“Mad Men”: The Real Father Gill

Posted by Jon Weisman

Gill When I heard the name “Father John Gill” on Mad Men this season, I did a double-take. But once I realized that the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, went to the same high school I did, it all made sense.

Father John Gill was a chaplain and teacher at what was then known as Harvard School in North Hollywood for roughly half a century, starting in 1941. He straddled the era that saw Harvard evolve from an Episcopalian military school to a non-military one that probably had about a 40-percent Jewish enrollment by the time Weiner and I were there in the early 1980s (graduating two years apart). The picture at right is from Weiner’s senior year.

I didn’t know Weiner at Harvard (though I’ve since interviewed him for Variety), but it’s no surprise that Fr. Gill left an impression on him. He left an impression on everyone. In many ways, Fr. Gill was Harvard, embodying both the history of the school and the thirst for knowledge it encouraged. His religion, frankly, was the least of it for me, the unconverted, but he still was an endearing and engaging (if authoritative) man. His year-long elective, “History of World Wars I and II,” was one of the most popular classes at the school – a bonafide antidote to senioritis.

ChanksI have no idea whether there are any similarities between the younger days of the real Fr. Gill and the TV Fr. Gill. Not sure it even matters. (Given that it was at the time, sigh, an all-boys school, our Fr. Gill probably didn’t see very many Peggys.) I just wanted to note that I caught Weiner’s tribute, and I appreciated it. It’s a good excuse to remember a man who helped shepherd a bunch of us kids.

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  1. William C. Boyd says:

    I attended Harvard School in the early 70s, and I well remember Father Gill. He was a wonderful, thoughtful teacher who didn’t suffer fools gladly. His Religion as History class(It was called something like that) was most enlightening and revelatory. His services at the school’s chapel called St. Saviour’s Chapel were often inspiring. His homely dog, named Leo, was a noted member of the Harvard School Community. Thanks for reminding me of those long gone days….

  2. You may remenber the three proverbs:
    You cannot burn the candle at both ends.
    You cannot eat your cake and have it.
    You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink.

  3. Rocheteau says:

    Sorry
    What is the name of the song that sing the Father Gill in the chater 8 (ending)

  4. David Weber says:

    I just happened onto this article. I graduated Harvard School, Class of 1970, had Father Gill for four classes … 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade. Back in the day WWI and WWII were taught as long modules in Contemp. Euro. History course; would have enjoyed the full year-long course in them. This past May, traveled to Europe for business and pleasure, and visited WWI and WWII battlefields, and a fair amount of what I learned in Father Gill’s lessons about the wars came back to me.

  5. David Saperstein says:

    Thanks for the tribute Jon. Anyone who could get a class full of students to sign up for Celestial Navigation (i.e. global positioning before GPS devices) knew how to teach.

  6. John Lilly says:

    Thanks for the good memories. That WW I and II history class was the best class in high school, due mostly to Fr. Gill’s captivating and erudite teaching.

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