The Elusive Mr. Hilton

 Posted by on February 23, 2011 at 7:30 am  Characters, Season 3
Feb 232011

“You know? I got everything I have on my own. It’s made me immune to those who complain and cry because they can’t. I didn’t take you for one of them, Don. Are you?” — Conrad Hilton, Shut the Door. Have a Seat.

“You did not give me what I wanted.” — Conrad Hilton, Wee Small Hours.

The first quote popped up on Random Quotes when I was looking at Basket of Kisses yesterday. It made me want to re-visit Conrad (“Connie”) Hilton and discuss him further. He was such a big part of Season 3 and I kept wondering if we would see him in Season 4. We didn’t, of course, but it’s always possible he could reappear again somewhere down the line.  Time will tell. In the meantime, there is plenty to discuss.

What do you think? Was Connie a bit cryptic at times, or was he quite clear with Don about what he wanted? Did he use and manipulate Don, or did he help Don realize what he really wanted out of his career? Is it possible he did Don a favor?

If Don did feel used (“…And you wanted to play with me, kick me around and knock me down to size, while you called me son,”), did he also briefly enjoy having Connie as a father figure?

In the long run, will Don regard Connie as an unpleasant memory, or as a true inspiration?


  18 Responses to “The Elusive Mr. Hilton”

  1. I see Conrad as an inspiration to Don. Don may have perceived him as someone who was playing games and “knock[ing him] down to size,” but Don’s perception is like that of a child who feels manipulated and slightly bullied by a parent. A parent, after all, is only human, and may make mistakes in their effort to guide a child. I see Conrad this way. Maybe he could have guided Don with a less manipulative hand, but Conrad Hilton was use to getting his way. There were two sides to the Conrad we saw on MM: the man who wanted what he wanted from Don and was used to getting exactly that and the guiding & influential man, who liked Don, and who, in the end, gave Don a great little speech at their last meeting about being a self made man after Don threw a bit of tantrum about being stuck with McCann Erickson because of Conrad’s doing.

  2. My suspicion is that Connie has different competing parts to his personality.

    (1) Like Don, he was not born into money or status and he doesn’t quite trust, feel accepted by, or like people who were–even though he likes to move among the movers and the shakers and perhaps even show off to them. In this sense, Don and Connie have a strong connection. Connie likes Don better than a lot of other people he does business with.

    (2) Even if Connie wasn’t born to wealth and status, he has had them for a very long time. Even if he wasn’t spoiled as a child, he is used to always getting his way now. Perhaps he is making up for all the “spoiling” he never got as a child. So perhaps Connie can be very willful now as an adult in a way that not many adults can be. He wants things “just the way he wants them” and he feels like he’s earned the right to be as finicky as he wants. Maybe he’s toying with people, or maybe he is so used to getting things his way he doesn’t even recognize the impact this has on others.

    (3) Connie seems like more of a workaholic than Don. Connie works and works and works and works (all of those early morning phone calls). I suspect that at various stages in his past, Connie thought nobody did him any favors (whether or not this is true). Connie probably thinks that anyone can make it big like Connie if they are smart enough and work hard enough. So he didn’t have any sympathy for Don, because he thought if Don worked hard enough he could succeed. If Don didn’t succeed, it would be because “he didn’t work hard enough” and it would be Don’s own fault.

    (4) Initially, Connie seemed to like Don because Don didn’t kiss his rear end. When they first met, Don had no clue who Connie was. It enabled a kind of equality and even an initimacy between them. But over time, I think it also may have bothered Connie that Don didn’t respect his money and power and elder status as much as other people did. Connie hired him and started to get him jumping around left and right. But when Connie started exercising this kind of control over Don, he made Don less of an equal and less of a potential friend. Don didn’t like it, and I think in the end even Connie didn’t really like it. It made Don seem more like all of those other guys who chased his money and power.

    I think Connie’s own power complicates Connie’s life–maybe to the point that it makes it hard for him to have friends.

    I think that Connie is the kind of man who would have grudging respect for how Don handled the situation. Maybe he even suspected that Don would find a way. The speech probably did Don some good.

    But I don’t think the two can be both friends and have a good contractor/client relationship.

    And I’m not sure Don will ever quite trust or look up to Connie like he did for awhile.

    I suspect that –as a plot device–Connie was very useful. First, at the end of the Season, his decisions and his speech prompted Don to go start SCDP. Second, Connie gave Don a reason to leave Betty at all hours of day and night, which enabled the first jogging encounter with Suzanne. Connie’s obsessive phone calls and projects became a good cover for Don’s cheating on Betty. Third, Connie was useful because it provided a good way to show Betty off in Rome. Forth, we learned a lot about Don by having Connie on the show.

    But Connie was a real person, and Don Draper and SCDP are fictional. I think it would be challenging to have our fictional characters tightly interwoven with a real historical character.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing him again, but I think it would be hard to make him an on-going and significant presence.

  3. Conrad Hilton might seek out Don; but will Don be able to work with him ? Hilton is well aware of SCDP’s struggles. He may see this as an opportunity; especially if he sees Don as vulnerable. He will try to get exactly what he wants. Lucky Strike and Lee Garner Jr. had Roger Sterling exactly where they wanted him; under their thumbs. If SCDP survival is at stake, will Don allow that kind of business relationship?
    Don has de facto control over SCDP. He has seen what Lucky Strike did to Roger Sterling and will he allow Conrad Hilton that kind of power over him ?

  4. I agree with Lady K that Connie has different/competing aspects to his personality. When he cut off ties with Sterling Cooper, he tried to make it seem like it was all business and Don was wrong to hold any grudge, since these type of things happen all the time in business. But his late-night drinks with Don, where he talked about loneliness and regarding Don as an angel, belied a wish for more personal connection within his business life.

    I agree too that he liked (and connected with) Don more than most of his other business associates. Yet he has been wealthy a long time and is used to getting his own way.

    On one of his late-night calls to Don, Connie said he realized calling him at home was a privilege but he didn’t think he had abused it. Yet Don’s earlier conversations with Betty made it seem like Connie had been doing it a lot.

    Initially, Connie seemed to like Don because Don didn’t kiss his rear end. When they first met, Don had no clue who Connie was. It enabled a kind of equality and even an initimacy between them. But over time, I think it also may have bothered Connie that Don didn’t respect his money and power and elder status as much as other people did.

    I think Connie’s own power complicates Connie’s life–maybe to the point that it makes it hard for him to have friends.

    Good points!

  5. Bob K, good catch about the possible parallels between Lucky Strike and Hilton. I’m sure Don will try to avoid being put in such a vulnerable position. (Then again, they need some powerful multi-million dollar clients, so I don’t know if he can totally avoid it–maybe instead will just try as much as possible to resist being put into a relationship where he feels bullied)

  6. At the end of last season, we kept expecting to see the company snag some huge account to save the day. Then Peggy got a small account–which was mostly ignored because of Don’s engagement.

    To succeed, the company needs some big accounts, too. But I bet Don, Roger & the others would prefer not being beholden to one guy–or one company. They need to build their business account by account.

  7. Conrad Hilton is a control fanatic, as are many CEOs. It’s hard to overstate how important he was back in the 1950s and 1960s. In that era, you never heard the word “coach” in the workplace, unless someone was talking about football.

    Conrad Hilton was used to telling underlings what he wanted, when he wanted it and expected them to jump. And, he’d use any manipulative tactics as he saw fit. Don probably did not have much experience working directly with a CEO — Roger and Bert undoubtedly had much more. So, Don didn’t know how to read Connie as well as they might have.

  8. I never understood what Hilton meant about “the moon.” It didn’t seem to make any sense.

    How could Don have put “the moon” into that campaign? It seemed like an arbitrary way to be disappointed on purpose.

    • Jordan, it was nutty, but apparently true about the real Conrad Hilton — he wanted Hiltons on the moon.

  9. I’m sure there’s a way they could have incorporated the moon into the campaign, but as Don said, the moon wasn’t an actual destination, so he hadn’t taken it seriously. It seemed a bit of fantasia.

    I love the pitch scene. Don makes the point about the moon not being an actual destination, and Hilton says, “That wasn’t the point. I said I wanted Hilton on the moon. I couldn’t have been more clear.” Peggy and Smitty look at each other at that point, in a way that might mean, ‘Uh oh, this suddenly isn’t going well,” although it also might mean, ‘Yikes, this guy is nuts.’

  10. @#9

    Exactly! It’s lunacy (pun intended).

  11. Deborah, I guess I didn’t understand that Hilton was LITERALLY discussing hotels on the surface of the moon. I always heard it as more of a poetic It’s A Wonderful Life “Do you want the moon? I’ll pull it down and hand it to ya!” kind of hyperbole.

    • I know, and that’s how Don heard it. He certainly didn’t think the ad campaign would be rejected because of a literal interpretation.

  12. In 1965 America was deeply committed to the space race. The first successful space-walk had just occurred and the world was agog over our technological prowess. Average people discussing current events on the street would have easily comprehended what Connie meant when he said he wanted Hilton on the moon.
    It was an age when dreams were becoming reality.

    Don and the agency missed with what should have been a shot at the broad side of a barn with their pitch. They deserved a pink slip and a thrashing.

  13. Don and Betty will always have Rome; Conrad? He may not have gotten the Moon, but we’ll always have Paris.

  14. Connie existed in many ways as a contrast to Don and his “self-made” image. Both are deeply rooted American archetypes: the self-made man, and the almost-self-made man.

    As Dev nicely points out (, self-determination is a central theme.

    If you’re no longer playing the facile roles society has laid out for you, what are you going to be?

    Well, Connie knows, and Don doesn’t. Connie’s going to the moon, and Don gets tripped up by Ad Age.

  15. B. Cooper? Is that you, Bert? Are you coming back, or what?

  16. Unpleaseant memory AND inspiration. Not mutually exclusive =)

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