Mad Men sadly begins its final season on Sunday and to commemorate the occasion last week was “Mad Men Week” in NYC; several restaurants even ran “liquid lunch” specials in honor of a show that features many a deal brokered over a three (or more ) martini lunch. Though Mad Men is actually filmed on the West Coast, New York is an integral part of the show – many real places and events are part of the stories that Matt Weiner and company are telling. They may be recreating New York, but they expertly captured both the spirit of both the city and its residents in the 1960s.
While I was in New York last Friday for Bob’s Burgers Live, I decided to take the opportunity to make the trip out to Astoria to see the Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. I had been to the museum previously to check out their exhibit on Breaking Bad and had enjoyed it, so I knew that they would do a nice job with a show whose identity was so closely tied in with the city. I also knew that this exhibit was a lot larger, as they had some of the sets from the show on display. Creator Matt Weiner was involved in the curation of the exhibit, so there was no way it was going to be anything other than top notch. Weiner doesn’t half-ass anything.
But before I hoped on the Queens bound M train, I had another Mad Men-related stop to make. The offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners, the latest iteration of the ad agency depicted on the show, are in the Time & Life Building near Rockefeller Center. In yet another tribute, a public art piece was installed outside of the building – a bench that has the famous silhouette from the opening credits of Mad Men. Jon Hamm himself even sat on the bench, which meant that I definitely had to go check it out.
It looked great and there were only a few people waiting to have their photo taken on it, so I didn’t have to wait long to snap my own picture and be on my merry way. I neglected to notice that the street signs near the Time & Life Building had also been renamed for the show – “Don Draper Way” and “Mad Men Avenue” – but I’ll stop by again in the next few weeks to document that as well.
Then it was off to Starbucks for their limited “Happy Birthday Frappuccino” – so freaking good – and a rare trip out of Manhattan to the museum. I don’t agree with Pete Campbell on much, but we do agree on our love of Manhattan:
Unfortunately, they do not allow photographs to be taken in the exhibit, which I was anticipating from similar restrictions during the Breaking Bad exhibit. Several people were covertly snapping shots with their cell phones when they thought the security guards weren’t looking, but I’m nothing if not a rule follower so I refrained from such wonton rebellious behavior. Besides, I’m wanted to experience the exhibit by being present, rather than looking at it on a screen.
The first part of the exhibit features a lot of background materials on the show – books that inspired or informed the show, drafts of what would become Mad Men, and photos of Matt Weiner and his family during the time period when Mad Men is set. There was a big display case that was just filled with random notes that Weiner had made about the show, both before the show debuted and during the run of the show. Some of the slips of paper had character or plot notes, will others had random lines of dialogue. As a writer, I was kind of fascinated by Weiner’s process and I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who randomly jots down ideas at random times.
I was surprised to find that one of the things that were recreated in the exhibit was the Mad Men writer’s room; it seemed like an odd thing to feature, not only because it took up a lot of space, but because Weiner notoriously puts his name on almost all scripts. Still, it was kind of cool to see how they keep track of all the characters and plot out storylines. Again, I’m more interested in process than most people simply because of my dream of finding myself in a writer’s room some day.
From there, it was on to a room full of costumes for all the main characters on the show. It was amazing how many memories flooded back from the show simply from the clothes on display; this happened more so with the women’s costumes, which are more recognizable. Joan’s costumes and Megan’s famous “Zou Bisou Bisou” dress in particular were really cool to see in person. It was a little jarring to see how small Sally Draper’s costumes were – Kiernan Shipka was so young when the show started!
Around the corner was the first of the two Mad Men sets – the Draper family kitchen. It was jarring to see the set in person; so many famous scenes transpired here and I now found myself standing in it. It was a little like being in bizzaro world. It all felt so familiar and the set designers did an impeccable job of recreating the Man Men experience. I half expected to see Betty Draper chain smoking away behind the counter.
If I was a little unprepared for all the feels when I saw the Draper kitchen, I was most certainly was not expecting the feelings I experienced when I stood in the set for Don’s office.
Again, there was the jarring dichotomy of complete familiarity despite the fact I was in an unfamiliar space. Since the exhibit wasn’t too crowded, I took my time at this set, just taking in all of the minor details that you might not notice during the TV show. For instance – who knew that Don had a record player in his office? This seems like something that I should have known, since it’s a pretty sizable piece of furniture, but I was surprised to see it there.
Everything just felt perfect, right down to the photo of Megan on the beach that sits on Don’s desk, along with photos of the Draper Children. I then turned my gaze to the sitting area in Don’t office, where many a pivotal scene has occurred (within reach of the omnipresent liquor cart).
It seriously might have been worth getting thrown out/arrested to hop the barricades and take a seat behind the desk. I had a similar instinct when I saw the desk from The Godfather at the Francis Ford Coppola winery in Napa, California. Thankfully, I was able to resist temptation and control myself in both cases, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t actually consider it (and the ramifications).
The rest of the exhibit was full of other props from the show. I was particularly interested in the display that showed the different sequences that they considered for the opening sequence. The one that they ultimate chose was indeed the best, but it was informative to see the different directions that they had mocked up before making a final decision. It also served as a reminder that Maggie Siff, best known as Tara on Sons of Anarchy, was on the first season of the show. I’d completely forgotten that she played Rachel Menken. They also had a digital scrapbook if images that they saved for inspiration for the characters attire on different seasons that was fun to flip through.
Another wall had some additional costumes (yay Rizzo) as well as some of the famous artwork that was used in the ad campaigns that the agency had pitched. There’s some classics in there, including “At last something beautiful you can truly own” and the ill-fated Hershey campaign that nearly undid Don’s entire career.
There were interesting little items everywhere, including Don’s “secret box” that contained clues to his past, like his dog tags and old photos.
I really enjoyed the exhibit and felt like I learned a lot about one of my favorite shows. I skipped most of the rest of the museum as a lot of the exhibits I had seen on my last trip, though I was mesmerized by their editing display. They had on an old baseball game – so naturally it caught my eye, even if it was the Mets – as well as the feeds of all the different angles that are then seamlessly combined to great what we see at home. I guess I never thought about all that goes into orchestrating all the camera shots to capture the game, but it was truly fascinating to watch the editor directing away, jumping between cameras and weaving them together to give the best view of what was happening live. Honestly, it kind of blew my mind and I sat there for a long time just watching in wonder (plus it was nice to sit down for a while). I have new found respect for the guys in the control booth and tip my cap to them.
The Museum of the Moving Image is a cool place and worth the train ride, especially if you love pop culture. I always find something interesting there and the Mad Men exhibit was no exception. It’s a must stop if you are a fan of the show.
Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men runs through June 14th.