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“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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