Studio Slang of 1928: A Prop Boy’s Dictionary

Comical and semi-comical lists of studio lingo were always popular fare in movie magazines. Here’s one from a 1928 issue of Photoplay.

This article is billed as “Studio Language Made Simple for the Beginner” and credited to Robert H. Cowing. As the title indicates, it’s told from the point of view of a prop boy.

Director — Mr. God in Hollywood.

Assistant Director — The guy who yells ‘Lunch.”

Garter — A guy who walks all over the clean floor with his dirty boots.

Juicer— Another electrician who’s got nothing to do but walk on the floor.

Technical Director— A guy from outside who is expert at not knowing anything you want.

Set Dresser — The guy who spots heavy furniture on a set.

Swing Gang — The boys who place the heavy furniture for me to move.

Swing Gang Boss— The guy who says “The boss wants to see you.”

Prop Boss— The guy who says “I’m laying you off tonight.”

Art Director — A guy with long hair and a hot line.

Producer— A guy who spends $5,000 in time trying to save $5 overhead.

Efficiency Man— A guy who loses $5,000 for the studio but saves $5 for his unit.

Superintendent — Grab a mop and hit the floor when he comes around.

Front Office— Where they got swell looking secretaries.

Scenario Writer— A guy who agrees with the director on story construction.

Reading Department— Where they send relatives and rejection slips.

Supervisor— In charge of guessing with the producer and interfering with the director.

Personal Assistant — A friend who wanted a job.

Yes Man — A guy who has give up.

Secretary — Somebody’s sweet mama.

Casting Director — A wet nurse for relatives who want to break into the movies.

Assistant Casting Director— A wet blanket for the hams.

Central Casting Office— Situated on Casting Problem’s Bluff and dealing in bologna and hams.

Actor— A real guy who always gives you a decent break.

Ham— An unpopular egg who thinks he or she is an actor.

Extra— The marvel of dietitians. Can eat any amount of food or none at all and still look for jobs.

Grip— A standby carpenter who drops his hammer in the middle of a dramatic scene.

Painter — A guy who splashes paint on the clean windows.

Carpenter — A guy who leaves shavings on the grand piano.

Business Manager — The guy who sees you get fed at midnight.

Star — A man or girl who keeps the front office guessing.

Trouper — A man or girl who is cheerful, helpful, and willing at all times to consider the other fellow’s feelings.

Up-Stage — Generally some gutter-pup drawing five thousand dollars a week who gets canned after the second picture.

To Back Up— To hog the close-up by facing front and the other player get the back of his neck photographed.

Bit — To walk in, walk out, scene’s over.

Part — To walk in, stay a while, walk out.

Free Lance Artist — Somebody who has lost his or her contract.

Artist— An imported cheese-opener from Europe who makes artistic failures in America till his contract is up.

Stool— A snooping skunk who better keep off my set! drop a chandelier on him!

Spaghetti — Electric cable you trip over when you’re in a hurry to get bicarbonate of soda for the boss.

Gag — Something somebody thinks is funny.

Script — A hunk of paper with what’s left of the original story printed on it.

Continuity — The story torn down to scenes and “artistic effects.”

Camera — A command to shut up everybody.

Kleig Eyes — A hell of a headache; ruination; blindness from the lights. Caused by black floors, open Crecos (Note: arc lamps), and empty stomachs.

Set — Which I preside over.

New York Office — Where the orders come from.

Publicity Office — Where they make stars, directors, and pictures.

Prop Man — All I got to do is clear the set, dress the set, clean the set, and wait on the troupe. Must be decent when possible, hard-boiled when necessary, and able to “yes” the assistant director without his suspecting it. Must have muscle enough, quick wit enough, and be a mind reader for temperamental stars and directors. Must water the director, dust the stars, feed the hams, and forget nothin’. Take all the cussing, give all the service, hold all the grief, and don’t bawl out somebody’s sweetie from the front office for busting up my furniture. Be responsible for all props used and imagined used, and fight for my life when they take damage claims out of my check. And then they won’t pay me no overtime like the other guys get and kick about paying my supper check when we work late at night. My assistant is the kid who chases everything I am too winded to get.

Fade-Out — When you get your last check.

The glamour of films, eh?


  1. Steve Phillips

    Pretty funny—and I learned a few things too!
    One of many things I like about older movies is to learn what expressions were popular then, compared to those popular today.
    “Swell” is one that’s just about disappeared.
    On the other hand “Don’t get me started!” is something that sounds modern to me, but I noticed it used prominently in a 1923 film (Wild Oranges, I saw it last night).

  2. Marie Roget

    Ok, this list is hilarious. Love it!

    The one I’ve heard most often in modern times (usually after a production meeting and referring to a producer, unit production manager, location manager, take your pick) is “He’s stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.” Yeah……they’re usually men.

    “Watch it, lot of spaghetti behind this set” is still in use (cables are black, stages tend to be dark). And who doesn’t want to be considered “A Trouper,” movie context or not 😉

  3. Ross

    Many a true word spoken in jest. I note that the Prop Boy has a long and (self) promoting job description for the Prop Man.

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