20 Fascinating Facts About Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

In “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Mad Men’s pilot episode, Don Draper drops a hard truth on client/love interest (who isn’t his wife) Rachel Menken when he tells her that he’s “living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” Amazingly, that was 10 years ago. As fans of Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed advertising drama celebrate the beloved series' 10th anniversary, we’ve gathered up 20 facts you might not have known about Mad Men.


Matthew Weiner dreamed up the idea for Mad Men while working as a writer on the Ted Danson sitcom Becker. He wrote the pilot in 1999.


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In 2002, Weiner sent the Mad Men pilot to David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, as a writing sample. In 2012, The New York Times asked Chase how Weiner came to his attention. “We were looking for writers, as we always were, and he was submitted,” Chase recalled. “He told me later that he insisted that he be submitted—his agents didn’t want to do it. And what was submitted to me was the pilot for Mad Men. And it was quite good, and I met with him and he was hired. And then two or three years later, he took that pilot and apparently got somewhere with it.”


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Before AMC signed on to broadcast Mad Men, Weiner spent some time shopping the script around. Considering its dark content, HBO seemed like the perfect fit. David Chase thought so, too, and delivered the script for the Mad Men pilot to the network's executives himself. Though HBO has never made any official comment about passing on the series, according to a 2009 story in Vanity Fair, both Chase and Weiner told the writer that “HBO indicated it would make Mad Men on the condition that Chase be an executive producer, and Chase said he had further discussion with Weiner about directing the pilot, but despite being ‘very tempted’ by directing, he said no to both propositions, wanting to move away from weekly television.”


At least parts of Don Draper are based on a real person: Draper Daniels, the legendary Chicago ad man who, while creative head at Leo Burnett, invented the Marlboro Man. In 2009, Daniels’ wife even penned a piece for Chicago Magazine about the real-life Don Draper, noting that Weiner “acknowledged that he based his protagonist Don Draper in part on Draper Daniels, whom he called ‘one of the great copy guys.’”


Because The Sopranos’s final season was shot in two parts, Weiner took advantage of the hiatus he had to shoot the pilot episode of Mad Men. He was able to recruit several of his collaborators on The Sopranos to help. “Matt asked Alan Taylor to direct while all his buddies on The Sopranos were on hiatus,” Rob Sorcher, AMC’s former executive VP of programming and production, told TV Insider. “They shot the pilot in 10 days in Queens.”


Though Mad Men is largely a New York story, all but one episode—the pilot—were shot in Los Angeles.


In TV Insider’s oral history of the series, Weiner said that nearly a year elapsed between shooting the pilot for Mad Men and its second episode. “There’s seven years between when I first wrote the pilot, and then writing the second episode,” Weiner explained. “A lot about my vision changed in terms of how the storytelling would be done. Ultimately it was done very much in the pilot the way we continued to do it. But I didn’t know if it was just going to be a premise, or if we were going to be able to do something like that every week.”


Frank Ockenfels/AMC

John Slattery, who played Roger Sterling, originally auditioned for the role of Don Draper. When asked by ShortList.com whether he secretly hated Jon Hamm for getting the part, Slattery laughed that, “[Hamm] says I did, and not even secretly, but … no, I didn’t hate him, deep down. The thing is, it was apparent from the beginning how annoyingly good he was in that role. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to play something as subtle as he does. Trying to communicate so much from a guy who keeps his cards so close to his chest is almost an impossibility.”


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January Jones auditioned not once but twice for the role of Peggy Olson, which eventually went to Elisabeth Moss. But Weiner had another part in mind for Jones, even if he hadn’t really written it yet. “I came in for Peggy twice,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “Matt said, ‘Well, there’s another role, but I don’t really know what’s going to happen with her.’ He didn’t have any scenes for me, so he quickly wrote a couple.”


In 2011, Weiner participated in a wide-ranging Q&A with Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin in Los Angeles. When asked about how Mad Men might have been different had it sold to HBO, Weiner replied that “Mad Men is TV-14, not even TV-MA. I’m allowed three 'sh*ts' a show. I can say ‘Jesus,’ I can say ‘Christ,’ but I can’t say ‘Jesus Christ’ unless he’s actually there.”


The old-school cigarette brand, which played a recurring role on the show since its very beginning, benefited from its association with Mad Men: The company nearly doubled its sales during the show's run (selling an additional 10 billion cigarettes).


“My wife, Linda Brettler, is a big contributor to the show,” Weiner told Fresh Air. “She reads the scripts and so forth and really weighs in on things. And later and later in the process each year, actually, it’s gotten more helpful for her to see, like, what I’m trying to do and then weigh in on it.” Weiner points to a very specific example of this, with season five’s “Lady Lazarus” episode: “It’s the [episode] where Megan quits, where Megan rejects Don’s way of life, and Don doesn’t even know how painful it’s going to be … [My wife] pitched this idea that he opens it and sees that elevator is not there. And to me, yes, it is really physical danger—'I almost dodged a bullet.' But what it was really about to me is, how do I convey to the audience that this man—because we’ve seen him react to things: he’s going to drink, he’s going to go and bang some stranger, he’s going to medicate in whatever way he does—how do we express the deep feelings of loss that he has as he says goodbye to his wife, to his idealized version of his romantic relationship?”


Weiner paid big bucks to close out that “Lady Lazarus” episode, spending $250,000 to license the rights to The Beatles’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”—which was a small price to pay for authenticity. “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of The Beatles performing,” Weiner told The New York Times. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”


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Jessica Paré, as the new Mrs. Draper, stole the season five premiere when she serenaded Don with her sexy take on “Zou Bisou Bisou.” It didn’t take long for her performance to transcend television and take over the music world, eventually becoming the number one song on Billboard’s World Digital chart


Both Vincent Kartheiser and Jay Ferguson—who played Pete Campbell and Stan Rizzo, respectively—got a taste of what it feels like to be a teen idol back in the 1990s. Kartheiser’s career kicked off in 1993 with a small role in the Christian Slater film Untamed Heart; bigger parts in Little Big League, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Alaska followed. Ferguson’s fame came when he was cast as Ponyboy Curtis in the 1990 TV adaptation of The Outsiders.


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Booze-swilling ad man Freddy Rumsen is played by Joel Murray, brother of Bill Murray.


“You don’t want actors smoking real cigarettes,” Weiner told The New York Times. “They get agitated and nervous. I’ve been on sets where people throw up, they’ve smoked so much.” Instead, they smoke herbal cigarettes. “They’re disgusting,” Christina Hendricks told Esquire.


In 2009, The Wall Street Journal went behind the scenes of Mad Men and discovered something interesting: It was a female-dominated world. At the time, seven of the show’s nine writers were female. And five of the third season’s 13 episodes were directed by women.


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Glen Bishop, the Drapers’ creepy kid neighbor who obsesses over Betty before moving on to Sally, is played by Matthew Weiner’s son, Marten. “He was cast because he was the best person available for the role,” Weiner told NPR. “I would have never thought of him if he wasn’t my son. It was actually someone else’s idea, and I was counseled against it from all the complications that could happen from him failing at that job. But he really nailed it, and he’s a really good actor.”


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In 2013, then-13-year-old Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper, told The Huffington Post that she had never actually watched an episode of Mad Men. “I’m probably allowed to watch them, but I don’t because obviously I wasn’t allowed to at the beginning,” she explained. “Now I figure it’s just best to sort of wait until the show’s over and maybe when I’m 16 or 17, I’ll binge watch them or something fun … I’ll go on Netflix or something.”

15 Uncensored Facts About Midnight Cowboy

Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

On May 25, 1969, United Artists released the film Midnight Cowboy, starring Jon Voight (Texas transplant Joe Buck) and Dustin Hoffman (the sleazy Ratso Rizzo) as street hustlers in New York City. It was the first studio film to receive an X-rating (the studio refused to edit anything out), and it became the first X-rated movie to be nominated and win a Best Picture Oscar (A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris followed suit with X-rated nominations). Hoffman and Voight were also nominated for Oscars, and screenwriter Waldo Salt and director John Schlesinger ended up winning gold statuettes for the movie. After the movie became a success, the MPAA demoted its rating to an R.

Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy, the controversial film managed to gross $44 million—about $200 million by today’s standards. The movie saved the careers of its actors, producers, and Salt, who had been blacklisted and fallen on hard times. It also produced a hit song, Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Here are 15 facts about the landmark film.

1. John Schlesinger was reluctant to hire Dustin Hoffman.

Like everybody else, the filmmakers associated Dustin Hoffman with Benjamin Braddock, the clean-cut twentysomething he played in The Graduate. “The truth was, I saw The Graduate as a setback, because I was determined not to be a star,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. Hoffman was doing Off Broadway performances during the casting of Midnight Cowboy, so Schlesinger checked him out in a play. Hoffman frequented an automat with fellow thespians Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall; one night Hoffman showed up there with a scruffy beard, disheveled clothes, and a Bowery accent. Schlesinger said to Hoffman, “Why Dustin, you do fit right in,” and he got the part.

2. Mike Nichols tried to talk Dustin Hoffman out of doing the movie.

Dustin Hoffman appears on the set of the film 'Midnight Cowboy' in 1969 in the USA
Dustin Hoffman stars in Midnight Cowboy (1969).
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Hot off the heels of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, Hoffman could’ve kept his romantic lead image up, but instead he opted to take a supporting part in Midnight Cowboy. “Mike Nichols, in fact, called me up,” Hoffman told Peter Travers. “And he says, ‘Are you crazy?’ He says, ‘I made you a star. This is an ugly character. It’s a supporting part to Jon Voight.’ He says, ‘What are you doing? Why are you sabotaging?’” But Hoffman stuck to his guns and took the role. “I love the fact I was trying to remain a character actor and that was my desire,” he said.

3. Jon Voight was cast only after the original actor was fired.

Jon Voight auditioned for the role of Joe Buck and really wanted the part, but the producers chose Michael Sarrazin, whose major claim to fame is the 1969 Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “Sometimes I would be offered a role and I would recommend somebody else—I was that kind of person,” Voight told Box Office Mojo. “Yet this one stopped me because the thing I was excited about for this piece wasn’t going to happen. I felt quite sick about it.”

Fortunately for Voight, the producers changed their minds when Sarrazin demanded more money. “It came back to looking at our screen tests back to back,” said Voight. “Apparently, Marion Dougherty, who was the casting director, was in the room and said, ‘Well, there’s no doubt who's the best actor.’ John Schlesinger said, ‘Who?’ And she said, ‘Jon Voight.’ Then, Dustin was called in to look at the tests and apparently he said, ‘When I look at my scene with Michael Sarrazin I look at myself—when I looked at my scene with Jon Voight, I look at Jon.’ That was a huge compliment. I think between these comments, that’s what tipped the balance and then John [Schlesinger] came forward, so I was very fortunate.”

4. Voight worked for scale.

Voight was so desperate to play Joe Buck that he worked for scale: “‘Tell them I'll do this part for nothing,’” Voight told The Telegraph. “They took me at my word, and they gave me minimum for Midnight Cowboy.” At the end of the shoot, they sent him a $14.73 bill for meals on the last day of filming.

5. Hoffman thought the movie would ruin his career.

The actor attended a preview of Midnight Cowboy and noticed “people walked out in droves.”

“Twenty minutes into that movie, Jon Voight has a gay sex scene in the balcony with a kid who was played by Bob Balaban, and people would get up at that point and just walk out of the theater,” Hoffman told Larry King. “We said, ‘We have big problems’ when we heard we got an X-rating and we thought this could end everybody’s career. As a matter of fact, I was talked into doing a movie I wished I hadn’t done, because they had me so frightened that I had buried myself and reversed whatever good The Graduate did.” Hoffman’s agent forced him to star with Mia Farrow in the romantic drama John and Mary to make him “look like a respectable person.”

6. Voight knew the film was destined to become a classic.

Voight and Schlesinger wrapped filming in Texas and Voight noticed how red the director’s face was. Voight thought Schlesinger was having a heart attack and asked him if he was okay. “He looked up at me and said, ‘What have we done? What will they think of us?’ After all, we had made a film about a dishwasher who lives in New York and f*cks a lot of women,” Voight told Esquire. “In the moment he’d finished it, he was shaking. All of a sudden, he saw it as banal and vulgar. He’s having an anxiety attack and I grabbed his shoulders to shake him out of it. I said, ‘John, we will live the rest of our artistic lives in the shadow of this great masterpiece.’ He said, ‘You think so?’ I said, ‘I’m absolutely sure of it.’ The only reason I said such an extravagant thing was because I wanted to get him out of it and nothing would take him out of it but that. But the statement turned out to be true.”

7. Voight and Hoffman were competitive with each other.

What made the chemistry between Hoffman and Voight work so well is they were constantly competing with one another. Hoffman became a movie star before Voight did, and that brought some jealousy to the set. “We were like Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, two fighters going at it,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. “We knew the movie depended on the bond between us. All through shooting, we’d say to each other, out of the side of our mouths, like a fighter in a clinch, ‘Buddy, is that the best you can do?’”

8. Hoffman placed pebbles in his shoe to acquire Ratso’s limp.

“Why pebbles? It’s not like you’re playing a role on Broadway for six months where you’re so used to it, limping becomes second nature,” Hoffman told Vanity Fair. “The stone makes you limp, and you don’t have to think about it.”

9. Schlesinger came out during the movie’s production.

In the late 1960s, one's sexuality wasn't often discussed in the open. But the British director fell in love with Michael Childers, who worked as his assistant on the movie. “We were one of Hollywood’s first out couples,” Childers told Vanity Fair. “He took me everywhere. I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times, but John never did. He said, ‘F*ck ‘em.’”

“John was totally torn up, because part of him wanted to just embrace this, and another part of him was in terror,” the film’s producer, Jerome Hellman, said. “He had these fantasies that if he were openly gay on a film set, that if he tried to give the crew an order, they would turn on him. I said to him, ‘John, look, you’re the director. It’s your movie. I’m the producer, but I’m your partner. There’s nobody who can challenge your authority. If someone speaks out of line to you, they’ll be fired the same minute.’”

10. The famous “I’m Walkin’ Here” line was improvised.

The scene in which Joe and Ratso attempt to walk across the street and almost get hit by a cab was filmed guerilla-style, with a camera in a van across the street. “It was a difficult scene, logistically, because those were real pedestrians and there was real traffic, and Schlesinger wanted to do it in one shot—he didn’t want to cut,” Hoffman explained. “He wanted us to walk, like, a half a block, and the first times we did it the signal turned red. Schlesinger was getting very upset. He came rushing out of the van, saying, ‘Oh, oh, you’ve got to keep walking.’ ‘We can’t, man. There’s f*cking traffic.’ ‘Well, you’ve got to time it.’”

They figured out how to properly time the walk but then almost got run over by a cab. “I guess the brain works so quickly, it said, in a split of a second, ‘Don’t go out of character,’” Hoffman said. “So I said, ‘I’m walking here,’ meaning, ‘We’re shooting a scene here, and this is the first time we ever got it right, and you have f*cked us up.’ Schlesinger started laughing. He clapped his hands and said, ‘We must have that, we must have that,’ and re-did it two or three times, because he loved it.”

11. Hoffman threw up on set while trying to cough.

Talk about Method: Ratso has a deadly cough (consumption), and in a particular scene Hoffman got sick in real life. “Because I was so nervous that I was going to come across fraudulent and not have the right cough, I tried to do the cough as realistically as I could,” Hoffman told Vanity Fair. “Each time, I tried to do it more realistically until, finally, I did it so realistically I threw up all over Jon. My lunch came up. All over his cowboy boots. Jon looked down. He said, ‘Man, why’d you do that?’ He thought I did it on purpose.”

12. Schlesinger didn’t think anybody would make the movie today.

In 1994, the director found himself at a dinner party with a studio executive. “I said, ‘If I brought you a story about this dishwasher from Texas who goes to New York dressed as a cowboy to fulfill his fantasy of living off rich women, doesn’t, is desperate, meets a crippled consumptive who later pisses his pants and dies on a bus, would you—’ and he said, ‘I’d show you the door,’” Vanity Fair reported in 2000.

13. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl pays tribute to Midnight Cowboy.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 2015 Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl features two friends who turn The Criterion Collection movies into film school comedies. One of those films is Midnight Cowboy, renamed as 2:48 p.m. Cowboy. In the film, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) portray Ratso and Buck, respectively.

Midnight Cowboy became my favorite movie,” Cyler said in a featurette on Greg and Earl’s films. “Now I can’t stop watching it. I’m addicted to it. I’ll be in my trailer. ‘RJ, whatcha doing?’ ‘Watching Midnight Cowboy with some ramen noodles right now.’ It’s just so quirky the way the parody was made, and not just because I got to wear a beautiful cowboy hat.”

14. There’s a speakeasy bar in Austin named after the film.

Midnight Cowboy the bar is located inside a former oriental massage parlor that was busted by the FBI, hence the seedy name. It has a red light—not a sign—outside to mark the place. In order to drink there, you need to make a reservation online, and when you get there, you buzz the box and give the password “Harry Craddock.” They have rules, though: no talking on your cell phone inside the bar, and no “excessive displays of public affection.”

15. A Chicago theater turned it into a stage production.

Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre puts on a lot of literary adaptations, and in 2016 they presented a stage version of Midnight Cowboy, based on the book.

Updated for 2019.

Game of Thrones Studio Tour Opening in Northern Ireland in 2020

Emilia Clarke stars in Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke stars in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

In a move that only a super-popular series could pull off, it was announced last year that HBO’s Game of Thrones would be getting its own 110,000-square-foot tourist attraction in Northern Ireland (where much of the show has been filmed) featuring scenes, sets, and props from Westeros. And of course, fans were instantly interested.

While the initial plan was to open the attraction this year, that date has been pushed back and an expansion on the original concept has been added.

Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Ireland has partnered with Game of Thrones's creators to convert the studios into an exhibition. The sets were used for filming scenes in Winterfell and Castle Black, but the display will include props, costumes, live-action cosplayers, and set pieces representing all of the show’s locations.

While other interactive fan events have already been held, such as the display at SXSW and the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, this will be the most extensive and in-depth experience for diehard fans of the series.

When asked about the possibility of bringing a similar attraction to the U.S., Jeff Peters, HBO’s vice president for licensing and retail, told The New York Times that there were no set plans yet, but, “it’s possible. We get pitched all the time, and we’re open to a lot of different opportunities.”

[h/t The A.V. Club]