The Story Behind the Recycled Newspaper Prop

Slate's Culture Blog
June 7 2010 6:42 PM

The Story Behind the Recycled Newspaper Prop

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A Reddit user noticed recently that the exact same black-and-white newspaper prop has turned up in dozens of commercials, movies, and TV shows including such diverse programs as Married With Children , Modern Family , Everybody Hates Chris , and Desperate Housewives . His compilation of screenshots has been going around the Internet, but without an accompanying explanation for why this particular paper keeps getting recycled.

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Brow Beat has learned that the prop comes from a small newspaper prop company called the Earl Hays Press in Sun Valley, Calif. Started in 1915, Earl Hays is one of the oldest newspaper prop companies, and the paper in question was first printed in the 1960s (note the top-hat ad on the lower left), then offered as a "period paper," better suited for Mad Men (where it has not appeared) than Scrubs (where it has). The screenshots don't actually reveal the same prop just various printings of the same file. The front is blank and can be customized, but the inside and back page are always identical. In fact, in No Country for Old Men , when Tommy Lee Jones is reading a paper at a diner, the section in his hands is the same as the one sitting on the table, suggesting that the prop master bought two copies to make the paper look fuller, but made the mistake of leaving the stock spread facing up.

Production companies use prop newspapers instead of real ones because getting clearance from an actual publication is usually more work than it's worth in potential fees and bureaucracy. (There are exceptions. When Tony Soprano picked up his paper each morning, it was always the Newark Star Ledger .) Rather than battle the legal department at the New York Times for that perfunctory breakfast shot, prop masters buy a stack of Earl Hays fake papers, which cost just $15 each. Sometimes if they have some left over they'll recycle them for another job.

In case you're curious about the headlines, here are a couple. Above the photo of the young woman with long, thick, dark hair: "She's 3rd Brightest But Hard 'Gal' To See." On the opposite page above what turns out to be a warehouse burning: "Compromised Housing Bill Sent to President for OK."

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