Recasting Mad Men
March 26, 2012
It came to me in a dream: A final exam of some kind, where the only question was to recast Mad Men as if it were produced during the time period (the early sixties) in which the show is set.
Most dream-ideas seem kinda stupid when you wake up – but I thought this one was pretty cool. Especially since I aced that dream-exam. My subconscious remembered a whole lot of the characters by name (even Freddy Rumsen!) and came up with some good actors to match. When I woke up, I added some conscious choices to fill out the list. Take a look, imagine some Mad Men moments with these actors playing them, and see what you think . . . .
Ben Gazzara as Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
Gena Rowlands as Betty Draper (January Jones)
Gig Young as Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Collin Wilcox as Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
James Franciscus as Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
Tina Louise as Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)
William Daniels as Sal Romano (Bryan Batt)
Robert Morse as Harry Crane (Rich Sommer)
Linden Chiles as Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis)
Roger Perry as Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton)
Patrick O’Neal as Duck Phillips (Mark Moses)
Roddy McDowall as Lane Pryce (Jared Harris)
Tim O’Connor as Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)
John McGiver as Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)
Martin Balsam as Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray)
Susan Oliver as Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt)
Bethel Leslie as Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton)
Lee Grant as Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff)
Suzanne Pleshette as Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie)
Joyce Van Patten as Mona Sterling (Talia Balsam)
Claire Griswold as Jane Siegel (Peyton List)
Robert Culp as Archie Whitman (Joseph Culp)
Ruth McDevitt as Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller)
Shelley Berman as Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler)
Pat Hingle as Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross)
You’ll notice that I’ve fudged the issue of whether our hypothetical Mad Men was filmed in New York or Los Angeles, a critical issue that would have influenced casting in the early sixties. Gazzara and Rowlands – my pairing an indulgence in Cassavetesphilia; Cassavetes himself would have been a profound, if angry, Don Draper – were bicoastal, but probably more New York-centric in 1960; the ideal Los Angeles teaming might have been David Janssen and Inger Stevens as Don and Betty.
Having been immersed lately in the world of Marion Dougherty, the visionary New York-based casting director who discovered so many future stars on the Off-Broadway stage, I can picture a Mad Men cast by Dougherty and starring Gene Hackman as Don, Sandy Dennis as Betty, Robert Redford as Pete, Robert Duvall as Roger, Dustin Hoffman as Paul, Martin Sheen as Harry, James Caan as Ken, Robert Loggia as Sal, and Walter Matthau as Duck. All of them were working on television and on Marion’s radar by 1961, at the latest; so it’s legit but still too much of a cheat, even for funsies.
Now it’s your turn to kibitz. Come up with your own list, or “cast” even more of the minor characters than I did. But I’m gonna be real strict about this. Anyone you pick has to have been a viable candidate for a regular or recurring role on an American television series during the early sixties. Do not annoy me by naming movie stars who didn’t do television during that time, or actors who died in 1958 or debuted in 1970, or actors who were unavailable because they were already starring in some other series for most of the time between 1960 and 1965. (Sorry, you can’t have James Arness as Don Draper.)
Now: get to it!
Ben and Gena together in 1966 on Run For Your Life (screen grab stolen from this detailed Run For Your Life fansite).