I'm living like there's no tomorrow. Because there isn't one.
~ Don Draper's outlook on life

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.

The character of Don Draper is partially inspired by Draper Daniels, a creative director at Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago in the 1950s, who worked on the Marlboro Man campaign.

Character biography

Early life

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 10-year-old Dick witnessed.

Dick was raised primarily by Archie's wife Abigail, who treated him with cruelty because she saw his very existence as a reminder of her husband’s infidelity. She had a son named Adam, who was Dick's half-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 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 Aimée. She took his virginity in a way that creator Matthew Weiner stated concerned "His relationship to sex and molestation" and reviewer Abigail Rine described more directly as rape.

Korean War and change in identity

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 (“The real Don Draper”, played by Canadian stage and screen actor Troy Ruptash), a combat 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 a 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 commit 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 close friend and confidante until her death from bone cancer in 1965.

Life as "Don Draper"

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 he keeps his true character 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. They have two children - Sally, born in 1954 or early 1955, and Bobby, born in 1957 or early 1958. The marriage is a rocky one, with Draper having numerous affairs. They file for divorce in 1964 after Betty discovers his true identity, and she later marries the Republican political operative Henry Francis. Don marries his secretary, Megan Draper, 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 (rebranded Sterling Cooper & Partners, SC&P) 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 SC&P's payroll. Megan has moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, and asks him for a divorce. Feeling guilty over his past infidelities, Draper gives her a generous divorce settlement. SC&P 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 Draper and other partners' support, sells SC&P to McCann as an independent and separate subsidiary. The arrangement lasts for a year before McCann decides to fully absorb SC&P. 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 Draper 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.

Don Draper and women

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 Don were soon married. The couple later has their first child, Sally, soon followed by a son, Bobby. In Season 3, the Drapers have another son, Gene, named after Betty's recently deceased father.

Don cheats on his wife repeatedly throughout Seasons 1 and 2. In Season 1, he is involved with Midge Daniels, a pot-smoking artist and beatnik who works out of a small apartment in Greenwich Village. Her bohemian lifestyle and friends do not appeal to Don, but their relationship offers him an escape from his high-pressure job and life of responsibilities. When he 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. Don 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, somberly purchases a painting and leaves.

During and after his affair with Daniels, Don 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, Don and she become intimate, 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 has an affair with 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. Don admires her savvy and boldness and the pair enter into a sexualized power struggle. 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. Arrested for drunk driving and unable to post bond with the cash on his person, Don reaches out to Peggy, who travels from Brooklyn to Long Island in the middle of the night to post his bail. Bobbie stays with Peggy until her injuries from the accident heal. The affair between Barrett and Draper continues until the episode "Maidenform", when Barrett lets it slip that Draper's previous mistresses have been talking about his sexual prowess. Because he highly values his privacy, Don is disgusted that his extramarital escapades are being gossiped about, and immediately ends the affair. Don 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 that their spouses have had an affair. When his wife confronts him, Draper repeatedly denies the accusations, infuriating his wife.

The strain leads to Don and Betty's first separation, and he moves into a hotel room. His father-in-law has another stroke, necessitating a visit from Don 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." Don comforts Betty, who is distraught at her father’s decline, and they have sex, leading him to believe that she has now forgiven him. When they arrive home, however, Betty tells him not to move back in, saying "We were only pretending."

His life in flux, Don impulsively decides to join Pete 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. Don returns home and Betty reveals she is pregnant.

In episode 1 of season 3, Don and colleague Salvatore Romano go on a business trip to Baltimore. Don has a one-night-stand with stewardess Shelly. She tells Don she's engaged and that this may be the only chance she has left to dally. He responds: "I've been married a long time; you get plenty of chances."

In Season 3, Don 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. Don becomes infatuated by Suzanne's optimism and kindness and they finally consummate their relationship in September 1963. On October 30, 1963, Don plans a weekend get-away with Suzanne, believing his wife and children are out of town. While his paramour waits in the car, he enters his house to retrieve a suitcase and is stunned to find his wife at home. She reveals that she's found a key to the locked drawer in Don's 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, Don never returns to the car and Suzanne eventually walks home. Even though they have not been discovered, he calls her the next day to break off the relationship. Don begins an unsuccessful attempt to save his marriage, but Betty 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.

Following the dissolution of his marriage, Don's relationship with women reaches its nadir during Season 4, which takes place from 1964 to 1965. At the beginning of Season 4, set in 1964, he hires a prostitute named Candace to slap him during sex. Roger Sterling's wife, Jane Sterling, sets Don up with Bethany, a friend of hers. They go on three dates and he regards her as sweet and pretty but interchangeable and the relationship goes nowhere. After winning at the Clio Awards and during a weekend of heavy drinking, Don goes to bed with one woman and blacks out, wakes up with a different woman, and has no recollection of what has happened. He continues to visit the prostitute and pay her, eventually setting Lane Pryce up with the prostitute one night in his apartment. While 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 has cancer. Later in the season, as Anna is on her deathbed, Don repeatedly contemplates calling her, but can't bring himself to say goodbye until it's too late.

When Don 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, Don makes a pass at her; she returns the attention and has sex with him. This later creates tension in their professional relationship when Don 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, Allison decides she can no longer work for him or the agency and finds another job. She asks Don 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. Insulted and enraged, she throws a brass cigarette dispenser at him, calls him "a bad person," and storms out in tears. Visibly shaken by the encounter, Don later attempts to write a letter of apology to her, but then decides to leave it be.

Later in Season 4, Don 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 after believing he'd been discovered as the AWOL Dick Whitman, Don reveals his checkered past to Dr. Miller. She responds with sympathy and emotional support, and advises he confront the issues in his life and turn himself in. In another episode, Don's daughter Sally suddenly shows up at the agency's offices, and 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, Sally flees from Don, runs down the hall, then trips and falls into the arms of Don's new secretary, Megan Calvet who consoles the child much more effectively than Faye did. 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, Don 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, he begins to notice and grow close with his secretary, Megan. Don is surprised when Megan reveals herself to be intelligent, liberal, and eager to learn from him and Peggy Olson about advertising. Don's business faces a severe hardship that indirectly threatens his and Faye's relationship. Megan seeks to help relieve his tensions and the pair engage in a consensual sex in his office one night; Don is ambivalent at first but Megan assuredly tells him not to worry because she only wants to have sex with him and she won't make a scene about it. 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. However, when Betty suddenly fires her children's long-time nanny, Don scrambles to find a nanny for his three children for their upcoming visit to California and, remembering how good Megan was with children previous, asks Megan to accompany them 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. Don 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 upon returning to New York, Don telephones Dr. Miller, an breaks off their relationship by informing her of his engagement. Don also informs his ex-wife as she is packing up the last moving box from the home they shared together in Ossining.

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". Rhodes describes a scene of the past of them having sex, while his wife, Betty, is waiting for him around the corner. 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. Don and Sylvia both feel discontented with their respective marriages and enjoy the thrill and convenience of their secret affair, but struggle to balance feelings of guilt; Don is friends with Sylvia's husband Arnold and Sylvia is close with Megan. 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, Sylvia 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.

As the series ends in season seven, Don, now divorced a second time is reminded of Rachel Menken while dealing with a conflict at work. He reaches out to her only to discover that she has died of cancer. Not long after, he runs into Diana Bauer, a waitress who bears a resemblance to Rachel. The two begin an affair, but it comes crashing down when it's revealed Diana is dealing with her past. Don encourages her to forget it and move on, but she insists that's the wrong way to deal with life and the two go their separate ways.


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 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 initially dislike one another, as 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 rather than professional talent. Don and Pete eventually 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 also has a close relationship with Roger Sterling. They are generally depicted as overlooking each other's personal failings and supporting one another 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 Betty Draper 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. At multiple points, Don shows more patience and understanding toward his father-in-law than his wife. After Gene's death, however, Draper tells Betty that he and her father hated each other.

Like many other characters in the series Draper is a heavy drinker, with his cocktail of choice being an Old Fashioned. While Canadian Club is his preferred liquor, bottles of Jameson, Smirnoff, and Tanqueray can also be seen in his home and office.

Throughout the series, Draper displays signs of alcoholism, which eventually deteriorates to a level of alcohol dependency that endangers his job. In Season 4, following his divorce from Betty, his drinking reaches a point that he begins experiencing alcoholic blackouts, resulting in his keeping a journal as means of coming to terms with his situation and cutting down on his consumption. 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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