LA prop emporium the go-to spot for Hollywood films

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Old 18-Aug-2013
LA prop emporium the go-to spot for Hollywood films

A ship’s wheel here, a suitcase there. Pam Elyea walks briskly through the aisles of her cavernous warehouse pointing at antiques she has rented out as props for Hollywood movies.

And she rattles off the names of the flicks or TV shows in which her vintage stuff has appeared: The Artist, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the list goes on and on.

The business is called History for Hire, and it is the go-to place for Los Angeles movie folk looking to shoot a period piece.

Indeed, Elyea and her husband Jim have seen their gems on the screen in such movies as Chaplin, Platoon, Argo and the wildly popular TV series Mad Men.

It all started in 1985, when Jim Elyea turned his passion for collecting things into a way to make a living.

A walk through the warehouse is a stroll through memorabilia of the 20th century: cameras, stethoscopes, dolls, baseball mitts, cosmetics, suitcases, telephones, military gear from the first and second World Wars as well as the wars in Vietnam and Korea, and even an electric chair for executions.

“We feel very special about them because they have a second life,” Jim Elyea said after a tour of his treasures at his enormous warehouse in North Hollywood.

“After they fulfill their useful purpose in life, then they come to us where they are in a kind of a museum show and they play themselves in movies,” he adds.

One customer has just rented 18 sets of drums and 40 guitars and bass guitars for Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s movie adaptation of a hit musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons which is about to begin filming.

The client is Michael Sexton, Eastwood’s prop guru, who has worked with the Hollywood legend on such films as J Edgar, Invictus, Changeling and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Sexton also did Argo, Ben Affleck’s political thriller that was the big winner at the Oscars earlier this year.

“You do have to be sure it’s historically correct,” says Sexton.

He explains he checks and double-checks every prop he uses in a film, no matter how small, with old catalogues, diaries, photos and even archives from manufacturers themselves.

The Elyeas see historical accuracy as their social responsibility.

“It’s very important to us that movies and television shows, etc., are accurate historically,” Jim Alyea said.

He says most people in fact learn about history from watching movies and TV shows.

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