Tag Archives: swords

Belasco’s Property Room Part 3, 1920

The following is the third part of a 1920 article on David Belasco’s property collection. The first part and second part were published earlier:

Oddities From the Orient

by Frank Vreeland

Near a Mexican guitar used in “The Rose of the Rancho” and a moon harp played in “The Darling of the Gods” hangs a pair of Chinese torture pliers which were originally intended for use in “The Son-Daughter” and which look like a pair of exaggerated lemon squeezers. Buddhist bronzes and Japanese tea sets of valuable teak wood are mingled with Oriental steel mirrors bought in a New York department store. Beneath a large part of the ceiling spreads the spokes of a large wheel from a loom that is 150 years old and casts its shadow on a set of telephone books from “The Woman,” which Property Chief Purcell remarks drily “are being kept as a souvenir of the day when you could get your call.

“And besides,” he adds with a twinkle, “they’ll be handy if the ghost of one of the men in the cast who died wants to look up a number.”

The room is especially prolific in swords. A bushel of them are rammed into a high vase in one corner, and the room sprouts them elsewhere—Roman swords, old English sabres, heavy five foot blades swung in the Crusades, and an ancient English executioner’s axe, which Mr. Purcell exhibited as a very efficient means of promoting the acquaintance of ancestors with their descendants.

A cabinet with one of the most interesting arrays in the whole exhibition—which is ticketed and catalogued, by the way—is that containing the bed quilts of the epoch when they used the bed warmers on view in one corner and didn’t depend on the janitor for heat. There are comforters and counterpanes with the sort of zigzag designs and chromatic convulsions that would warm a cubist’s heart, let alone his feet. Some of them are beautiful even from a modern standpoint, however, and those that are ugly are none the less valuable, like the Paisley shawls, of which Mr. Belasco has his fair share. Many of these coverlets were bought by Mr. Belasco without any intention of applying them to the A. H. Woods kind of production, simply being purchased as part of the entire contents of Gen. Braddock’s house in Washington, which Mr. Belasco snapped up as part of his unending campaign to equip himself with a full line of antiques.

Armor

Original Publication: Vreeland, Frank. “Belasco’s Property Room Houses Antique Gems.” The Sun and New York Herald 1 Feb. 1920, Sunday Magazine Section sec.: 7. Print.

Weekend Prop-pourri

Bondo. You either love it or hate it. Or love to hate it. If you do work with it, Make has some tips on getting the best results with it.

Mental Floss has put together a list of 10 of history’s most terrifying swords. The Urumi seems especially frightening. It would be awesome to see some stage combat done with these weapons rather than just the standard Western rapier dueling.

Tony Zhou has a new episode of Every Frame a Painting called “In Praise of Chairs“. He looks at the importance of the choice of chairs in production design for various films. Of course, we already know that, especially if you’ve ever worked on a show where none of the chairs you found were “exactly right”.

I like this ultimate guide to analog control panels in sci-fi movies. Hopes&Fears looks at the computers and displays from movies such as Star WarsBlade Runner and Predator, and goes into details from the productions of these films to illuminate how they were made and why they ended up looking the way they do.

Links for the Weekend

How do you cut open a deer carcass and pull out a bleeding heart every night on stage? Wall Street Journal has a short but interesting article on how Eric Stewart, the head of props  for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, does just that. Remember to keep your fake hearts wrapped in wax paper in between performances.

I used to watch the show Haven, but was unaware it was still running. But “Revisiting Haven” has a new interview with props master Jason Shurko up. If you can get the plug-in to work, it’s a fascinating look at what it takes to get all the weird and wonderful props featured on the show.

Gizmodo has a great article and video taking us inside the fiery workshop of a 21st century swordmaker. He’s not making stage combat weapons, but it is still really cool seeing an intricate weapon take shape from just a few lumps of nondescript steel.

Tested takes their video camera into the jAdis prop rental shop. This Santa Monica business specializes in weird science and medical props and forgotten technology. If you’re making a movie that needs a Hemodimagnometer, this is where you go. Be sure to check out their website as well for some great pictures and more news stories about their history.

Famed monster maker Rick Baker is putting his stuff for auction later in May. Check out the catalog at Prop Store’s website for the full range of all the items they have. You may not be interested in buying and collecting these items, but these auction catalogs always have great photographs and descriptions of the items, which serve almost like a history of how props and animatronics were constructed. This one has molds, mechanisms, masks and more from shows like An American Werewolf in LondonMichael Jackson’s ThrillerHarry and the Hendersons, and Gremlins 2.

20000 Objects in Opera Property Room, part 5, 1912

The following is the fifth portion of an article which first appeared in the New York Sun in 1912. You can catch up on the first partthe second partthird part and the fourth part.

In addition to the mass of less frequently used properties which are distributed among the storehouses there are at the opera house itself five large rooms filled with hundreds and hundreds of the objects oftenest in demand. In one of these rooms, which is called the armory, are rows of helmets, great stands of spears, racks full of guns, innumerable swords, including the famous one of Siegfried, the white one of Lohengrin and that of Telramund. Here is Caruso’s armor, which, as he dislikes to wear or carry anything heavy, is made of aluminum. His helmets are of aluminum too. These stage weapons are never sharp enough to do any damage, even if some one accidentally got in their way.

The guns are the real thing and are loaded with powder. A permit to keep explosives on the premises has to be had every time an opera is given in which guns are fired or conflagrations imitated.

In one of the property rooms at the opera house, which is always spoken of as “Frank Furst’s room,” an employee is generally at work rubbing up gun barrels, swords and armor, or polishing brass armlets. Guns are used not only on he stage, as in “Tosca” and “Carmen,” but off stage in taking up cues.

If a great crash is to be produced half a dozen stage hands are armed beside them with a prompt book following the score. As the cue approaches he counts, “one, two, three, four, five!” At five they fire simultaneously, while at the same time there comes a clap of stage thunder. The resulting noise is big enough for any kind of a crash.

A curious phase of the property department’s work is the way it sometimes has to dovetail a job with some other department. For instance, in the last act of “Tosca” there is a flag which floats on the top of the tower. It really does float, the breeze blowing it with every appearance of naturalness. An electric fan adjusted behind the side scenes provides the breeze. In this case the flag is put in place by the property department, while the electric fan belongs to the electrical department, which must see that it is set up and running.

In the second act of “Madama Butterfly” several large Japanese lanterns with standards are brought in by Suzuki and set about the stage. Lights are burning inside them. The third act opens with the same scene after a lapse of several hours, which passage of time is indicated by having the lights in the lanterns flicker and go out one by one. This is the way it is done. When the lanterns are brought on they contain lighted candles which come under the head of properties and which therefore are put in and lighted by some one in that department.

When the curtain goes down a property man takes out these candles. Then an electrician sees that the standards are placed over metal plates in the matting, Suzuki having set them in approximately the correct position. Then he puts in electric bulbs, wires from under the stage are connected with the metal plates, contact is secured through the base of the standard and the resulting light is then turned on and off from below to simulate a flickering candle flame. After the scene the electrician comes and gets his bulbs before the property man can carry off the lanterns.

This article will conclude in a later post. It was originally published in the New York Sun, February 25, 1912, page 16.

Friday Rehearsal Notes

For those of you in North Carolina, the Maker Faire NC is happening tomorrow at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. I won’t be there, but the Alamance Makers Guild (where I am a member) will have a copy of my book you can peruse through. And of course, being a Maker Faire, there will be tons of other cool things to see and do.

How to be a Retronaut has a few cool photographs from behind the scenes at Madame Tussaud’s in the 1930s. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is still going strong today, and I’ve known prop people who work there, maintaining all the statues.

Adam Savage talks about how being under a deadline can actually improve your projects because it forces you to be more creative. Of course, he uses plenty of examples from his prop and model building days. And there’s a photograph of him in an alien costume.

A California couple bought a house and discovered it had a fallout shelter which was perfectly preserved from 1961. Check out the article for some awesome photographs of product packaging from that time period.

Tony Swatton makes stage combat swords for stage and film. Here is a video where he forges the sword from He-Man. And then he destroys a car with it. I’ve linked to this web series before; every week, he has a new episode showing the creation of a sword or other weapon from film, TV and video games. It is a very insightful view into all kinds of metal working techniques.