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I was projectionist at both the Matsonian Theatre in Cadwell and also Mr. Matson’s Drive-in on the outskirts of town. I believe it was the Skyview or Skyway. This was in about 1965, so it was still operating at least until 1965 or 6. I only met Mr. Matson, never met Mrs. C W Matson — she may have passed by then. Mr. Matson was quite old — I would guess well into his 80s.
The Drive-in and the hardtop didn’t operate simultaneously — he ran the Drive-In during the warm weather and when it got cold, he would move everything to the indoor theatre downtown, and I mean everything — the two theatres shared essentials like projector lenses, reels, rewind equipment. When it got cold enough, you would drive up to the DI marquee and the lettering would say, “We’ve moved to the Matsonian in town.”
The indoor had Centurys and Magnarc lamps, the DI had Centuries and Ashcraft lamps. The three things I remember distinctly about the indoor was, first, there was a single RCA 45 player on a shelf in the booth and Mr. Matson insisted that I play during intermissions. On it there was only a single record – The Yellow Rose of Texas. Evidently it had been there for years; it was so warn that the surface noise was louder than the music. I begged him to relent and at least let me play the other side, but no, he want to play that song; he said everyone who came to the Matsonian knows they are going to hear The Yellow Rose of Texas. So it played over and over until the picture started!
The second distinct thing I remember was that there was no glass in the booth view ports and kids in the balcony would use the ports to test their jump shots, seeing if they could get their soda cups into the booth. Evidently this was great fun…for them at least. Occasionally one would lob by my head still containing a quantity of soda. I soon realized that at least for the Saturday kids matinees, it would be prudent to close the fire shutters during intermission.
And lastly, Mr. Matson took me into a hallway that ran the entire length of the building and on both walls were rickety wooden racks with shelving that ran from floor to ceiling, and the shelves were marked 1930, 1931, 1932..etc up to the present. In each one of these partitions were 1-sheet movie posters that he and Mrs. Matson had saved since the theatres were opened. In my youthful naivete I thought, what is this old guy saving this trash for. Had I known back then what I know today…he even told me to take any if I wanted them. Foolishly I declined, thinking they were worthless. I always wondered if when they did finally demolish the theatre, if anyone at the time knew how much those 1-sheets were going to be worth very shortly; even if the theatre survived into the 80s, it wasn’t until the 90s that collectors began creating a demand for old movie 1-sheets. Today I bet those posters would be worth thousands of dollars apiece.
I only stayed projectionist at the Matsonian for about 4 months; I moved on to the Campus Theatre in College Station.
It is a shame so many of the historic movie theatres like these try to keep their prices so non-competitive. The value of these great cinemas is their link to cinema history. Their “product” is their unique character; patrons should be seeking them out for the qualities of style and “personality” that they offer and which simply can’t be found at the gargantuan multiplexes with their vapid, cookie-cutter, assembly line rooms and massive concessions stands which scream out — all our resources went into selling junk food….the cinema rooms are just a second-thought.
Cinemas like these offer a quality of style and tradition that shouldn’t come at a discount. Discount pricing, I am afraid to say, often results in gems like these being forced to close, and like LouRugani said, theatres like these are a dying breed — and they shouldn’t be. They are a dying breed because for some reason patrons seem to buy tickets because they are discounted. A lover of historic movie theatres should be willing to pay at least as much for a ticket as it would cost to see that same movie at the multiplex. Hell, I would be willing to pay more. These classics offer an experience that is unique; IMAX charges EXTRA for the “IMAX Experience” and a real single screen gem like this offers its own unique experience. Patrons should at least be willing to pay going movie theatre prices to see a movie in such a marvelous cinema.
This idea that it is somehow a good thing to get to see a movie in a cinema gem such as this for $3 may seem wonderful for the consumer at first blush, but in fact, the theatre needing to offer its unique cinematic experience at bargain-basement prices in and of itself may eventually force it to close its doors. Haven’t we lost enough cinema treasures already? These owners shouldn’t need to give cheapen their unique experience just to stay afloat.
I’m just sayin….
Simplex XLs were Bruce’s favorite head. He was able to take them apart, refurbish them and put them back together with them running at or above manufacturer’s original specs. He was a perfectionist almost to the point of making everyone around him crazy, but we knew when he was “at” a projector or sound head or cinema processor, he wouldn’t let it go until it was operating perfectly. His image on the screen and sound in the house, no matter what booth he was operating, was impeccable. He did the audience and the filmmakers proud.
Here you have Bruce Sanders, projectionist exemplar. He was totally dedicated to presenting the best screen image and sound any piece of cinema equipment could deliver. His shows in the great movie places where he work were always impeccable, and his dedication to giving the best show to his audience never wavered throughout his career. Bruce’s knowledge of all things cinema, from theatre engineering and booth design, to equipment design and operation, to film and best projection practices, to overall showmanship was as good as you would find in the top studios in Hollywood and at the drawing boards of the equipment manufacturers.
Over the course of his long career which started when he was a teenager, literally millions of theatre patrons all over the five boroughs of NYC enjoyed movies that he either projected himself or benefited from his expertise in installing and aligning projection and sound equipment to their highest specs …equipment that ran the shows which those millions watched and heard in his theatres. He was attentive to the smallest detail and many times couldn’t be pried away from the projection booth until the wee hours of the morning as he labored to get it perfect. When it was a problem that would degrade the sound or picture, he was a rottweiler refusing to let go of a bone until he resolved it. And he was worse than a rottwiler when it came to theatre managers and owners who would settle for mediocre; Bruce was the patrons' advocate, always fighting again the “it’s good enough” mindset.
The picture above is both memorable in that it was taken when he was a youngster and in the projection booth of the movie palace that he loved so much, but which cause him such anguish when it met it’s end with monumental indignity. He fought hard to keep the Keiths from being demolished along with so many others who even to this day cringe to know how such a beauty could end as badly as it has.
This picture is also sad because as much as Bruce labored in love over his projection booths, he could not fix his long battle with smoking, an addiction that he readily admitted was the cause later in life of his battle with emphysema, to which he would succumbed in 2015. As he once told me when he knew what was coming, “It was a good run, Frankie…not many regrets; no one could have wanted a career as satisfying as the one we were lucky enough to fall into.” He was right of course…to love your work the way he did and enjoy the satisfaction he often said he derived from it means you don’t ever work a day in your life.
Unfortunately he did lament the final days of the demise of film and was much less a fan of digital, first because of the way it eliminated that intimate relationship with the projectionist and his “running of the show;” there is no projectionist running the show with digital. But given his genius for understanding technology, Bruce still became thoroughly knowledgeable with the new digital projection systems; as far as “running the show,” he also understood that being a projectionist which gave him so much pleasure, was gone with the wind. He found that very sad personally. He was happy to no longer be “in the booth.” He once said, “Guess we will leave the showmanship to automation and the machines.”
Here is the unsung hero of the quality of what an audience saw on the screen and heard in the theatre. All that creative, artistic and highly skilled technical work that you see represented by the thousands of names in the credit crawls at the end of the movies, it is all distilled down to the knowledge and expertise and dedication of one person in that projection booth who is “running the show.” Either he/she knows what they are doing and are conscientious about doing it to perfection, or they can ruin the experience for an entire audience, no matter how great the filmmaker’s work is. Bruce’s name will never appear on the screen in a credit crawl, but he nevertheless is fully responsible for making what those moviemakers put together on that strip of celluloid film come to life for the viewer…he and other projectionist like him were the last person in the the long chain of what happened in front of the camera lens to what you see on the screen. He’s the last technician…he is The Projectionist.
We are much richer for having known him…my colleague and good friend,
From the Bryan-College Station Eagle: TheEagle.com (http://www.theeagle.com/news/local/article_83d3b946-7b23-5b49-b6df-759b3061f7db.html):
When Bill Schulman’s family planned his memorial, they chose a reception venue that they knew he’d approve of: A movie theater.
Schulman, a longtime Bryan resident who was born into the theater business, died last week (May 7th 2013) under the care of Hospice Brazos Valley. He was 86.
His life was honored during a funeral in Crockett on Sunday and celebrated afterward at the Ritz Theater, which Schulman owned and where he worked up until his hospitalization about six weeks ago.
Craig Schulman, one of Bill Schulman’s three sons, said he and his brothers were working to plan a celebration in Downtown Bryan in the near future.
The local setting is also appropriate for a memorial.
Bill Schulman’s family moved to Bryan in 1926 when he was six weeks old and, shortly afterward, purchased the Queen and Dixie theaters on Main Street in Bryan. Two years later, they opened the Palace Theater on the same street. By the time all three theaters were closed in 1985, Bill Schulman and his family had already invested in multi-screen complexes.
In November 1974, Bill Schulman opened Manor East III Theaters in what was the Manor East Mall at the corner of Villa Maria Road and Texas Avenue in Bryan, the current site of the Tejas Center.
In an Eagle article from Nov. 6, 1974, the multiplex was described as “the first triple-auditorium in the Bryan area” and was capable of “playing three separate features all at the same time.”
“All types of food and soft drinks will be served along with the standard move fare of popcorn,” the article states.
The Schulman family also operated several drive-in movie theaters and multi-screen cinemas in town.
When asked by an Eagle reporter in 1974 if he believed TV was hurting the movie business, the then-48-year-old Bill Schulman replied: “TV hasn’t hurt us, only in the adult trade. The kids and the teenagers still come, and they will keep coming as long as you provide good entertainment.”
Today, two of Bill Schulman’s sons, Morris and Mark, co-own Schulman Partners Ltd. with a third partner and run four theaters in the state.
Bill and Morris Schulman donated The Queen to a Downtown Bryan revitalization group in 1991 in hopes that it would be renovated, and two days before his death on Thursday, the theater reopened for the first time in more than four decades.
Even while in the hospital, Bill Schulman was at work helping decide what movies would be booked at his Crockett theater.
“He loved people and that’s why he loved the business so much,” Craig Schulman said.
Schulman is survived by his wife, Christine Schulman, sons Craig, Morris and Mark Schulman, along with their wives and several grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other relatives.
dermycar, I appreciate that you understand the frustration of the patrons who posted above. And I am glad that management is indeed doing something to address these issues. The lack of adequate sound abatement between theatres was always a problem that never should have existed in the first place — the cinema designer and owners cut corners that shouldn’t have been cut. The fact that the new abatement does reduce the room-to-room sound infiltration is proof that it could have been done all along. Subway rumble is harder to deal with, but it seems like finally efforts are being made.
I had gone there many, MANY times years ago, drawn by titles that one couldn’t see anywhere else, but each time saying, “Never again!” and each time that resolve would get stronger and stronger until the Angelica was scratched off my list. In particular, the placement of the screens was much to high to be comfortable — bring a neck brace. Then there were the seats….enough said. And as others have noted and it meshes with my recollection, the interiors were needlessly dark and foreboding. It just wasn’t a pleasant experience…back then. And I emphasize I have NOT been there in years, but not because their offerings were not enticing.
You got the real impression that corners were cut in just too many places. Thing is, most of these issues could have, SHOULD have, been fixed years ago…a little at a time so as not to break the bank, but a resolve should have been there to eliminate these obvious problems. I mean, this stuff isn’t rocket science — the SMPTE has all kinds of standards for correct placement of the screen with relationship to the room dimensions; it’s not a mystery how to sound-proof a room so you won’t hear the movie next door. As for the seats — all you really need is for someone to sit in a few seats from the cinema seat manufacturers' samples to know if a seat is comfortable or not and which will improve the torture contraptions you got people sitting in at present. And given that the Angelica was never an operation on the verge of financial ruin, the fact that decades went by without making necessary improvements tells me that the company was resting on its laurels and milking the operation. Seems they just chose not to spend money if they didn’t absolutely have to. And that’s a shame because what they had accomplished with unique and many times brilliant programming, was marred by the fact that it is just such a nasty place to watch a movie….sorry, I take it back….WAS.
I really hope that dermycar is correct and that the new local management sees fit to upgrade some of these easily addressed problems. Hell, at the prices they charge at the “snack” bar/restaurant for a single quiche would be enough to buy a new screen (just kidding).
From what you are saying, dermycar, hopefully this will give the place a more welcoming and enjoyable move-going experience. If it can, then people really should flock to it because of the programming.
And once last thing, I must say I am very impressed that they are keeping their 35mm projection equipment in place and the ability to show actual film on occasion. Film prints of great movies we cherish — the output of over a century of filmmaking, where they have been preserved, will become like rare museum artifacts and future generations will have very few places where the will actually be able to see film being projected on a movie screen. A great era has gone by, people; sadly, I don’t think many actually realize the monumental c-change that represents.
No idea why they ditched the expansive, lighted marquee, but all that is left of what is seen in the picture above is what looks like a crude painted board with the big letters AMC covering the original marquee. No film titles are displayed. The original FRESH MEADOWS neon sign on the top of the brick north facing wall is only partially lit with the letters ADO dark. It truly has gone down hill while the prices, as noted here, have soared.
This Century Fresh Meadows and the Skouras Bayside Theatre were my two theatre haunts as a kid growing up in Bayside. The Bayside was a second run house while Century’s Fresh Meadows was first run and they made no bones about claiming it was a Century “Flagship Theatre.” And indeed it was.
Like Michael K, my mom took me to see THE HOUES OF WAX in 3D with stereo sound; my first 3d experience. If movies were magic and indeed for me they were, then 3D was magic on steroids. I was mesmerized by the feeling of depth of 3D just as much as I had been listening to my first stereophonic recording (an experimental simulcast on WQXR on their AM (right ear) and FM (left ear) stations. For me 3D was as enthralling for my sight as stereo sound was for sound; I have been a fan of 3D ever since THE HOUSE OF WAX — having the new 3D BluRay THOW release now available to play at home, well, it’s just come full circle.
Back then I couldn’t for the life of understand what I considered totally insane complaints about “the glasses” (they still seem insane — people wear sunglasses all the time with nary a complaint); as far as I was concerned, these people were just wusses — my complaining parents included. As I kid I knew I would wear a space helmet if it would give me the incredible experience of 3D space. I forced my poor mom to sit thru THOW twice and then I went back Saturday and Sunday to see it over and over. I remember saying to my mom, “Now all movies will be like this…in 3D?” She said she didn’t know and seemed to care less, while I, on the other hand sought out everything I could find about 3D and how it worked, all due to that experience in the Century Fresh Meadows Theatre, Queens NY circa 1953.
Anyway, the Meadows was my home away from home and when it closed for more than a week to install CinemaScope, I would go down to the theatre every afternoon after school to see if I could sneak in. The workers would leave the side doors open, and I got my first look at what this “Miracle You See Without Glasses” was all about. This was Fox’s obvious ploy to make people think it was, in fact 3D.
The workers were constructing the screen frame; usually I’d get shooed away, but not before I got a glimpse of the new CinemaScope installation. When they finally opened with THE ROBE, this time my Dad took me and yes, when it hit the screen, that beautiful new cream colored satin curtain opened wider and wider and the sound fill the theatre all around me. It was impressive, but it WASN’T 3D. I kept pull at my dad’s jacket, “Daddy, this isn’t 3D.” Finally he told me to shut up and watch the move. I wan’t a happy pup.
Then again, I was impressed with CinemaScope, just cheated by the marketing nonsense. And I LOVED that new curtain.
Later in life, when I designed the cinema installation at a performing arts center in Brooklyn, I insisted that we have a white cream satin curtain with the same blue and red lighting that the Meadows used along the top and bottom of the curtain to catch the light and mix into various hues of blue and purple and red. A tribute I suppose to my youth and those wonderful formative years and hours spent in the great single screens of a time gone by, what I call the Golden Age of the Movie Palace.
When the Fresh Meadows as butchered into a 7 screen plex, I went there one time only; the rooms were small, dank, holes-in-the-walls, characterless, lifeless and hurtfully depressing — movie theatres by assembly line. That was the first and last time went. Now I just pass it on the LIE and I give it a nod, remembering what it used to be and my connection to it.
When you think of what the movie experience was like going to those great ladies — the Fresh Meadows, the RKO Keiths, the Paramount on Main Street, the Loews Valencia in Jamaica and on and on…even the lowly Bayside Theatre which, even when it had gotten a bit worn around the edges, it had it’s own unique style; it had class. They each even had their own unique scent — you knew you were in a theatre the minute you walked in the lobby. When you think about those days, it is easy to understand how much has really been lost….quite literally, an era Gone With The Wind.
The theatre had faux art deco lighting fixtures on the side walls which were aqua tones and it had something you hardly ever see nowadays — a crying room in the rear of the orchestra. It had a balcony — probably around 150 – 200 seats. And although it was in a small town (at the time I was there that road you see in the picture was not paved — it was gravel), we still ran it with very high presentation standards. It had a main gray velour curtain that we used between the cartoons and attraction reel as well as amber curtain warmer lights. I grew up in Brooklyn so I knew how they did it in the flagship theatres in NY and we emulated that level of showmanship.
We ran first run and a lot of hold-overs — I remember we ran WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF and BLOWUP for three weeks, maybe more. To this day I can tell when a change-over is coming up without even looking for the cues. We did very good business because this, after all was BV (Before Video) so the only place the entire Texas A&M population could see a movie was at the Campus Theatre (the were “theatres” back then, not “cinemas.”)
When I was there, Doc, we were running Simplex Supers. I don’t know if you were there before me or after, but the heads definitely were Supers. Yes, Peerless Magnarcs and DC generator, but it was a single generator, not the usual two. When you struck one arc, it would light, but you would see the outgoing machine’s light dim a bit. Trick was to get that other lamphouse out as soon as possible so the incoming projector would get full power.
If you want to know scary, at that time we were still using the old Tushinski Superscope variable anamorphic lenses. However the booth was constructed in such a way that it prevented the projectors from being moved any farther back from the port windows to accommodate the very large and bulky Superscope lenses which were much larger than the standard lenses. On Projector #1, you could maneuver the Superscope lens into the projector by carefully holding it at a certain angle. But for Projector #2, you had to hold the lens with your right hand, pass it OUT OF THE BOOTH thru the view port and with your left hand thru the projector port, pull it back into the booth and into the projector. My deathly fear was that one day doing this maneuver, I would drop the very heavy cast metal contraption on some patron sitting below and kill them.
Our second projectionist who was a woman named Peggy (I am embarrassed that I can’t recall her last name) was the only woman projectionist in Texas, at least that was what I was told, so I can’t verify it for sure. She would leave me sandwiches and soup when I would come in for the night shift. It was a great place to work.
We also ran a special midnight show on most Friday nights “for the boys,” as the boss would say. It was soft porn; today it wouldn’t even be rated NC-17. They were originally skin flicks, but a company in Mexico would edit them and ship them as soft versions.
All the Aggies knew what would play Friday midnight so there was never any advertising or promotion of any kind, just an A-frame out front all day announcing “Midnight Show Tonight.” The place was always packed. These edited version were cut in such a way so that as soon as anything salacious was about to happen on the screen, —SNIP!— and the scene would jump to something less exciting. The all-male audience, at least 90% A&M lads, would hoot and holler and stomp on the floor, but would come back every Friday night. Mr. Schulman said with that one show we would made up for any other slow night.
It was a wonderful experience and working with warm, generous people and SHOWING MOVIES — what more could a kid want?!
Sometime in the early 80s, the then President of Brooklyn College and a team from the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts visited the closed theatre in the hopes that it might be acquired by CUNY to take some of the performance load off the Center’s four theatre complex. Their theatres were having a hard time servicing all the events that they hosted every year. A fifth theatre would be able to ease the bottle necks they often ran into.
This theatre would have been perfect as it is directly adjacent half a block from the large U shape building and can be seen in the aerial view to the left of the theatre building on the next corner. All at that meeting, including President Hess, agreed the theatre would be a perfect addition to the Performing Arts Center.
Unfortunately CUNY in its wisdom would not purchase the property and now, decades later when the Center is pushed beyond its physical limits, CUNY and the City are forced to spend between 75,and by the time it is done, 85 million dollars do build a theatre exactly the same size of the College Theatre. Ironically, the PAC is designed with faux art-deco elements and so the College Theatre would have been a perfect match.
Gary C. is mistaken; the theatre had some wonderful and yes very distinctive art-deco elements including the lighting fixtures and structural lines made with aluminum plating. The stand-alone external box office itself is a very unique structural design indicative of that period and almost never seen today. Many times we can look directly at things and not realize how special they are.
The College Theatre didn’t close because it was unremarkable, it closed, just like so many others, because of the slump caused by commencement of the video age. Also because Century Theatres by this time had become nothing but a real estate company with little interest in operating theatre; they were making profits by selling off it property holdings before dissolving their east coast operations. They were letting all of their theatre simply run into the ground. An independent operator who knew (and loved) the theatre business could easily have made this or any of the other Century Theatres operate profitably.
Why didn’t anyone else take up the gauntlet on these theatres with great locations? Because Century had in its sale contract an encumber that stated the property could not be used as a movie theatre. This lovely, modest theatre should not be faulted because of the stupidity of greedy corporate types.
The closeing of this dive was a mercy killing. The place was a horrid place to see a film. The lobby was dark and dank; the auditoria were even more forboding. The film presentation was beyond bad. In a day and age of 6 channel digital sound, this place was still sporting a mono system in both rooms.
It was a scouting exhibition just to find a seat that wasn’t broken, and even those that were in decent shape were very uncomfortable.
The screens were placed much too high making the viewing angle very hard on the neck muscles. Because it was twined, the rooms were long and narrow, giving you the feeling that you were in a tunnel. This shape was detrimental to speech intelligibility, which sank to near zero; it was a good thing they ran lots of foreign films so you could read the dialogue.
This abomination is an example of just how terrible a movie theatre can be when it is tortured into more than one screen, even though it was designed as a single — a sorry practice in the rush to multiplex. It is no wonder it drove patrons away.
Sadly, there are many, many theatres that should have been saved; this is not one of them.