Hi. Thought I’d pass on some thoughts.My interest in the projection booth started when I was a kid in the late 50’s. Back in those days, there were scores of drive-in theaters around the U.S. and one night while attending The Ten Commandmentsat a drive-in in Oklahoma, I wandered in uninvited to the booth. Fortunately, a friendly projectionist didn’t kick me out the door and instead, patiently explained the workings of the machines and even let me hold a couple of the carbon rods that he was going to retrim a lamp with! Needless to say, I was hooked. Later in my high school years, I hung around the booth of the long gone Ute Theater in Colorado Springs and while I never was allowed to touch the equipment, I had the benefit of a kind old IATSE operator who explained everything. In later years, my attention to his lecturing paid off.One highlight of my pre projectionist days was a visit to the Baker booth at the Cooper Cinerama Theater in Denver in 1964. Again, I benefited from 2 kind operators who patiently explained the 3-projector process and spent considerable time explaining how the sound was run off the separate 35 mm magnetic playback unit. I remember, at the time, being confused how a movie could run on a projector with no soundhead but, of course, it all made perfect sense after my intermission tour of the booth. By far, 3-lens Cinerama was the most incredible movie experience I ever had…bar none. You had to see it to appreciate it and by far, its sound was unforgettable.

In 1965, while in the Navy in Texas, I stopped by the Special Services office (they oversaw all base entertainment) and asked if they needed an ‘extra’ projectionist at the base theater? Of course, the first question was: ‘Are you experienced?’ I more or less stretched the truth and told him I was, although I had actually never threaded a 35 mm machine, retrimmed an arc lamp or worse yet, done a changeover! However, he immediately placed me on the schedule and that weekend, I started on my own. Believe it ot not, all my years of observing at the Ute had paid off. The Navy booth was running Simplex XL’s and Peerless Magnarc lamphouses; the same equipment I had watched my IATSE mentor run! The one thing that I recall was drawing on the importance of threading in frame and with the intermittent fully cycled, which ‘old A.B.’ had told me about every time I watched him. My first ‘run’ went perfectly and I was hooked. I ended up working every weekend for the 9 months I was stationed in Texas and the ONLY problem I ever had was the direct result of my trading shifts with another operator, who was drunk the afternoon he asked me to work for him. The story is worth mentioning.

During my Navy years, the base theaters always ran the National Anthem before the cartoon, newsreel and feature. This was the standard beginning on any U.S. military showing. On the day I relieved the ‘other guy,’ he had ‘graciously stopped by the booth’ that afternoon to thread up both the anthem and the cartoon. What I didn’t know was, at the time, he was drunker than a skunk. To make a long story short, the anthem was not rewound before he threaded it and I assumed it was okay. It wasn’t. As you can figure it out, the anthem hit the screen running backwards and upside down! Within 30 seconds, the rookie duty officer (some loudmouthed Naval ensign) was up in the booth reaming my butt out! Of course, there were a hundred or so enlisted guys downstairs in the house laughing themselves silly over the dumb operator’s stupid mistake, all while they were supposed to be standing at attention and saluting. At the time it wasn’t funny but it sure is now, even after almost 35 years!

After I finished electronics school. I completed my Naval tour in Norfolk, Virginia, where I worked several union houses as an IATSE ‘extra board’ operator. And following my move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1978, I did the same with the operators local here (Local 354) before getting bit by the stage bug, where I’m now a union stagehand with Local 354. My projectionist experience was a great springboard for the stage work as before the proliferation of xenon lamps, the stagehands union was always looking for experienced carbon arc lamp operators to run follow spotlights. This was my key into the world of performing theater and while I haven’t ‘stomped a button’ in almost 20 years, I have a lot of fond memories.

Looking back, the best part of being a projectionist (in those days) was the showmanship you could put into a show WITHOUT any form of automation. Changeovers were a lot of fun and I used to take pride in hitting it perfectly on ‘the marks.’ It was a lot of fun to time the curtain opening to coincide with the title hitting screen and ensuring the house lights were down at the perfect point. Also, rewind and retrim kept you busy between the reels and I always kept an eye on the screen. As for equipment, my favorites were the Simplex XL, the Ashcraft Super Cinex carbon arc lamp and the Strong carbon arc Super Trouper follow spot. I feel sorry for the kids of today who have never had a chance to do a changeover or strike an arc.

My last contact with the craft was in 1985, where I worked the weekends at a 6 screen automated booth here in Tulsa. We ran Century’s with Christie lamphouses and platters and while I enjoyed the challenge posed by automation, I felt the nature of the business had taken the art from the craft. I’d rather run a changeover booth any old day!

Hope this recant is what you’re looking for. Keep up the good work!

Joel Genung

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