Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Why Hasn't "Mad Men" Exploited "21"
The AMC series "Mad Men," which is set in New York in the early 60s, has done a good job of mining the city's great restaurants and bars—both extant and vanished—for background texture. We've had mentions and scenes set in such bygone food and drink meccas as Toots Shor's, The Stork Club, The Pen & Pencil, Rattazzi's, Lutece and Chumley's. Of eateries and watering holes that still exist, we've heard from Keen's Chop House, The Four Seasons, P.J. Clarke's and La Grenouille.
What's missing here?
The "21" Club, of course. Around since the 1930s, a longtime favorite of businessmen with fat expense accounts, and just a hop, skip and a jump from Madison Avenue, where "Mad Men" ad agency Sterling Cooper is located, it's a natural. The show's characters should have availed themselves of the place's red-checkered tablecloths long before now and inhaled a Southside or two. You just know that Roger Sterling haunted this place at least twice a week, and probably had his own table.
So, what gives? I asked "21"'s longtime publicist Diana Biederman and she confessed that, indeed, she has been valiantly trying to coax the "Mad Men" people into giving the restaurant a cameo, or at least a mention, for some time now. But to no avail. Biederman sent the production people volumes of historical material about "21," including clear ideas on what the place would have looked like in the early '60s. Among those material was an image of the above artwork, which hangs in a private hall on "21"'s second floor. It's an illustration that appeared in Town & Country magazine in 1961, of a smartly dressed woman about to be seated in the bar room's second section, right underneath the bell. (That's J.J. Hunsecker's seat in "Sweet Smell of Success," by the way.) Pearls, gloves, purse, patterned topcoat with shortened sleeves—you could just see Betty Draper in that outfit, couldn't you?
Biederman thinks she may have came close at the end of the second season. There was a scene in the final episode—where Betty beds down in the ladies room of a bar with a stranger—that the publicist feels may have once possibly been intended as for "21." But, Betty sits at a stool, and Biederman had told the show that "21" did not have stools in the 1960s. (The loss may have been for the best. Sex in the bathroom? It's not really a "21" moment, is it?)
One thing we know for sure—with the third season almost over, there's no chance of "21" getting its due this year. Let's hope Matthew Weiner wises up and sets a scene there in 2010.