Edward Aiona, the prop master for 31 feature films, including three that won Academy Awards for best picture, “Ordinary People” (1980), “Rain Man” (1988) and “Unforgiven” (1992), as well as 28 episodes of network series television, died March 31 at Tarzana Hospital of lung cancer compounded by chronic heart trouble. He was 83.
Aiona was closely associated with Clint Eastwood: Aiona made his debut as property master on Dirty Harry film “Magnum Force” in 1973 and then worked on every Eastwood film until Aiona’s retirement in 1996.
Between films with Eastwood, Aiona also collaborated as prop master with directors including Martin Scorsese (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”), John Milius (“Big Wednesday”), Sydney Pollack (“The Electric Horseman” and “Absence of Malice”), Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) and John Carpenter (“Memoirs of an Invisible Man”).
“He was extreme in getting what was required for the screenplay,” said Mike Sexton, Aiona’s assistant before becoming prop master at Eastwood’s production company Malpaso following his mentor’s retirement. “If the sewing needle for ‘Unforgiven’ indicated the year was 1898, Eddie wouldn’t accept a needle from 1899. No one would know the difference except Eddie, who would track it down through a whole network of resources until he had it absolutely right, and this was in the era before access to the Internet.”
“It was the scene where Morgan Freeman darns Clint’s face. Eddie went from references he had for antique markets, period collectors and museums until he had the needle for that year and then put it together with a little kit that was period exact.”
For “The Bridges of Madison County,” in which Eastwood portrays a photographer, Aiona met with several professionals, including one from National Geographic. “Eddie went with those guys to see what cameras and equipment they carried for the 1960s,” Sexton said, “how they conducted their work, what they were like, and then got all of that for Clint so that he looked like a journeyman photographer of that era.”
“And then Eddie showed Clint how to use all that stuff. That’s the property master’s job, too, to teach the actor how to handle these things, every single prop.”
Aiona’s prop specialty, however, was weapons. He designed a fully functional camouflage pistol for John Malkovich’s assassin on “In the Line of Fire.”
Born in Hawaii, Aiona arrived on the mainland as a lightweight boxer in 1959. He never ceased to resemble the athlete he was in his first vocation. Aiona drifted from boxing to day work at Paramount, then Warner Bros. before finding a niche for his creative penchants with props.
In addition to wife Bobbe, to whom he had been married for 29 years, Aiona is survived by two sons and two daughters from his first marriage; several stepchildren with Bobbe; and seven grandchildren.