The following is the fourth part of a 1920 article on David Belasco’s property collection. The first part, second part and third part were published earlier:
Mementoes of Napoleon
by Frank Vreeland
He knows every object in this store-room by heart, and when he discovers that one of them is missing not even the omniscient property man questions his memory. That singularly retentive memory is one quality which Mr. Belasco has in common with Napoleon and may perhaps account for some of his admiration for the great Corsican, for the manager might be said to have acquired the remnants of Bonaparte’s empire. Continue reading Belasco’s Property Room Part 4, 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.
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.
The following is the second part of a 1920 article on David Belasco’s property collection. The first part was posted a few weeks ago:
The Array of Relics
by Frank Vreeland
The cabinets which line the walls and occupy the middle of the room have their contents classified and arranged in order. One contains scores of French clocks which have long since ceased to keep tabs on eternity, another has dozens of colonial candlesticks and mediæval lanterns, and a third holds yards of cut glassware of all periods that would cause a high priced smash if any spook started skylarking among them. On wires near the ceiling are strung expensive violins in cases, ancient Indian wicker work which was used in “The Heart of Wetona,” and Crusaders’ helmets with chain mail netting to ward off stings more vicious than the best Jersey mosquitoes could give. Continue reading Belasco’s Property Room part 2, 1920
The following is the first part of a 1920 article on David Belasco’s property collection:
Belasco’s Property Room Houses Antique Gems
by Frank Vreeland
Fortunate is the man who has a theatre where the memories of past triumphs of the stage linger about rare souvenirs of the occasion, but if that man has also a storage place filled with curios which is considered to be haunted he is thrice blessed, according to current ideas.
In such a happy situation is David Belasco, whose Belasco Theatre is filled with old hand bills of Booth and other stage celebrities and unusual prints of theatrical performances—besides mementoes of Napoleon—so that it might be said to be a paper monument to past glories. In addition he has a storeroom in connection with his warehouse at 511 West Forty-sixth street, where many of his most valuable “props” are kept, dating back to his first managerial experiences, as well as pounds and pounds of antiques which Mr. Belasco is constantly collecting, even if they are not to be used to make any production more realistic, but merely to complete his assortment of relics. Continue reading Belasco’s Property Room, 1920
As a reminder that accidents with stage weapons are nothing new, I have two brief stories of mishaps from over a century ago. The first comes from The San Francisco Call, September 27, 1896:
A few weeks ago a tragic accident happened in London. The actors had to fight a duel on the mimic stage. They did not rehearse with swords, but on the night of the first performance the property-man gave them their weapons, which they used so realistically that the delighted audience wanted to give a recall. Rounds of applause came again and again, but the man who had fallen did not get up and bow before the footlights as dead actors are in the habit of doing. He was dead in real earnest, killed by a thrust of his comrade’s sword. When the horrible truth dawned upon his comrades the curtain was lowered and the audience dismissed from the play, which had ended in an unrehearsed tragedy. The next day the papers were full of lamentations over the sad event and blame was given to the management for the carelessness which had permitted sharp swords to be used without first testing them thoroughly at rehearsal.
No training, no rehearsal, weapons that should have been dulled… these are the exact same reasons accidents happen today. This isn’t new technology or unknown knowledge; we know, and have known for well over a hundred years how to prevent accidents from stage combat weapons, yet they still happen.
The second comes from The New York Times, September 12, 1907:
Maz Davis, 30 years old, of 434 West Thirty-eight Street, a property man for David Belasco, was injured on the right hand last night by the accidental discharge of a stage gun, the “wad” of which pierced his hand, while the powder burned both his hands and face. Just before a rehearsal of the “Girl of the Golden West,” he was examining a revolver when he accidentally pulled the trigger. He was taken to the Roosevelt Hospital.
Ouch. Remember, stage guns are still dangerous, even if they are only “blank-firing”, “powder” or “toy cap” guns.