If you’re counting the days until Don Draper and “Mad Men” returns for its final half season, you’re not alone. April 5th cannot come soon enough. And though we can’t make the time pass any faster, we can offer a little “Mad Men” tidbit that might help tide you over as you tick the calendar days off one-by-one.
Created by Matthew Weiner, and expertly portrayed by Jon Hamm, Don Draper is one of the most complex, mysterious, dysfunctional, needy, broken (anti)heroes on television. He’s an intricate, detailed character worthy of in-depth study for anyone hoping to create an everlasting, memorable protagonist. But is he entirely a work of Weiner’s creation, or does Don Draper have a real-life origin? Vice news recently asked the same question, and if you haven’t heard of George Lois, the answer might surprise you.
According to Jane Maas, the Creative Director once in charge of the “I Love New York” campaign, “George Lois was the bad boy of the 1960s. At one point, a client turned down an advertisement that George was very proud of, and George threatened to throw himself out of the window of the 14th floor of their advertising agency. And the client said, ‘No, no, we’ll buy it. We’ll publish it.’”
When exactly Weiner first heard about Lois remains ambiguous, but it’s hard to deny the similarities between Draper and the real-life, larger-than-life ad man from the ’60s. Neither humor nor irony — both standard advertising practices now — were commonly employed tools when Lois was starting out at ad firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. However, within a year, he had become successful and highly-acclaimed enough for his visionary work that he set out to start his own agency, Papert Koenig Lois, with a few other colleagues. Within a mere seven years, PKL was worth $40 million dollars. Amazing.
Be sure to watch for a great anecdote George recalls from his first year at PKL, which comes in at about the 4:26 mark (the story Lois remembers seems exactly like something Draper would do). The firm had been hired to do a TV spot for Xerox. George’s idea was simple enough — use a little girl helping her dad at the office by making a copy for him to show America how simple the Xerox machine was to operate. Apparently, barely a week after the commercial aired, the FCC called Lois. The Federal Communications Commission refused to accept that a child could successfully make a Xerox without adult help. Lois’ response was pure genius — he restaged the commercial almost shot for shot. Only this time, he used a chimpanzee instead.
If the name of one of Lois’ partners in his firm, Papert Koenig Lois, sounds familiar, it’s because “Serial” and “This American Life” reporter, Sarah Koenig, is Julian Koenig’s daughter. At about the 10-minute mark of the video, Vice includes a snippet of an interview she conducted with her father about his talented and infamous business partner. The words are… not kind. “The greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner, George Lois,“ Koenig claims. He continues, saying that Lois’ “talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego.” There was no “we” in Lois’ book. Only “me.” Sounds a tiny bit like Don, Pete, and Roger squaring off.
So what does Lois think of Don Draper? “Don Draper was a womanizer and had no talent. I’m the opposite, in every respect. And I was better looking than him in those days.” Watch the entire 13-minute story below.