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  • 03.12.15

Step Into Don Draper’s Office–And The Mad Men Writers’ Room–At This New York Exhibit

Curator Barbara Miller offers fans a deeper dive into Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner’s creative process through an exhibit of sets, costumes, and props from the show.

Production on AMC’s Mad Men is long over (the cast and crew shot the series finale last summer, and the final seven episodes of the show will finally begin airing April 5), but Don Draper’s office at SC&P has been taken out of storage in Los Angeles and set up at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. The kitchen from the home in Ossining, New York that Don once shared with Betty and the kids is there, too.

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The large-scale sets are among the highlights of a new exhibit called “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men that opens March 14 and runs through June 14. “The effort that it took to get these sets here was formidable,” the exhibit’s curator Barbara Miller tells Co.Create. “I have to mention by name the museum’s deputy director for operations, exhibitions and design—Wendell Walker. He managed the logistics of it. It took two giant tractor-trailer trucks driven by theatrical Teamsters who very generously worked with us to arrange for us to get everything here. And once the sets got here, we had to figure out how to fit them in our gallery. It was a very ambitious effort.”


And so well worth it. The museum offered journalists an advance look at the exhibit, and it was fun to poke around two sets where so much memorable drama has occurred. Well, you can’t really touch anything. The sets are protected by waist-high acrylic walls, but there is a space carved out in the center of each, allowing visitors to step a few feet into the environments for a better view.

In addition to the sets, the exhibit offers a peek into the Mad Men writers’ room, which was actually a conference room at Los Angeles Center Studios, via a replica of the space. “This was a closely-guarded room, very secretive,” Miller says.

The writers’ room as we see it in the museum is smaller than the real room it is based on, Miller points out, but it contains actual objects from the room, showing museum-goers what it looked like when the writers were scripting “Waterloo,” the last episode of the first half of season seven. You see everything from a whiteboard with scenes diagrammed on it to a table littered with copies of trade magazines like Variety and a bottle of Ibuprofen for all those headaches the writers must have gotten.


Beyond the two sets and the writers’ room, the Mad Men exhibit also showcases hundreds of props, including Don’s shoebox full of secrets. “He kept that locked in his desk until Betty found it, and having that [in the exhibit] is really great because that was such an important storyline,” Miller says.

Then there are the costumes, which are worthy of an exhibition all their own. There are more than 30 costumes worn by Don as well as characters such as Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway/Harris, Roger Sterling, Betty Draper/Francis and Pete Campbell. You will certainly recognize Don’s handsome gray suit and fedora; the green dress Joan wore the day there was that horrific accident in the office involving the lawn mower; and the black dress Megan Draper had on when she serenaded Don with her rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

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Ad geeks will be happy to hear that there is a wall in the exhibit dedicated to advertising art that Don and the gang used in presentations for clients like Jaguar and Hilton. The key ad art that was vital to the pitch for Belle Jolie lipstick is also on display.

While the exhibit provides a general overview of the show, it isn’t merely a random collection of objects. Miller was keen taking museum-goers on a deeper dive into the creative process. To that end, visitors enter the exhibit through an area that contains Weiner’s personal notes and research material.

One of the most interesting items is a journal entry from the early 1990s in which Weiner jot down notes for a screenplay titled The Horseshoe, which he was formulating at the time—the central figure is a man whose mother is a prostitute, and he is raised in a brothel, and he takes on the identity of a dead man. Sound familiar? Weiner never did finish that screenplay, but he did use this material to create a backstory for Mad Men’s Don.


Weiner, who along with department heads from the show met with and helped Miller while she was researching and planning the exhibit, which has been in the works for more than a year, has yet to see it in-person. But he will visit the museum on March 20 for an event titled “An Evening with Matthew Weiner” (sorry, but it’s sold out). “I will definitely be walking through the exhibit with him and getting his impressions,” Miller says.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum of the Moving Image is hosting a film series called “Required Viewing: Mad Men’s Movie Influences.” Weiner chose the ten movies, of course, and the series, running March 14 through April 26, will include screenings of films including The Apartment, The Americanization of Emily and Les Bonnes Femmes.

About the author

Christine Champagne is a New York City-based journalist best known for covering creativity in television and film, interviewing the talent in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. She has written for outlets including Emmy, Variety, VanityFair.com, Redbook, Time Out New York and TVSquad.com.

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