It’s overwhelming how much ground Mad Men has covered over its run, transforming Don Draper from “a tortured soul thriving in an industry devoted to psychological manipulation” to… “a tortured soul thriving in an industry devoted to psychological manipulation, but with a brunette wife.” Mysteriously, it’s a hell of an arc.
Thinking of this show’s gorgeous history, it’s only right we count up the most killer, fabulous characters ever to spruce up the ’60s with good looks, charm, and stark unhappiness. Here are the 10 most fabulous characters in Mad Men history.
10. Jimmy Barrett
When we met Jimmy Barrett, we learned he was a cocky TV comedian and a terrible, blatant misogynist. He hit on Betty a bit, establishing himself as a bastard with Rod Serling’s eyebrows. But soon, after Don began an affair with Jimmy’s tragic-in-her-own-miserable-way wife Bobbi, Jimmy did something that few do on Mad Men: call out Don on his awful, awful behavior. “You don’t screw another man’s wife,” he bellowed at Don, adding, “You’re garbage and you know it.” He’s a flawed character, but Jimmy’s Rat Pack-worthy confidence did turn out one kickass moment.
9. Joyce Ramsay
Joyce may never have garnered a significant storyline, but no matter: She was a swingin’, sneerin’ lesbian who showed Peggy how to have a good time, even in the midst of a blackout. Her suits were a little ridiculous, but her bohemian savoir-faire was a much-needed respite from the white-collar bleakness of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
8. Megan Draper
Don and his soap star wife seem to be pulling away from each other at an increasing rate, but Megan Draper will always be superfab for three reasons: 1) her gorgeous Barbara Feldon flair, which often veers into Genevieve Bujold-in-Anne of the Thousand Days territory; 2) the bizarre spectacle (and superfly dress!) of her “Zou Bisou Bisou” performance; 3) that time she basically threw a tantrum about orange sherbet.
7. Michael Ginsberg
Sweaty, underdressed, neurotic, and sexy as hell, Michael Ginsberg is the wisecracking mensch of seasons five and six. As the new copywriter at the firm, he may seem a bit brusque at first, but he’s got a conscience and intelligence that define his true character. He’s the opposite of Don: guileless (despite himself) and unconcerned with appearances. Wish he’d ditch the slickster, car salesmen neckwear though.
6. Trudy Campbell
For years, Trudy Campbell was a glowing portrait of the perfect wife. Even her voice, in its mayonnaise-lite smoothness and comfort, felt like home. But since Pete’s unhappiness has become a longterm storyline, Trudy’s voice has grown, toughened, and utterly decimated Peter on certain occasions (like last week’s episode when Trudy found out about Pete’s affair and said, “I’m drawing a 50 mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” I used to hate the way Alison Brie played the character as a two-dimensional apple-pie-serving hostess, but now I realize she was saving her sweetest moments for now.
5. Rachel Menken
I miss, miss, miss Rachel. Ugh. She might be the sole reason I still believe season one is my favorite. As the rich daughter of a Jewish store owner, Rachel Menken seems merely posh and sophisticated in her early scenes with Don at the agency. But after a time, she proved she was both wise and deeply glamorous. She hated hooking up with Don since his whims were so impulsive, needy, and ultimately disrespectful, but she gave it up to him anyway. How effing fabulous is a woman who can smoke a gorgeous cigarette while dispensing with a line like, “They taught us at Barnard about that word, ’utopia’. The Greeks had two meaning for it: ’eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ’u-topos’ meaning the place that cannot be”?
4. Sal Romano
Sal’s story took years to unfold, but once it did, he became my patron saint of Mad Men. We’d only caught glimpses of his potential homosexuality in the years previous to season four, but once that bellhop nearly ravished him in a moment of killer eroticism, he was on our team for good. Sexual trysts aside, his signature moment is when he acted out a Bye, Bye Birdie-themed ad campaign for his wife Kitty, mimicking Ann-Margret’s choreography and feminine bliss without a second of forethought. Unfortunately, the awful Lee Garner Jr. got Sal fired after he refused to hook up with him, and now Sal is a glorious, tragic part of Mad Men’s history. We had so much carnal knowledge to learn from him.
3. Joan Holloway/Harris
Joan is the unflinching, unpretentious source of regularly scheduled fabulousness on Mad Men. She may have married the worst person of all time, but she’s always good for an emasculating one-liner and an eye-popping outfit. When Joan became a STCD partner after securing a client thanks to an act of unexpected prostitution, our perception of her shifted, but that’s been a gratifying experience. Fact is, anytime Joan becomes a more multidimensional character, she becomes fiercer due to the fact that Christina Hendricks plays her with such stalwart, cool resilience.
2. Miss Ida Blankenship
There have been strange Mad Men characters and there have been crazy Mad Men characters, but Ida Blankenship is the only weirdo in the show’s history who is truly sublime. She began as Bert Cooper’s (unseen) secretary and became Don’s in season four, at which point she revealed herself to be an id-spewing, racist, cantankerous, bawdily batty source of comic relief. I loved how she’d narc on Don without a second thought. (“Dr. Miller returned your call. She said not to wake you.”) During the famous episode “The Suitcase,” it was revealed that Ida had a raunchy one-night stand with Roger, but that was her last joyous moment: Ida died at her desk later in the season, and Pete and Joan had to wheel her corpse out of the room. Though she enjoyed only seven minutes of screentime during her entire stint on the show, actress Randee Heller (of The Karate Kid fame) earned an Emmy nomination for her work as the exasperated coot.
1. Peggy Olson
She’s learned ad men protocols through years of awkwardness, missteps, and unfortunate fashion choices, but there’s no other way to put it: Peggy is the reason to watch Mad Men. Her growth and solid self-confidence have been earned, and her intelligence has become sharper and keener. She also wears her hair like Lady Bird Johnson from time to time, and who doesn’t want a highway-beautifying bob? It’s hard to believe she was once a cowering underling to Joan because Peggy’s alpha instincts are such a signature part of Mad Men’s greatness now. My favorite Peggy moments: Her blunt confessional to Pete about giving up his baby; the time she tried marijuana in the office; her emotional confession to Don about learning and growing so much under him; any of her interactions with her current John Cazale doppelganger beau. Here’s the greatest compliment I can give Peggy: As long as Don has something of an intellectual soulmate in Peggy, he’ll never be unlovable.
Who’s your pick for the most fabulous Mad Men character ever? Remember, if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.