Tag Archives: property man

Belasco’s Property Room, 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

The Saddest Man in Hollywood, 1940

The following article originally appeared in a 1940 issue of The New York Times.

More or Less According to Hoyle

by Thomas M. Pryor

The saddest man in Hollywood today is one Irving Sindler. The chances are you’ve never heard of him, for the gentleman so named is a property man by trade and, in motion pictures, these artists do not receive the same program recognition accorded them in the theatre. Though his name has never appeared in the screen credits, Mr. Sindler has become a Hollywood legend because he has managed to sneak his name into at least one scene of every film on which he has worked during the last fifteen years.

In “Wuthering Heights” there was a gravestone bearing the inscription, “I. Sindler, A Good Man.” In “Intermezzo” there was a Swedish bakery owned by “Sindler & Son,” and in “Raffles” a newspaper insert noted that “Lord Sindler had returned from a hunting expedition.” Sindler’s name decorated the front of a delicatessen store in “Dead End” and it appeared in Chinese across a banner in “Marco Polo”—or so we’ve been told. And preview scouts report seeing a sign labeled “Ma Sindler, Home Cooking” over a small cafe in “The Westerner,” which Samuel Goldwyn is holding for Fall release.

To his family and fellow-workers the Sindler trade-mark is as much sought for as is the ephemeral “Lubitsch touch.” But today Mr. Sindler is dejected, ashamed to face his family and friends because he failed to get his name into “The Long Voyage Home.” And it wasn’t that he didn’t try. He had a sign ready bearing the words, “Sindler & Son, Chemists,” but author Eugene O’Neill spoiled that by having most of the action take place on board a freighter. Sindler didn’t give up, however. He tacked the sign over the window of a Limehouse dive where Thomas Mitchell and John Wayne were scheduled to have a brawl, but Director John Ford spoiled that, too, by shooting away from the window.

And that is what has made Irving Sindler the saddest man in Hollywood.

Pryor, Thomas M. “More or Less According to Hoyle.” The New York Times 14 July 1940: 103.

Has There Ever Been an Honest Property Man?

The following is taken from an article which first appeared in The Daily Evening Telegraph in 1871:

The Property Man has always been in some sort the black sheep of the theatrical flock. The question, has there ever been an honest property man? has even been mooted. We find this appreciation of his labors to result chiefly from the irregular manner that the master of properties has of keeping his accounts. As a general thing, indeed, he does not keep any at all, or if he does it is by a system of book-keeping so very double that no one but himself can untie the knot. He is allowed to purchase his small stores from a fund furnished him by the theatre, and to obtain larger articles on credit, bills of all to be rendered weekly, after being vised by the stage manager, to the treasurer. But the articles required are so numerous and are in many cases of so trifling a character that no one but himself can keep the run of them.

One of the most prized accomplishments of a stage manager is the ability to keep down these bills, but the very sharpest of those gentlemen is to a degree at the mercy of the Property Man who understands his business. A list a yard long is demurely handed to the stage manager, with a request for his signature. How is he to know if the articles have all been used, or that they cost the price affixed? A finer point still, how is he to know that they had not already been stored away in the theatre? So, if the manager should even check the items off, one after the other, demanding a full explanation of each, he might be still very wide of the mark.

Experienced men know this, and do not attempt to audit their property bills in that manner. Some managers as a regular thing coolly deduct a certain per cent of the total. This they say is for errors, and the property men are mostly too polite to dissent. Managers generally, however, learn by experience about what it costs to run the different orders of plays. Spectacle and sensation drama cost most; tragedy next, and comedy least. Knowing the bill of fare they have at the time been giving to the public, they know what their Property Man’s bill should be, and if, judged by these rules, it be exorbitant, they remonstrate with the logic of precedent. This will not cover, however, the important point before mentioned—the accumulation of old stores that may often be recharged as new.

There is a story in one of Dumas’ novels of a man travelling on horseback with a girl seated before him on the beast, and another behind him. He is met by a person who asks if those young women are virtuous. The man on horseback says that he thinks the one in front, being continually under his eye, is, but for the one at his back he can say nothing. In like manner the Property Man’s accounts, as far as relates to what is really bought for the occasion, may be correct, but for what is not bought, and yet for which the theatre has all the same to pay, the manager has, in nature, nothing to say.

Originally published in The Daily Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, May 12, 1871, pg 5.

Nothing a Property Man Can Not Make, 1871

The following is taken from an article which first appeared in The Daily Evening Telegraph in 1871:

Bona-fide stage furniture is easily distinguished from the kind that people use in real life. In its ornamentation it is especially rich and rare. The idea in manufacturing this species of goods is to avoid a conflict with any given age or time, and in this it is successful, for it is unlike anything that is or ever has been. Wonder has often been expressed concerning the makers of this furniture. It is the joint handiwork of the Property Man and the stage carpenter; and when it is remembered that oftener than not these worthies know as much about cabinet-making as they do about the economy of the steam engine, the wonder really should be that the furniture is as good as it is. But there is this peculiarity about a Property Man, that there is nothing he can not make—after some fashion. In the Adrienne case above mentioned the man had not time, or he would have manufactured a set of “Louis Quatorze” furniture calculated to make that monarch turn in his grave. There would have been plenty of paint and Dutch metal upon it, and a great many people would have thought it a great deal finer than the real thing.

It is hard to say what class of work gives the Property Man the most trouble. When a burlesque or show piece is produced there is a quantity of special preparation to be made, which at first sight would be the most troublesome of his labors. Take such a piece as the Naaid Queen. All the masks, the marine productions of every sort, are furnished by the Property Man. Of course they have to be made, for no shop in Christendom deals in such wares. Such things are often quite elegant in design, and show the Property Man to be something of an artist, just as he is at other times carpenter, machinist, and chemist. To no man can the legend, “Jack of all trades, and master of none,” be applied with as much propriety as to him.

Originally published in The Daily Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, May 12, 1871, pg 5.

1903 Lectures on the Property Man’s Job

I recently came upon the 1903-1904 academic catalog for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At that time, it was a two-year program for young men aged sixteen to seventeen. The school still exists, granting two-year associates degrees to aspiring actors.

All students at the time were given introductory lectures in the various technical departments on stage. The lecture on props has a bullet-point list of all the topic covered, which I have reprinted below. It is fascinating to see the list of what a props person was responsible for and what skills they were required to have from over 110 years ago, and compare it to today.

The lectures were given by a Mr. Wilfred Buckland, with assistance by Mr. Edgar J. M. Hart (no relation) and Miss Louise Musson. The topics of the lectures are as follows:

The Property Man’s Work in Preparing a Production:

  • The property plot
  • cabinet work
  • paper work
  • upholstery, furniture, bric-à-brac, carpets, rugs, hangings
  • stage props
  • side props
  • hand props
  • written letters
  • inserts in newspapers

The Property Man’s Work at Performance:

  • Helpers and clearers
  • system
  • the property room
  • laying the floor cloth
  • setting the stage
  • marking
  • dressing a scene
  • hanging curtains
  • hanging side props
  • effects
  • apparatuses
  • flash pans
  • rain box
  • thunder box
  • thunder crash
  • glass crash
  • carriage roll
  • knocks
  • snow box
  • salt
  • fuller’s earth
  • blowers
  • leaves, stumps, and grass mats
  • animals
  • the rosin box
  • eatables

Striking Properties:

  • Clearing
  • handling furniture
  • care of props

You can read the whole 1903 Annual Catalog of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts here.