Meet the real Mad Man: A tribute to an illustrator from advertising's golden era

With Yates' Revolutionary Road still fresh in my mind, it's with great pleasure to share the influential work of McCauley "Mac" Conner, touted as one of the original Mad Men. The 101-year-old illustrator arrived in New York in 1950 and built an impressive career around the city's vibrant publishing and advertising scene, crafting classic hand-painted illustrations and commercials that shaped post-war America.

Conner grew up in Newport, a small town in New Jersey, where he worked in his father's general store and studied art via correspondence courses during the Depression. In 1937, he graduated from the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art and worked as a sign painter, where he mastered the art of painting letterforms, a skill that would later translate to corporate logos. When World War II broke out, Conner joined the US Navy to work on wartime publications, refreshing his figure drawing skills.

During the post-war economic boom, brands like Ford, Bell Telephone and United Airlines, as well as magazines like Redbook and The Saturday Evening Post, were clamouring for his services as an illustrator. He became so successful that by his mid-thirties, he had co-founded a creative agency representing over a dozen illustrators.

Today, he still lives in his Fifth Avenue apartment with tear sheets from half a century’s work. As the New York Times remarked: "Mr. Conner and other commercial artists helped define the graphic look of an industry as well as the popular culture in postwar America at a time when illustration was an integral part of the marketing machinery, often preferred over photography to help pitch products. Their work was in a modernist style that might be described as optimistic realism, which has drawn renewed attention decades later as a result of the popularity of 'Mad Men,' the television series about a make-believe Manhattan agency in the '60s."