Friday, February 10, 2023

The Golden Calf prop...

The Golden Calf from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) was auctioned off at Christie's. The price: $15, 275. The calf looks different than how it appeared in the final movie. The main body of the one sold at Christie's has a wooden body. The one below shows it was made of gold. Thanks to Paul for the info.


hsc said...

This item does seem notably different from what's seen in the film, but a lot of original costumes and props just don't hold up well over time.

It's possible that there was some sort of gold sheathing-- sort of like a thick foil-- originally on the bare wooden part of the calf, and it was removed at some point in the last 65+ years.

There is clearly one obvious difference in the base as presented at auction: as shown in the film still, there are two sets of carrying poles on each side running from front to back, not sticking out from each side as shown here.

The inner set of poles in the film comes out farther in front and back than the outer set, and this set appears to be placed directly under the rows of curving cobra sculptures on each side.

Based on a publicity photo of Debra Paget posing in a studio with the prop, the two sets of poles were supported by two cross-pieces that may or may not be the two rusted poles that run through the base in the piece sold by Christie's.

While they seem to be in the right spot, they seem a bit long compared to the cross-pieces in the publicity photo. They might even be what's left of the two longer carrying poles used in the film, though they looked more like wood in the publicity photo with Paget.

Another thing to consider is that the prop in the film had some sort of pyrotechnics go off on it when Moses hurls the tablets at it, then it's dropped into a "fiery pit." This might account for the piece having lost the "gold" sheathing in that area as well as a loss of the original sets of poles.

I usually don't take the time to comment on your blog, but I've enjoyed it for years now and check it regularly. I want to thank you and commend you for a job well done and for doing so much to honor the genre!

hsc said...

Also, there may have been multiples of the prop made for the film; given what happens to the "Calf" after Moses hurls the tablets, backup copies may have been required.

The Christie's auction catalog says the item they sold on July 18, 2001 "was part of an exhibition organized by The Smithsonian called 'Hollywood: Legend and Reality' which traveled around the United States in 1985."

It's not clear if this traveling exhibition was composed solely of things actually belonging to the Smithsonian, or if items from private collectors were borrowed for the exhibition. But it's highly unlikely that the Smithsonian would have sold one of its own pieces in 2001.

However, this 2015 NEWSWEEK article about the unsolved 2005 theft of an original pair of "ruby slippers" from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN states that the stolen shoes were on loan from "Michael Shaw, a southern California-based collector whose haul includes the tablets and golden calf from Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Moses epic, The Ten Commandments":

Since the article doesn't show these TEN COMMANDMENTS items, it could be that Shaw purchased his "Calf" from Christie's in 2001, or he could be the owner of an entirely different copy obtained from another source.

Additionally, Wikipedia's entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS features this photo in the Wikimedia folder for the film, described as "Golden calf used in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments. Preserved in Museo des Cinema in Torino, Italy" and uploaded "29 July 2019" by the photographer:

This Italian museum item can't be the one sold by Christie's; while it's very similar in overall shape and in the head details, there's no exposed wood.

Furthermore, a second view of it on Alamy stock photos shows it appears to have a different color-- not actually gold, but an odd, patinated metal look-- and it apparently has no base:

That's at least two "original" props, and I suspect there are other versions out there as well, including "exact replica" re-creations.

PEPLUM TV said...

HSC, thanks for this wealth of information and the compliments.

I suspected that the body had some sort of golden foil which didn't survive all these years or that it might be one of many props (since the calf was on fire...) but there wasn't any mention of this at the Christie's website.

You made a thorough job in researching this. You should post more often.

Again thanks!

PEPLUM TV said...

Oh I'll use some of this stuff for a post!

Kenneth Mourino said...

Following Egyptian techniques to build many of their temple's objects and statues, mostly carved wood covered in gold foil overlay and hammered down to show carved details ( ex. King Tut throne chair). DeMille was keen on researching extensively for his films ( 3 years for Ten Commandments). What we have here is the "work in progress" version of the golden calf, looking half built for the scene where Moses' brother ( John Carradine ) was forced by Dathan ( Edward G. Robinson) to build the Egyptian idol and is seen hammering the gold foil plates into place. The next time we see the golden calf again is the scene with the completed model ( in Torino, Italy ) being lifted and idolized by the rebellious Hebrews. Heston was instructed to hurl the replica tablets ( light weight solid wood covered in thick molded fiberglass and hand painted) on the soundstage floor ( extras are seen clearing that area and getting out of the way). Camera positioned at angle to make it look like it will squarely strike the idol which it should not because Robinson is standing next to it and the golden calf is constructed of wood and fiberglass itself. The tablets shown flying down and hitting the idol before it explodes into fire was actually superimposed. The only thing Robinson had to concern himself was to cover his face as controlled powder is set off next to him.