This month is our blog series is “Potpourri Month” and we have a sub-theme every day; today’s is Propourri” for the pro who handles props. When you think of your favorite shows, there are props included in those great memories: the couch at Central Perk, Fonzie’s leather jacket, or the cereal boxes on Seinfeld’s refrigerator. First let’s learn a little about the Props Master and then we’ll take a look at some of our most-loved props.
The Prop Master heads up the Props Department. They are charged with acquiring, organizing, and safely handling the props for the shows.
Each episode has a list of props that will be needed for the show. The props master reviews the scripts and has meetings with various department heads to ensure everything that is needed is on the list.
Sometimes the props master does research to see what would be appropriate for a specific era or place. Cars were quite different in the fifties than the eighties. A grocery store does not look the same in China as it does in Atlanta.
During filming, the props master has to keep track of props and make sure everything is put back in its place.
So, what are some of the props that have become synonymous with our favorite series? Let’s put together a prop list that includes props from our favorite shows.
Living rooms have a lot of cool furniture. When you think of comfortable places to sit, you have to think of Modern Family’s couch, Archie’s chair from All in the Family, Chandler and Joey’s Barcaloungers from Friends, and Martin Crane’s duct-taped, worn chair on Frasier.
Many of the Modern Family characters are interviewed on their couch which sits in front of their stairs to the second floor right as you enter the front door. The walls are Benjamin Moore’s Labrador Blue. The couch itself is from Sofu-U-Love and the primary-colored striped pillows are from Pottery Barn just in case you want an interview sofa of your own.
Archie Bunker’s chair is from the 1940s. It’s covered in an orange and yellow woven fabric. The props master purchased the chair from a thrift store in Southern California. Whenever anyone but Archie sits in the chair, it is made obvious to them that they need to find another seat.
The barcaloungers Joey and Chandler use were originally made in Buffalo New York, named after the company that made them. They have moving parts to allow for footrests and reclining. Joey’s Barcalounger is brown leather and he calls it “Rosita.”
Martin Crane’s chair is in the same color family as Archie Bunker’s. The prop department made it, so it’s a one-of-a-kind piece. It’s striped and quite unattractive looking especially with Frasier’s expensive tastes echoing in the rest of the room, but Martin loves it and Frasier loves Martin so it stays. In the first episode, a guy carries in the chair when Martin and his dog Eddie move in with Frasier. On the last episode, the same guy carries the chair out when Martin gets married and moves out. The chair is really almost a character during the run of the series.
There are a lot of fun accessories from our favorite living rooms. Just a couple include Jeanne’s bottle from I Dream of Jeanne, the “M” that was on the wall in Mary Richard’s apartment on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the Chihuly sculpture from Frasier. Who can remember The Dick Van Dyke Show without thinking about the ottoman Rob Petrie might trip over?
Jeannie uses her Arabian glass bottle to sleep in and to hide in when someone other than Tony and Roger is in the house. The bottle has a long, purple couch with her blankets and pillows. She also has an Arabian candle, a photo of Tony, a mirror, and her book about genies.
Mary’s “M” stood for so much more than her first name. We knew that an independent, smart woman lived in that apartment. Everyone wanted to grow up and be able to put their own initial on the wall just like the brass one Mary had. When she moved to her newer, more modern apartment, the M went with her.
In contrast to Martin’s puke-colored chair on Fraiser, Frasier had so many expensive items scattered around his home. One of them was Dale Chiuly’s Macchia. This blown-glass vase was green and brown. It was worth $30,000 at the time, and the props master locked it up after filming each episode.
We all recall the opening of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Will he or won’t he? I think most of us remember him falling over the ottoman, but do you know sometimes he walked around it? Reiner wanted a clever opening for the show and while talking with John Rich, the director, they decide Rob will fall. But then Reiner suggested a variation, so they filmed him not tripping. No one ever knew from episode to episode if he would fall or not.
Burns and Allen have their closet adjoining the living room. While Fibber McGee and Molly have a ton of items in their closet, whenever Gracie opens hers, we see a collection of hats that men have left when they are in a hurry to get out of the Burns house after dealing with Gracie’s logic.
When I think of some of my favorite kitchen items, I think about Jerry Seinfeld’s refrigerator with its revolving display of cereals. I know if I visited My Three Sons, I would get to sit around the kitchen table where all the action happens on the show. And Gracie would definitely take me into her kitchen to have some coffee from the pot she almost always kept full for her and Blanche to talk over.
Jerry always has cereal in his cupboard. Some sources say he had up to seventeen at a time. Knowing that cereal doesn’t last all that long, he ate a lot of cereal. I’m hoping Fruit Loops was one of those choices.
While as viewers we love that the kitchen was the heart of the Douglas home. From the first episode when Steve got Chip to help him with the dishes to talk to him about “love,” to the grown boys gulping down orange juice at the table to leave early for their busy day, we spent a lot of time in that room. Uncle Charlie’s bedroom was just off the area, so he could come and talk with someone getting warm milk in the middle of the night. The actors might not have had the same warm, fuzzy feelings. Barry Livingston discussed their filming schedule because Fred MacMurray did all his filming in two short groups of days. He said sometimes, “you would sit at the kitchen table all day long and they would do close-ups. You would be sitting in the same place at the same table and you would do a close-up from 12-15 different episodes. All you would do was change your shirt because they couldn’t see anything below.”
Gracie and Blanche always made time to have coffee to talk over things. Whether it was 7 am, 1 pm, or 7 pm, the coffee pot was always on. Burns and Allen also did coffee ads for Maxwell House, so I am assuming that it was Maxwell House the friends drank daily on Burns and Allen.
I know if I explained every item to you in detail, we would still be on this blog next week, so I’ll just some up the rest of the categories.
Bedrooms: Beds are definitely the focal point. We have the Petries’ twin beds that are not convenient for a married couple. Lisa and Oliver Douglas had a very large bed on Green Acres; unfortunately, it was open to the outside where anyone could come in or out. Oscar Madison had a bed on The Odd Couple, but no one knew it because his room was so messy. We definitely remember Bob and Emily Hartley’s bed because not only was it important in The Bob Newhart Show but it was in the finale of Newhart. It is also hard not to recall Alex Keaton’s Ronald Regan poster that took up one of his bedroom walls on Family Ties.
Libraries and Dens. Three specific rooms come to mind. On Batman, we had the Shakespeare bust that hid the bat phone in their library. We had George Burn’s television on Burns and Allen where he could watch was going on during the show without the other characters knowing he was listening in. Finally, we think back to The Brady Bunch where the six kids fought over what to watch on television and did their homework after school.
Garages: The Jetsons they kept their flying car in the garage, Last Man Standing where Tim kept his antique car, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, where they kept everything but the car. Ozzie was always out there looking for something.
Workplace: When characters go to work, we get a whole new scene full of fun props. Who would visit Dunder Mifflin without stopping by to see Pam at the front reception desk? Rob Petrie had a couch where the writers worked their magic. Central Perk featured the orange couch everyone remembers from Friends. The sofa was so beloved that replicas of it went on a world tour in 2019 for the shows’s 25th anniversary. The actual sofa used on the set was sold at auction in 2011 and it went for about $5000. Of course, Cheers would not have been the same without the stools for Norm and Cliff. Get Smart had so many fun props, it’s hard to choose; the Cone of Silence was certainly fun for everyone who could hear what was said inside by characters who thought they were speaking where no one could hear them. And Hogan’s Heroes also had a lot of fun items including the coffee pot that could relay anything said in Colonel Klink’s office.
Clothing: While I love almost everything they wore on Burns and Allen, The Brady Bunch, and The Partridge Family, there are a few other pieces that really stand out. Who would not want to wear Fonzie’s leather jacket? Columbo’s coat might be a bit rumpled but it had been around to solve a lot of mysteries. Sally on McMillan and Wife had the San Francisco jersey that she wore to bed. And talk about special clothing, Laverne’s wardrobe with her iconic “L” on everything was a big part of Laverne and Shirley.
Unusual Items: Last, but definitely not least, we have those special objects that belong to specific characters. When you think about Radar on M*A*S*H, don’t you also think about his teddy bear? Barney Fife would never leave the house without his silver bullet. Half the plots would disappear if Gilligan’s Island did not have a radio for the Professor to try to repair and hear about the world outside the island. Buffy’s Mrs. Beasley on Family Affair was very popular; the doll was sold for decades after the show went off the air. Kojak’s lollipops had to be on the list. Also, if you are talking about “things,” how could we not include the “Thing” from The Addams Family?
I hope you enjoyed getting to know something about some of our favorite furniture and recalling special props from well-loved shows. If you want to see a couple of these items, visit The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. where you can see Archie’s chair and Fonzie’s leather jacket. I’d love to hear your favorites.