brothers turn a youthful hobby into a scarily successful business
Not many people have
a job where it’s a good thing to scare the — well, you-know-what
— out of folks. But that’s why brothers Dwayne and Fred Whitehead
love going to work each day at a business where their theme is “We
bring the dead to life!”
and Dwayne Whitehead pose among some of their ghoulish creations.
The two brothers began making horror props as children and later formed
a business supplying their work to amusement parks and film companies.
When you walk into
the Prop Masters, Inc., warehouse in Republic, you can see the duo isn’t
kidding about the “dead to life” part. On any given day, you
might be greeted by several likenesses of Stabbo the Clown, with his Jack
Nicholson-like grin, or Creepy Karen, a zombie-like gal you wouldn’t
take home to Mother. You might see a life-sized Lon Chaney as the Phantom
of the Opera or turn a corner to find Frankenstein reaching out to grab
“All this began
in Chicago where we grew up,” says Dwayne, 38. “We would watch
old horror films and read Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. There
was always some great monster mask we’d want but, even back then,
they cost a lot.”
When their weekly
allowance wouldn’t stretch far enough, the brothers scoured flea
markets for horror finds. One day Dwayne hit pay dirt and found a great
monster mask which led to their business.
‘hey, why can’t we make a mask of our own,’ ”
says Fred, 40. “So we did.”
“We turned the
garage into a mask shop,” says Dwayne. “Bob and Phil Zagoni
ran a prop business in Chicago and they saw our work and kinda took us
under their wing and taught us some tricks of the trade. They’re
still our mentors.”
Making a prop takes
quite a bit of time. First, Dwayne sculpts the form out of clay and a
mold is made. Fred takes over and pours latex, allows it to dry, trims
the excess and preps the prop for painting. Then they paint and assemble
the product, costume it and fill orders for shipping.
1990, Mom told us she thought we were spending too much time on our hobby,”
says Dwayne. “We’re like ‘This ain’t a hobby no
more, Mom!’ We were filling orders for 500 of this, 500 of that.
And all from a garage.”
The brothers say their
first real paying job was for the International Ice Capades.
“We were commissioned to make a Max Headroom head,” Dwayne
says, referring to a popular character from television commercials. “And
after that, we realized there was a little money to be made, so we gave
it a go.”
Although the duo has
created monster masks and props since, Prop Masters, officially began
in 1994 when the two moved to Republic to live in a smaller community
where the cost of living didn’t eat them alive and to be near family
who had moved to the state.
of the brother's scary creations.
Their busy season
begins around March with the National Halloween and Party Show, where
they display their gruesome works and view competitors’ wares.
The brothers often work 12-hour days from March to October. After Halloween,
Dwayne says the two begin retiring props that didn’t sell well and
creating new props to replace them. He says they keep about 35 characters
in production at any given time. Next year, the duo plans to add Christmas
items to their production list. These won’t be like their usual
Props begin at $200
but can run as high towards $10,000 if someone requests a custom, human-size
The brothers are often
asked why they don’t go to Hollywood to work.
“What people don’t realize is that once the movie is over,
you often go without work for months,” says Fred. “We like
the steady flow of what we do here.”
Their reputation for
creating well-made props has attracted them buyers from all across the
United States and Germany, Australia, Puerto Rico, Japan and Canada.
While the brothers
don’t brag about their work, their list of clients says a lot for
their creative abilities. Clients includes Universal Studios, Dollywood
Theme Park, Six Flags, Hollywood Wax Museum, the ship Queen Mary, and
one of their favorites, Chaney Entertainment.
The brothers were
at a trade show when a man came up and asked if they could do a head of
the famed Lon Chaney, an early actor who portrayed Dracula and other horror
“We said sure,
but we usually need to do a life cast of the person’s face and Chaney
died in 1930,” Dwayne told the man.
the guy said, “I kinda look like him.”
The man was Ron Chaney,
great-grandson of the famous horror film icon. Chaney thought Dwayne and
Fred’s pieces were so well done he had them cast his own likeness,
which is now used on the props they make which require Lon’s likeness.
a good friend,” Dwayne says of Ron. “I’ve been lucky
enough to go to his house in Palm Springs and see the entire Lon Chaney
family archive. He speaks very fondly, too, of his grandfather, Lon Chaney,
Jr., who played Wolfman.”
Dwayne says one day
he’d love to open a Missouri-based film and television museum and
showcase the brothers’ wax museum figures.
and Dwayne would someday like to open a museum displaying their recreations
of Missouri-born celebrities.
“There are so
many famous Missourians we could have in the museum: Vincent Price, Phyllis
Diller, Bob Barker, Don Johnson, Brad Pitt. The list is endless,”
says Dwayne. “Of course, I’d love to do a movie section and
have Charlton Heston as Moses parting the sea. Heck, we even know how
to part the sea in this business!”
With their own creepy
props hanging about, you might think they have their fill of ghoulish
girls and gory guys. But they have an extensive collection of great horror
props from a variety of films, both classic and modern. They have a Linda
Blair head prop used in “The Exorcist,” “Planet of the
Apes” props, and a “Terminator” robot skull. Add a few
things like a lighted Bates Motel sign behind the desk, a face mask of
Jason from Halloween and life-size ghosts floating about the place and
you can get creeped out.
There is one prop
in their collection of a guy in a straight jacket — eyes squinting,
head cocked and an eerie grimace on his face — which leaves you
scratching your head, like you’ve met the guy before.
Then you look over
at Fred and realize he’s the life cast for the prop.
“Sometimes you just use what’s available,” Fred says,
To view or order Dwayne and Fred’s props, visit their Prop Masters,
Inc. Web site at www.monsterprops.com.
or call (417) 732-4302.