Continuous Movies

posted by carolgrau on May 5, 2005 at 5:23 am

NASHVILLE, TN — How many of us remember running continuous movies from 11:00 am till 12:00 midnight?

With good old carbon arc lamps, and 20 minute changeovers, the booth being hotter than the hinges to the gates of hell. When you could not open a window for fear the air would crack the reflector in the lamp. The daily hike up and down the steps to get to the booth.

We now call them the good old days, and we are right… they were.

Dave Grau (Mungo)

Comments (22)

andygarner on May 5, 2005 at 11:55 am

I remember running “Titanic” from 12.00 till 12.00, packed houses, and burning all the carbon ends for running the ads and trailer reel, my Westars with Peerless Mags ran red hot that fortnight, not the same since we went over to zenons, got through plenty of tea as well!!
kind regards,

focus on May 5, 2005 at 1:52 pm


I remember running my Strong Arc Lamps at the drive-in every summer holiday for dusk to dawns. Always five features, and we used marble carbons in our lamps.

I rebuilt the feed motors and put in new contacts, with ribbons and new translucent reflectors for heat dissipation. Man what a great color saturation I had on that big screen.

The booth was like an oven till about four in the morning, we had a old welders arc generator in the hallway that screamed. I put in rectifier’s and used the old generator as an emergency back up. The sound was deafening.

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on May 6, 2005 at 2:12 am


Your absolutly right, there were many summer nights when the booth would bake running shows on Super Simplex projectors with Peerless Mag-n-arc lamps. Nothing could be sweeter than the sound of the projectors combined with the roar of the generator, all the while the sweat is running down your back. Not many people left who remember how to run movies the old (correct) way!

Vito on May 6, 2005 at 4:54 am

How about when the take up belt would break half way thru a reel and you had to turn it by hand to finish the reel. Or when you ran a movie for the first time and you were not sure when the cue mark was coming and were afraid to blink. Hot booths were common in the ole days, you could always crack open a port window a bit and get a nice cool breese.I loved running those kiddie matinees with 10-20 cartoons and a stooge comedy, it was a great way to get rid of all those carbon stubs. I would start at 10am with the kiddie shows till about 3-4pm then start the regular shows till around midnight, 14-15 hours in the booth, but like Ron wrote, it was a sweet job. I worked a few of the palaces and nothing can compare to hearing the roar of laughter during a comedy or the screams during a horror picture coming from 2000 people.

William on May 6, 2005 at 8:09 am

I had fun working the extra board as a relief operator. The business agent would send me to these old houses, and wonder why I had so much fun there. I still run film with changeovers at the Crossroads of the World.

Vito on May 6, 2005 at 8:26 am

Ahh the business agent… Didn’t love it when he sent you to those old houses cold. you would have to run around the booth and find out where everything was and how it worked. He would say
“ever check out the booth at such and such a place?” I would say “no” and he would reply “That’s ok, you’ll fiqure it out”
Fun times.

carolgrau on May 6, 2005 at 11:06 am

I remember going in an hour early just to check out the booth. Back then the old timers were famous for putting carboard behind the screw out fuses, so you would have problems, and would put oil on the takeup belts to make them slip, that way they would get caalled in to FIX the problems, and it would good for them. They even had the nerve to call you and ask if everything was going ok. Many times I would say everything is fine since I found the cardboard you put behind the fuses. A very loud click would follow as they hung up on me, but never again would I have any problems in that booth.
Dave Grau (Mungo)

William on May 6, 2005 at 11:23 am

Those were the days. One saturday afternoon, I was running a 6 plex till 6pm. The business agent calls me up and asks if I was doing anything that night. Because he had a job for me starting at 5:30pm. I told him I’m here till 6pm. Then he asks whos coming in at 6pm. So I told him, then he asks if I call hold. Then he comings back to tell me that the other guy was coming in at 5pm and I got the job at this Drive-In from 5:30pm till 2am tonight. I went from a state-of-the-art theatre to a super worn out drive-in.

But you got to love it.

JerryK on June 13, 2005 at 12:07 pm

WOW! You guys brought back MANY memories! Working some of those “dusk to dawn” shows was always fun! Leaders and tails would be gone from some of the reels, so you had NO idea which reel was which! How many “carbon savers” gave up their lives so we could burn the carbon stubs. :) Yep, broken belts, burned out feed motors, jammed curtain/masking motors, exploding rectifiers……God, I miss those days!

Vito on June 14, 2005 at 1:22 am

How about when the cutain got stuck half way and you would have to race down the stairs past the balcony, up the orchestra floor to the stage to pull the curtain open by hand. Then come from behind the curtain up the aisle to thunderous cheers and clapping.

rvarani on June 19, 2005 at 10:37 am

Remember the “good old days” in Minneapolis, going back to the middle 50’s. All new projectionists were started at the three remaining “grind houses” in the old “bowery” area. Theatres ran from 10:00 am to 11:30 pm, daily. The Bijou ran double features with a new program every day. The Crystal ran double features on a Friday-Saturday and Sunday-Monday Schedule and a triple feature schedule Tuesday-Thursday with a “spin-o-cash” contest three or four days per week. We were up to our eyeballs in film. Remember many a day when I was assigned to open one and then move over at 5:30pm to close the other. The Crystal was still using Peerless Low Intensity Arc Lamps. Very poor light with CinemaScope. But who cared, admission was only $0.25.
There was one other theatre in the area that ran the same “grind” schedule. The Grand Theatre was a rear throw house that specialized in “girlie” films. The projection booth was in the alley. More on this one later.

Johnllon on October 8, 2005 at 11:20 am

I well remember the “continuos performance” would run a B movie, then interval for ice cream sales,(with the sales girls spotlighted with their trays)-hand fed carbon arc spots. Adverts, newsreel or short, trailers then main feature, then repeat all again 3 times a day no stopping.
There were 20 minute reels with changeovers. An occasional stage presentation(rare).Hand written slide anouncments (scratched on glass slides), magnetic sound on some CinemaScope films. rewinds, house tabs.
Mercury arc rectifiers.
Quick lace up if a ‘scope trailer and WS feature.

Boxes hot in summer and cold (up on the roof) in the winter.
Carrying the film crates up all those stairs…..the smell of ozone, oil and celluloid.

They were still good days, and there was presentation.

John (UK-London)

Vito on October 8, 2005 at 11:33 am

Very nice John, Like they say, “ya hadda be there"
Oh, you forgot the smell of the film cement. :)
Did you have reel end alarms?

Johnllon on October 11, 2005 at 10:51 am

Hello Vito,
Yes we had Kalee 21 machines with bell on the top spool boxes.
In fact if the cinema was not busy you could hear the bell at the back of the balcony.
I don’t think the patrons noticed it, probably just us projectionists maybe we got our ears tuned to listen for it!

I can still hear it now in my memories…….

John (UK)

carolgrau on October 25, 2005 at 5:37 am

We had allot of theatres in Pa. that had the bell that rang 3 times, and got so many complaints that they removed them so you realy had to be on your toes. The Union would send members to different theatres to check up on you. If you missed a changeover, you got a nice hefty fine. Imagine if that went on today! No one would ever get paid.

Vito on October 25, 2005 at 7:18 am

Had a similar problem with the bells, we put electrical tape around the bell to muffle it. So what we heard was more of a thud than a bell, seem to work OK, no complaints. I have to admit during one or two of my 14 hour grind shifts I did take the tape off around the 10th hour in case I dozed off. : ))

carolgrau on October 26, 2005 at 5:19 am

I remember the good old days, running movies all day at the indoor house, and going to the drive-in at night. Many times horns would blow to let me know uh oh I dozed off. Thank God they were my Dad`s Theatres, so I did not get into trouble. With the Union theatres I stayed wide awake, did not want to pay a fine, and cut into my beer money.

Vito on October 26, 2005 at 7:10 am

Oh the drive-ins were fun, spending the afternoons in the fresh air “walking the field” checking and repairing the speakers.
I’d always have the booth door open welcoming the folks stopping by to see what went on behind the scenes. Of course you never went hungry with all the great hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza you could eat. Much of what they didn’t sell by the end of the night went to the hungry staff. Good times! I also remember the all-weather theatres which had a drive-in on one end and a indoor on the other, with a common booth which had four projectors, two on each side of the room. It got a little hectic when the same movie played on both sides a half hour a part, a reel would run 17-20 minutes and you would have to get it rewind and threaded on the other side in time.
Sometimes we would get a break when they ran the A picure on one side while the B picture was on the other.

rvarani on October 27, 2005 at 2:57 pm

I’m enjoying the comments regarding the drive-in theatres. At the height of their existance there were 22 drive in theatre screens in the Minneapolis – St. Paul area. At least four stayed open all year. They were equipt with electric heaters or propane heaters. It was an experience to run a show when it was 25 to 30 degrees below zero. Two people in a car with one electric heater and no blanket would “freeze to death”. Put in three heaters and you would be comfortable. Best experience was running a movie during a blizzard. Ended up focusing on the falling snow because you could not see the screen. Most of the year round drive in projection booths were not designed for winter operations. We had to improvise in order to keep warm while working. Had to dress accordingly.

carolgrau on October 28, 2005 at 6:21 am

Dick, one of the most beautiful things I ever saw, was one night in Pittsburgh, Pa. at my Dads one drive-ins it was snowing and I was down by the screen. I happened to turn around and look towards the booth, the projector was showing a muti colored scene, and the snow turned all different colors, it was just a beautiful sight to see.
Is Davin Anderson still in the business?

markp on December 11, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Ahh, the good old days. Give me this anytime over what we have today.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I was never a projectionist but having spent seven years running theatres I always had respect for the guys in the booth and glad i got out before all the Manager/ projectionist crap came up.

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