From Tony Soprano to Meryl Streep: Who knew it happened in Madison NJ?
One day, when my kids were very little, we were all sitting on the front stoop of our house in the knollwood neighborhood of town (we’ve since moved) and a car full of teenage girls slowly rolled by. A window opened and one of them yelled “Meryl Streep lived in your house!” They all collapsed into giggles and the car sped away. Since then, I’ve done a little research and while I can’t prove she lived in my house, her father did grow up in Madison, and there were rumors that the Streeps lived in town when Meryl was a baby. I definitely lived in that house from that moment on as if Meryl Streep had lived there. (I like to think her influence helped my daughter on her path to dramatic greatness she does have a good roll in Madison High School’s upcoming production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”). After learning about the Addressy #MyTownInMovies project I've done more research.
What’s even cooler, is seeing our little town in movies and television shows. Right now, there is a film production set up on Niles Street, rumored to be a kids TV show. And there are a bunch of times Madison pops up on film. I remember when movie crews took over Waverly Street and put about a million white lights in the trees for the film “Guess Who” starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac. The train station and an aerial view of the lovely Hartley Dodge Memorial town hall building are shown behind the closing credits.
There are a few film credits from our college campus locations: Drew University shows up in “The Sopranos” and Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry.” Fairleigh Dickinson was the backdrop for some of the film “A Beautful Mind.”
And if you have a middle schooler, they may be familiar with the book “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” which was made into a 1973 film called “The Hideaways.” I remember the part where the kids hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (still a personal life goal for me) but did you know the kids run away from Madison and are even shown at our very own train station?
In film and TV, Madison presents like a nice small town. In “Garp,” it was standing in for novelist John Irving’s quaint but flawed New England town. It looks like a place where everything is taken care of — well taken care of — on the outside, but where trouble may be brewing within. The same can be said of the other times Madison shows up on screen. Of course, if there weren’t trouble, where would the conflict be? What of interest could possibly happen?
While in my experience, Madison isn’t boring, and we are populated by humans so we all have our flaws, but I’m not sure the total experience is as shiny-on-the-ouside/messy-on-the-inside as our moving picture persona would have you believe.
I ran across this gem from 2008: a New York Times feature on our town for the real estate section. In those days, $299,000 could get you a 3 bedroom house built in 1900, and the mayor at the time Mary Anna Holden reported that the hottest topic at the last Borough Council meeting what whether to change the Memorial Day Parade Route.
Almost 10 years later, and I think all told our houses have probably gone up in value, but our debates have hit more of a national nerve. Recent legislation makes us something that sounds like a Sanctuary City enough to bring that national debate to borough council.
And in 2008, a resident reported they saw a few landscape trucks around but it seemed most people did their own yard work. Maybe I’m in my own bubble of sorts, but my kids have rarely touched a rake (maybe for a photo op? or to recreate one of the opening scenes from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”? But not to clean up the actual leaves!)
So we are still keeping up appearances, however that may happen in each home. And we are outspoken on national political issues at meetings and certainly on social media. And really, everything else has a champion and a detractor as evidenced on our local Facebook group Madison Area Parents and Community (the health benefits of local honey, the condition of the high school building and vaping come to mind). Is there still a hidden interior life that doesn’t quite match the drapes, so to speak? Or have we kind of equalized the two at this point?
Lately, when driving home from the high school down Central Ave, I’m struck by how different our little town looks from this perspective. You can see the bell tower of town hall from the top of Central, and the elevated train tracks. The swath of main street multi-story buildings outlines what could be somewhere in the mountain towns of places so much more rural than we are. I’m reminded of the Berkshires or even Vermont sometimes from this perspective. Heading around my own neighborhood on the other side of town it looks more like the leafy suburbs of Chicago — wide streets, big trees. Behind the junior school the sidewalks and smartly landscaped lawns and paver driveways take on a more city-chic feel. Not bad for a filming location after all.