Tag Archives: props master

The Bradwell Family of Prop Masters

In a previous post, we learned that the first props master of the Metropolitan Opera was a man named A. J. Bradwell, and that he came from a family of props masters stretching back nearly two hundred years. Who were the Bradwells? I’ve been researching them for awhile and wanted to introduce you to the main ones I’ve found: four generations of props masters spanning a time from the 18th century all the way to the 20th century.

William Bradwell (?-1849)

William Bradwell was a theatrical decorator and machinist in London. He worked on many of the props, tricks, and effects at Covent Garden from 1806-1839. His work on the pantomimes were so well-known that his name was used to advertise shows as a sign of quality. He was once referred to as “the fairies’ couch maker.” He worked directly under such English stage greats as Dibdin the Younger, Macready, and E.L. Blanchard (in fact, Bradwell hired a young Blanchard as a props running crew at the beginning of his career).

He and his wife Elizabeth had a son named Edmund in 1799.

1834 Drury Lane Playbill
1834 Drury Lane Playbill

Edmund Bradwell (1799-1871)

Edmund was working at the Theatre Royal in Dublin until Robert Elliston took him back to London to build properties and machinery for the Surrey Theatre. He worked at a number of theaters, such as the Olympic, Lyceum, and Her Majesty’s Theatre, and quickly developed a reputation for innovative “transformations.”

Edmund and his wife Margaret had at least seven daughters, and two sons who continued in the business: Edmund William Bradwell, and Alfred John Bradwell.

1851 Playbill for Queen of the Frogs
1851 Playbill for Queen of the Frogs

Edmund William Bradwell (1828-1909)

Edmund William was born in Ireland immediately before his father returned to London. His work as a builder and decorator seems to have been more focused on the decoration of theatre interiors. A number of theatres that opened or were renovated around this time had some of the design and decoration executed by E. W. Bradwell.

EW and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters and one son. The son, William Edmund Valentine Bradwell, appears to have followed in the family business at least a bit.

1855 Playbill for Kean's Henry VIII
1855 Playbill for Kean’s Henry VIII

William Edmund Valentine Bradwell (1858-1938)

William was born on Valentine’s Day. His occupation was listed as both a builder’s artist and a decorative artist in surviving paperwork. I don’t know much more about him than that.

Alfred John Bradwell (1845-after 1891)

Alfred was Edmund’s son and Edmund William’s brother. His career began as an assistant to his father on a number of pantomimes throughout London, learning to accomplish all sorts of mechanical transformations and properties. He built his own reputation as a pantomime properties artisan at Drury Lane after his father died. He emigrated to the United States and became the first properties master at the Metropolitan Opera when it opened in 1883. He also trained Edward Siedle, a properties master who would go on to become technical director at the Met, transforming it into a technical powerhouse in the early twentieth century.

He and his wife Annie had a number of children, with their son Herbert Augustus Bradwell continuing the business. He had another son, Ernest Athol Bradwell, who appears to have worked as both an actor and a stage carpenter over the years.

1884 Ad for Metropolitan Opera
1884 Ad for Metropolitan Opera

Herbert Augustus Bradwell (1873-1911)

Herbert was born in London, but mostly grew up in New York City after his father joined the Met Opera. He became quite the well-known creator of electrical and mechanical effects on stage. In the early twentieth century, Coney Island was the home of massive live spectacles, such as volcanic eruptions and train crashes. Herbert was coproducer and an effects creator for one of the most successful ones known as “The Jonestown Flood,” in which an entire town was flooded during every performance. When this closed, he produced his own show in the same building known as “The Deluge,” a recreation of the Noah’s Ark story. It was wildly successful, and he transferred the show to London. It failed there, and a second attempt at a disaster spectacle in Brussels ended up burning to the ground. Now broke, he brought his family back to New York, and ended up starving himself to keep his family fed. This led to a mental breakdown that put him in the hospital, where his heart eventually gave out. He died at the young age of 44, completely destitute.

1906 Ad for The Deluge
1906 Ad for The Deluge

In Memoriam, 2015

As the year draws to a close, I wanted to remember some of the people who have passed away in 2015. These are either people who work in our industry or do work closely related to our own. If I have missed anyone, let me know.

Eddie Aiona, props master for Clint Eastwood, died at 83. Aiona first worked with Eastwood on Magnum Force (1973), and propped all his films until retiring after The Bridges of Madison County in 1995. He also propped films for directors like Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, John Carpenter and Robert Redford.

Blaine Gibson, sculptor of figures in Disney Parks, died at 97. Gibson sculpted hundreds of the figures used for Disney’s Audio-Animatronics, including the first one, Abraham Lincoln. His work also included characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the Haunted Mansion, and It’s a Small World.

George Barris, Batmobile Creator, died at 89. Barris worked on some of the most iconic cars in Hollywood, including the aforementioned Batmobile from the 1960s Batman with Adam West . He also built the Munster’s Koach and worked on cars for Knight RiderMannix and North by Northwest.

Mark Gill, Macy’s Parade Studio, 32. Mark was a props carpenter at Julliard before leaving to work on the floats for the Macy’s Parade. His wife was in props as well, working as the props master at NYU while I was at the Public Theater (and just a few blocks over). Both of them attended the inaugural NYC Props Summit in 2009. His death was far too soon, and he will be missed greatly.

The attendees of the 2009 New York City Props Summit
The attendees of the 2009 New York City Props Summit

Weekend Prop Reading

What a cool job! Artslandia Kids has this fun infographic with John Ellingson, props master for Northwest Children’s Theater.

Oh no, only one week until Halloween. Quick, make some demon horns out of upholstery foam and paper towels!

Popular Woodworking Magazine has a short tutorial on creating a 3D Sketchup model from a photograph. In this case, it’s a photograph taken at an angle, which is less than ideal for getting measurements.

Make Magazine has a tutorial on making giant inflatable plastic tentacles. They use plastic welding, which is a technique I’ve always wanted to try but have never gotten around to.

Finally, take a look at these twenty or so weird and awesome helmets from throughout history. Look at them!

Super Fun Link Time

Creative England interviews props master Michael Betts. He worked on a number of television and film projects over in the UK, most notably the entire run of A Touch of Frost, which aired for nearly twenty years. He talks about his career and gives advice to young props people starting out. For those of us in the US, their studio system seems vastly different from what we are used to, and the comparison is quite fascinating.

“Super-Fan Builds” follows prop maker Tim Baker as he leads a team of builders who constructs one-of-a-kind items for the homes of superfans. His latest is a doghouse modeled after the house from Up, complete with floating balloons.

For a bit of fun, see how well you do in this quiz to match the sofa to the sitcom. It is interesting to see set photos of well-known sitcoms sans actors, so you can really focus on the design and selection of all the props and set dressing.

Finally, we have two stories on houses lost in time and preserved until the present. The first is this great series of photographs on the “Cloud House”, a Welsh farmhouse which has been abandoned for years and contains trinkets and artifacts from decades past. The second is this 1950s kitchen which has been pristinely preserved all these years without any updates or modifications.

Interview with Patrick Drone

The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.

Patrick Drone

by Dorcas Thete

Patrick Drone
Patrick Drone

How long have you been at the University of Michigan?

I have been here for nine years. I’ve had three different job titles. I have been the properties manager for two and a half years, which entails more of the administrative side of props, where I deal more with students and professors. Before that I was the associate properties manager for four years. I worked hand in hand with the props master; we would rotate on shows to cut down on burnout. I was hired at UMich as the properties artisans manager, I worked more on individual projects. Continue reading Interview with Patrick Drone