Mad Men Memos: Character Bios

Ever since it hit the airwaves last summer, AMC’s “Mad Men” has had both the ad world and audiences at large abuzz over its seductive style, arresting performances and – perhaps more than anything else – its delicately nuanced, endlessly engrossing storylines. Sure, it isn’t the first time the industry has been depicted in prime time (see “Bewitched” for a classic example or, more recently, “thirtysomething“), but it may well be the best. Simply put: If you’re not a fan yet, you should be.

Check here for recaps of every episode, starting with weekly updated episode summaries of the current season.

This Week’s Memo: An Introduction

In case you’ve just jumped onto the Mad Men bandwagon (perhaps lured by the recent Emmy wins), here’s a primer on some of the main characters:


Don DraperDon Draper – Don is our primary protagonist, an expert ad man who likes to drink and smoke and sleep with women who are not his wife. One of the main things that propelled the plot last season was the gradual reveal of his mysterious past, like that his mother was a prostitute who perished during childbirth, and that he was raised by people who hated him, oh and also that his name isn’t really Don Draper. Dick Whitman, as he used to be known, strains at making personal connections, living something of a lie with his Cleaver-esque clan in the suburbs.


Betty DraperBetty Draper – Don’s doting wife, whose classical beauty is marred only slightly by her tendency to turn into a total nutbar sometimes. Last season she shared an odd flirtation with a neighbor’s young son, took (literal) pot shots at another neighbor’s pet pigeons and experienced a bizarre, recurring case of numbness in her hands. Don reluctantly sent her to a therapist, and spent several late nights phoning the doctor on the sly to get the scoop on her condition.


Peggy OlsenPeggy Olsen – Peggy started out at Sterling Cooper as a lowly receptionist, but by the end of Season 1 had scored a gig as a junior copywriter, making her the show’s most upwardly mobile female. Despite often being something of a moral compass in a wanton sea of workplace vice, she’s been known to slip up a few times herself, sharing a pair of trysts with married account exec Pete Campbell. At the end of the season, in the most shocking fictional pregnancy since the Immaculate Conception, Peggy (Preggy?) gave surprise birth to Pete’s illegitimate child. No one found out about this, save for Peggy’s immediate family (who now care for the infant) and, eventually, her boss, Don Draper.


Pete CampbellPete Campbell – Pete is kind of the office weasel – a whiny, overly ambitious man-child with Machiavelllian machinations who likes to sit at home and cook up schemes to get ahead at Sterling Cooper, often while wearing pajamas. Last season he had some pretty epic tangles with Don, like when he exposed his secret identity to the company’s co-founder, Bertram Cooper, who responded with a resounding “Who cares?”


Ken, Harry, Paul and SalAd men not named Don or Pete – This cadre of cads rounds out the regular cast. Ken Cosgrove is tall and goofy, and moonlights as a successful short story writer. Harry Crane is a likable butterball in dorky glasses. Paul Kinsey looks a little like Orson Welles and, fittingly, thinks himself a genius. Salvatore Romano is secretly gay, and extremely bad at not being completely obvious about it.


JoanJoan – This curvaceous red-headed siren is the unabashed object of nearly everyone’s workplace affections. Relishing her role as Sterling Cooper’s resident bombshell, she often uses her looks to her advantage. She also serves as something of a den mom (though sometimes more like a vitriol spewing sorority sister) to the rest of the Sterling Cooper secretaries.