Mad Men 411
Norm MacDonald, president of the Ossining Historical Society Museum, gives Mad Men’s researchers the scoop on Ossining in the ’60s.
Attention to period detail has helped make Mad Men the most-watchable show on TV. When its writers need picky historical details for the suburban scenes, they call Norm MacDonald, a 40-year Ossining resident and president of the Ossining Historical Society Museum, for the answers. He gave us a few as well.
Why Ossining, of all places? John Cheever lived here, and Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, is quite a fan of his. That’s how Don and Betty Draper came to live in Ossining and not Chappaqua, Tarrytown, or Rye.
How often do the writers call you? Sometimes three or four times a week. We get a lot in May and June. They called me on vacation, at my place in the Adirondacks.
What types of questions do they ask? The names of businesses and schools, what the municipal buildings look like. Recently, they wanted to know the names of a moving company and a real estate broker from 1964. They also wanted to know the price of a four-bedroom house with a two-car garage on a half-acre lot in an upscale area. I told them $66,000.
Sounds like you can get juicy plot details from these questions! People around here want to know what they ask me to figure out where the show is going. But the writers never divulge the direction of the script.
Do you remember the first time you heard from them? A little over three years ago. They wanted an awful lot of information about Ossining. I said the best way to find out about Ossining is to look at microfilm from newspapers from the late ’50s and early ’60s. I sent them a box of microfilm and they went to a local library in L.A. and spent days and days there. Then they became interested in buildings—the train station, the police station, the municipal building, Brookside School. So I sent them a whole array of photographs.
How does it feel to contribute to the only show to win the Best Drama Emmy three years in a row? I think I’m responsible! But I’ll tell you, it’s a lot of fun. It’s good publicity for Ossining.
What’s the oddest thing they ever asked you? The background color of the street signs in 1963. I told them green with white lettering. There aren’t very many people around who would remember that.