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The Story of the Newspaper Prop Used in Different Movies for Over 50 Years

Updated on August 2, 2016
The mysterious newspaper as it appears in "Angel" (2001) S3E04
The mysterious newspaper as it appears in "Angel" (2001) S3E04

Take a typical scene in the movie: a character picks up the nearest newspaper, reading it while still continuing the conversation. What we don't notice is the exact same black and white newspaper has been used in hundreds of other movies. From some angles you can see a discernible portrait of a girl with black long hair or a photo of a 1960s era man with a hat if you've got very good eyesight.

Blink it and miss it.

The same newspaper has reappeared time and time again throughout the years in various movies and TV series, such as No Country for Old Men, Back to the Future, 10 Things I Hate About You, Casper, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family and lots of others.

Some of the headlines from the newspaper we can read that are always there:

  • "She’s 3rd Brightest But Hard ‘Gal' to See"
  • "Compromise Housing Bill Sent to President for OK"
  • "Valley Area Records Record Growth"
  • "UN Debates Mideast Crisis: Hopes for Early Solution"
  • "Board Waives Hearing For Two University Teachers"
  • "Compromise Divorce Reform Measure Passed"

The prop is so widely popular that Ed O'Neill has used it in both "Married With Children" and "Modern Family" over 13 years apart
The prop is so widely popular that Ed O'Neill has used it in both "Married With Children" and "Modern Family" over 13 years apart

Selective Attention

The main reason why most of us have never noticed the newspaper is because of our selective attention. We tend to focus on a specific aspect of a scene while ignoring other aspects, such as passing of the balls on the video embedded to the right.

In our case, the aspect being ignored is the newspaper. It is a trivial piece of information that unless being pointed out by the character in the show, the viewer would not have given it any importance. And that is the exact reason why movie makers have been able to use the same prop over and over again.

Poor Kurtwood Smith has been forced to read the same paper over 8 years in "That '70s Show". Collage made in photovisi editor.
Poor Kurtwood Smith has been forced to read the same paper over 8 years in "That '70s Show". Collage made in photovisi editor.

Where Did This Newspaper Come From?

Digging a little deeper, I found that the paper came from a small American prop company called The Earl Hays Press in California, one of the oldest newspaper prop manufacturers. They also specialize in creating custom product design and packaging for movie productions, those including newspapers, books, magazines, posters, signs, cans and bottles, product labels and so on. Despite a lacklustre online presence, you can still find the newspaper under the relevant category.

The paper in question was first printed in the 1960s, then offered as a "period paper" which explains the photo of the man with a top hat. The screenshots on the website don't actually reveal the same prop - just various printings of the same file. The front is blank and can be customized, but the inside and back page are always identical.

In "No Country for Old Men" (2007) the page in Tommy Lee Jones' hands is the same as the one on the table, suggesting that the prop master bought 2 copies to make the paper look fuller, but made the mistake of leaving the stock spread facing up.
In "No Country for Old Men" (2007) the page in Tommy Lee Jones' hands is the same as the one on the table, suggesting that the prop master bought 2 copies to make the paper look fuller, but made the mistake of leaving the stock spread facing up.

Why Use a Prop Newspaper?

Unless the production house has a contract to use a newspaper of a certain publishing house, it is far safer to use one that doesn't entail any legal bounds. If a movie is made with an appearance of a notable product in it (including newspaper), you should know that it's not a coincidence. The arrangement is made either by licensing the product name, or in many cases, promoting it instead. The product placement fees in recent Transformers trilogy practically covers the budget of the movie.

Nevertheless, since creating an entire page of newspaper every time a character is picking up one for a glance is a time-consuming process, it is far better to just purchase a stack of Earl Hays fake papers for just $15 each. Sometimes if they have some left over they'll recycle them for another job.

Whether it's a running gag in the industry, a movie easter egg, or a very popular prop, it has certainly caught our attention. Keep an open eye for the next time a character picks up a newspaper on the show. You might go "Aha! That's the same prop I've seen in Back to the Future!" and surprise your peers with this exceptional knowledge with a keen eye.

Check out some other clear shots of the paper below.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Charmed" (2001) Season 3 Episode 17Earl Hays newspaper prop in Casper (1995)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "A Murder of Crows" 1998Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Back to the Future" (1989)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Cougar Town" (2009)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Desperate Housewives" (2006) Season 6 Episode 12Earl Hays newspaper prop in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy" (2006)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Worst Week" (2009)Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Scrubs" (2010) Season 7 Episode 11Excerpt from the paper"Back to the future" prop available to buy from onlineClose up of a variation of this prop
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Charmed" (2001) Season 3 Episode 17
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Charmed" (2001) Season 3 Episode 17
Earl Hays newspaper prop in Casper (1995)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in Casper (1995)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "A Murder of Crows" 1998
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "A Murder of Crows" 1998
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Back to the Future" (1989)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Back to the Future" (1989)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Cougar Town" (2009)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Cougar Town" (2009)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Desperate Housewives" (2006) Season 6 Episode 12
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Desperate Housewives" (2006) Season 6 Episode 12
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy" (2006)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy" (2006)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Worst Week" (2009)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Worst Week" (2009)
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Scrubs" (2010) Season 7 Episode 11
Earl Hays newspaper prop in "Scrubs" (2010) Season 7 Episode 11
Excerpt from the paper
Excerpt from the paper
"Back to the future" prop available to buy from online
"Back to the future" prop available to buy from online
Close up of a variation of this prop
Close up of a variation of this prop

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