Tag Archives: Hollywood

Why Film Prop Men Often Die In Their Youth, 1938

Today’s little chestnut first appeared in 1938. It just goes to show that the difficulties we props people have dealing with directors and actors is nothing new. If anything, it is the one thing in our line of work that has remained unchanged throughout the years.

By Frederick C. Othman.

Hollywood, July (U.P.) – The title of today’s movie story is “Why the Prop Man Went Mad.”

Abe Steinberg was the bedeviled property man, working on the set of a Twentieth Century-Fox picture called “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Warner Baxter, Alice Faye, and Charles Winninger were the stars, while Gregory Ratoff, the Russian actor-writer, producer-director, was functioning in his fourth category.

When we arrived Steinberg was placing fruit cocktails on a dinner table in the home of the American consul in an unnamed Manchurian town. Winninger was the consul, Miss Faye was a Russian adventuress, Baxter was a roving newspaperman.

With the cocktails carefully placed on the table, the cameraman ready to go, and the performers starting to do the scene, a fly buzzed across Steinberg’s canned fruit. He ran for a spray gun and set a vapor of insecticide across the dinner table. That fixed the fly, but it didn’t appease Ratoff, who paced, and thought and frowned. Everybody was quiet while this went on. Suddenly Ratoff’s face lit up.

Not Fruit, Fish!

“That’s what’s wrong,” he said. “They didn’t have fruit cocktails in Manchuria. They have—maybe—fish. Get me some fish.”

“What kind of fish?” Steinberg wanted to know.

“Shrimp,” snapped Ratoff. “Canned shrimp.”

The property department was fresh out of canned shrimp. So was the studio restaurant. Steinberg sent out to a grocery for a couple of cans of shrimp. This took time, because the Fox lot is many a long mile from the nearest food store.

Finally Steinberg’s shrimp arrived. He dumped the fruit from the cocktail cups and filled them with shrimp. He doused the latter with ketchup and an hour and a half after the cocktail episode began, the cameras again were ready to turn.

Ratoff called his actors. Miss Faye looked at the shrimp and said:

“But I can’t eat shrimp.”

Steinberg staggered away, talking to himself.

Originally printed in The Washington Post, July 19, 1938.

Friday’s Link-teria

It is the end of another week, and time for another round of the best props-related articles on the web:

Anna Warren continues adding great projects and articles at her Fake ‘n Bake blog. The latest shows a vintage Cheetos bag filled with vintage Cheetos that still allowed the actor to eat healthy (and non-staining) snacks during the actual performance.

Ron Paulk has a really well-made woodworking shop that fits in the back of his truck. Not only is there a video and pictures to give you a tour, but he has put the Sketchup plans online so you can download them for free. Though prop shops rarely need to be mobile, most of us work out of spaces not too much larger than Ron’s truck, so it is useful to see what space-saving methods he has come up with.

The Original Prop Blog has an interesting post about the Harry Crocker museum, which may have been the first Hollywood memorabilia museum, dating back to 1928.

Chris Schwartz has a great piece about making sure your obsession with the tools does not get in the way of actually practicing your craft.

Finally, if you like Star Trek, you really want to see this photograph.

Friday Link Roundup

I came across this website called Gremlins in the Garage. It’s an older site; most of the articles are from the late 1990s. It deals with “kits”, which are sculpted busts or figures from mainly horror and sci-fi films that collectors buy and paint. It has some interesting interviews with movie monster makers though, and some how-to articles, like this one on getting started with sculpting.

Speaking of interviews with movie monster makers, here is an interview with makeup effects designer Mike Elizalde when he was working on Hellboy 2.

In “Bringing Xiphactinus Back to Life” we see a prehistoric fish being sculpted, cast and painted by museum exhibit designers (or, as I call them, “science prop makers”). The video is a bit over 6 minutes, but well worth a watch.

As if e-cigarettes aren’t already getting a bad rap, news came out yesterday that one exploded in a smoker’s mouth. Details remain scant at this point, though the article suggests this particular e-cigarette was specially modified by the smoker. I’ve never heard of any exploding before, and industry statistics say 2.5 million Americans use them on a regular basis. Cell phones explode more often.

If you saw the film, The Help, you know how important the food was to the characters, setting and plot: everything from fried chicken to an, ahem, chocolate pie. Variety has a brief article about Chris Ubick, the film’s “food stylist”.

Wesley’s Wicked Props Collection

Earlier this week, I headed down past Raleigh to tour the amazing film prop collection of Wesley Cannon. I first read about him in an article in the Raleigh News Observer; I realized it was only a few hours away, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to see some well-known props right in my own backyard. Wesley has been collecting props, costumes and puppets/animatronics for about a dozen years. In that time he has amassed a truly remarkable assortment of well-known (and some not-so-well-known) objects and items. In fact, some of his better pieces are currently on loan to several museums around the world.

A Gremlin
One of the Gremlin puppets from the 1984 film.

Besides what I have pictured here, he had a Mandrake root and several wands from the Harry Potter films, two pods from the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, many costumes from Silent Hill, even more costumes and props from Thirteen Ghosts, Wolverine’s claws, Samuel Jackson’s lightsaber from Star Wars, one of Jason’s masks from Friday the 13th, one of Freddy Krueger’s sweaters from A Nightmare on Elm Street, a monster from Feast, Jennifer Lopez’s costume from The Cell, a goblin sword from Labyrinth, lots of figures from The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, and so many other pieces from films that would take too long to list here.

Seeing stone eye glass
A "seeing stone" eye glass from the film "The Spiderwick Chronicles".

Wesley has a bunch of mannequin displays of characters from several films. What is truly amazing about these is that they combine the latex prosthetics and makeup appliances, the costumes, and some of the hand props. These elements are not just made by different people, but in many cases by completely different shops and companies, so after the film, they often scatter back to their points of origin. It makes it especially remarkable that Wesley was able to track down and reassemble so many disparate parts back into what they looked like on film.

Planet of the Apes
Bodysuit and helmet from the 2001 "Planet of the Apes"

The room itself was customized by Tom Spina Designs; they also repaired and refurbished some of the older props which had fallen into disrepair. You can see a lot of photographs of the displays they created as well as some process shots of them working on the room.

The Tree of Death
One branch from the Tree of Death from the film "300".

There is an episode of Hollywood Treasure in which they visit Wesley’s collection on YouTube (for now). Wesley also runs a company called Hollywood History in which he sells movie props, costumes and other memorabilia. He was interviewed about his company by Dan Benton of the Prop Blog a few years ago.


I saw the film Hugo last month. Have you seen it yet? A large portion of the plot revolved around an old automaton shaped like a metal man. When the characters managed to repair the automaton, it drew a picture on its own. While that was cool, it became even cooler when I later found out that this automaton was created without CGI or visual effects. The prop makers actually built an automaton that could draw an entire picture with a pen and ink. Check out this video:

The company who constructed the automata, Dick George Creatives (based in the UK), took 8 months to create 15 different automata. Two could actually create the drawing, while the rest were used for various stunt and action sequences. It’s well worth watching.

You can find also check out some photographs of costumes and the automata while on display.

Automaton from Hugo by Dick George Creatives