Don Draper and ‘Mad Men’ archive land at University of Texas
The last America saw of Don Draper, he was meditating on a Pacific hillside, imagining one of the most iconic ads in television history.
What’s left of the flawed protagonist of “Mad Men” has now gone to Texas.
Show creator Matthew Weiner and production company Lionsgate have donated the “Mad Men” archive — including scripts, drafts, notes, props, costumes, digital video and reams of research materials that went into creating the show’s richly detailed presentation of the American 1960s — to the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center humanities library.
Weiner, who also wrote and directed many episodes, said he donated the archive to the Ransom Center because he couldn’t stand the thought of the material being dispersed at auction or lost forever.
“There is a record here of mid-century America that digs so deep,” Weiner said. “It would have been sad to let that go.”
The donation was scheduled to be announced Thursday.
Weiner chose the Ransom Center as the resting place for a show about Madison Avenue advertising professionals almost by chance. He was in Austin to attend a film festival when a visit to the Ransom Center’s “Gone With the Wind” exhibit inspired him to donate the “Mad Men” archive for preservation and research.
The “Mad Men” collection from its 2007-2015 run starring Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss includes a selection of costumes and props. They include Draper’s terms of re-employment letter (meticulously typed in a size of font typical of the time), Betty Draper’s medical file, advertising poster boards, rolodexes full of phone numbers, and even a fictitious “Star Trek” episode that one of the show’s characters had hoped to get produced.
Boxes of research materials show how deeply show writers dug to preserve an authentic feel, even before the first episode was aired. “Look books” of period fashion and style were laid out for each character, home and office design, with details from the average kitchen toaster to recreating a checkbook or men’s suits. Magazines of the times were scoured to research the news and language of the era, such as when the word “groovy” would first be used
“We would take things from the Sears catalog, not just the cover of Vogue,” Weiner said.
Kevin Beggs, Lionsgate television group chairman, said “Mad Men” is more than a great show. “It is part of American television history, a ground-breaking classic worthy of the scholarly research the Ransom Center supports.”
If the collection holds any secrets about the characters or stories, Weiner said they reside in the rough drafts, rewrites, screen tests and Weiner’s own notes that show how episodes or seasons evolved before they aired.
“It often didn’t start the way it came out. You will get to see the origin of everything, from what a character was supposed to be like, to how a story was originally supposed to work. It’s all there,” Weiner said.
Weiner’s personal notes also reveal production battles, such as his yearslong efforts to be allowed to use Beatles music in the show, or archive news footage of CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite covering the 1969 moon landing.
“My argument was, my show is fake until I get a Beatles song in there,” Weiner said.
Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s film curator, said it will take about a year to catalog the entire collection. Some pieces will be put on display and the collection will be available to researchers and the university’s radio, television and film students.
Weiner wants the students and researchers to see all the work behind the show, including the burps and missteps that went into crafting the final product.
“Artists have traditionally hidden the long road of mistakes,” Weiner said. “When you see a finished work, it can be intimidating. Showing all the brush strokes hopefully is very encouraging to people.”
In this Monday photo, donated props from the show “Mad Men” are seen on display at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center humanities library in Austin, Texas. Included in the donation are boxes of scripts, drafts and notes, props, costumes, digital video and reams of research materials that went into creating the show’s richly-detailed presentation of the American 1960s.