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History for Hire: Los Angeles prop emporium the go-to spot for Hollywood films
Employee returns props to the shelves at the History For Hire prop house in North Hollywood, California, August 9, 2013. Owner Jim Elyea's 32,000-square-foot (2,973 square-meter) warehouse is stocked with hundreds of thousands of props spanning several eras, some originals and other recreations built to order onsite at Elyea's custom shop. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck.

By: Leila Macor

LOS ANGELES (AFP).- 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 told AFP 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.

-- History from a catalogue --

In her sprint through the warehouse, Pam Elyea points to a black baby stroller from the 1900s that was used in "The Addams Family", "Bride of Chucky" and "Chaplin".

Then she walks by a 1920s vanity that appeared in "The Artist." In its mirror, the young actress played by Berenice Bejo writes the words 'thank you' when she is happy.

The Elyeas draw much of their period film prop expertise from old yearly catalogues from the US department store Sears, which run from 1900 to 1980.

"If you want to see what an average person would use in 1922 or 1947, or 1903, you just go to our library, pick up the right catalogue and it will tell you instantly what the right thing should be," Jim Alyea said.

He and his wife add to their already huge trove by buying, either over the Internet or in person, anything they think might come in handy for a movie, at times even such trivial things as a cereal box.

For example, in "Saving Mr. Banks", a film about the relationship between Walt Disney and the creator of Mary Poppins that will come out in December, the writer played by Emma Thompson will use a purse that the couple bought at an antique show in Austin, Texas.

But they also make reproductions, and employ designers that copy the labels of old products.

"Do you see that giant jar? That is something we made for 'Mad Men' that was supposedly a Don Draper design," she said, pointing to a jar of Hellmann's mayonnaise that is supposed to be from the 1960s and designed by the show's protagonist.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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