Bergere saw a safe in the ruins

Simple Requests, Impossible Demands, 1908

The following article and images first appeared in The San Francisco Sunday Call, March 22, 1908. Check out the first part of this article here.

Note: The fire and ruins which Harry Rosemond refers to are the result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the US, the result of which left 80% of San Francisco destroyed.

The Problems of the Prop Man

by C. W. Rohrhand

Bergere saw a safe in the ruins
Bergere saw a safe in the ruins

“We do have some funny stunts thrown at us back in the ‘prop’ room,” continued Rosemond, a smile coming over his face and his eyes lighting up. “Yes, sir, we certainly have some funny stunts thrown at us back in the ‘prop’ room. We opened the Orpheum at the Chutes on the 21st of May after the fire and the first rattle out of the box along comes Bergere. Says she wants to play ‘The Red Thief,’ and nothing but a real safe will do for her to blow the door off. I tell her we can’t get a safe. She does not believe me, but takes me all over town. Not a safe to be hand. All the safes here and in Oakland being bought by wholesale houses starting offices in flats and residences in the Mission and Western Addition. We come to the corner of O’Farrell and Van Ness and stop to look at the bread line in front of the cathedral. She grows pathetic. Can’t stand it. Must cry. Turns her head away. Looks down the block of ruins. Dunbar’s old place, O’Farrell and Polk. Big safe sticking out of ruins. ‘Harry,’ says she, ‘Harry, look at that! that’s the safe we want.’ Marine guard on O’Farrell street, another on Polk. Orders to shoot any one looting premises. I’ll admit I gave up. Chalk it against me. Bergere did not play ‘The Red Thief’ until we got to the new house a year afterward. Plenty of safes then. Plenty of time to make a safe. I made one.

“You see, after the fire, when we started at the Chutes we had nothing in our ‘prop’ room except the regular tables and chairs. The first Sunday we got our first dose of ‘Harry, I forgot to put it down on the prop list, but, you know, I make a quick change and need a table. You know, Harry, any old table will do.’ Any old table! With three makeup tables taken and us at Twelfth avenue and Fulton street and 20 minutes to 2 and the opening show—any old table! I tried to get one from Wallenstein, who runs the cafe. Nothing doing. I begged the candy girl. No response. I tried to steal Manager Morrisey’s desk. Frost; he had his eye on it. I tried to get Miss Carlisle’s typewriter table. Nix. I walked over to the park, cut down two trees, stole two boards from the back fence and made a table. Time, 25 minutes. I guess that’s bad?”

Forgot to mention that he wanted a table for "quick change"
Forgot to mention that he wanted a table for “quick change”

Things do not always come as easy for the property man as the throwing together of a makeup table. Sometimes he’s called on for the impossible at the very last moment before the curtain rises.

“Take Burkhart, for instance,” said Harry, with a sad, far away look. “She’s an actress all right. She’s ‘there’ before any kind of a house. But for a woman who wants props and don’t know exactly what she wants she beats them all. She wants anything that will look nice and doesn’t tell us what ‘look nice’ means. And worst of all, she waits till the music rehearsal on Sunday morning to fix up her scene.”

Originally published in The San Francisco Call, March 22, 1908, page 4.