The producers of HBO’s Treme have gone into crisis mode to tamp down another controversy. Fresh off the heels of the brouhaha that ensued when houses depicted in the advertising campaign promoting the first season of Treme were demolished following a high profile spat between Treme creator David Simon and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu over a feeble attempt by preservationists and Treme producers to save the doomed structures, preservationists have now turned their attention to the chair featured in the advertising campaign for the second season of Treme.
Preservationists contend the chair was once sat in by Hokie Mokie, considered by many the “King of Jazz” for a brief period in the 1940s. Mokie apparently sat in the chair during a rent party in the Back ‘O Town neighborhood later essentially mowed over by urban renewal projects in the 1960s.
Shortly after the recent chair photo shoot, Treme producers, unaware of the chair’s purported historic significance, donated it to Bridge House. Bridge House has been unable to determine the chair’s whereabouts and has appealed to the public for leads.
Preservationists fear the chair has been used to make folk art.
Jack Davis, a board member for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said he has a signed affidavit from a man who claims to be the chair’s rightful owner. “We have an affidavit from the person who sanded the chair with his own hands who says, and I quote, ‘My Mamou gave me that chair the day before she died and she swore Mokie played a rent party for the family and he sat in that chair to drink beer between songs.’” Other contemporaneous reports indicate Mokie stood on the chair for his last number, “Joe Avery’s Blues.”
The circumstances surrounding how the Treme producers came to have possession of the chair are murky. It had apparently been left in an Irish Channel driveway and after a heavy rain someone assumed it was left out for garbage.
“It’s a crappy chair for Chrissake!” said an exasperated Simon. “If I had understood the cultural significance of it, obviously, we would have handled things differently and had it carefully restored and donated it to the Hogan Jazz Archive or the Amistad or the Louisiana State Museum or Backstreet or whatever. But as it was, someone on our team found it by the side of the road and we went with the ‘Finders keepers’ dictum.”
The Mayor’s Office released a brief statement that said: “Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Office was never contacted about the chair and only heard about it after it came to be missing. Mayor Landrieu appreciates the value of the city’s cultural capital and supports efforts to recover the chair. All New Orleanians deserve a seat to history.”
Simon agrees and wants to make it up to New Orleanians. In the coming days HBO will launch a website where the first 100,000 New Orleans residents who sign up will receive a free Treme festival chair. “Each chair will be sat in by a cast member and each chair will come with a certificate of authenticity, a Treme doubloon featuring the chair on one side and the demolished houses on the other, and a raffle ticket to win one of the hundred 72 inch high definition Sony televisions we’ll be giving away,” Simon announced.
“There’s a lot of downtime when filming, so the actors–who, I should say, have graciously agreed to do this–they’ll have plenty of time to sit in the chairs.” Each certificate of authenticity will include the episode being filmed while the chair was sat on, as well as the name of the actor who sat in it.
Preservationist Davis is also trying to locate the Mardi Gras mask that rests on the chair in the Treme second season advertisement. “We believe it’s a ‘long nose Casanova.’ Given its role in the Treme ad, we think it should be preserved.”