Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, the Museum of the Moving Image’s latest exhibition, is a Mad Men obsessive’s dreamland. On view through June 14, it’s the largest collection of Mad Men memorabilia ever put on display, with more than 33 of the series’ most iconic costumes, hundreds of props, large-scale sets, and creator Weiner’s handwritten notes on the series’ origins.
Spoiler-hunters eager for hints about Don Draper’s fate can pore over Weiner’s chicken scratch handwriting, scrawled across dozens of memo pads, hotel stationery, and sheets of paper marked with Sopranos letterhead (Weiner was a writer for the seminal HBO series when he began sketching out his own show). Evocative phrases, ideas, and bits of dialogue abound: “Alienation/Who am I?”
“It’s now or never.”
“I wish I was in love again.”
Fully formed characters and scenarios appear in notepad form, eventually translated onto the small screen almost unaltered. On a sheet of stationery from the Playboy Mansion West (of all places), are a sketch of Faye Miller, the Ph.D. career woman Don left for his secretary Megan, and the last words she ever spoke to Don: “You only like beginnings.”
On another memo pad, the encapsulated tragedy of “Roger + Joan”: “Joan gets knocked up; has to get an abortion; last chance at motherhood; Roger’s already done fatherhood.”
A memorable exchange between Betty Draper and Glen Bishop, the creepy little boy who became infatuated with her in Season 1, is jotted down on a sheet of blank paper: Glenn asks Betty how old she is, to which she quips, “As old as your mommy.” She pauses for a second, then asks, “How old is your mommy?” Glen: “32.” Betty, triumphantly: “I’m 25.”
There’s little to glean about what lies ahead in the series’ final seven episodes—Weiner is notoriously spoiler-phobic—but journal entries dated Jan. 1993 do offer a full timeline for the life of a Don Draper prototype, a self-destructive man named Peter who was born to a prostitute in the 1930s, was raised in a brothel, and stole a dead man’s identity and went on to a life of success and respectability in the ’60s. (Sound familiar?) Peter lives out his 30s in 1960s New York, his 40s in Rome and his 50s in California (the word “Daughter” accompanies this last notch in the timeline).
“What becomes of him?” part of the journal entry reads. “His wife and daughter, then his second wife, already with children? His trip to Rome? California? Where do the pieces fall? Sequences must be combinations of time not merely simple events. I have firmly established a few themes —> 1) Death that follows all men. 2) Man’s insatiable sexual proclivities. 3) Transience of family. 4) Need for an enemy. 5) Religious beliefs are transcended by desperate realities. 6) Time passes.”
Small, framed photos of Weiner’s parents are mounted on the wall, along with portraits of the writer himself as a grinning, bespectacled young kid, who clearly inherited his poor eyesight from his dad. Weiner says his parents, who like Don and Betty experienced family life in the ’60s, inspired aspects of some of Mad Men’s characters; his mom, pictured in pearls and a red evening gown, with curled blond hair and elegant elbow-length gloves, was certainly a dead ringer for January Jones.
A full replica of the writers’ room—littered with encyclopedias, advertisement anthologies, magazines, and dictionaries from the ’60s—stands frozen in time, along with the kitchen from Don and Betty Draper’s old Ossining home, driven all the way to Queens from the show’s Los Angeles set.
Sally and Bobby’s artwork still clings to the fridge, with ancient boxes of Ritz crackers, Bugles, and Mr. Salty pretzels stacked on top. The stovetop—where insomniacs Don and Sally once ate late-night corned beef hash together—is spotless, while Betty’s green glass cigarette dish, with one lone cigarette abandoned inside, rests a few inches away.
On the wall, two ceramic wreaths you might have missed onscreen bear funny messages: “Behind every successful man stands a woman telling him that he’s WRONG!” shouts one. Right below it, another reads, “The opinions expressed by the husband in this house are not necessarily those of the management.” Never say Betty Draper had no sense of humor!
Then, the centerpiece of the exhibit: Don’s bright, gleaming corner office at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (or “Sterling Cooper & Partners,” depending on the season). Three consecutive awards from the American Advertising Guild adorn the wall, and family photos stand framed on Don’s desk: Megan in a bikini, Don carrying a young Sally on his shoulders, a school portrait of Bobby, and baby Eugene playing with a balloon.
The napping couch and that infamous alcohol cart are all there, too, the latter fully stocked with Smirnoff vodka, Beefeater gin, Canadian Club whiskey, and tonic water.
And then there are the costumes. Oh, those costumes. Designer Janie Bryant’s instantly recognizable creations are a visual guide through each character’s arc so far. For Peggy Olson, we see the morbidly drab gingham number she wore to her first day at the office, the sensible, powder blue dress she wore the first time Ted Chaough kissed her (that bastard), and the air stewardess chic ensemble (I’ll assume that’s what she was going for) she wore last season.
The outfits of Joan Harris are the next most exciting, with the bloodstained green dress from the Season 3 episode Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency (a.k.a. the episode where a drunk secretary runs over a guy’s foot with a lawn mower) on prominent display, along with the bright red dress with a bow in back that Joan wore to the office Christmas party in Season 4’s Christmas Comes But Once a Year. Roger’s indelible line about the dress immediately comes to mind: It “makes you look like a present,” he said.
Sally’s go-go boots, Betty’s monstrously huge pink nightgown and, yes, Megan’s swanky, black “Zou Bisou Bisou” dress are also on display, along with the suits and fedoras belonging to Don Draper and Roger Sterling.
Pete Campbell’s disintegrating sense of style is also chronicled, from the snazzy navy blue suits he favored in early seasons, to the hideous checkered pants, blue golf shirt, and sweater-tied-around-the-shoulders combo he sported in California, once he’d started losing his hair. (Don wasn’t crazy about the look either.)
Elsewhere, we find Stan Rizzo’s Midnight Cowboy-esque leather fringe jacket and cowboy boots, along with a host of memorable print advertisements from throughout the show’s run. The Hilton “How do you say hamburger in Japanese?” ad sticks out, as well as the Playtex ad that juxtaposed a Jackie O lookalike in black with a Marilyn Monroe clone in white. “Nothing fits both sides of a woman better than Playtex,” the ad purrs.
As for what is missing, very little occurred to this super-fan. Perhaps, where were Bert Cooper’s crazy argyle socks, sweater-vests, and his extensive bowtie collection? Not even his suspenders or a wisp of his beloved Colonel Sanders-style beard? Then again, he probably took all that with him when he song-and-danced his way into heaven to the tune of “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
Every kind of prop imaginable, from Betty’s vanity to old newspapers (a copy of the Los Angeles Free Press dated January 10-16, 1969 screams, “WILL NIXON RAID CUBA?”) to Don’s secretary Shirley’s cluttered desk and sassy outfit (white boots, hoop earrings) fill out the rest of the exhibit, which ends with an enlarged print of a passage from the preface to The Stories of John Cheever:
“These stories seem at times to be stories of a long lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner of a stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat. Here is the last generation of chain smokers who woke the world in the morning with their coughing, who used to get stoned at cocktail parties and perform obsolete dance steps like “the Cleveland chicken,” who sailed for Europe on ships, who were truly nostalgic for love and happiness, and whose gods were as ancient as yours and mine, whoever you are.”
There are but seven episodes left before the tragic, boozy world of Don Draper & Co. fades to black for good. It’s a paltry amount, but an exhibit like this is a fitting way to say goodbye—at least, until we get that Sally Draper spinoff series we’re still rooting for.