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Props that Became Movie Stars

Updated on December 1, 2012

The Traveling Gnome

Who could have ever guessed that film props would become valued treasures in their own right? Remarkably, many have become indelibly fused for eternity into American pop culture. Some pieces are so revered artistically they are deemed as film memorabilia and sold at auction for thousands of dollars. Although their original purpose was to play a supporting role in helping to advance the plot, by way of the director’s genius, some of these trinkets ended up becoming quintessential to the popularity of film. For example the Wizard of Oz would have been a lot less enchanting without the ruby slippers; and 2001, A Space Odyssey would have been nothing but a long, boring journey across our solar system.

Below is a photo gallery of artwork I created of some favorites. Some need no explanation while others have some unknown, but rather interesting details associated with them that should be noted.

The Traveling Garden Gnome

One place the idea of the traveling garden gnome is derived from is the movie, Amélie (2001). It is a sweet (sometimes saccharine) tale of a young girl who wants to improve the lives of those around her, just a bit. In her attempt to motivate her father to chase his dream to travel, she steals his beloved garden gnome and enlists a stewardess to take it along on her many travels. Amélie instructs the stewardess to every so often take a Polaroid photo of the gnome in faraway exotic places and send the pictures to her father in the mail. At first he is distraught by the loss of his gnome, and then perplexed by the photos. Finally, (spoiler alert) he becomes intrigued by the famous landmarks and relents to follow his dream when one day his gnome suddenly returns. He now understands what he should do next and packs his bags.

Actually, the act of stealing a garden gnome originated in the 1980s in Australia. A young woman woke to find her gnome missing with a note left behind:

“Dear Mum. I couldn’t stand the solitude any longer. I’ve gone off to see the world. Don’t be worried. Love, Bilbo. XXXOOO"1

1 Wikipedia: Traveling gnome prank

Fun Fact: In 2004, Travelocity, an on-line travel agency, featured a game called “Where Is My Gnome” that went viral. Its popularity prompted the company to make the gnome its marketing mascot.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tablets from "The Ten Commandments"Holy Grail from India Jones Movie "The Last Crusade"The Knife from "Psycho"Wilson Ball from "Cast Away"Knife Glove from "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
Tablets from "The Ten Commandments"
Tablets from "The Ten Commandments"
Holy Grail from India Jones Movie "The Last Crusade"
Holy Grail from India Jones Movie "The Last Crusade"
The Knife from "Psycho"
The Knife from "Psycho"
Wilson Ball from "Cast Away"
Wilson Ball from "Cast Away"
Knife Glove from "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
Knife Glove from "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
Jack Torrance's Memoirs from "The Shining"
Jack Torrance's Memoirs from "The Shining"

Typed Pages of Jack Torrance’s “Memoirs”

Most likely when Stanley Kubrick was making The Shining, he never intended for the prop of Jack Torrance’s “novel” to eventually become famous, but in fact it became almost as popular as the movie itself. Fans were captivated by Kubrick’s device of simply stacking hundreds of sheets of paper in the box the paper was purchased in, similar to what a real author would have done as he completed each typed page. It all looks and feels correct until the camera zooms in on the typed lines screaming one insane mantra over and over in geometric patterns– “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Without the necessity of dialogue, the prop aptly conveys the breadth and depth of Torrance’s madness by materializing his belief to have actually spent months tolling away at writing his memoirs. Kubrick expands on this idea in the script as Torrance asks Wendy her opinion of it.

Fun Facts: Kubrick’s secretary was charged to create this prop. She spent several months in drudgery (and probably hundreds of typewriter ribbons) “clacking out” the sheets. Since she also was responsible for typing the all-too-frequent edits of the script in different colored sheets during the day, it must have been impossible for her to have had time to type it. Conjecture dictates that she must have personally devoted many nights in her suite dedicated to her task, probably without additional compensation. It’s good to know her hard work wasn’t done in vain.

The Ruby Slippers from "The Wizard of Oz"
The Ruby Slippers from "The Wizard of Oz"

The Ruby Slippers

The book that inspired the movie of The Wizard of Oz was created as political satire of its time. Its story is a metaphor for the greedy practices of banks that foreclosed on farmers in the Midwest leaving them destitute. In the book/movie the ruby slippers stood as a symbol of Dorothy’s power to control her own fate, as well as denoted her instant elevation to wealth and to the status of revered royalty. Allegorically, the shoes represent the unknown hidden talents of the downtrodden inconsequential until someone else points out their worth. For example, the book was written by a failed farmer motivated by his discontentment of the financial system and a need to find other means of income. If he hadn’t experienced the failure of farming, he might not have been made aware of his literary talent to create his masterpiece. The video below gives an excellent breakdown of what the symbols of the witch, tin man, and the munchkins mean and tells how the book (later the movie) got its name.

Fun Facts: The slippers weren’t actually a single pair of shoes, but four pairs that were used in the movie. Judy Garland wore one utilitarian pair for dance scenes; another slightly larger pair for when her feet became tired and inflamed; a third more elaborate pair for close-up shots; and a final pair that was worn by Garland’s stunt double. The original worn-out utilitarian pair can now be seen in the Smithsonian Museum.

In 1970, Kent Warner, a worker for MGM studios, stole all four pairs of the shoes and sold them at an MGM auction for $15,000. In 2005, the most coveted pair (size 5 ½ B) sold by Warner was re-stolen from an exhibit in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

The Dancing Bag from "American Beauty"
The Dancing Bag from "American Beauty"

The Wind-Blown Plastic Bag

Out of all of the props mentioned here, this might be the most poignant. The concept of the bag derives from the movie, American Beauty, 1999. The film is another allegory satirizing the excesses of life. The plastic bag was part of several video vignettes taken by the strange teen-aged boy next door. They represent his idea of “beauty” which he thinks can be found in anything, even in cast-offs. The bag is symbolic of the simplistic way forces in life can pull and tug you in many directions to either restrain you or set you free depending on your perspective on life. Bottom line, even the most messed-up, “garbage” of a life has some redeeming qualities.

Fun Facts: In his Oscar speech, Allan Ball purportedly was sitting in the World Trade Center Plaza when he noticed a plastic bag floating in the wind. The experience inspired him to write the movie script.

Hal 9000 from "2001, A Space Odyssey"
Hal 9000 from "2001, A Space Odyssey"

Hal 9000: 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968)

This is yet another allegorical take to beware of “playing God”. This science fiction film is Stanley Kubrick’s film masterpiece attempting to explain the foil of man through his own genius. In the movie, man has created an artificial intellectual life-form with the same cognitive abilities as humans. The purpose of the computer is to support life on the spaceship, Discovery One, but as with humans the computer becomes so self-aware that it develops hubris large enough to subjugate humans. It comes to the conclusion that humans are inferior to it and attempts to wipe them out through deception, a trait the computer wasn’t meant to learn.

It is said that Kubrick’s excessively diabolical digression on the book was inspired by his love of the movie, Frankenstein. Man has the audacity to “play God” by creating a life form out of human cadavers and soon has to “take his medicine” in death as punishment for his impudence.

Fun Facts: The Hal 9000’s faceplate, minus the lens, was found at in a junk shop in London.


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    • sweetypie1968 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Nightbag, Thanks! You know that's a good speculation. I'll find out exactly what did happen to it. I suspect it ended up in a science fiction collection. I'll update if and when I ever do find out.

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 

      5 years ago from Australia

      What a fun engaging read, to think that Hals face plate ended up in a junk shop!!!

      I really enjoyed this thank you

    • sweetypie1968 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Paradise7, Thank you very much. I truly appreciate you taking the time to read it.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Fascinating concepts. Congrats on an extremely well writen hub.


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