Back Story: Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner is Mad for Modern
If anyone can make history cool, it’s Matthew Weiner. The executive producer and architecture buff behind TV’s sleek 1960s-set megahit Mad Men talked with Preservation about his passion for places and how he celebrates historic design on and off screen.
By Gwendolyn Purdom | From Preservation | Summer 2013
Q: I understand you’ve been involved with the L.A. Conservancy and its preservation work.
A: It’s something that is very important to me. One of the things that I really wanted to do with the show is to tell people to stop tearing stuff down. You’re going to miss it.
Q: A lot of what the L.A. Conservancy has focused on in recent years has been of the same era as Mad Men.
A: Well, there’s a lot of it here in Los Angeles. New York has a different story because of how the land was developed and how it continues to be redeveloped, but I can tell you that when we finished the pilot, which we did shoot in New York, almost every location that we shot in was being remodeled or destroyed. This was … 2006? There’s only one place left that is intact.
Q: Have you been involved in other historic preservation projects outside of Modernism?
A: Oh my god, yes. When I first got married and was an out-of-work screenwriter, we lived in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, and they were tearing down all of these beautiful Spanish duplexes. We were involved with trying to save those buildings right in our backyard.
Q: The show has inspired a ’60s revival with Mad Men themed Modernism fundraisers and other events.
A: I think part of the reason the show did hit a nerve is that this period had been forgotten and ignored and people got a look at it again, but I think that just looking at the cyclical nature of style, [the show] might have come around at the right time to focus people’s eyes on it.
Q: The topic of preservation has even made it into the script of the show; the characters have talked about Penn Station’s 1963 demolition.
A: [Protagonist] Don Draper’s a curious person and he has an eye. As [his wife] Betty says when they’re remodeling their living room, “All you do is evaluate objects all day; where does the table go?” Design seems like it’s decoration—what does it matter? If there’s icing on the cake, why does it have to have flowers on it? All of that is pointless in some way, but I feel like the show is sort of saying it’s not.
Those spaces are very important to who we are and how we live. And that is a big story in the show, and that’s what the preservation thing was about: So the world is changing; are you just going to get in the way? Or are you actually fighting for something that is virtuous? Is it important for us to value our past? Don Draper is someone who tried to erase an entire identity; wouldn’t he be the person who’d move into anything new? Yes and no.
Q: Do you think Don Draper is a preservationist?
A: I do think Don Draper is a preservationist. He appreciates design. Obviously he has very particular tastes, but he’s open to new things and he, like the rest of us, is fighting a battle all the time over what you save and what you throw away.
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