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The Marvelous World of Mrs. Maisel, Through Vintage Photos

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

It would have been so easy for the creators of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maiselto get it all wrong. We’ve all seen New York through the eyes of the Hollywood dream machine in a way that could not fool us, the native New Yorkers. We’ve scowled at streets that were supposed to be Harlem but were clearly a backlot in Burbank, Calif. We’ve shook our heads at shimmering skyscrapers that were meant to be the financial district but were obviously Toronto or Vancouver. And perhaps the worst: We’ve watched characters who are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hop on a subway in TriBeCa and arrive, moments later, in Washington Heights.

Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, the show’s creators, are both California natives, but they know and love New York. “We grew up separately in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and have spent most of our lives there,” said Mr. Palladino, “but always had this fascination with New York and just really needed a good excuse to be out here permanently. Which we are now — we live in Brooklyn.”

Ms. Sherman-Palladino explained, “The big thing about a show like ours is, any network or studio is going to want to not do it in New York, because it’s expensive. We had a long talk with Amazon about the fact that this show cannot become a show that becomes people talking in rooms, because it’s not that show. It needs breath and air, and it needs to live out on the streets.”

The streets of New York come to life in both Seasons 1 and 2 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Even those of us who weren’t born during the era the show portrays watched with delight as the show depicted places and spaces of New York lore — the Gaslight Cafe nightclub, Kettle of Fish bar and the Carnegie Deli among them. As the second season debuted on Dec. 5, we asked the creators to look at photos from our archives and to share their thoughts about the New York as shot by Times photographers and the New York of their show.

DANIEL PALLADINO Right off the bat, a big thing for us and our production designer is that back then signage was much more prevalent. In the photo of Eighth Street [above], I’m struck by signage that you see here on both sides of the streets. Back then, if you went to a grocery store, the windows would just be covered from head to toe with signage: advertising goose livers, prices, “Come on in!” — all that stuff, at all different kinds of angles. Much more than we do today. So we’re constantly slapping signage up.

AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO All this stuff is like the layering of the signs, and the signs within the signs. We had a lot of talk about layers, and a lot of talk about the signage. Because the period was that period of like, “We’re on the upswing, and the last decade was sad, and we conquered the world. We’re America.” So that feeling was pulsating through the city.

PALLADINO There'd be a sign over a sign, and then a sign sticking out, and a sign up here and a sign up there.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO I want to live somewhere with a big neon “babka,” that sounds like heaven to me.”

PALLADINO This looks like an uptown crowd came downtown a little bit. It’s a pretty white crowd. It looks like they came from work. And they would do that, we had in our pilot, we had Midge and Joel’s friends, the Clearys came down, it was very exotic for them to go downtown. There were people who, as you know, to this day, if you live uptown, sometimes they never go downtown. And if you live downtown, they never go uptown, unless it’s for theater or something.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO The other thing is, if you look at a lot of these Village pictures, the men didn't wear hats in the Village, they wore hats uptown. So if you look at a lot of these Village pictures, they are in black and white, but these guys could be wearing this today. It's a little bit less of the Doris Day feeling, because people look much more modern in these pictures.

PALLADINO It was Kennedy not wearing a hat to his inauguration that made men think, "Maybe I shouldn't wear a hat." It's kind of a shame.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Hats are great.

PALLADINO This looks like Italy a little bit with the motorbike and Borgia. But you also notice the other thing is there are more trees now. There weren’t nearly as many trees, they were just planting them.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO So the trees were like sticks. That’s another thing that we have to deal with downtown, you have these blocks where there’s tree, tree, tree, and it feels like the Upper West Side, because there just weren’t trees there. They didn’t have that in the Village.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO There is a lot of unchanged in New York, but it’s surrounded by a lot of change. We’ll go and we’ll shoot something, and then our special effects will come in and do all the cleanup. And the cleanup is crazy, from locks to the cages on the air-conditioners, not the air-conditioners themselves, but the cages, security cameras.

PALLADINO Satellite dishes, A.T.M.’s. Everything is everywhere, and we erase so much stuff.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Oh my god. Look at this.

PALLADINO This is something we should keep in mind, maybe.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Four women, one room, that’s a nightmare. That’s so great. “Singles Week.” Of course.

PALLADINO “Singles Week,” what does that mean? Was it before or after the normal season?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO It’s August.

PALLADINO That’s right in the thick of the season, the whole week of just singles?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Not by the end of the week.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO This is a great picture.

PALLADINO I would say it’s [the actor] George Hamilton doing the frug or something in 1964.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Look at that! And this would not be the only show that night, right? That’s the amazing thing.

PALLADINO This is thousands of people. We do an episode where we’re saying she’s at the Concord, but there was no way we could recreate a theater this wide with this many people … We want to make it look like the modern world, but the modern world for them was 1959, 1960. So that’s what Amy was saying, that a lot of times when you see movies especially, but a lot of television shows that are set in the ’20s or in the ’40s or the ’50s.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO They’ll do it in the ’70s, like everything in the ’70s was orange.

PALLADINO They’ll add a color of patina to the cinematography that is supposed to make it look like 1970 or 1960 to our eyes, but again, back then the world wasn’t orange. It was bright and colorful. So I think the vintage aspect comes into effect in the costume, in the wardrobe and the production design.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO And New York is 1700s, 1800s, early 1900s, it’s everything layered upon, layered upon, layered upon. When you look at the Maisel apartment, it's not just all 1950s — there're pieces that would have been in Rose's family from the 1800s and mixed up, because everyone's apartment is a mixture of what your life has been up until then, not just a snapshot in time in that moment. Nobody goes out and furnishes an entire apartment in one day, and then that's how they live.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO We wanted to make sure that when we photographed New York, it didn’t have any sort of filter or sepia tone feel that made it feel quaint or old-fashioned or old-timey. Because you see the people in these pictures, they’re walking quickly, there’s an energy, there’s a vibrancy, even just to the pictures of New York. Especially during that time, because it was postwar and things were on the upswing, and there was so much innovation. It was, “Buy a washing machine, buy a car, buy this and buy that.”

PALLADINO We always make a point to everybody that these people, they’re our past, but they thought they were living in a modern world. And they were living in a modern world. So one of the things we tell our extras who come in — we have to tell some of our guest actors this — but we tell our extras, too, “Don’t walk down the street in the scene like you’re in 1959, just walk down the street.” Because they didn’t know they were in 1959.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO Don’t try to be old-timey.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.


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