History for Hire: A Grand Tour

In February 2011, Concord, California camera collector John Bolin took a tour of Hollywood’s top “prop house,” History For Hire. With his camera, he took us all on tour with him. John sent me over 100 photos of his visit, but I’ve included only about thirty here because the place is so huge, even John’s 100-plus images can’t do it justice. I’ve chosen only the ones that have cameras in them, and not even all of them. There are nearly 1,000 microphones that cover every era, different size cranes and dollies, pan heads and peds galore and even a few Mole Richardson perambulators (sound booms).

Basically, if you can name it, History For Hire has it by the hundreds. If not, they can make an exact duplicate…even cigarette packages and bottle labels. Got a war scene? Pick a war, and they can outfit your armies…they even have replicas of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”, the atomic bombs used in World War II.

Below left is John and his wife at KRTH radio, where they had gone to visit a friend: afternoon driver, Shotgun Tom Kelly (with hat). It was a busy trip for the Bolins because they had gone down to Los Angeles to pick up a TK47 (new add to his collection) from my old friend Manny Rodriguez, whom I met at ABC in New York in the late 1980s. For a long time, Manny was the director of the Ellen DeGeneres show, but is now directing the CBS midday show The Talk. They went to the taping of The Talk. Later that day, they went to the taping of Conan and visited our friend Bruce Oldham who is on camera three. Bruce and John went to school together.

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Above right is the owner of History For Hire, Jim Elyea. Chuck Pharis has helped Jim collect and reengineer cameras over the years and told me stories of how big the place was. Jim and I became friends last year when I helped him acquire three pristine Vinten Fulmar pedestals from Singapore. A collector there had short circuited their trip to the salvage yard and need help finding them a new home. They have a new life in Hollywood now, and at this writing, the three peds are being used in the new Muppet Movie.

Before I lay out all the shots below with just a few comments on them, I’ve got to show you a very neat trick. I think Chuck Pharis taught Jim how to do this when they were building the three prop cameras used in American Dreams, which was a TV series that revolved around the early days of American Bandstand. You can see them below in a few pictures.

Since there are almost no working cameras from these early eras, they have to look like they are working. Therefore, all the old insides are taken out, but the parts are saved for collectors. Little flat panel LCD screens are put in the view finder, and to make the illusion complete…not one, but four little lipstick cameras with different focal lengths are installed in front to imitate the different lenses on the turret that change in the viewfinder when you rack the lenses to a new position.

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Look carefully at the photo above. First, this is not a real TK30. All of Jim’s other cameras are real, but oddly, he has no real TK30s, so he had to make some. But that’s not why I’m showing you this.

See the small box under the lens turret on the bottom of the camera? It’s very nondescript and looks like it could be one of the many modifications made to these cameras. But now, take a look below. The front of the box is open and reveals four small lipstick camera lenses that feed a picture to the LCD viewfinder screen and even to monitors in a control room if that is what’s called for. When the turret turns, there is a mechanism inside the hollow camera body that changes which lipstick lens is “taking” the shot. All of his cameras have this capability. Cool!

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Okay, here we go…enjoy!

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These three TK41s above are from CBS and have the lipstick cameras, too…all the cameras have them, even the TK42s below.

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WOW! Camera Row!

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Above are the cameras built for American Dream, and again below, behind a real TK10.

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 Above, a real TK10 and below, a real good copy of a TK30 on a Panoram dolly.

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Believe it or not, this is a History for Hire-built 1950s control room console, and it works.

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Above, John’s friend Bob Snyder on Camera Row with TK60s. Below, Norelcos!

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Above I see an Ikegami 323, TK44s…and Howdy Doody? Below is one of their TK46s.

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Below are Ampex mono tape recorders…a sight near and dear to my heart. This is what I used in my first days in radio in 1964. I’m still a great audio editor, and these machines are one of the reasons why…it’s where I learned to splice and edit.

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