EPISODE 173 PROPS AND SETS…MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS PERIOD SETTINGS
Machines have always fascinated me. Not because I know how to operate them or
even want to operate them. The fascination is historical. Years ago a material historian
names John Kowenhaven (sp. is incorrect ) wrote that “machines reflect the culture in
which they were created.” Not his exact words but the meaning is clear. Machines are
historical objects. They fit into their historical settings.
Half way through my teaching career I applied for a sabbatical leave to study machine design
in the 19th century. The end result was a 300 page tome describing the changes in machine
technology in the 19th century.
That was when i started to buy old machines. Dozens of them. Hundreds of them. Initially there
was no financial reason for doing so other than the encouragement I got from Marjorie. Grain cleaning
machines…fanning mills…really fascinated me because by the end of the 19th century these machines
were made into objects of beauty by the paint ‘stripers’ in the factories. I think I bought 80 fanning mills.
Then the movie industry came to Toronto needing authentic sets. Sets that would transport TV and Movies
watchers into the past where particular machines were needed as background (sets) or as foreground
objects actually touched by actors (props).. They needed our machines. And suddenly we had a business
We were considered a bit eccentric in that Marjorie and I took real interest in each movie that was being made.
At the same time, quite a few of the students I taught at Parkdale Collegiate found themselves employed
in the movie industry. Some of those students rented machines from us. We were the bottom of the
movie pyramid…no one was lower. A role reversal that my ex-students relished. One movie I remember well. A village in Ontario was converted
into a movie set and rented truckloads of our things. We drove over, asked the art director if we could take pictures
of our things.
“Not supposed to let pictures be taken, but what the hell…just get your things and not
the whole set.”
“And move fast while we are on a coffee break.”
We zipped from store to store snapping digital pictures.
THEN CAME THE VOICE.
“What the hell are you doing here, Skeoch?” came a voice from a guy high up on a
movie ladder. In the dark.
“Taking pictures…all cleared.”
“Skeoch…I heard you were in the business.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the best boy on this set”
“Who? How do you know me?”
Then Phil Calambakis came down the ladder. One of my Parkdale students. Great kid. Taught his sister Anna as
well. His mom and dad were boosters of our school. Now he had become and I think remains a pillar of
the movie industry.
“Remember the smelly feet kid, Phil?”
“God his feet were bad…I had to sleep on the couch. Abandon my own room to his shoes and socks. Rotten.”
“Your mom and dad were always willing to help music exchange students…”
“Well, Not that willing, sir, After the guy with the stinking feet. I lost my room SIR (Did Phil say ’Sir’…yes he did) …still blame you for it.”
I noted that Phil slipped back into the ‘Sir’ mode…an expression of respect that I always savoured
when used by my students. We had a few laughs that day. Then the actors began to troop
in and we were politely ushered out.
So here below are a few of the things we have rented this month…November, 2020.
A period calendar from 1945 to 1946…interesting.
One ladder is not rentable…movies want multiples…so our collection expands.
You will hear about this machine in a story shortly. Bet you do not know what it is. It revolutionized agriculture. Cheap food followed its’
invention. We travelled to England, Ireland, USA…in search of the history of this machine. Then I rebuilt it in our back yard.;;and
shipped it air freight to a museum in Northern Ireland. interested? Are you interested?
Question: Which object … artifact…do you remember best?