Prop master Barry Bedig was literally born into the biz. Yet despite being the son of storied special effects man Sass Bedig (“The Godfather,” “Bullitt,” “The French Connection”), Barry’s youth was largely unaffected by Tinseltown’s glare. Infrequent studio visits with Dad produced understated memories. “I got to ride [Roy Rogers’ horse] Trigger once,” he deadpans.
Obtaining union status at 25 in 1964 at 20th Century Fox after a stint in the U.S. Navy, Bedig was one of the youngest prop masters in the history of IATSE Local 44, having gained the prerequisite 2,000 hours for membership, then passed the daunting written exam.
He hit the big time in 1972 when he was called for Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.” Bedig’s contributions to the seven-segment film would become his career trademark: detail. He was tasked with creating the Jester’s wand for the “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” sequence — a handmade prop that featured a lampoon of Allen’s face and became the director’s favorite. It was his orgasmic orb on “Sleeper” a year later that audiences most remember. “Everyone on set tried it,” Bedig notes, “but only Woody made it believable.”
Bedig propped Stuart Rosenberg’s “The Laughing Policeman” and Paul Mazursky’s “Blume in Love” in 1973, and later worked with helmers Arthur Penn on “Night Moves” and Dick Richards on “Farewell, My Lovely.”
But it was director William Friedkin who defined Bedig’s career. The two share a dozen features spanning 30 years and a mutual commitment to quality, a collaboration that started with “Sorcerer” in 1977. On their second film together, “The Brink’s Job,” Bedig’s input rose to genius level: He brought $2 million in real currency to the set, creating a palpable buzz during the sequence in the bank vault in which actors Peter Falk, Peter Boyle and Paul Sorvino throw wads of the loot into the air. (The cash was well guarded; losses were less than $5,000 during filming — a small price for an idea worth its weight in gold.)
Partnering with a multitude of directors throughout the 1980s, Bedig hit a home run on Barry Levinson’s “The Natural.” Responsible for everything from old-time baseball mitts to Redford’s magical bat, “Wonderboy,” the prop man enlisted Paul Sullivan Jr. (young Roy Hobbs) to wood-burn the lightning logo on the prop — creating a character in its own right.
In 1985, he worked on Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.,” which withstood jail threats from the government over its depiction of counterfeiting. He also propped character-driven collaborations for Herbert Ross like “Steel Magnolias” and Andy Bergman’s comedic romp “Honeymoon in Vegas,” his exacting style a testament to his depth of craft, translating script and actors’ needs while providing accuracy to period and story. And he knew to never sell a director on a prop unless he had “more on the truck.”
Bedig, now 79, retired after Friedkin’s “Bug” in 2006. He lives in the San Fernando Valley and enjoys playing casino poker and mentoring his son, Jason, an art department lead man. “Be professional,” he counsels the third-generation filmmaker, “and never leave the set. That’s when things can go wrong!”