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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Project Management: 1958

Project Management: 1958

Movie theater projectionist somewhere in the Washingon, D.C., area. Photograph by Marion S. Trikosko, 1958. View full size.

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"The Defiant Ones," perhaps. Isn't that Sidney Poitier?


This man looks like and could be an old projectionist from the Detroit area named Louie Stathos. He died in the late 70's, or early 80's. He was a projectionist for several decades when I knew him and at that time was number 2 in seniority in the projectionist union in the Detroit area. He had many stories to tell regarding the old days of the movie business and the projectionist union.


This projector design was still use in some place in the seventies and maybe even later. The arc is not a flame. But carbon electrodes are slowly burning and generating smoke, hence the stovepipe. The one I know better (an Italian Cinemecanicca) has a rack to compensate the combustion of the electrodes. From time to time the operator has to move the electrodes closer. Automated on later designs.

Nitrate Film

I think Dale is over-emphasizing the danger and impact of nitrate film. It was the standard for the first 60 years of movie history. If it broke in the projector, it could cause a very rapid and hot fire, but not "turn into a gas-spewing fireball". It would more likely burn out a frame or two, and the automatic fire shutter in the projector would block the light and heat.

Nitrate needed to be handled with respect, but it was used in thousands of theaters, and thousands of movies, without disaster.


Projection Room

> this guy was supposed to pull the rope and slam down
> the fire door sealing himself in the booth and saving
> the theatre audience

No, this was not how it worked. The metal panels over the projection room windows were connected to the chain with a clip made of lead that were designed to melt and drop the fire plate in the event of an emergency. The chains were connected to a pully system that allowed for all the metal panels over the windows to be manually dropped from a release next to the booth metal exit door. The projectionist would release on the way out the door in the event of fire.

Nitrate film has been illegal in the USA since 1950 except at a few specially designed facilities.

Projector Management 1958

This man is working with a Peerless carbon arc lamphouse (looks like a locomotive with a stovepipe coming out of it). In it are 2 sticks of carbon that are electrically charged and brought together to create an electrical arc between the two. An intensely bright (and HOT) flame results which lights the film on the screen. Fortunately for this guy, "safety film" was the norm in 1958. Before that films were made of highly flammable nitrate and if it jammed in the gate for even a second the hot light streaming through the film gate would cause it to burst into flames. That is why the film reels are encased in round steel cans as you can see. That's also why you can see a sliding fire door above the window looking out into the theatre that was held up by nothing more than a rope looped over a peg. When the film turned into a gas-spewing fireball this guy was supposed to pull the rope and slam down the fire door sealing himself in the booth and saving the theatre audience. Hmmm, I wonder how much they paid these guys?

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