Tag Archives: funny

Prop Jokes from 1911

Here are some jokes and funny anecdotes from various newspapers, all of which appeared in 1911.

In a fourth of July oration in Denver N. C. Goodwin once remarked on the small means wherewith Washington achieved such great ends.
“When I think,” said Mr. Goodwin, “of Washington’s terrible handicap, my mind goes back to the town of Nola Chucky.
“An actor manager was to appear for one night in Nola Chucky, and accordingly he wired the proprietor of the Nola Chucky opera house:
“‘Will hold rehearsal tomorrow afternoon. Have stage manager, stage carpenter, property man and assistant, chief electrician and all stage hands at theater prompt to hour.’
“He received this telegram in reply:
“‘He will be there.'”

The San Francisco Call, July 22, 1911, Page 7.

Property Man: “Did your company have a long run in Squeedunk?”
Comedian: “They chased us only two miles out.”

University Missourian, September 18, 1911, Number 7, Page 4.

An English actor tells a good story of the old days of the touring fitup companies. They were at Oldham playing a melodrama called “Current Cash.” One of the properties essential to the piece was a light rowing scull, with which the hero had to push himself off into the stream. When the company reached Oldham the oar was missing, but the property man promised to have one ready for the evening’s performance, says the Pall Mall Gazette. That afternoon, with evident pride, he produced from the sacred recesses of his room a real human skull, and when it was pointed out to him that it was hardly what was required he declared in haughty tones:
“If that skull’s good enough for ‘Hamlet’ it ought to be good enough for a piece like ‘Current Cash.'”

The Manning Times, August 30, 1911, Page 6.

A Fine Fish Story, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career and another portion of this article as well.

In the middle of the room a long, spiked monster catches the eye of the visitor. It is evidently meant for a fish, and looks like the kind of fish men see on dry land after a Saturday evening around town. Jutting out from its sides are sharp spear-points. Its scales are shiny, red and yellow, and its eyes are red electric light bulbs.

“What is that thing?”

Mr. Morse chuckles delightedly at your surprise.

“Funny thing about that,” he replies. “A man came in here several months ago and said he was going to tell a fish story and wanted a good illustration. I didn’t catch on at first, but finally he told me that he was going to get up at a dinner, tell a wonderful tale about having caught a fish, and then pull aside a curtain and say, ‘This is the fish.’ The bigger and fiercer the fish, he said, the most suitable to his story.

“He was one of these rich, society people, you know, and he didn’t care what he paid for it. He told me to go ahead and make him one, no matter what it cost. And this is what I made him. I heard afterward about his getting off the story at his dinner. When he came to the end of it and had everybody laughing he pulled the string.

“‘And here is the fish!’ he cried.

“The fish was in a glass tank full of water, and by wires it was made to wiggle around just like a real one. The electric eyes were connected with a battery and glowed like two fierce, red coals of fire. The stunt was a huge success, and the man was pleased to death. As he had no further use for the fish he sent it back to me, and told me to do whatever I liked with it. So there it hangs—to scare away thieves at night.”

The fish is not Mr. Morse’s only curiosity. Grotesque shapes have been the fad in musical comedy lately, and there are many of them in the place. They are made as light as practicable, so as to give as little trouble as possible to the men who bear them in the play.

There is a great wicker elephant, made so that two men can walk inside of it. Near by is a camel, with unsightly humps. The crooked claws of an angry-looking lion almost pull your hair if you stand straight up near the north wall of the room. Filling up the gaps between the larger things are tiny paper forms. It looks as if the owner of the place were afraid some of the walls might show and had carefully covered every inch of them.

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.

Friday Funtime

First up is this video about the future of CGI and motion capture in films. Michael Bay, Jon Favreau, Ray Liotta, Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel talk about how new technologies are making sets and even props unnecessary for film; why would you use a gun to play a gun, when you can have an actor play a gun? It’s a really funny tongue-in-cheek look at the use of technology for technology’s sake.

I’ve already seen this being passed around quite a bit, but I thought I’d share it here: 25 special advantages a theatre major has. I guess some theatre majors get jobs that don’t involve doing theatre, which seems crazy to me.

The Alamance County Makers Guild that I recently began taking part in is planning their own Mini Maker Faire right here in Burlington, NC. So if you’re in the area on April 28th, come check us out.

Speaking of Make Magazine, this month their blog is featuring projects and tutorials dealing with natural materials. To kick it off, they’ve featured 10 great projects made from natural materials. Beetle shell ceiling, anyone?

Tape measure

A case against Metric

Suppose you want to divide one foot into four parts: that is three inches. Divide a foot into three parts and you have four inches. Divide a meter into four parts: each part is 25 centimeters. Divide it into three parts and you are left with 33.33… cm.

The same is true with liquid and dry measurements. Take a cup. Now double it and you have a pint. Double it again and you have a quart. Take a gallon and divide in four; that’s a quart. Divide a liter into four parts, and you have to call it either 2.5 deciliters or 250 centiliters.

Look at a clock; it has sixty seconds in every minute, and sixty minutes in every hour. You can divide a minute in half, thirds, quarters, fifths, or sixths and in every case, you are left with a whole number of seconds. No fractions or decimals.

Metric may be good for scientific and technical measurements with things that increase by orders of magnitude. For example, hard drive memory started out with bytes, than kilobytes, followed by megabytes, gigabytes and now terabytes. But when dealing with carpentry and recipes and other measurements used in the construction of props, you are not having to convert between units which are one hundred or one thousand times larger than other units. You are dividing things into halves and quarters and thirds. You want to be able to take a measurement with a ruler which gives you one or two whole numbers and a fraction. It is so much easier to say “this prop is one foot and three inches tall, two feet and five inches long, and three quarters of an inch thick” than it is to say “this prop is 38.1 centimeters tall, 73.7 centimeters long, and 19 millimeters thick.” Furthermore, when you look at a tape measure, the hash marks for the fractions of an inch are all different sizes, so you can easily see whether you are at 1/4 or 5/16. With a metric tape measure, you have ten tiny divisions per centimeter, all at the same height. Is that .7 cm or .8? Who knows! (Of course, the greatest sin is a tape measure with both metric and customary units.)

The system of inches and feet were developed from commonly experienced physical objects, like a human thumb and a human foot. Their subdivisions were developed to measure commonly constructed objects for everyday use. This is what we deal with in props; the construction of everyday items on a human scale. A meter, on the other hand, was derived as a fraction of the Earth’s diameter. How much more sense does it make to say “this bench should be as long as three of my feet” than it is to say “this bench should be large enough so that 3,187,000 of them will fit end-to-end from one side of the planet to the other, going through the center”? Balderdash!

Metric is a centrally-designed hierarchical system which is applied to the measurement of everything conceivable, while customary units are a collection of localized systems specifically altered to the items and entities being measured. It may be funny to dig up archaic names of measurements to ask rhetorical questions like “how many hogsheads in a morgen”. In reality though, you will never need to convert the measurement of a cask of wine to the measurement for a plot of land. As an aside, archaic units are not limited to the customary system; does anyone in metric still use a stère?

It may be tricky to calculate how many inches are in a mile, but you rarely need to use that conversion in day-to-day life. Finally, despite the often touted ease of converting from nanograms to kilograms to megagrams, scientists have settled on essentially using the kilogram to measure the mass of everything, from the sun to an electron. No need to convert anything!

This is not so much a case against metric, but an appeal for hybrid systems and specificity in measurements to the task at hand. There is no harm done if I build a bench using inches and feet while biologists measure the volume of a cell in micrometers. I don’t wear the same outfit as a biologist, and a biologist doesn’t use the same tools and machines as a props artisan. That would be absurd. Neither of us have to convert the volume of a cell to the height of a chair. That would be even more absurd. Both of us using the same system of measurements? That’s the absurdest.

Tape measure

Friday Funnies

Here are some whimsical tales to tickle your funny bone on this Friday.

When Macready opened in “Lear” at the Nottingham Theatre the “property man” received his plot for the play in the unsual manner, a map being required among the many articles–(map highly necessary for Lear to divide his Kingdom.) The property-man, being illiterate, read mop for map. At night the tragedy commences; Macready, in full stage on his throne, calls for his map; a supernumerary “noble,” kneeling, presents the aged King a white curly mop. The astounded actor rushed off the stage, dragging the unfortunate nobleman and his mop with him, actors and audience wild with delight.

-The New York Times. February 6, 1881

Imagine King Lear being handed a mop! Priceless! This next chestnut is quite a gem as well.

The other night the critical scene in “Iris,” in which Oscar Asche “breaks up housekeeping,” was almost spoiled by a property man. To avenge a fancied wrong the man glued down the vases on the mantle which Mr. Asche breaks first. When that trying scene came Mr. Asche turned Iris into the streets as usual, and turned to the vases. With a sweep of his hand he struck them. They were so firmly glued, however, that only the tops were broken by the blow–and Mr. Asche’s hand incidentally bruised. A property man is now looking for a new job.

-The New York Times. November 2, 1902

Oh that wacky property man! This final anecdote takes place at one of the first theatres I worked at professionally.

Another story which has to do with edibles on the stage used to be told by Joseph Jefferson, who described the incident as happening in the early days of the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. “Camille” was the piece that was being played and all was going beautifully. Then came a scene between Camille and Armand, in the course of which a a servant was to enter with lights. “In those days,” said Mr. Jefferson, “Sea Island cotton was stage ice cream, just as molasses and water was stage wine.”

Armand and Camille were seated at the table and the crowded house was rapturuously following their scene. Then in came the maidservant with the wobbliest sort of a candelabrum, but the scene was so tense that nobody seemed to notice her. However, as she set down her burden between the lovers one of the candles toppled over and set fire to the ice cream. That was more than the audience could stand and the curtain was rung down.

-The New York Times. June 5, 1910

Sounds like that show was “on fire” that night! I hope these quirky little tales leave you smiling for the weekend.