Prop Story - The Wolfman's Cane
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
After a pretty successful first project with Factory Entertainment (The Creature From The Black Lagoon claw) I was asked to continue the Universal Monsters prop replica line with Larry Talbot’s cane from The Wolfman (1941)
“Purchased as a harmless gift in the film, the cane ultimately becomes the instrument of Larry Talbot’s destruction.”
I was extremely nervous about this job. First of all, this would not only be just the second thing I had ever sculpted professionally, but also the second thing I had really sculpted EVER. And, it’s covered in fur. Fur and hair are tough even for seasoned sculptors. However, that worry was for later. Now, I needed reference.
It is common knowledge in the horror community that Bob Burns -My friend and guiding mind on the Creature claw – is custodian of the original, screen used Wolman cane head. How he came into possession of that is a story unto itself:
When Bob was a young boy going to school in Burbank, Ca. he befriended a classmate named Sonny Burman. Sonny was the son of Ellis Burman, talented prop maker, makeup artist, and fabricator of the original cane head. Sonny would take Bob to Ellis’s studio, and there, Bob became fascinated with the Wolfman cane prop, which he discovered sitting on a shelf (This was in 1948, several years after the film release). Realizing the respect and admiration young Bob has for the piece, after several visits Mr. Burman presented it to Bob as a gift. Bob was 13 at the time. This was Bob’s first movie prop (first of MANY to come) , and one he still treasures to this day.
I asked Bob for some reference, which he provided!I was also able to find many stills of the piece online, as well as on the DVD. Bob mentioned that over the years, the cane head had shrunk a little, and to keep that in mind when sculpting my version.
The Original Wolfman Cane Head
Oh ya – I still have to sculpt this.
At first I tried digital, which was a total disaster. Digital sculpting is difficult, and for a novice, digital fur is next to impossible. I started, stopped, started over, stopped, so many times I cant even count. After 2 days of doing this, with no visible progress, I was about ready to call Factory Entertainment and tell them I simply could not do this project.
I owe my wife a debt of gratitude for not letting me give up. She told me to try again, and I am glad I did – But not before rethinking my approach to this piece.
I decided to try and get into the head of the original sculptor. Having worked on films for over a decade at this point, and seen “real” prop makers at work myself, I know that they work fast. I can imagine back in 1941 they worked fast as well, especially with no notion of Blu Ray or “home media.” Once the movie played in the theaters, it was essentially gone. I can only assume that this now iconic prop, was just another “job” for Ellis at the time, and with that, I discarded the stress I was putting on myself to do this iconic symbol proper justice, and treated it like I was a sculptor in the 40’s, just doing a job.
I left my computer and grabbed a pile of clay. I started forming the basic shapes, then the proper contours, and finally, the fur – which was MUCH easier to deal with in clay than in digital form. That's not to say that the WHOLE piece is clay, the little pentagrams on the sides with the wolf outline are 3D printed, because it was just easier to do that way. In the end, Clay and 3D printed resin came together to form something I am proud of, and honestly didn’t even think I was capable of:
My original Sculpt (Clay and 3D printed resin)
Universal licensing approved this piece on the first pass! I was thrilled. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I was able to see the final product samples come in, and I was not disappointed:
As a thank you for the help, I was able to present Bob one of the first factory prototype cane heads during a visit to him a few years . Bob was helpful every step of the way on this project, and I feel like this is an much his cane, as it is mine.
Bob holding my sculpt (left) and his original prop (right)
Bob then placed the prototype next to the original in his display case, saying that it seemed like a good spot for it. What a compliment!
*Fun fact about this cane. Many movie props are reused in Hollywood (Check out how many films have the Ghostbusters PKE meters!) but this one was so specific, how could it have possibly been used anywhere else. Well…
The cane is seen in the 1945 Sherlock Holmes film “House Of Fear,” Just leaning against the wall in the background. I have no idea how, or why – But if you look closely, there it is!
Can you spot the cane?