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Rent a War

(Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan)

The first time I entered History for Hire, I was smacked with bright light; it reminded me of Lou Reed hitting the streets after a six-day amphetamine binge, like the lyrics to “White Light/White Heat.” As my pupils adjusted, I was hit with a kaleidoscope of color: Union blues, bright ’60s psychedelic garb and dreary grays. I immediately felt elated. As I walked through the aisles, the overwhelming smell of must and stale wool hit me like mustard gas, or at least mustard gas was on my mind as I walked through the unending stacks of military-issue camouflage. Coming to this North Hollywood prop house was one of my favorite duties when I worked as prop master for the Greenway Court Theater. I loved walking among the tall, wide and seemingly endless racks of period pieces. Not one shelf was left unoccupied, not one box left unstuffed. You could find everything from Victorian-era cosmetics cases to Revolutionary War muskets to neon 1980s Fender Stratocasters. I always spent more time exploring there than I should have. I loved imagining what movies had used which objects, what kind of characters would need them.

History for Hire started out 21 years ago as a humble living-room operation run by Pam Elyea and her husband, Jim. The first film feature they worked on was Oliver Stone’s seminal 1986 film, Platoon. “Of course,” said Pam, “we had no idea it was going to be such a successful film at the time.” Now, 20 years later, History for Hire has grown into a Hollywood staple, working on 150 still shots, 100 music videos, 50 theatrical productions and 50 feature films a year, with business extending to all seven continents.

Supplying props to film shoots on Antarctica had its drawbacks, however. Production on an IMAX film about the real-life ill-fated 1914 voyage of English explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, in which his boat was seized by ice while attempting to sail past the frozen continent, was halted when the film’s crew ship, carrying all the props and much of the equipment, sank into icy blue oblivion. Pam chalks the experience up to working in an unpredictable industry. Recently, History for Hire has outfitted a pirate documentary for the History Channel, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, and even a private corporate pirate-themed party at the Renaissance Hotel. And what they don’t have, they make — a service aided by Jim Elyea’s experience with design and television product fabrication.

But being at History for Hire seems to radiate a unique feeling of being at home, if home were a huge warehouse full of all the cool stuff you had ever wanted.

History for Hire 7149 Fair Ave., North Hollywood, (818) 765-7767 or www.historyforhire.com

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