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John Meroney Writes That Conrad Hilton's Appearance on _Mad Men_ Represents a Break From Hollywood's Typical Depiction of Businessmen WSJ October 30, 2009

John Meroney Writes That Conrad Hilton's Appearance on _Mad Men_ Represents a Break From Hollywood's Typical Depiction of Businessmen WSJ October 30, 2009

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Hollywood Discovers a Real Businessman
See a sample reprint in PDF format.Order a reprint of this article nowDow Jones Reprints: This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution to yourcolleagues, clients or customers, use the Order Reprints tool at the bottom of any article or visitwww.djreprints.com
 When executives from Hilton Worldwide, the venerable hotel chain, called on "Mad Men"creator Matt Weiner last year, he thought he would be getting a pitch to use the Beverly Hiltonon his show. He had no idea that the product they wanted to place was the company's founder,Conrad Hilton himself.Played by veteran actor Chelcie Ross, 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 man viewers Hilton may seem unusual—and he does represent a refreshing break from Hollywood'snegative depictions of corporate businessmen. The Hilton character in the show, like the real-lifeman on whom he is based, was a Christian anticommunist who believed that America andcapitalism were positive forces in the world. In one scene, Hilton expresses his outlook toDraper: "This country is a force of good because we have God. Communists don't."In a recent conversation, Mr. Weiner told me that he first began learning about Conrad Hilton, who died in 1979, over a Beverly Hills lunch with Hilton executives. "I was complaining aboutthe original Trader Vic's closing," says Mr. Weiner of the "Mad Men"-era Hilton restaurant. Butthe conversation soon turned to hotel history. He was given a first edition of Mr. Hilton's 1957autobiography, "Be My Guest" (copies of which used to be placed in every Hilton guest room,next to the Gideon Bible), along with an archival print advertisement touting a future Hiltonhotel on the moon. The ad included a reservation request (subject to confirmation, of course)and a note to "check here if your trip includes transfer to intergalactic express."Mr. Weiner was soon fascinated that a man who was born in an adobe hut (in 1887) and raised inthe Territory of New Mexico during the horse-and-buggy days could seem so modern. He alsorelished the idea of presenting a television character who would go against the grain of the prime-time businessman archetype—all arrogance, cunning and greed. In the series, Hilton explains toDraper: "It's my purpose in life to bring America to the world." In real life he called it "planting alittle bit of America around the world." Later in the show, when Hilton suggests a bold adcampaign highlighting American integrity, he says, "There should be
in confidence."In "Be My Guest," Hilton writes that the keys to his becoming "the man who bought the Waldorf" were his parents, who taught him the value of prayer and hard work. It should be noted that,over his long career, Hilton bought not only the Waldorf but the St. Francis Drake in SanFrancisco, the Palmer House in Chicago and the Plaza in New York, adapting each to his ownparticular style.
10/30/2009John Meroney writes that Conrad Hiltwsj.com//SB100014240527487031/3
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights ReservedThis copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our
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 Hiltwsj.com//SB100014240527487032/3

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