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Hilton's principles served him well during the Depression, when his burgeoning hotel businessand personal wealth, as he wrote in his memoir, "went from a tidy little mound of success into a bottomless pit of debts, humiliations, and mortgages." It was indeed a bad time. "Men were jumping from hotel windows, my hotel windows." During those dark days, when "a gun-totingconstable was trying to hang up judgments against me," a bellboy loaned Hilton $300 to help himkeep operating. His mother would tell him: "Some men jump out of windows. Some go to church.Pray, Connie. It's the best investment you'll ever make."Dreaming big even during the Depression, Hilton clipped a newspaper photograph of New York's2,000-room Waldorf-Astoria. He kept the photo in his wallet and on his desk for the next 18 years—until it became part of the Hilton chain. "I saw the reason why so many successful menkeep an almost boyish love of America and democracy," he wrote. Despite having little money,Hilton had "complete confidence that our way of life offered the freedom to crawl back up andeventually push out my horizon as far as my vision and strength would carry me."Because "Mad Men" is about American advertising, where fresh ideas can make a difference,Hilton is in many ways a perfect fit. He built his hotel empire through various innovations—taking out 99-year leases on properties ("a sale in installments," he called them) and purchasingtroubled first-mortgage bonds for 20 to 60 cents on the dollar "to get my foot in the door." Oncethe properties were his, Mr. Hilton found pioneering approaches to make them flourish. He wasthe first hotelier to transform his properties from sleeping accommodations to modern centersof commerce, with conference rooms, dining, dancing and entertainment under one roof. Heeven put early versions of voicemail in guest rooms.The "Mad Men" writers, to their credit, have been faithful to Conrad Hilton's Cold War view thatone way to achieve victory was to give Russians a taste of American life. In one episode, Hiltonhumorously tells Don Draper: "After all those things we threw at Khrushchev, you know whatmade him fall apart? He couldn't get into Disneyland"—a reference to the time the Sovietpremier visited Southern California in 1959 but couldn't make an impromptu stop at theamusement park. Soviet security officials refused to permit Khrushchev interaction withunapproved citizens. Hilton, who had battled communist operatives in Rome when the Italianstried to stop a hotel construction license from going through, viewed American business as thetorchbearer in the long twilight struggle. "Our Hilton flag is one small flag of freedom which is waved defiantly against communism," he said at the opening of the Dallas Statler Hilton. "Withhumility we submit this international effort of ours as a contribution to world peace."In a 1950 speech to the National Conference of Christians & Jews, Hilton defined peace as"tranquility of order; it is security, liberty—religious, political, economic freedom." In 1957,addressing the same group, he said that if the Muslim world, "did not join us in freedom, it will so weigh the scales as to destroy us.""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 socialturmoil to come. "There were people like Hilton," Mr. Weiner says, "and I love what he wasabout."
—Mr. Meroney is completing a book titled "Rehearsals for a Lead Role: Ronald Reagan in theHollywood Wars."
10/30/2009John Meroney writes that Conrad Hilt……wsj.com/…/SB10001424052748703…2/3