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'Mad Men' Creator Matt Weiner on His Hollywood Struggles, and How George Lois Is Like Tony Soprano, Not Don Draper

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What’s that script about?
It’s called The Horseshoe, and you see a lot of horseshoes in the show. It had a line: “Life’s like a horseshoe. It’s open on both ends and hard all the way through.” It was my attempt to do books and movies that I admired, like Little Big Man or Casanova or The World According to Garp, 100 Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera, which is my favorite book ever written. I wanted to tell a story about the generation born in the Great Depression that came to run the country. It was about this man who fabricated his life, and it was very crude and gritty, and it talked about a lot of subjects in American history that are ignored, which have shown up in the show, like the fact that it made perfect sense to be a communist when there was no food — no one wants to talk about that, how 50 percent of the country was involved in revolutionary thought because things were so unequal. I wanted to follow it all the way to the millennium, but I crapped out around page 80.

So it just sat on your desk?
Five or six years later, I wrote Mad Men, and then four or five years after that, when AMC said to me, “What’s the rest of the story, who is this guy, where does it go?” I found the script. I was literally just leafing through it, and the last page of the script just said, ‘1960.’ ”

Where do you find most of the source material for Mad Men?
Who knows? I see shit all the time where I’m like, “Someone told me that, I stole that from that, that’s from this.” I watched one movie, The Young Philadelphians, with Paul Newman and Robert Vaughan, the other day. My mother loved Paul Newman, and I do too. We’d watch anything with him in it. I had no recollection of that one, but there was so much of the show in this movie. It’s why I tell young writers, “Don’t share your shit, don’t share your stuff.” David Chase would always be like, “Don’t tell me that story, because I will not remember you told it to me and I will use it.”

What are some of the less obvious cultural shifts in the culture since Don Draper took off his fedora?
I’m not a very intellectual person, but being educated was very in style in the Mad Men era. You can look at the bestsellers and see how proud people were of their intelligence. More people were in college in America from 1955, more people were being educated than anywhere on the planet in the history of the world. If you grow up with George Bush as the president, it is hard to believe that people in positions of authority have more intelligence than you. Nobody would have let George W. Bush watch their kids.

But clearly Mad Men is using very intellectual influences like John Cheever.
Yes, of course, but don’t you emulate the writers you love? So here were the writers I loved: J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, who I discovered in high school by accident at a book sale. I picked it up and said, “Oh, this is interesting, short stories.” I was not good at reading novels, so I had already become very interested in short stories. I’m more interested in the dramatic irony, which is the exquisite entertainment of watching a scene where you know something the characters don’t and where each of them knows something the other one doesn’t.

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