Seeking Stories from Projectionists
posted by Bullfrog on March 12, 2004 at 9:08 am
I am doing research on the projectionist during the golden age of cinema from the thirties through to the seventies.
Experiences in the booth, funny moments, tragic moments, moments when the projectionist was the hero. I am also looking for info on booth setups and stories about the love projectionists had for their machines.
In our modern day of loud, in your face films, the craftmanship of the projectionist is all but gone. Many of our fellow projectionists are getting up in years and their memories of the art of the changeover booth projectionist deserved to be remembered.
With your help and my ambition I hope to compile these memories into a book dedicated to the projectionist of yesteryear.
These may not be quite the ‘golden oldies’ you had hoped for in memories, but if you clik on the link to Milwukee’s PARADISE theatre: /theaters/2927/ you will see in my comment at bottom a possible gem. Also, if you click on the link at the top ‘MILWAUKEE’ you will get a list and there click on WARNER/GRAND to get another projection experience at the bottom.
Of course, you will get the most such responses at the www.Film-Tech.com site. It is a huge site and you may have to scan dozens of pages.
Best Wishes, Jim Rankin
Suggest buying a copy of the book, “THE REEL MOSE” by Earl Moseley (ISBN 0-9617510-0-2). It’s an excellent autobiography of projectionist Earl Moseley in the heyday of film projection in the south and being in the Projectionists union. Highly recommended.
How do you become a projectionist?
I recently saw this guy’s website and it turns out he was a projectionist in cornwall England . Give him a mail.
Webmaster: www.tintagelweb.co.uk & www.tintagelweb.com
I am an IATSE Local 15 Union projectionist and stagehand in Seattle, WA. As I did not start in this business till 1975, I doubt that any of my personal stories would be of interest, but I can relate one told to me by a now deceased member of our Union Local; his name was Ash Bridgham. Ash worked at the Roxy Theatre in Renton, WA (just South of Seattle) from it’s opening in 1929 till 1948. Several other old timers confirmed this story, and I have little doubt that it is true. This event happened just a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Roxy was a grand small city movie palace of about 800 seats, built in Art Deco style with a massive vertical neon sign and neon chasers. The Roxy was owned and managed by Mr. Irwin Fey. When war was declared; Mr. Fey, being a patriotic man, volunteered for duty as an air raid warden. He was assigned to a lookout post on a hill overlooking the city. There was great fear that this area might be attacked by the Japanese, the Roxy was less than one mile from the Boeing plant that built the B-29 bomber. For this reason a blackout was declared and all exterior lighting was banned. As Mr. Fey’s duties would prevent him from being at the theatre in the evening, he turned management of the Roxy over to his mother. One evening, after the show had ended for the night Ash was coming down the stairs from the booth and the telephone rang. Mrs. Fey asked Ash to answer it as she was busy at the moment. He did so and had to hold it away from his ear as the man on the other end of the line was cursing and shouting at the top of his lungs. It was the normally polite and soft spoken Mr. Fey. No one could ever remember him swearing before. It would seem that his mother, instead of turning off the few lights that were on, had instead turned on the huge marquee in all of it’s neon glory. It was the only thing that could be seen in the entire blacked out valley.
I worked at the Roxy in the early 1980’s; it was a decrepit second run house at the time. The building still stands at the corner of S.3rd. St. and Morris Ave. in Renton. It is a church now, and all traces of it’s lovely neon sign are long gone.
Feel free to e-mail me if you like
Larry V. Price
Three sources that might be worth contacting are the owners of the Tryon Theater in Tryon, NC; the owner of the Capri Theater in Gaffney, SC and Kendall Messick, an independent film producer. The owner of the Tryon Theater once told me about “bicycling” the film reels between the Tryon Theater and a black movie theater in the town. The films came on several reels. As one reel ended, a boy on a bicycle would pick it up and take it to the other theater where it would be shown. This continued until the entire film had been seen in both theaters. The owners of the Capri Theater in Gaffney told me how they raised their children in the theater. The youngsters learned to walk in the aisles and their crib was kept next to the projectors in the booth.
Kendall Messick has just completed a film called “The Projectionist” about a fellow who ran the projectors in a small town and now, in retirement, enjoys his very accurate model theater in the basement of his home. A Google search will find him. Good luck with your book.
The “bicycling” of films, as Mr. Coles refers to in his Comment, was referred to as “railroading” of films here in Milwaukee in years past, and a fascinating article about one of its practitioners, Robert Rothschild, appeared by him in the issue of MARQUEE magazine of Third Qtr., 1985, pages 10 through 12, where his 4000-some word article pictures the 1940s through 1960s. While his article is not itself illustrated, the issue does feature a “Portfolio [of photos] of Milwaukee Theatres” that feature some mentioned in his text. It is their Vol. 17, #3, and is available as a Back Issue via their web site’s link at: www.HistoricTheatres.org . One might do well to inquire of them via the address on their front page as to any other Projectiionist items they may hav
I know a man who was a projectionist in the Port Theatre in Port St. Joe, Florida in the 1940’s. He is still living in Port St. Joe. He worked here during his high school years. He is very interesting to talk with. The News Herald (Panama City, Florida) did an article on him and his experiences last June when the Port Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places. I don’t believe Tom can go online, or has access to the internet, but I think he would be happy to share information with you if you would like. Email me at with information that I can pass on to him in person. He attends our weekly Friday night auction in the old Port Theatre.
Try a book titled “ENTER THE DREAM HOUSE”, memories of cinemas in south London from the twenties to the sixties, published in 1993 by the British Film Institute. Lots of interviews with projectionists, ushers etc. Great book
Contact me, I have been a Projectionist for 48 years,have worked many Theatres across this great land, and have tons to tell.
Dave Grau (Mungo)
DO YOU WANT TO SWOP TALES FROM THE BOX WITH A EX-CHIEF FROM ENGLAND ?
CONTACT ME AT
I HAVE 3000 PHOTOGRAPHS OF CINEMAS IN THE LONDON AREA. (England)
INCLUDING OLD PROJECTORS AND BOXES.
OVER FIFTY-FIVE YEARS SHOOTING…
If it is of any help, there is a lengthy newspaper article about the closing of the local projectionists' union’s office here in Milwaukee in 1994 in the MILWUKEE SENTINEL of May 24, 1994 beginning on page 1 of part A and continuing on page 8 where there is a large photo of the last two members in their office with very large, framed composite photos of the former years and the members. This is not on-line, but it can be copied from microfilm by asking your local library to order the appropriate reel for you via Inter-Library Loan. You could also write to the now MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL and ask for a print of the black & white photo, which they will reproduce for a fee. They may also be willing to send a photocopy of the article off of their own microfilm. Their address and other information is on their web site: www.jsonline.com
You might also ask them to send you a copy of the obituary of second generation projectionist Allen J. Freundl, appearing on page 7B of their paper of Thursday, July 25, 1996, and while there is no photo there, it may be possible that his relatives listed there may have photos of both generations of projectionists. The headline of the obit was: “Freundl was projectionist, stagehand”.
If you ask the newspaper’s curator of the ‘morgue’ (traditional newspaper term for old files or archive), he/she may be willing to look for the many other such projectionist stories they have done over the years, since the on-line search is limited to the preceding four years. Best Wishes, and do give us periodic up dates on the progress of your book, as well as your E-mail address or a mailing address that we might mail you photocopies of such items as mentioned above.
I did not work in the Heyday of theaters but I certainly worked with machines and in booths that had not been updated since the heydays. Burning carbons, change-overs, cleaning reflectors, and so on. I worked Drive-in’s in the summer in Newport, RI and Southeast Mass. The rest of the year I was at the Opera House and Jane Pickens in Newport, RI. My biggest screw-up, it was a bad one. Picture this, a few days before Christmas The Jane Pickens is screening Miracle on 34th street (Natalie Wood) the Place is packed and the kids are awaiting Santa who will be arriving by fire truck. The children get in line to sit on Santa’s lap. I, being a creature of habit thread up the preview reel as usual and the first reel of Miracle …..
….unfortunately the preview I splash across the screen is an “R” rated preview of An American Werewolf in London! By the time the horrified parents notify Joe Jarvis (the owner) and he “blasts” me on the intercom the preview is almost over. If we didn’t have a full house that day I think he would have fired me, and rightfully so. Some years later Joe and I would look back on that and laugh.
I started as an apprentice for local 379 in central N.J. in 1976. I have been a projectionist now for 33 years. My father who passed on in 1993 was a projectionist for 55 years. ( He passed on 10 months after he retired from the booth). I now work in the only remaining union booth in our local (now 534). It is also shared by management. I remember and love the days of carbon arc, 20 minute reels, and actually making a changeover, not using these platters of today. Back then, you were a projectionist, now we are but film threaders. I too am being trained in the area of stagecraft, because once digital projection comes along, my days in the booth are over.
From 1969 to 1975 I worked as a “relief” projectionist for the local IATSE union on Long Island, NY. My first day working solo happened to be when the men of Apollo 11 walked on the moon, but my mind was on my work and I tried to put on a flawless show at the Nautilus Theatre in Long Beach, NY. I wish I could remember the film we were showing at the time (perhaps Bonnie & Cylde?). The view from the projection booth was that of ocean and beach and bikini’s.
Being a relief projectionist meant I got to work many houses all over Long Island. All but a few were the 20 min reel variety and I can’t imagine what life is like dealing with those platters. Glad I worked when I did.
thanks guys we couldn’t have run a theatre without your professional work which is lacking in today’s theatres.
I began as a rewind boy at the Gaumont/Majestic Clapham in 1957. In those days there were 7 projectionists on duty, including the Chief, Co Chief, Senior 2nd, Co 2nd, a 3rd projectionist, a 4th projectionist and me the rewind come tea boy. The co projectionists were there to cover for meal breaks, days off, sickness and holidays. There was no shift work either in those days, and we all started at 10:30am in the morning and stayed until the end of the last reel at around 10:35pm. The last reel was never rewound until the next day, and we always left a bit of the end-leader hanging out of the film bin to remind us. I had 2 days off a week – Wednesday and Sunday, and that was that for £4 a week. I loved it, and when the cinema closed, our then chief projectionist, Derek Palmer, went on to run the new Bowling Alley at Streatham that was almost near its opening ceremony in 1962. I moved on to the Odeon East Dulwich for a while but soon joined Derek at the Bowling Alley not long after.
I stayed for about a year, but I missed the box so much I took a job at the ABC Regal in Streatham which had come up. I also did holiday relief work in the South London area whilst there: at the ABC Brixton, ABC Croydon etc. Later I worked at the Mayfair Tooting as a third projectionist and then as a trainee manager at the same cinema, which I didn’t like that much. I returned again to the box at the recently rebuilt ABC Wimbledon and then got promotion to Junior 2nd at the Regal Streatham a year or two later where I stayed until 1967. I then moved to Canada for a gap year. I returned to South London and back to the Regal at the end of 1968 and married in 1969. I got a transfer to ABP Elstree Studios where I worked as a projectionist until 1974 and then took voluntary redundancy. I left the industry altogether and entered the world of catering as a night manager. Some time after that we moved to the Isle of Wight where we bought a small hotel and fast food unit. I worked at that until retirement in 2001.
I am now 70 years of age and still miss the gentle purr of the projector as the film passed through the gate and under the intermittent sprocket. Not sure if I want to do the job these days though, as it seems to me that all the showmanship has gone out of it. Where we were trained to keep the carbons trimmed, take changeovers, close and open the tabs on cue, and manipulate the house, and stage lights, none of those things seem to exist and the pride in putting on the perfect show has probably gone along with it. Once the programme is spooled up for the week there is little else to do, or so it seems, apart from running a single machine, checking rack is OK and making sure it’s in focus. I’m glad I experienced and worked with nitrate film and its volatile projection, and saw the beginning of the safety film era, both had their quirks and disasters whilst projecting the stuff. If anyone out there remembers me from those special days I would dearly love to hear from you.