The following article and images first appeared in The San Francisco Sunday Call, March 22, 1908.
The Problems of the Prop Man
by C. W. Rohrhand
When the famous financier gave the famous advice to his son, “My boy, get money, honestly if you can, but get it,” every property man took off his hat to the name of the famous financier. Strike out the word “money,” insert “properties” and you read the mandate every vaudeville manager hands to his property man. To be a property man in vaudeville does not necessarily mean to be dishonest. He must have friendsâ€”friends who have nice furniture, friends who have swell ornaments, good pictures, nice glassware; friends who have things necessary to dress a scene.
To the property man all gold must glitter, no matter what it is made of. In the “legitimate,” that is, at the theaters playing shows “off the road,” or at the stock houses, the property man has time to spare in which to produce the properties needed. Usually these houses make up their season’s attractions long before the season starts, and as all plays have scene and property plot attached to the manuscripts, it is a comparatively easy task for the property man to prepare, months in advance, for a show that is to come.
In vaudeville things are different, especially at the Orpheum. The management may know who is coming, may have an idea of what the act will be, but aside from that knows nothing until the actors arrive in town, which is usually on Thursday of the week preceding their appearance in the bill. And if the management does not know, the men “behind” surely do not. There’s the rub. Harry Rosemond is property man at the Orpheum. He is one of the oldest in the business on the coast, and when he throws up his hands you know that “get properties, honestly if you can” has failed to work. It is then that Harry Rosemond goes on his still hunt and returns not until he has either the “props” needed or the material with which to make them.
“About Thursday we get our property plots,” said Rosemond. “Fifteen minutes after we read them we go crazy. Did you ever see a property plot? Here’s one; ‘A Jolly Jollier.’ They have 74 props in their plot and carry 15. The other 59 we dig up. My boy, get properties. That’s what the manager puts us here for. Just plan, ‘get them.’ Look down that list. They have 8 menu cards, 8 soup spoons, 1 silver soup dish, 1 silver fish dish with cover, 1 silver bread plate and 6 silver knives and forks. Nothing breakable, see? and they want such things as champagne glasses, sherry glasses and soup plates. We go to work looking up what we have in our property room and who of our friends have what we have not. If we can only dig up 58 pieces they throw up their hands, declare their act spoiled and add that they never yet met a property man who cared a cuss whether their act ‘went’ or not.
Originally published in The San Francisco Call, March 22, 1908, page 4.