Needle Park: Mad Men and JLP


There are many ways in which the TV show Mad Men overlaps with our decade-plus of research on the Jazz Loft Project.  This past Sunday night Midge, Don Draper’s Village girlfriend from the first season, reappeared as a Village heroin junkie with a junkie “husband” (most junkie couples weren’t legally married) willing to prostitute Midge for cash (photo above).  Yesterday on Slate’s weekly discussion of Mad Men Julia Turner mentioned that Alexandra Dufour had tipped them on LIFE magazine’s long 1965 piece on a couple living the junkie life in New York City, “The World of Needle Park.”  We’ve had this piece in our files for years.  The piece grew into a book by James Mills which became the source material for Joan Didion’s screenplay of the 1971 film, “Panic in Needle Park,” starring Al Pacino.

When JLP colleague Dan Partridge and I ventured to Port Townsend, Washington in 2005 to visit Virginia “Gin” Wald (in the loft era she was Gin McEwan) and her husband, the bassist Ted Wald, Gin told us all about the junkie street life she witnessed in NYC in the summer of 1961 with her boyfriend, saxophonist Lin Halliday.  She wrote about it movingly in letters to me afterward.  We edited her letters, with her editorial approval, for a blog entry a few months ago.  Gin said if we wanted to get a feel for her life with Lin then we should watch “Panic in Needle Park.”

Pacino played the junkie in that film.  On various buses and planes and rental cars (and I think we took a ferry from somewhere to somewhere on that particular Pacific Northwest trip in 2005), Dan Partridge and I tossed around actor names we thought could play Lin Halliday.  A year earlier we’d been in Chicago and came across film footage of Lin shot by bass player Dennis Carroll a few years before Lin died.  In that footage Lin looked not unlike he looks in the photograph of Lin and Gin made by their daughter which we posted in Gin’s blog entry.  He looked a little bit younger and healthier than that, but similar.  In the footage Lin is smoking cigarettes with all the compulsive mannerisms you’d expect from someone with serious addiction problems.  Only Lin seemed to have rounded off all the quick jerks, like a swimmer or flamenco dancer or puppeteer.  I’ve been in a lot of bars and pool halls and I’ve never seen anybody whip around matches and lit cigarettes quite like Lin.  Dan and I figured the actor who could do Lin justice is Johnny Depp.

-Sam Stephenson


  1. Don Getsug Said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

    Hi Sam…..Bill Eppridge’s “The World of Needle Park” riviting and haunting images for LIFE, stunned me as I was beginning my photojournalism career. I also still have it in my file. Never knew it was the basis for the Pacino movie.
    More overlapping!

  2. Richard Mitnick Said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

    It would be really nice if you would add WNYC’s Jazz Loft Project Radio Series,

    prominently on your blog.

  3. admin Said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:42 am

    It’s a top header of the front page of our website. It’s a good thought to remind people about it, though. Thank for the thought.

  4. admin Said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:49 am

    And, you are right, since some people are coming only to the blog now, we should find a way to link it there. Thanks again.

  5. admin Said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:55 am

    Just FYI to readers, Don Getsug is a photographer based in Chicago. In the late 1960s he spent time with Gene Smith in Eugene, Oregon and in the near future we hope to share some of his photographs.

  6. admin Said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 12:02 am

    Laura MacMahon and Randy Cain, your recent comments to this post were accidentally deleted. We encourage you to resend. We apologize.

    JLP Staff. 11/23/10