I Married a Mad Man

A Chicago ad legend inspired countless memorable campaigns, my own unbelievable love story, and, decades later, a hit leading man

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Draper Daniels and Myra Janco Daniels in 1965
The author and her future husband in 1965


In the 1960s, Draper Daniels was something of a legendary character in American advertising. As the creative head of Leo Burnett in Chicago in the 1950s, he had fathered the Marlboro Man campaign, among others, and become known as one of the top idea men in the business. He was also a bit of a maverick.


Draper Daniels vs. Don Draper »
How does the TV character compare with the real deal?

AMC's Mad Men »
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Matthew Weiner, the producer of the television show Mad Men (and previously producer and writer for The Sopranos), acknowledged that he based his protagonist Don Draper in part on Draper Daniels, whom he called “one of the great copy guys.” Weiner’s show, which takes place at the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency on Madison Avenue, draws from the golden age of American advertising. Some of its depictions are quite accurate—yes, there was a lot of drinking and smoking back then, and a lot of chauvinism; some aren’t so accurate. I know this, because I worked with Draper Daniels in the ad biz for many years. We did several mergers together, the longest of which lasted from 1967 until his death in 1983. That merger is my favorite Draper Daniels story.

I was introduced to Draper in 1965 by Vivian Hill, a stylish woman who dressed in Chanel suits and high heels and wore the most gorgeous South Seas pearls I’d ever seen. Vivian was a headhunter, whose specialty was bringing corporations together. We used to have lunch every two or three weeks, sharing news and gossip about the ad business. It was over one of these lunches that she mentioned to me that Draper Daniels might be interested in buying our company. Draper was executive vice president of Compton Advertising in Chicago at the time—but rumor had it that he wasn’t happy there, and wanted his own outfit.

Our company, Roche, Rickerd, Henri, Hurst, Inc., had been created with the merger of Chicago’s two oldest ad firms. At 38, I was executive vice president—the first woman to have held that position for either firm. Our company was growing but we were in need of a top-notch creative person. When Vivian told me about Draper Daniels, I thought he might be the ticket. I also figured I could learn a lot about the business by working with him.

Vivian called Draper Daniels to say that I was interested and he agreed to come in the next afternoon. He was a tall, distinguished-looking man, in his early 50s, with Copenhagen blue eyes and a riveting presence. When he walked into the office at Roche, Rickerd, Henri, Hurst, heads turned. “Is that Draper Daniels?” people whispered.

The first thing he said when he came into my office was, “Miss Janco, I’m so glad to meet you. Now, tell me: What do you think is the best advertising in America right now and why?” I gave him a careful response, and he then asked me a series of personal questions, which I reluctantly answered, until our meeting began to feel more like an interrogation than a business meeting.

Finally, I said, “Mr. Daniels, you came here to investigate a business and you haven’t asked one question about that business.”

“But if I buy a business I’m also buying the head of the company to run it,” he replied.

So he kept asking questions. What really interested Draper Daniels, I began to realize, was not net assets, but vision. He was more concerned about what the agency could be rather than what it was or had been. And he wanted to hear my ideas about how we could stand out above the other agencies.

At about ten o’clock that night—he had come into the office at 5:15—Draper Daniels said, “Miss Janco, you must be hungry. Do you want to go get a hamburger?” We walked down to a restaurant in the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, had a couple of hamburgers, talked a little more, and then he told me that he wanted to buy the business. He also said that he wanted me to stay. I told him I couldn’t do that—I was planning to move to New York. “But I’ll stay long enough for you to feel comfortable running the company,” I told him.

The next day, Dan—which is what he called himself—phoned Vivian. He wanted to make the deal. I said, “Would you like your lawyer and finance man to come and meet with me and my finance man?” He said, “No. It’s not necessary. You have an honest face. Whatever you want for the business will be fine.”

So he came back to the office and ended up writing a personal check for the business—paying two and a half times its face value. I kept my stock in the company, which was 24.5 percent, and Draper Daniels bought everything else. He wanted to come in as CEO and wanted me to serve as COO and president, which meant I would oversee the hands-on operation of the company. He also wanted a new board of directors.

The next day we held a press conference, to announce that Draper Daniels was taking over the company. The most memorable part of it was that he introduced me as “Myrna Junco.” George Lazarus, who was then a business editor at the Chicago Tribune, leaned over to me at that point and said, “Myra, how well do you know this fellow?” I later learned that his favorite bird was the dark-eyed junco and his favorite actress was Myrna Loy, so maybe that had something to do with it. At any rate, it was one of many unexpected moments from Draper Daniels.

* * *

Photograph: Courtesy of Myra Janco Daniels


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Reader Comments:
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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Jul 31, 2009 06:10 pm
 Posted by  past friend

I am moved and mad thoughtful by the account of this marriage, since
Dan Daniels was my parents' closest friend for many years, in his
first marriage. To me personally, he was incredibly important, for
just those reasons of conceptual daring, vision, and mischief which
deeply corresponded with my own intellectual tendencies. I am now
a professor of literature, my life's career, but I will never forget
the founding importance of his recognition of me. Thank you, Myra.
Would love to know more about the Naples years.
Nancy Leonard

Aug 3, 2009 12:24 pm
 Posted by  spicecakes69


Aug 12, 2009 11:14 am
 Posted by  AdGal

I love this story!! Thank you so much for sharing.

Aug 13, 2009 02:47 pm
 Posted by  reader

Am I the only one who feels bad about how Len got treated?

Aug 14, 2009 03:30 am
 Posted by  marcycapron

well "reader", it is one of those moments where a certain kind of connection trumps reality (in this case, Len just didn't have what it took, but no one knew it yet!)...
but what a lovely story. as a diehard madmen fan it was even more interesting... I am pretty sure I would read the book if you, Myra Janco Daniels, were to write one about this relationship.

Aug 24, 2009 11:42 am
 Posted by  mmkm

Am I the only one who feels bad about the way Louise Cort Daniels, the gentlest of souls who was Dan's exquisite first wife, was treated by Dan and Myra?

Sep 29, 2009 11:12 am
 Posted by  gs4572

A good rule is not to trust Myra Daniels.

Sep 29, 2009 11:18 am
 Posted by  gs4572

According to her obituary, Cort Daniels was divorced in 1968. Very romantic indeed...

Oct 8, 2009 02:51 pm
 Posted by  moi


Nov 11, 2009 09:40 am
 Posted by  J Agyepong

I'm the biggest Mad Man fan in London and I just found out that Don Draper was based on this man Draper Daniels. I think Don Draper is a great character but i'm quite happy that Draper Daniels didn't have the same adulterous trait. To hear that Draper or "Dan" was very innovative and creative makes me happy as it reflects the same way I think. I wish I could have had the opportunity to meet him,he kind of reminds me of David Ogilvy.
As for marrying Myra Janco in that fashion, I think that it is a great portrayal of the love struck alpha male.

Draper Daniels I salute you!

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