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Watching 'Mad Men,' Boomers Revisit Their Youth

The show's meticulous re-creation of the 1960s casts a powerful spell

Don Draper's Manhattan Apartment

It's now 1968 on "Mad Men," and Don Draper's Manhattan apartment looks its age. — Courtesy AMC

Don Draper's Pad

Among Didul's favorite finds are the Erik Buch-designed bar stools in Don and Megan Draper's Manhattan apartment (see right), the splashiest new set from season five. She unearthed the stools on eBay and had them shipped to the set from Virginia.

For this season, Didul's team tracked down the perfect light fixtures for the newly expanded SCDP offices from as far away as Spain, Brussels and Italy.

"It's like an archaeological dig," she says. "It's all great. It's what existed, and we need to find it."

The show's viewers do their own digging, too. One of the weekly rituals of ardent fans is combing through each episode to ferret out anachronisms, which makes invisibility the true goal for Didul and crew.

"People like to see something and say, 'Oh, that never would have existed,'" she says. "You hope that they can just sort of sit back and relax and enjoy the show."

Real-life Inspirations

One of the big advantages Didul now brings to the job is her memory. The Mad Men crew includes many who lived through the period they're now re-creating, Didul among them.

She was born in 1961, which makes her about the same age as Bobby Draper on the show. And with the proceedings now nearing the end of that decade, she finds herself drawing more heavily on personal photos and recollection. The Campbell home in suburban Connecticut is heavily inspired by her own childhood home in nearby Westchester County, N.Y., where she grew up the daughter of a lifelong adman.

"It's that reproduction French provincial and colonial look, and authentic antiques," she says. "The furniture, the architecture — it reminds me of home."

The nostalgia conjured by such a loving visual re-creation of the era may be the key to the show's appeal to boomers, for whom each Sunday night airing is a stroll down memory lane.

Don Draper, cad that he is, knows the power of reviving a bygone era. Recall his famous Carousel slide projector pitch to Kodak executives at the end of the show's first season, when he might as well have been speaking about Mad Men itself:

"It lets us travel the way a child travels," he said, "around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."

Austin O'Connor writes on lifestyle and entertainment topics for AARP Media.

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