Wednesday 9 May 2012

Dick Whitman

Otherwise known as Don Draper, the main character on Mad Men.

I have only recently started watching Mad Men (I am a little behind the times when it comes to television shows). I’m about done with Season 2, so I’m mostly going to talk about what I know thus far. If you haven’t ever seen the show, there will be spoilers; if you have seen more than two seasons of the show, you will know more than I am revealing.

When the show begins, Don Draper is a high-flying ad exec at Sterling Cooper in Manhattan. Don later becomes a partner at the firm, and he makes tons of cash. It’s funny to see what was a lot of money in the early 1960s – Don gets a huge raise and begins to make $45,000!

Anyway, within the first few episodes of Season 1, it’s revealed that Don is not what he seems. He is, in fact, not really Don Draper at all, but a man named Richard “Dick” Whitman. Dick Whitman was born in Illinois, sometime in the 1920s, to a young prostitute who died giving birth to him. He was subsequently raised by his biological father (although Dick never knew for certain that this man was his actual father) and his father’s wife, Abigail. Dick had an incredibly shitty life: his stepmother called him a “whore child” and his father beat him (Don/Dick later reveals that the beatings caused him to fantasize about murdering his father). When Dick was ten, his father was killed right in front of him when a horse kicked the older man in the face. Abigail then moved with Dick and her younger son Adam to Pennsylvania, and raised them with the help of a man called “Uncle Mac.” Uncle Mac was apparently nice to Dick, so that might have been one bright spot in a terrible, poverty-stricken childhood.

In his twenties, Dick enlisted in the US Army and was sent off to fight in the Korean War. On arrival in Korea, Dick was assigned to help Lieutenant Donald P. Draper, a man several years older and with only a few months left on active duty, build a field hospital. Since it was just the two of them digging the hospital’s foundation, it was pretty slow going. After experiencing some enemy gunfire, Dick accidentally caused a gasoline explosion; Dick was injured but Draper was killed. Sensing a way out of the war zone, Dick switched dog tags with Draper. The Army, believing Dick to be the real Don Draper, sent him home, allowing him to finish his final months of service in the reserves. Dick escorted the coffin of Dick Whitman home, but refused to meet his family. With Dick Whitman dead, he set off to begin a new life as Don Draper.

The new Don Draper worked as a car salesman, then a fur salesman, before ending up in advertising. When he was still selling cars, he was visited by Anna Draper, the widow of the real Don Draper. Anna is a wonderful person and easily accepts that Dick is using her husband’s identity. The two become friends. When Dick/Don meets Betty and wants to marry her, he divorces Anna but continues to support her. He bought her a house in California (seems to be in the greater Los Angeles area) and visited her in Season 2. It’s almost too bad Don didn’t stick with Anna, as she seems to be pretty darn awesome. It might not have worked, however, because she is older than Don and seems to have a big sister-maternal dynamic going on with him.

After his divorce from Anna, Don married Betty, a former model. The two settle down in a huge house in the suburbs and have two children, a son and a daughter (a third child might be on the way). Don works as an ad man, and spends his days drinking like a fish, smoking like a chimney, and adulterating like a rabbit. He has a very intense ethical code when it comes to business, but that code doesn’t prevent him from cheating on his wife with the skill and frequency of an Olympic gold-medalist. From where I’m at now, it seems like this behavior is finally going to bite him in the ass.

I feel that Dick’s masquerade as Don Draper really helps us to understand why he’s so good at advertising. Don is perpetually selling himself, which in turns helps him sell products. His life is nothing but an advertisement for Madison Avenue.

For more, watch the show or check out Don’s Wikipedia page.

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