The latest season of the AMC-TV drama series Mad Men includes something rather unusual for U.S. series television in recent decades: a businessman who not only is not a scoundrel but is in fact laudable and exemplary in his action and attitudes. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Meroney recently summarized the show’s treatment of the character:
Played by veteran actor Chelcie Ross, [the late American hotel entrepreneur] Conrad Hilton is now advertising man Don Draper’s new client on the AMC series, which is set in the early 1960s world of Madison Avenue. To many viewers Hilton may seem unusual—and he does represent a refreshing break from Hollywood’s negative depictions of corporate businessmen. The Hilton character in the show, like the real-life man on whom he is based, was a Christian anticommunist who believed that America and capitalism were positive forces in the world. In one scene, Hilton expresses his outlook to Draper: "This country is a force of good because we have God. Communists don’t."
After reading Hilton’s 1957 autobiography, Be My Guest, Mad Man creator and executive producer Matt Weiner "relished the idea of presenting a television character who would go against the grain of the prime-time businessman archetype—all arrogance, cunning and greed," Meroney notes. The story continues:
In the series, Hilton explains to Draper: "It’s my purpose in life to bring America to the world." In real life he called it "planting a little bit of America around the world." Later in the show, when Hilton suggests a bold ad campaign highlighting American integrity, he says, "There should be goodness in confidence."
Meroney rightly praises the story line and characterization for their aesthetic elements, for being truthful and original, not for their political implications:
"Mad Men" has been praised for its scrupulous attention to period detail—the right cigarettes, the right clothes, the right drinks. In this case, the show has chosen the right man, whose proud, wholesome, pro-American views—lest we forget—were as emblematic of the 1960s as the social turmoil to come. "There were people like Hilton," Mr. Weiner says, "and I love what he was about."
–S. T. Karnick