Maisel’s marvelous ashtrays: handicraft accessories from local potters for a popular show
CHATHAM – One of the elements of a successful movie or TV show, especially ones set in the past, is verisimilitude. The accuracy of the period can mean the difference between engagement and acceptance by audiences or viewers calling something unconvincing.
The Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is one of the first – it strives to depict the nightclub milieu of late 1950s New York, where Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel refines her chops of comedy as precisely as possible, down to the smallest accessory.
This is where this hit TV series crosses paths with a local potter.
West Chatham-based Chatham Pottery provides the show with ashtrays for scenes set at Toots Shor’s Restaurant, a Manhattan restaurant and nightclub popular with celebrities in the late 1950s. The scenes set in the club are featured in the show’s fourth season, which was released in March.
Jade Schuyler said Chatham Pottery had been contacted by representatives of the show who were looking for the 1950s art deco style ashtrays originally used at the club. A few quirky ashtrays had a stamp saying they were made by ‘Chatham Potters’, and when the show’s prop master and decorator Googled the first hit was Chatham Pottery, she said . Chatham Potters, whoever it was, had apparently been bankrupt for a long time.
“We designed a mold and they loved it,” Schuyler said. After sending a prototype to the show, Chatham Pottery received a first order of 45 ashtrays and more recently a second order of 38. That may seem like a lot, but for those old enough to remember, ashtrays like these- these were ubiquitous in bars, restaurants and even homes half a century ago.
Schuyler and her husband, Paul, created three different molds based on the original ashtrays. There were a few challenges. The clay used by Chatham Pottery shrinks by 12%, so the ashtrays they have produced are quite a bit smaller than the originals. And the color, kind of a reddish brown, wasn’t one of the glazes they usually use, so it took over a dozen tests to get the glaze color right. The finished product “looks like a big [candy] bar,” Paul said.
“It was really fun to take on the challenge of designing it, making sure it turned out the way they wanted it to,” Jade said. Chatham Pottery was initially contacted by the show in late December; it took about a month and a half to ship the first shipment of ashtrays in time for filming of the second part of the season, which began in February.
Ironically, their contacts at the show had no idea of The Schuyler’s connection to “the business”. Paul is a longtime filmmaker and actor, and Jade is an actor and playwright. Their pandemic-filmed thriller “Red River Road” has made the festival circuit and recently found a distributor. The film will screen again at the Chatham Orpheum Theater in July.
Meanwhile, the Schuylers are ready to fill more orders for vintage ashtrays – or any other “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” period accessories or any other production needs.