Don Draper or George Bailey who would you rather be?


Don Draper vs. George Bailey which man would you rather be? Don’t be lame and say you’d rather be you that is not the question. These fictional men portray excellent examples of the lifestyle choice between being a successful corporate ladies man vs. the ultimate likeable family man. Two extreme examples of choices men like us have to make every day to answer the questions what do I stand for, what is important to me, and what kind of life do I want to live?

Don Draper (Mad Men) and George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) are both two iconic fictional┬ácharacters from a magical era we look back on with fond nostalgia. Men dressed with style, drank manly drinks with reckless abandon and smoked enough to turn a lung brown in a single year. What I wouldn’t give to be alive during these times sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era. Here is a quick summary for those of you who are unfamiliar with one or both fictional men (get with it).

Don Draper is an advertising hotshot who is lavishly living the player’s dream. He has career prestige, money, impeccable style, and effortlessly attracts women. He also is a conflicted man hiding a big secret and is nervous about being discovered and having his life come undone. He is a divorced father of three who rarely spends time with his kids and has few to no true friends to speak of. His life took a radical change on the last episode of season 4 when he got engaged to his secretary a woman that appears perfect for him. Don’s story is still being written, will he seize the opportunity to change or revert to his old ways?


  • Extremely successful career with all the benefits that brings
  • Impeccable style
  • Makes Don Juan want to be Don Draper
  • Has opportunity to build a new different life if that is what he desires


  • Living a lie and is under constant fear of having it come undone (although he turned it into a pretty cool life)
  • No friends or real family ties even with his own children
  • Known for impulsive bad decisions outside of work (think taking pills with hitchhikers) and maybe an impulsive 2nd marriage (although it appears a good match for now)

George Bailey had it all a loving wife, good family, and the adoration of the community. But deep down he probably wanted to be Don Draper. He envisioned a Draperesque lifestyle for himself where he would travel the world and be a titan of industry. His life was going along fine until a crisis hit and he was wanted for a bank financial problem he did not create. That episode generated a series of events where he wished he was never born and got to see how the world was changed if he never existed. Everything works out in the end his friends come to his rescue and he is toasted as the richest man in town to the delight of his many friends, family, and associates.


  • Everyday likeable man who is good to his family, friends, and community
  • Honest, loyal, ambitious and intelligent
  • Beautiful loving wife and family who adore him


  • Harbors regret about not having pursued the lifestyle he wanted while young
  • Unwise for making an enemy of the most powerful man in town
  • Freaks out in the big moment of pressure (although most of us would)

At the end of It’s a Wonderful Life we assume that George fulfills his potential as a business and family man. Perhaps he even becomes mayor of the town and launches a family dynasty with the Bailey name becoming the Kennedy’s of Bedford Falls.

Most of us can probably see some of ourselves in one of the two men. Which man would you rather be and how does your story progress from here? I always fancied myself more George Bailey but I am planning to Draper it up a bit in the New Year.


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4 Responses to Don Draper or George Bailey who would you rather be?

  1. davver says:

    This is a pretty good question, but I noticed your pros and cons were very self focus. The big difference between George and Don is morality.

    One makes self sacrifices for the betterment of his family and community. One mainly makes decisions that benefit himself in some way (the show takes care not to make him a complete nihilist, lest viewers would have no sympathy for him).

    One does a job that is fundamentally productive (helping people start businesses and build homes). The other comes up with jingles to trick people into buying things. In the world without George Bailey, Bedford Falls is a wreck. In the world without Don Draper nothing really all that different, people simply buy a different brand of nylons.

    George Bailey is simply a better person for society.

  2. MTK says:

    I originally agreed 100% with your hypothesis as I just finished season 4 of Mad Men. But the last episode of season 4 left me thinking maybe this is Don Draper’s moment when he realizes there is more to life and how much his kids need him. Remember George Bailey had the opportunity to see life without him and know he mattered Don never was blessed (or cursed maybe) to have such an event. Maybe the Ebenezer Scrooge analogy would have been more fitting for Don since he would see the disaster he was headed for if he didn’t change but it is the same concept. His story is still unwritten what happens next is up to him.

    It also brings up an interesting nature vs. nurture thing think of the nurture advantages George had:
    1. Was born to a good family vs. born by a prostitute who died and raised by a drunk and a step mom who didn’t love him
    2. Married a lovely idealized women vs. the crazy child woman that Don married
    3. Didn’t have to see the horrors of war vs. saw a man die due to his accident/ineptitude.

  3. Zorro says:

    I’d rather be Don Draper.

    If I had a daughter, I’d tell her to marry George Bailey. If she had a spine, she’d ignore me and go fuck Draper. Maybe marry George, cheat on him and make him raise Draper’s sperm-child.

    People are what they are.

  4. ironchefoklahoma says:

    George Bailey. I’ll leave it to the other commenters to explain the good reasons (nice touch on the moral issues, Davver) and head for the gutter.

    Every night George heads home to bang Donna Reed. And if you’ve seen From Here to Eternity you know what kind of bad girl she can be when she wants to.

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