Matthew Weiner’s Journal Pages Reveal Origins of Don Draper
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has told the story of how his show came into being many times: A script that sat in a drawer for years, a hellacious development process that landed the series at a network with almost no experience with scripted shows, and finally—the light of a TV screen. At the Museum of the Moving Image’s “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men” exhibit, however, we see even further back into Weiner’s thought process, the germ of the idea for Don Draper, in pages from Weiner’s journal circa 1992-93. Proto-Don is the protagonist in a feature film Weiner had rattling around in his brain for years, though the story rapidly outgrew that particular format. The handwriting might be a little tough to make out, so we took the liberty of transcribing the pages. (The first one begins in media res.)
“…lifetime and ultimately fails. He goes at his life anew after each mistake, but he cannot rectify his desire for adventure, indulgence, sensation and freedom with his ultimate promises of success, family, home, and work.
My character, has reached the end of a long circle which has been filled with spirals. He has sought his inner desires, to act on them would be suicide (he has fought this also) all the time embraces the promises of the post-depression America. He is raised with hope and an almost arrogant belief that anything can be achieved. He is apathetic about history and politics he doesn’t even follow money. For him the great pleasures of sex + alcohol, (the latter usually to deaden the lack of the former) work into his decisions on everything. Sex is his out, Booze is his tranquilizer which allows him to act on his desires and dampens the damage he does to others. He is capable of great cruelty, and his secret feeling, the ones we deny will be revealed in action. He able be brave and cunning but he is ultimately scared because he runs from death and family —> for him they are the same.”
I have one month to complete this estimable project. I am 50 pages in, my character is still 12 years old and I don’t know how the thing is going to end. In a way it’s just beginning. His adult life was to be the focus for my story and yet as always, any question asked, must be answered. Thus his childhood became important. Perhaps too important.
Now, my thoughts turn to his life. To the events that overlap in his adulthood. Surely if he leaves two families they should have some play in his future. Take his long lost brother Adam. What becomes of him? His wife and daughter, then his second wife, already with children? His trip to Rome? California? Where do the pieces fall? Sequences must be combinations of time not merely simple events. I have finally established a few themes —> 1) Death that follows all men 2) men’s insatiable sexual proclivities 3) Transience of family 4) Need for an enemy 5) Religious beliefs are transcended by realities. 6) time passes.”
The chart at the bottom takes us through proto-Don’s life. The numbers at the top appear to mark decades (1930s, 1940s, 1950s), while the numbers directly at the end of each line mark the length of the segment—remember, this was supposed to be a single feature film, apparently 170 minutes in length. The numbers at the very bottom correspond to proto-Don’s age. He begins life on a farm, moves to Pennsylvania, serves in Korea and drifts, then finds himself in the ad business in New York with a wife and secretary. Then comes Rome (“widow” “daughter”) and California in the ’80s.
Spoiler alert for the end of Mad Men? Probably not, but that might be a good way to throw fans off the scent.