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They wanted to add futuristic science fiction props to their all ready massive storeroom of just about everything historical. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to let me create stuff for them, rather they tried to get the production company to design and pay for prop fabrication and then rent these props from The Hand Prop Room. The plan didn’t work out that way.
It was funny and sad. At one point I found myself in competition with myself, I was asked into Mr. John Ramsey's office and was shown a pair of pictures of some rayguns a propmaster was looking at renting from another Prop shop, and I saw a bunch of my own models that were over at Modern Props... I lost the job to myself, as it were.
The blue Xs are the ones he liked; three of the four were mine.
Sadly this still did not convince them to let me pre-make a bunch of props, I even brought my own boxes of parts, all kinds of things that I would build props with so that I might have a chance to get work, which I would pitch to the prop masters that came in. All failed.
The prop masters were not designing props, they wanted to rent them and thus wanted to see some to pick out, to rent what they liked and wanted.
So most of the time I got stuck building spy cases out of Halliburton cases. Man, did I get sick of Halliburton cases.
Oh yes I almost forgot one other project I was rather proud of building; I made a great bunch of phone ringers.
These are A/C powered phone control boxes. Mine was able to handle up to three phones, three 5 line phones, to ring them, to flash the lights in the buttons and to allow the flashing rate to be changed, and these let the phones be "live" in that the actors could actually talk to each another, and the third line could be used for the director to direct or be hooked into the sound recording to record the dialog. And each box would run a 5 line phone, a 4 prong plug, a micro plug or a hard wired phone to cover all types of phone.
In fact I only did a few noteworthy projects while at The Hand Prop Room, first was lights for the heart in the Richard Gere movie, Breathless:
Then there was a Japanese TV commercial with a food transporter. A footnote; in a shop like The Hand Prop Room, a lot of the work was by team; many of us would be working on the same project, one would be doing the vacuum formed tool and another did the vacuum forming and another would trim and paint it and I would be asked to do the electronics, the winky blinkies.
Next was a film called Get Crazy, for more please see the Get Crazy image gallery.
And of course The Greatest American Hero which I cover in How I helped "The Greatest American Hero".
A little side note, remember Mr. MOM? -- Hand Prop Room did a few props for that like the killer vacuum cleaner called "The Beast". I had nothing to do with it but here is a guy called Harvey working on "The Beast," putting a cover over the drive motor that was added to make it self-powered and to run around on its own by remote control.
I did at last get them to let me build one little gun out of my junk boxes, and this is what came of it:
In Hollywood as they say "We had creative differences." Once again, I moved on, after all of 9 months.
I went independent
as Prop Maker, and wisely I
By using my own name I accidentally helped insure my own fame. Common practice was to use a fictional name like Apogee and Proper Effects, all very nice but ANYONE could own them and anyone could work there. Using my own name said I did it.
By the way have you noted the
engine that drove my career?
It was the electronics, the winky blinkies. They would come to me for
and I would sell them so that I could also build the cases to hold
I did a freelance job on Ice Pirates and subcontracted to Ellis Mercantile, still another prop rental shop. I worked with Chris Gilman. For more see the Ice Pirates gallery page.
Meanwhile, to supplement things, I was beginning to make media prop reproductions. I found many reasons to do these; much as artists are taught to copy the old masters to learn their style, I needed to solve the same problems that the prop makers had to solve when they made these props. Doing this learning allowed me to work full time at my craft, to expand my abilities, and pay the bills between film work. I would not be the prop maker I am today if I had not taken that path. Building for retail customers was much more demanding than film work. In film work, speed was more important than doing a pretty job.
After Ice Pirates I got one last call from the old Hand Prop Room to build a police car computer for them one that would allow controlled reactions but be much cheaper than a real computer. So I rigged up a mock computer with a few real controls. An actor could pound all day on the key board, and nothing would happen, but flip the right switch, and it would spring into action.
Scene: Policeman flips the computer on, it would light up and run a couple of lighted panels on the TV screen, like: "System go: Enter Subject" and the cursor would sit there and blink, (like a real computer did back then...) he would then make like he is typing a bunch of information in...and when done flip the second switch.... a new panel would light and blink, like :"Searching" then after a minute it would light the remaining panels like it was printing out the answers. Here it is:
I remained freelance and found that Lincoln Enterprises was still in business. Lincoln Enterprises was the sovereign company Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett formed during the run of the original Star Trek to sell fan-related items of ST, way back in 1968.
I pitched to Mrs. Majel Roddenberry to sell fans Phasers and Communicators. Eventually we agreed on terms and for the next few years I made props for Lincoln Enterprises. I had again rejoined Star Trek.
But Mrs. Roddenberry found
carrying the props problematic.
She liked low maintenance products: photos, copies of scripts,
non-working Tribbles (The furry creatures from the famous Star Trek
episode "The Trouble with Tribbles"), belt buckles, other paper goods.
hardly low maintenance. She found herself responding to the flurry of
about how the Phaser reproduction worked, what kind of battery it used,
there was the greater likelihood for damage in shipment, damage from
customer handling and the handling of her own people. We parted
These are two of the infamous red trigger Phasers.
I made a call to Paramount
licensing and asked about
getting a license and received the following reply, for which I wish I
tape and a dozen witnesses: "We don’t sell a license for such things,
don’t need a license to make them. Just go ahead and do them." Which,
course, I did as I was told! (For 2 decades I never retold this story,
figuring I had been BS'ed by some guy at the studio, but last year I
another person who claimed he was told the same thing! REALLY wish I
had that tape and a dozen witnesses)
Meanwhile, I had enough contact
doing business with the
conventions and the fans to know that making these props for the fans
seemingly dead end. There was just not enough money in the hands of the
convention going fan. (At least that was what they said when they could
not buy my models, and sales at cons seemed to prove it.)
So I sold prop reproductions to the fans while hunting steady work in the film industry. I used to joke about convention sales as being my personal prop making show biz version of actors parking cars and waiting on tables while looking for that big break.
One project was to build another phone box, so I did this:
I then got a call from Mr. William Malone whom I had contacted earlier about his Forbidden Planet collection and he had helped me with a model of the C57D, the space ship from the film, along with the DR raygun pistol from the movie.
He was doing a small film then called Titan Find, later to be renamed Creature (IMDB). He was looking for someone to recreate the computer panel used in the 1955 MGM film, The Invisible Boy. We took on the job by renting a friend's garage. (And made all 882 two-inch square lighted panels too!)
Funny as this was a fairly low budget film I was offered a credit as part of the payment, which I had to take, and so my ONLY film credit was for the building of this computer panel, and it was NOT for props, after all, it was a part of the set so I got a film credit for set building...darn!
For more images see the Creature gallery page.
We also did a few props for a film called Radioactive Dreams (IMDB) and spent one night working as extras to see our props in the film and to have fun being in a film.
And of all things I am wearing the gold lamé costume that Gil Gerard wore in Buck Rogers in the desert planet show, and it was tight! Jackie is the one in the red wig.
Looking for a good product led
me to a friend, Mr. Scott
Brodeen who wanted to
make a run of
models of the
Disney-designed version of the Nautilus submarine from the
Leagues Under the Sea.
I pitched this idea to the Disney Company and we were soon making these models, for the Disneyana store on Main Street in Disneyland Park. Although glamorous work, which helped make Scott and I famous among Nautilus fans, the work from Disney was not steady enough to live on, but with one to two film jobs a year, one to three orders from the Disney Company, and all the wholesale and retail sales I could do, I was able to make a living as a prop and model maker and had the fringe benefit of walking the sets and seeing lots of movieland.