Is there a more polarizing figure on Mad Men than Betty Draper? (Sorry Henry, I’ll never buy her as a Francis.) Some feel deeply for her caged bird. Others only see her sharp talons and wish for Betty a painless head-on car crash into an Ossinning oak tree. The brittle woman, taught early on to resist passion, inspires nothing but. What a shock then to read in a recent interview in W magazine with January Jones — whose acting ability is a whole separate source of debate amongst Mad Men fans; is she one-note or a master of the icy vacant glare? — that there was no Betty Draper written into Matthew Weiner’s pilot script. “He had no intention of showing Don Draper’s home life,” said Jones. “I read for Peggy two times — it was between me and Elisabeth Moss, who eventually got the part. At the end of the scene, there was a casual mention that Don was married. Matt went home that night and wrote two scenes that featured Betty.”
Who what now? Can you imagine a Mad Men without a slightly menacing white house for Don to woozily return to at the end of a long night in bigger, brighter Manhattan? No blue foyer, no kitchen sink scenes, no locked desk drawer, for the love of God, no Sally Draper. Whether you like Betty, hate her, or love to hate her, it’s inconceivable trying to picture Mad Men being as rich and well-rounded without a character that so deeply embodies the restless, infantilized ’60s Housewife. In this clip from Season 1 (embedding’s been disabled, so you’ll have to click to watch), Betty, still dressed in her angel nightgown despite the afternoon hour, gives some trained pigeons an early release from their small, sheltered world. Say what you want about Jones, but the way she bares her teeth with that cigarette is breathtaking. God, her fingernails scare me.
Nope, I can’t picture the last four seasons without Betty. (That said, her new marriage to Henry pushes her uncomfortably to the sidelines, and I’m not sure how Weiner and team can properly incorporate Betty into the action beyond the occasional snit phone call to Don that Sally is giving her migraines again. That and another back bar-room tryst, though this time with Don.) But I’m almost more struck dumb by the possibility that Jones was a runner-up to play Peggy Olson. Peggy! Earnest, awkward, adorable, uncomfortable, capable Peggy in her little vests and little girl hats. How could anyone but Elisabeth Moss get so marvelously schooled by Joan? I keep trying to picture Jones in the Peggy role and it’s like my body and mind shut down and refuse.
What do you think Mad Men fans? Do you just assume Weiner had gone with his original intention and kept Don’s home life out of the picture? Is Betty Draper an integral character for you too? Does your stomach drop and eyes cross at the thought of Jones in Elisabeth Moss’ shoes?