Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10020

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William
William on August 12, 2004 at 7:51 am

The golden age of being a true projectionist is all but over. By saying that I mean, during that era you had a operator or two in every theatre booth in all the big cities. And you only handled one screen not the 10 or 20 screens of todays cinemas. In those days you worked your way up to the better theatres and if you worked the relief board. You got to work a lot more theatres and work with many different types of theatre projection equipment. And if you were good in the booth the regular operator would ask for you to work his vacation time. During that time it was a profession that paid very well and you could make a living on it. It was a skill of mastering the equipment in the booth and the lighting and curtains to make it all look like it was all done with machines. But it was all in the timing of everything, the footage, the speed of your curtains, the types of light fixtures etc… . Today all you do is thread the projector, set a timer or push the button and everything is done with automation or pre-programed. To become a union projectionist at one time, you had tho call the business agent for the local and ask, then you get presented to the executive board and if there is a opening for apprenticeships then you would be sent to a few booths to see if you would be a good candidate as an operator. And you would pay a fee to become a member of the union. After that point you would be placed of the out of work list and the business agent would assign you to work. Remember there was a lot more jobs available as a projectionist than today. So you would work your way on the extra board and every month there would be a
job or a few jobs on the bid sheet. Now on the bid sheet you would go up againist members with better or equal seniority numbers for the jobs. The older members would get awarded the better theatre jobs. Remember also that there was many older single screen theatres and adult theatre running too. Most of the times the newer members would work or win bid on the adult houses till the next round of bidding. And after time and a lot of work, you might get a theatre in the First Run theatres district. Today you work your way up from being a usher/doorman to the booth. Now with all the automation, Xenon lamps, platters, one or two booth people can run a 10-20 screen plex. With the major chains cutting most of their professional projectionists to limited service, the usher/doorman operators run the show. The major chains most of the time pays way under $10.00 an hour for that job. So the days of being a projectionist and making a living are long gone.
Today I still make change-overs and keep the reels moving for my audiences. I’m still a projectionist.

umbaba
umbaba on August 12, 2004 at 6:24 am

so…how does one go about becoming a projectionist??

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on August 12, 2004 at 6:22 am

Vito what roadshow engagements di you cover for?

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on August 12, 2004 at 5:22 am

William and Vito:

Thanks for the responses. Thats exactly what I was looking for.

Vito
Vito on August 12, 2004 at 4:39 am

William is quite correct, I was a union projectionist in New York for many years and the jobs were awarded just as he said. In the early years with a low seniority number I worked as a relief projectionist and would travel from theatre to theatre covering vacations.When a projectionist vacated a job the bids would go out and I would work the booth untill the bids were closed and the job awarded.In addition whenever a roadshow was presented in 70mm, two projectionists were on duty at all times no matter how big the house. Incidendently, $50-$75 per show was pretty good money in those days, we only worked about 3 to 4 hours per shift. On a Roadshow engagement we were required to be in the booth one hour before show time, and half hour on regular continuous shows. engagements.

William
William on August 11, 2004 at 8:51 am

In one of the above posts asking about union projectionist placements. In each area local there was what is called a bidding process. In which if a job opens up at a theatre, it is placed on a bidding sheet and all member can bid on this job. Or if the theatre is a special venue the company or chain can ask for or choose an operator them selfs. From the bid sheet a member could send a bid by mail to the local office before the closed of the bid process. Then out of that the members with the lowest seniority number would be offered the job at that theatre. (Lowest seniority number like ones and twos etc… are better than 10’s or 20’s, so the lower the number the longer you have worked as a projectionist.) In the Los Angeles market in the union contract at one time stated that theatres seating more than 1000 seats had to employ two projectionists. And the Roadshow House projectionists would get $50.00 per performance, remember that was during the days of Roadshow of two a day shows.

Ron3853
Ron3853 on August 11, 2004 at 8:10 am

I am continually in the process of putting the film schedules for the great old movie palaces (1960-1975) on their respective listings here on the Cinema Treasures website. Check other theaters in NYC, PHL, DC, PGH and other big cities, as I hope to get around to all of them eventually. It is most interesting to see the similarities and differences in film scheduling in different cities. Thanks.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 26, 2004 at 1:34 pm

Vito:

We got pretty good at it too!

Vito
Vito on July 26, 2004 at 12:11 pm

mjc, I wondered about that rolling the reels around on the floor. I somehow did not think that happened at RCMH.Thanks for clearing that up.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 26, 2004 at 10:15 am

Vito and everyone:

I just want to clarify my previous post to say that I did not work at Radio City Music Hall. I wish I had. The work I referred to was when I was a trainee projectionist in England in 1960.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 25, 2004 at 8:32 am

vito:

“Boring” is right. Seems like its a just a matter of turning the projectors on and off now. One person makes up the show and sticks it on the platter..and thats about it.
When I was working it was very much as you described at RCMH. Always two projectionists and a rewind guy on a shift, a chief projectionist breathing down your neck to make sure there were no mistakes. At intermission time on continuous shows it was wild….one guy operating the lights and curtains, one guy changing lenses and gates for Cinemascope feature or previews, reels to be rewound rolling across the floor to the rewind guy with its replacement being rolled back. Everything was timed out. The audience had no idea what was going on. I remember at one time there was sign over each of the ports which read “Your performance is the audience’s pleasure”. Amen.
So it is good to know the amount of work that went on at RCMH. I wish I could have seen a movie/live show there. I visted in 1980 but it was all a live show.

Vito
Vito on July 25, 2004 at 8:12 am

mjc, Very few theatres run reel to reel carbon arc now a days, but some remain with Xenon reel to reel. Everyone has gone platter happy, even the single screen Zigfield, which has two projectors in the booth, uses a platter. What a boring job that projectionist must have.

Vito
Vito on July 25, 2004 at 8:05 am

I was just thinking, RCMH could have presented “Kiss me Kate”
in 3-D without intermission, since they had enough projectors to make a 3-D reel changeover. That is what the Paramount, with four projectors, did with “House Of Wax” and “Charge At Feather River”

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 25, 2004 at 8:04 am

Simon, Vito and Jim:
Thanks for replying. I have the Ben Hall book but there is very little in there about the projection function at the Roxy. He mentions there was a large projection staff at the time it opened but there is not much other info and no photo’s.
I’ll check with the Theatre Historical Society ( I used to be a member) to see if they have anything else on file.
There is a great 360 degree picture of the projection booth at Radio City Music Hall on their website. There is not a lot of equipment in but I can imagine what an impressive place it would have been at one time.
I worked as a trainee projectionist for over a year when I was in my teens and still have the bug.I visited the projection booth at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus several years ago and it was as if time had never changed. Same projectors, carbon arcs and sound system I had worked on in the theatre I was at in 1960.

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 24, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Simon is right that the Theatre Historical Soc. is the quintessential resource on most any theatre, especially the ROXY, since all photos shown in the late Ben Hall’s “The Best Remaining Seats …” as well as both of the issues of their MARQUEE magazine devoted to the ROXY, are retained at their Archive, and all materials are available for reference or duplication. The URL which Simon lists for them is correct, but they have been using an Internet convention called an “alias” for some years now, which makes their URL, or Internet address, easier to remember and type: www.HistoricTheatres.org

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 24, 2004 at 5:35 pm

As mjc wants to know about the differences between the Roxy and RCMH projection booths, may I suggest that he contact both The League of Historic American Theaters (lhat.com) and The Theater Historical Society of America (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~angell/thsa/. Also the definitive Roxy info can be found in “The Best Remaining Seats” by Ben Hall. It is out of print, but libraries and buffs are sure to have it.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 24, 2004 at 9:23 am

My nominees for sub-standard holiday movies are “Easy to Love” (Christmas ’53) and “RoseMarie” (Easter ’54). As an eleven-year-old, I found it unbearable to watch the tight-teethed Esther Williams and stolid Van Johnson in the first, and the diminutive Ann Blythe and stage-Latin Fernando Lamas in the second. The best thing about the Christmas movie was that finally RCMH had installed a reasonable (though flat, not curved) wide screen. The Thanksgiving movie, “Kiss Me Kate,” was shown on the flat, square-ish old MagnaScope sheet that RCMH had used instead of a proper new Miracle Mirror screen in 1953. And they famously declined to project it in 3D. Hoping against hope, I crossed my fingers that on the day I saw it, the management might finally come to its senses and distribute polaroid glasses. But, alas, no such luck. The thrill of the Christmas show for me was that, as a movie-mad kid, I had just received the most extravagant Xmas present any kid could ever imagine, an 8mm movie camera, and so I brought it to film the Nativity pageant. My biggest disappointment was that not a single image developed at all, except for a blurry head of Mary spotlighted briefly in the final creche tableau. Of course, the Nativity’s dimly lit nocturnal set was not good for any photo-shoot at all. Someone has asked whether anyone took movies of early RCMH stage shows, and this might explain why. The 2.8 aperture on my camera simply couldn’t pick up even a fully-lit stage from the audience’s distance.
The Christmas show’s new screen had been installed in anticipation of the first MGM CinemaScope film, “Knights of the Round Table,” which followed in January. Again hoping against hope, I kept my fingers that the stage-crew might curve this vast screen for the new format (perhaps with a giant crowbar, or some such thing). But, alas, flat projection was here to stay at RCMH. I anticipated that the stage show would be stripped down to highpoint the movie (after all, the Roxy had dropped stage shows altogether when it brought in CinemaScope). As things turned out, it was one of the best stage shows that I ever remembered seeing at RCMH. The Rockettes’ number was set against a perspectival backdrop of RCMH’s 50th Street façade, and began with a stage-door Johnny greeting each dancer with flowers and chocolates as she emerged from the set’s stage-door. An announcer named each dancer as she stepped out, and the audience applauded for every one of them. As the stage filled up with all thirty-six, the effect proved tremendous when the lineup reached completion and broke into precision dance. The music with its sultry jazzy-blues rhythm, “Amy Doesn’t Dance Here Any More,” struck my pre-pubescent imagination as really sexy.
The following attraction was “Long, Long Trailer,” and I recall its stage show as the height of sophistication, thinking that when I grew up, this would be the kind of showmanship I’d truly appreciate. It was a Russell Markert production, which meant less spectacle and more art, and the music offered an all-Cole Porter score. The opening choral number was “Another Opening of Another Show,” and it dawned on me that the producers must have been sketching their program a few months earlier when “Kiss Me Kate” was playing, and that they took inspiration from the film. It offered me a good lesson in planning ahead. The Easter show that April was a disaster, and not just because of the movie. I recall on stage enormous pastel-colored Easter eggs in tones of yellow, green, and pink that really didn’t coordinate, with a kind of cheap cardboard look to it. But by that time I was already into staging my own 8mm spectacles of some quality (mostly poor quality) and could think myself a critic who’d earned the right to judge even the best work of others.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 24, 2004 at 9:21 am

Jim— many thanks for the technical info —

Vito
Vito on July 24, 2004 at 8:35 am

I visited the RCMH booth just before the restoration and wondered about what has changed. At the time there were 5 projectors, 3 of them were Simplex 35/70 and the other two were Simplex XL 35. All were equipt with a Xenon light source, the carbon arc lamps having been removed a while ago.Dolby Digital had been installed and they were running on 6k reels. No platter in site ,thank heavens, I hope it stayed that way. At one time RCMH employed multiple union projectionist on each shift, two would monitor the changeovers, one calling out the que marks as not to miss them. A chief projectionist was also on hand.The reels were rewound by hand and inspected after each showing. Any one with more info?

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 24, 2004 at 7:26 am

SimonL….A million thanks for all the information on the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall. I have some questions about the projection booths in both theatres. Who was responsible for maintaining the showmanship aspect of things? Were the projectionists hired specifically for each theatre of was it a union placement? Were the booths at the Roxy and RCMH similar in size? I understand the Roxy booth was in the front of the balcony, at 90 degrees to the screen to prevent distortion. Anything else you provide about the projection function would be appreciated.
Thank you.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 24, 2004 at 4:08 am

Getting back to the stage shows:

Getting back to the stage shows: Does anyone remember “Dancing Waters,” the gorgeous water falls display that was introduced (in a stage show called “Many Waters”)at the Music Hall with the film “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Dancing waters was also used to spectacular effect in a French themed show that recreated The Gardens of Versaille with “The Reluctant Debutante.” Speaking of unusual stage shows (but down the block)…The Roxy had the entire New York Philharmonic four times a day on stage with “The Black Rose.”

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 24, 2004 at 3:52 am

BoxOfficeBill: You don’t provide any E-mail address in your Contact information on your Member page ( /users/3642 ), so to answer your question as to editing your submissions here, the answer is ‘no’, you cannot edit them once you submit them, though you can hit “Preview” and see how it will look, and if you find a mistake, you can hit your BACK button and return to editing the Comment, and then hit either “Preview” again, or “Submit” if you find no more problems. Once you hit “Submit” there is no more chance to edit it.

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BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 2:28 pm

Here’s an oddity: For “Spirit of St. Louis in March ‘56, the organ interludes between movie and stage show were set in a way I’d never experienced before or after at RCMH. Instead of using the golden houselights on the contour curtain and arches, they lit the latter in sky blue to match the movie’s theme. And instead of using organ #1 on the left as usual, they used organ #2 on the right (which they dusted off from time to time, and occasionally used in conjunction with the former for special effect; was the former being renovated at that particular time?). I remember thinking, jees, all these tourists here for the first and probably last time will never see the famous "sunset” effect of the golden curtain. Some might recall that the newsreels and coming-attraction announcement always took place under dimly blue-lit arches to anable patrons arriving and departing between movie and stage shows to see their way..

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 23, 2004 at 1:14 pm

I’ll take a guess and say “A Tale of Two Cities” (1935).

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 23, 2004 at 12:40 pm

Do you think Impossible Years(yes pretty awful and I have a taste for mindless 60’s comedies) was worse than No No Nanette which didn’t even make it to New Years or Balalaika?
And yes Lanza was an ideal RCMH star.
Any other nominees for worst holiday films? (The 70’s dont'count.)