Tag Archives: 1921

Bossing the World part 3, 1921

The following is the conclusion of an article which came from the 1921 collected edition of “Our Paper,” put out by the Massachusetts Reformatory. The first part and second part were previously posted:

Bossing the World

by John B. Wallace

This is only a sample of the painstaking care with which pictures in the larger studios are filmed. It explains why so many persons who have been abroad have been fooled into exclaiming, “Why, I know that was taken in France, because I have been on that very spot,” when in reality, the “scene was shot” in California. The pictures are made with such careful attention to detail that directors and property men who know every trick of the trade are often imposed upon.

The research department is the prop that Wells leans upon in times of doubt. Three persons are employed who do nothing but look up the proper costuming and settings for scenes laid in times other than the present. In addition to a large library maintained by the studio they have the Public Library of Los Angeles to fall back upon, as well as several splendid private collections of millionaire book fanciers.

Other departments that come under Mr. Wells’ supervision are the large repair shops. In the drapery department curtains and draperies are constantly being altered, cut and repaired. Furniture is revarnished, repaired and reupholstered. In the pottery department antique vases are duplicated in cheaper materials and the bric-a-brac that is to be smashed in comedy and battle scenes is made out of plaster of paris. Costumes require a large force of seamstresses to make and alter. The electrical department requires a large force of electricians and expert mechanics are employed in the upkeep of the motor trucks and automobiles.

Wallace, John B. “Bossing the World.” Our Paper. Vol. 38. N.p.: Massachusetts Refomatory, 1921. 153. Google Books. Web. 24 Nov. 2015

Bossing the World part 2, 1921

The following article comes from the 1921 collected edition of “Our Paper,” put out by the Massachusetts Reformatory. The first part was posted previously:

Bossing the World

by John B. Wallace

The property men of the various studios about Los Angeles, where two-thirds of the motion pictures are made, work harmoniously and borrow and rent various properties from one another.

The advent of the motion picture has created a number of new businesses in Los Angeles. Not only are there several establishments that rent exclusively to the studios but some of the large retail furniture houses and department stores have rental departments devoted to supplying the needs of the film colony. The visitor may also see the unusual spectacle of antique shops refusing to sell their curios to collectors, because they prefer to rent them to the studios. This is easily explained, however, when the rental price of certain rare antiques is learned.

While expense is the bugbear of the property man it is the least of the worries of the directors and some of them will go to any extreme to get just what they want for a certain scene.

But even with the dozens of antique dealers scouring the remote spots of the earth the property man often runs against what seems like a hopeless impasse. It is then he must bring ingenuity into play.

For instance, Mr. [Howard] Wells told me of a particular scene that was supposed to be laid in Scotland. In a city like Los Angeles, where the architecture embraces every variety known to civilized man, it was easy to find a house that would pass for a Scotch manor house.

But the rub came when Wells learned that he must supply a lawnmower for the principal character of the scene, to operate on the lawn. An English lawnmower differs in several particulars from an American machine. There was not time to send abroad for one, and as far as Wells knew there was none in the country.

To make it worse, Wells had never seen one of the foreign grass cutters. With the aid of the research department Wells finally found a book containing a picture of an English lawnmower. He studied it carefully, then took an American lawnmower and made it over so that an expert could not distinguish the difference in appearance when it was shown on the screen.

Wallace, John B. “Bossing the World.” Our Paper. Vol. 38. N.p.: Massachusetts Refomatory, 1921. 153. Google Books. Web. 24 Nov. 2015

Bossing the World, 1921

The following article comes from the 1921 collected edition of “Our Paper,” put out by the Massachusetts Reformatory:

Bossing the World

by John B. Wallace

Certainly in comparison with the property man of the speaking stage, a motion picture property man can most properly be called a super-property man. Accordingly I feel that my action is justified when I dub Howard S. Wells, manager of the property department of the largest film studios in California, a super-property man.

He not only has charge of all the properties used by the dozen companies working out of the studios, but he must house and feed the companies that are out on location. He also has charge of the many motor trucks maintained by the company and must see to the transportation of the actors and supplies.

He is responsible for the issuance of the supplies from the immense warehouses in which they are stored. Under him are dozens of set dressers, warehouse men, truck drivers and laborers.

As soon as it is decided to film a certain story, the scenario—or a copy of it—is turned over to Wells and he makes a list of the properties required. The assistant director is also required to make a list and this is compared with that prepared by Wells. This double check is very important.

Suppose, for instance, that a company is in the mountains or in the desert. The absence of one property which the property man has forgotten or overlooked might cause a delay of several days. Such delays would run into thousands of dollars. The old days are past, and efficiency and accuracy are watchwords. He must be a man of infinite resource as well as of practical knowledge.

A set dresser—as the name implies—dresses the set—distributes the articles that belong to a set. He works under the direction of the assistant director. He comes in after the carpenters and painters have finished their work and is the last man on the scene before the actors and camera arrive.

Small articles that can be carried about by the actors, such as guns, suitcases, and so on, are called hand properties and it is the set dresser’s duty to keep a vigilant eye on these to see that they are on hand when required. Every article required by a director in filming a picture is charged against his company. A requisition is issued through Mr. Wells’ office for each property required. The requisition is placed on file and the article charged against the director ordering it. Every property thus issued must either be returned or a proper accounting be made for it.

Notwithstanding the careful check kept upon properties the leakage runs yearly into large figures. Actors are proverbially a happy-go-lucky folk with most inconsistent ideas of thrift, and the motion picture variety is no exception.

Breakage is another cause of loss, in certain plays, especially comedies, the destruction of properties is the action and although such articles are constructed as cheaply as possible the loss often runs into big money.

A walk through the vast storerooms is certainly illuminating to the uninitiated. One entire building is devoted to period furniture, another to draperies and another to bric-a-brac, which embraces everything from antique vases and statuary to oil painting copied from old masters. In one room are dozens of immense chandeliers and ornamental lamps. In another are swords, guns and side arms, dating from every period in history from remote ages to the present. A particular interesting collection at Universal City embraces every vehicles from the “one-hoss shay” to the modern limousine.

Wallace, John B. “Bossing the World.” Our Paper. Vol. 38. N.p.: Massachusetts Refomatory, 1921. 153. Google Books. Web. 24 Nov. 2015

The Ten Best Props (of 1921)

The following article, written by Lisle Bell, first appeared in Theatre Magazine in May of 1922. It’s interesting that theatre-goers from almost a hundred years ago recognized that props were forgotten during awards ceremonies. It’s also cool that one of the ten best props of 1921 was the bar in “Anna Christie”, a prop that I tackled earlier this year.

As the dramatic year draws to a close, the critical pastime of handing out the laurel begins. The producers are sitting in their box offices, counting out the money, and the actors are beginning to look forward to the relaxations of the Atlantic or of Great Neck, but meantime the critical judges, both professional and amateur, are busy thumbing over their accumulated programmes. Those who have blue ribbons to pin, prepare to pin them now.

These exercises usually take the form of “ten best” and “ten best that.” Combing over the productions of the season, the experts select the plays and players who have, in their estimation, contributed most to the advancement of their art. Their choices, alphabetically arranged or else tabulated in the order of merit, are duly published to a waiting world, and mere theatregoers spend many a pleasant evening quarreling with their decisions or improving upon them.

The Drama League makes an authentic choice of those who have rendered the greatest service to the cause, and those thus honored are invited to a banquet, where they occupy such positions of distinction, and are in fact so conspicuous, that one wonders whether they really have a chance to enjoy the food. Perhaps, however, the actors who attend those functions do not have to satisfy an appetite, and so merely go through the motions of eating with evident relish, much as they might do while taking part in a stage meal.

There is something truly fascinating about stage food, and the manner of its histrionic disappearance. Who will ever forget that patient loaf of bread that Margaret Wycherly kept eternally cutting in “Jane Clegg”? And does anyone recall a more intense scene of drama than that opening of the last act of “The Grand Duke”—with no one on the stage but Lionel Atwill and his breakfast? Here was drama reduced to highest nutriment—the conflict between an epicure and his spices which was as packed with thrills as a conflict between a dope fiend and his vices. Atwill gave as much thought and deliberation to the dressing of his salad as Ziegfeld gives to the undressing of his chorus.

The more we think about the importance of this property breakfast, the more we are struck with the fact that the whole domain of stage props has been neglected in the annual awards of the drama experts. Burns Mantle edits a volume of the best plays of the year; the magazine critics issue their ukases of ten best “unfeatured male players,” and “unfeatured female players;” even the reviewers at Podunk and one-night stands get out lists of the best things that have come to the “opry house,”—and all this time the props have languished, unwept and unsung.

Here goes, then, for the ten best props of the season of 1921-22: Continue reading The Ten Best Props (of 1921)

Duties of a Property Man, Utah, 1921

The following comes from The Young Woman’s Journal, a self-described “organ of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations”. It was originally published in October, 1921, in Salt Lake City, Utah. I kept in the opening paragraphs so you get a sense of the context which the article was written, then I skipped ahead to the portion dealing specifically with props.

Technique of Play Production

by Maud May Babcock

The community theatre in the days of Brigham Young, was unique. The Latter-day Saints had an organization with such fine ideals and gave performances of such excellence that there has been no equal in theatrical history, and the theatre of Brigham Young stands today the admiration and wonder of the entire world. Have the mighty fallen? We have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage to commercial theatrical enterprise. Instead of leading, showing how communities could entertain themselves and by so doing develop a taste for only the best in music and drama, we are amused by demoralizing vaudeville, and unreal, sentimental “canned” drama. Today our taste is as low as anywhere in the United States. Verily we are what we feed upon! The Mutuals are making splendid effort to help our communities come back to their own and make their own entertainment.

There is a tremendous waste of time and effort in our Ward societies because of the lack of organization, and systematic procedure in our entertainments.

Organization in heaven, in the church, in the world spells efficiency. A successful amusement center depends upon its organization. In our dramatic activities, our organization must consist of the following officers:

  • Director
  • Business Manager
  • Stage Manager
  • Stage Carpenter
  • Property Manager
  • Electrician
  • Scene Painter

The Director and Business Manager should be very carefully selected by the local Mutual Officers, and these should be responsible to them alone. All the other officers are appointed by the Director and responsible to him or her.

The Property Man—”Props”—provides, cares for, and places in proper position on the stage all furniture, draperies, rugs, carpets, lamps, telephone, letters, documents, etc.—in fact, all articles needed in the play except the personal properties of the actor. Things only used by a single actor—such as a fan, a cane, an eyeglass, a parasol, a handkerchief, a letter, if it remains with the one person and not given to another or is not left on the stage—these are personal “props.” A small table should be provided on either side of the stage for offstage “props,” such articles as are needed to be carried on stage, or for properties brought off stage. The property man should see that actors do not carry such “props” to their dressing rooms, but that they are left on the table provided. Stage drinks—which are made of grape juice, ginger-ale, or root beer, according to the color needed, are cared for and bought by “props” on order of the director countersigned by the business manager.

The property man should take an artistic pride in his stage picture and spend a good deal of time to secure, by renting or borrowing or making, the exact style of furniture and things needed for the play. A period play with modern furniture which one sees in stock performances is ludicrous. Charlie Millard, the veteran property man of the Salt Lake Theatre made all his properties and furnished the actors in Brigham Young’s time with even personal “props.” The stage manager furnishes “props” with a property plot containing a list of properties needed for each scene in the play.

This article first appeared in “The Young Woman’s Journal”, October, 1921.