has occasionally pushed up against the limits of Hamm's range, it's only because Draper has been written as such a tortured and frequently unravelling character. To my mind, every time you think you've seen Hamm hit a wall, you get an episode like 'The Hobo Code' or 'For Those Who Think Young' or 'Meditations in an Emergency' or, especially, this past season's 'The Gypsy and the Hobo.'" Bee Wilson of The Guardian praised Hamm's performance writing that "The Eames chairs and hour-glass dresses are a visual treat, but it's really all about Jon Hamm's performance as a man sickened by his womanising and in thrall to his own pretty lies".
In 2010, Entertainment Weekly included Draper on its list of The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years, and in 2015, they named Draper one of the 25 Best TV Characters of the Past 25 Years.
Hamm received eight nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for every season that Mad Men was eligible. Hamm failed to win, losing out many years to Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, who won numerous Emmys for his portrayal of Walter White. Many critics felt that Matthew Weiner unnecessarily split up the final season of Mad Men over two parts and two years so Hamm would have an opportunity for the Emmy at last, since Breaking Bad had already ended its final season. Hamm indeed won his final nomination at the 2015. Hamm crawled onto the stage, making fun of his nearly decade long quest to win an Emmy.