Collector's Street Lights and Insulators used as Props in Movie

Reporter: Joe Maurath, Jr.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity and privilege of being asked by Columbia Pictures if I would be able to provide them with some vintage street lights for a movie that is currently being filmed in Yonkers, New York (and I think in nearby Harrison, NY as well) called "Riding in Cars With Boys". The setting is placed in 1965 and the theme is "coming-of-age" involving growing up and youth of that time; sort of like "American Graffitti" was when it made the screen in 1973 or thereabouts. The set dressers wanted authentic looking street lights for their scenes. They were unable to find the real ones anywhere so they got in touch with Marvin Suggs of Richmond, TX and he relayed their request to me.

Those of you who know me no doubt are familiar with the fact that I have been obsessed with collecting street lights and their accessories as faithfully and diligently as collecting insulators since the 1960's. Since those years I have accumulated a lot of spare lights and have quite a few vintage duplicates stashed away from years ago ... when they were being changed out to more modern light sources. The people at Columbia were very pleased with a sample 1950's-vintage street light that I sent them and immediately wanted 12 more ... complete with globes and their four-foot curved, pole mounted steel brackets. These fixtures were designed to be externally wired ... so I provided a clamp-on stand-off bracket, complete with a glass or porcelain pintype (most were glass) for use on these brackets which were placed near the fixture head. The "old" way of wiring some of these lights sometimes was to drape the heavy street lighting circuit cable down from the crossarm to the bracket insulator (which were made in many different types) and then the conductor would enter the fixture through a porcelain bushing or metal grommet. The set dressers really liked my added provision idea using the standoff insulators (the glass ones are common clears and aquas) and are being used on all 30 fixtures that I provided to them.

These lights have high intensity tungsten-halogen lamps in them so they are functional for night filming, which there will be a lot of. The "real" wiring ... for the high wattage lamps employed ... runs through the pipe arms. A piece of 3/4 inch diameter black rubber hose is used to simulate the old style street lighting cable that I mentioned runs down from the pole (or crossarm) to the streetlight arm insulator and then to the fixture. With the 1950s-era fixtures with a glass globe (there are 18 of them) an add-on photocontrol bracket is closely affixed between the bracket insulator and fixture, with a vintage colored (red, blue, gold or white) photocontrol atop the photocontrol bracket ... for ultimate realism. (Since the 1970s most photocontrols are gray.) These "add-ons" were concepts that I built here and thus impressed the people at Columbia. In addition to the globe-type fixtures, I put together twelve 1930s vintage "radial wave" (or ruffled shade) open bulb fixtures each of which are adorned by a glass insulator on the cable-entrance stand-off bracket. I was assured that all of the above fixtures and accessories were going to be put into storage along with most of their other props for future use after the filming is completed. I was also told that I am in Columbia's database as their resource person and consultant whenever the need arises for vintage street lights and related pole-mounted accessories assistance.

I do not know how well the insulators are going to show up on film, but the set dressers were appreciative of my work and really seem to be paying a lot of attention to their sets' retro-appearance detail. The movie will be released by next July or so and the filming will continue until later November or early December. If between now and then any of you folks happen to be in that area (Yonkers is about 30 miles north of New York City, right off the Thruway) you might want to poke around for a look because all of these fixtures are now installed, I believe. I do not know of the exact location(s) where filming is taking place; however maybe some of the locals there could tell you.

After reading within the ICON digest how insulators show up in movies as props in the background on windowsills, etc., I thought I'd pass this information along to you first hand to give all of you a "heads up" about how the insulators we collect are being "recycled" for active use on a movie set. ... Now, if only I could talk them into outfitting their poles with all of my extra crossarms, pins and remaining extra glass insulators!

For more information on street lighting, visit the Vintage Street Lighting Website.

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Written Wednesday, September 27, 2000