Tag Archives: San Francisco

Minor Details Aren’t Unnoticed, 1895

The following article first appeared in the San Francisco Call in 1895: 

An exceptionally good performance was that given of “Diplomacy,” at the Columbia Theater last week. The leading parts, particularly those of Beach and Richman, were in the hands of actors who made them artistic pictures, and even the minor characters were finished studies.

The propertyman made the performance of “Diplomacy” remarkable by some rather clever compromises, which showed that he desired to give the French coloring and at the same time did not intend to lose his hold on local interest.

For instance, in the English embassy in Paris the newspaper which the unhappy husband snatched up in his despair and affected to read in the lull glare of the footlights was unmistakably a French journal, for the people in the stalls could read the type of that politest of languages, though they were a little staggered to see that the British diplomat was consoling one of the most trying moments of his life by studying Le Franco-Californien. Perhaps the propertyman wished to convey the impression that if Dora’a conduct forced her husband to fly to happier climes he could not do better than turn his steps to California.

It was a patriotic inspiration, too, to decorate the Parisian office of her Britannic Majesty with three large and handsome maps of the United States. Great rareties they must have been considered in Paris, too, for everyone who is familiar with that giddy capital knows that the outside world cuts very little figure in its geographies. You can buy “France in Provinces,” “France in Departments,” “France With Railroads” — canals, mountains, hedges and ditches— if you choose, but anything outside of France is always represented as of microscopic dimensions, scarcely visible to the naked eye.

Such little touches of local coloring apart, the staging of “Diplomacy” was finished and handsome, as is always the case at the Columbia Theater.

The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]), 29 Sept. 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1895-09-29/ed-1/seq-20/>

The San Francisco Grand Opera, 1899

The following article about the Grand Opera in San Francisco originally appeared in The Sunday Call in 1899:

To most people there is an indefinable sense of mystery in the simple phrase “behind the scenes.” Some imagine it to be a vague sort of place peopled with beings who live dual lives, the one either very wicked or much-abused, and the other the artistic and pretty-to-look-upon one of the footlights. To such the theatrical managers appear as abusive hobgoblins whose delight it is to torture and mistreat. That is about as far as such imaginations go; beautiful scenic effects, and the smooth and unbroken succession of harmonious arrangements are taken for granted and expected, with no thought of the vast amount of labor, care, capital, trouble and ingenuity required in the production of an evening’s entertainment for the throngs who come nightly to be amused from the other side of the footlights…

Property Department viewed from the south
Property Department viewed from the south

Yards and yards of canvas, bolts of calico, rolls and rolls of paper, kegs and pots of paint, and a succession of other paraphernalia poured in from all sides, and were pounced upon by the different departments and carried away, to be utilized and transformed into settings and scenery…

James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, "Sinbad"
James S. Cannon, Property Master, designing for the Christmas spectacle, “Sinbad”

Mr. James Cannon, the inventive genius of the stage, and the master property man, went about inspecting his great thunder drum, the big wheel and its silk flap which is the source of the wintry wind which whistles out from behind the scenes and causes one to turn up one’s coat collar—the apparatus which so closely imitates the breaking of the waves against the crags, and the numberless other apparatus for adding to the realistic nature of the performance. From his modeling room on a level with the gallery, to his little electrical room below ground, Mr. Cannon was busy with his rounds. His was the task of casting plaster models of the stage properties to be used in the various scenes, and to keep everything going harmoniously.

Originally published as “In the Workshops Behind the Scenes”, The Sunday Call, San Francisco, December 24, 1899, pg 2. Photos by Alishy.

Returning Broken Glass, 1908

The following article and images first appeared in The San Francisco Sunday Call, March 22, 1908. Check out the first part of this article here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Note: The “shake” which Harry Rosemond refers to is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the US, the result of which left 80% of San Francisco destroyed.

The Problems of the Prop Man

by C. W. Rohrhand

It is the soft word and the pass for two that turneth away wrath. No one knows better than Harry Rosemond, for more than once in his career has has met the irate one at the door and with a smile on his face begged him to “come in and enjoy it.”

“But we can’t always square things with a pass, or a season ticket, either. There’s a friend of mine lives out here near the theater who has some of the finest Bohemian glass in town. It is his hobby. Spends money galore all on Bohemian glass. Time of the shake the glassware was in a closet and was hardly touched. I borrowed two vases and a centerpiece for a set for an actress. She had finished the week before the shake, but I was so busy around the house I couldn’t find time to take the glass back. April 18—br-r-r-r-r! Got to the theater about 9 o’clock. Glass all right. Got busy helping people out of hotels and things. Orpheum stage filled with trunks. Fire can’t get across Market street. No. Fire got across about 10 o’clock Wednesday night. Worked like the devil getting trunks out. Morrisey had moved his stuff from the Palace hotel to the theater. Had to move it all out again. Thought of the glasses. Packed them carefully in a bag. Went out in the street. Squad of soldiers coming around the corner. ‘Everybody skip!’ ‘Can’t,’ I said. ‘Waiting for wagon for trunks.’ ‘Waitin’ for hell!’ says one, and he gave me a whack with the stock of his gun. The blamed fool smashed clean through the bag of glass. After we’d opened at the Chutes the man called for his glass. Nothing doing. Didn’t lose a piece at home. House saved. Man started to eat the Orpheum. I offered a pass. Nix. Season ticket. Nix. I said it was one of the accidents of the shake. He said I should have returned them when I had finished with them and not kept them laying in the property room. He was right, and he taught me the big, big lesson of returning things as soon as the act closed. Vanderslice used to loan me jewelry, and I was foolish enough once to borrow a diamond necklace. But no more of that for me. If any one wants diamonds they must furnish them, for if I find them on the property plot I’ll be ready with one large pot of paste and some pieces of glass. That’s all.”

Originally published in The San Francisco Call, March 22, 1908, page 4.

Finding the Wrong Props, 1908

The following article and images first appeared in The San Francisco Sunday Call, March 22, 1908. Check out the first part of this article here, and the second part here.

The Problems of the Prop Man

by C. W. Rohrhand

Despite the sad tones and the rush and jump of it all, the men in the “prop” room get a lot of fun out of it all. No man takes more pride in his work than he does when he sees his “efforts” placed before an admiring public. Harry Rosemond is a bit of an actor too, and is seen off and on by the Orpheumites playing small roles when a change of bill is made and no one in town is available for the part. His knowledge of the stage and absolute familiarity with the ‘what’s what’ behind the footlights helps him greatly in handling his property room to the best advantage.

“Big Foster of Foster & Foster kicked right on the stage during his act because the piano stool did not match the piano. He growled and grumbled the whole week, but we only gave him the ha-ha and he had to go on with the stool that did not match the piano. ‘Twas the only one I could find in town. But that is not a marker to the fellow who went on in the old O’Farrell street house. He was so all-fired particular about his setting that he hung around the prop room for three days before he went on to see what I was digging up to dress his scene with. He looked all over the stuff that I had borrowed and had made up for him and seemed perfectly satisfied.

Kicked because the tool didn't match the piano
Kicked because the tool didn’t match the piano

“Well, Sunday came and the show went on for the matinee and everything was going lovely. The drop came down after his act for a stunt in ‘one.’ He had left the stage and we were clearing it for the next set when back he comes with a little bottle in his hand. He goes up to the mantelpiece we had pushed to the back wall, takes down a candlestick he had ordered, poured a little over it out of the bottle he had, and then turned on me. ‘You’re a lot of cheap stiffs here,’ he shouted. ‘I noticed while I was on that there was no sparkle to that candlestick. I asked you for a silver one. This is pewter.’ And the next day he made me go all over town and at last we found one in a second hand shop on Folsom street kept by an old Jew who used it for his Sabbath lights.

This candle stick ain't silver
This candle stick ain’t silver

“But I had a hard one the other night,” said Rosemond, as he clasped the arm of Big Mack the special. “Ralph Johnston, the bicycle man, wanted an 18 foot ladder to get up to his stand with. He forgot to put it on his ‘prop’ list and I had to get it. Of course, like all the rest of those fellows, they forget all about everything until Saturday night, and they open on Sunday mat. Eighteen-foot ladder, mind you, but I got it. Walked around town from 11 till nearly 1 in the morning. Way up on O’Farrell street we saw a painter’s scaffold. Saturday night. No work Sunday. Must have it for show Sunday. Found painter’s name on ladder and went into flat. Told lady I’d come for ladder. Swung the scaffold around and dragged the big one into the flat window. Walked with it to the theater. In luck; no cops on the way. Called up painter and told him what I had done. Painter was madder than blue blazes. Swore he’d take the ladder away before the show started. Told him to come down and try it. Met him at the door, gave him passes for two for the matinee. Painter so tickled to see his old ladder on the stage, let us keep it for the two weeks.”

Originally published in The San Francisco Call, March 22, 1908, page 4.

Simple Requests, Impossible Demands, 1908

The following article and images first appeared in The San Francisco Sunday Call, March 22, 1908. Check out the first part of this article here.

Note: The fire and ruins which Harry Rosemond refers to are the result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the US, the result of which left 80% of San Francisco destroyed.

The Problems of the Prop Man

by C. W. Rohrhand

Bergere saw a safe in the ruins
Bergere saw a safe in the ruins

“We do have some funny stunts thrown at us back in the ‘prop’ room,” continued Rosemond, a smile coming over his face and his eyes lighting up. “Yes, sir, we certainly have some funny stunts thrown at us back in the ‘prop’ room. We opened the Orpheum at the Chutes on the 21st of May after the fire and the first rattle out of the box along comes Bergere. Says she wants to play ‘The Red Thief,’ and nothing but a real safe will do for her to blow the door off. I tell her we can’t get a safe. She does not believe me, but takes me all over town. Not a safe to be hand. All the safes here and in Oakland being bought by wholesale houses starting offices in flats and residences in the Mission and Western Addition. We come to the corner of O’Farrell and Van Ness and stop to look at the bread line in front of the cathedral. She grows pathetic. Can’t stand it. Must cry. Turns her head away. Looks down the block of ruins. Dunbar’s old place, O’Farrell and Polk. Big safe sticking out of ruins. ‘Harry,’ says she, ‘Harry, look at that! that’s the safe we want.’ Marine guard on O’Farrell street, another on Polk. Orders to shoot any one looting premises. I’ll admit I gave up. Chalk it against me. Bergere did not play ‘The Red Thief’ until we got to the new house a year afterward. Plenty of safes then. Plenty of time to make a safe. I made one.

“You see, after the fire, when we started at the Chutes we had nothing in our ‘prop’ room except the regular tables and chairs. The first Sunday we got our first dose of ‘Harry, I forgot to put it down on the prop list, but, you know, I make a quick change and need a table. You know, Harry, any old table will do.’ Any old table! With three makeup tables taken and us at Twelfth avenue and Fulton street and 20 minutes to 2 and the opening show—any old table! I tried to get one from Wallenstein, who runs the cafe. Nothing doing. I begged the candy girl. No response. I tried to steal Manager Morrisey’s desk. Frost; he had his eye on it. I tried to get Miss Carlisle’s typewriter table. Nix. I walked over to the park, cut down two trees, stole two boards from the back fence and made a table. Time, 25 minutes. I guess that’s bad?”

Forgot to mention that he wanted a table for "quick change"
Forgot to mention that he wanted a table for “quick change”

Things do not always come as easy for the property man as the throwing together of a makeup table. Sometimes he’s called on for the impossible at the very last moment before the curtain rises.

“Take Burkhart, for instance,” said Harry, with a sad, far away look. “She’s an actress all right. She’s ‘there’ before any kind of a house. But for a woman who wants props and don’t know exactly what she wants she beats them all. She wants anything that will look nice and doesn’t tell us what ‘look nice’ means. And worst of all, she waits till the music rehearsal on Sunday morning to fix up her scene.”

Originally published in The San Francisco Call, March 22, 1908, page 4.