Mad Men’s Greatest Influence Is A Movie You’ve Never Seen

50 years ago, Edward Dmytryk’s Mirage paved the way for Mad Men.

Who is Don Draper? It’s a question that drove seasons of the hit AMC show Mad Men, which comes to a close this Sunday.


It turns out Don Draper is more or less Gregory Peck, who plays an amnesiac accountant in the 1965 film, Mirage.

Show creator Matthew Weiner has cited the film, and Peck’s performance, as inspirations of Mad Men. Speaking recently at a film series he curated in Brooklyn, Weiner said he first saw Mirage as a kid when he was home sick one day, and joked about taking so many cues from the film that he’s worried we might think less of him for it.

Mirage isn’t the only film that influenced Mad Men, but it seems to have been the most impactful.

Peck’s story begins in a Manhattan skyscraper. The lights have gone out. No one can see. And slowly, Peck realizes that he has no real idea who he is.

Mirage opens with silhouettes in shadows.

Mad Men‘s opening credits are silhouettes, too.


Here’s a shot of Gregory Peck playing the character David Stillwell.

Here’s a shot of Jon Hamm playing the character Don Draper.

Once the film starts, it’s not hard to spot the uncanny similarities.The two might as well be twins, and film buffs (or conspiracy theorists!) will easily spot more elements that were transferred more or less 1:1 from Mirage to Mad Men.

This guy on the street?

He’s totally Jared Harris playing Lane Pryce.

Walter Abel playing Charles Stewart Calvin?


He’s totally Robert Morse playing Bert Cooper.

Note that they both decorate their desks with artifacts of Orientalism, though Cooper as a character certainly brings the fun in more than Calvin.

And once you start really looking, maybe it’s just the fashion but…

…everyone begins looking familiar.

In both Mirage and Mad Men, the elevator is a place for chance encounters…

…often that the protagonists would rather avoid.


Then there’s the whole bald shrink motif.

Bald shrinks are a big part of early seasons of Mad Men.

Complete with a marble bust…

…in each.

Beyond those superficial influences, there are other parallel narratives at play between Mirage and Mad Men. Much like Richard “Dick” Whitman is an east coast fur coat seller who finds the origins of his alter ego Don Draper in California, so too does David Stillwell discover that his other self is hiding in California.

But the biggest similarity, of course, is that impending fall. We see it right in the opening credits of Mad Men where an ad man–presumably Don Draper–falls out the window of a Manhattan skyscraper.


In Mirage, Stillwell has flashbacks of Calvin falling out a window beginning in the first few minutes of the film.

As Mirage‘s storyline progresses, the question becomes, was it a suicide? Or did Stillwell throw his boss out of the window?

And as Mad Men approaches its last episode, we’re left contemplating those opening credits, and a moment in this season where Don stood by his new window at MCANN, only to hear the air rushing in from the outside…

…and even this moment from season 1 episode 12, right after Peter Campbell threatens to out Don’s dual identity. He turns to the window and looks out at the sky.

Will Don’s fall be literal or metaphorical?

Will it be murder or suicide?


Actually, our bet is that Don already had his “fall” from advertising when he walked out of that Miller Lite meeting a few weeks back. And where he goes next is something none of us know yet.

With contributions by Adrian Covert.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the actor Walter Abel as Walter Alber.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach