Being a senior projectionist, at age 22 for the first half of 1977, no less, at the independent Huntington Park Warner Theatre (a place I had come to regularly since I was a kid), was a one-of-a-kind experience. I went from someone who knew next to nothing about the trade to someone who could at the very least get a movie projected — by hook or by crook.
The second longest run during my term, and only behind Jaws for concession stand profit. And just like that film, the projectionists learned it quite well. In my case, that fact alone saved me and another worker.
By week three, all of the working projectionists could perform a changeover without watching for cue marks. We knew the movie so well we could do it by listening to the soundtrack and dialog alone. No one was happier to see it go than the crew in the booth (we were so sick of it). I couldn’t re-watch that movie again till sometime in the 90s.
I guess when you come down to it, this involvement of working as a projectionist from 1976 – 1977 at the Warner Huntington Park Theater was a unique one. It simultaneously fed me concession stand food & drink (though for years afterward, I couldn’t stand to drink Pepsi), pocket money, and experiences that couldn’t have come from anywhere else.
After being promoted by attrition to lead projectionist at the Huntington Park Warner Theater, following an all too short stint of a few months showing movies, I attempted to settle into a semblance of routine. The summer of 1976, though, threw that totally out of proportion with its arrival as I completed of my college spring semester. The result of which gave me more time to work.
My Wednesdays were never, ever, the same from this moment forward. Primarily because, for those of us old enough to remember, that mid-point of the week was once the traditional day when movies opened, were released into theaters, back then. And preparing for the weekly changes was what I had to learn. It came with the new lead role I’d inherit.
Here, I head-counted a half-dozen patrons enjoying the movie as it drew down to the last of its scenes. I bounded upstairs in time to execute a proper changeover. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. All was well, yes? It was…until I went down again. As was my routine to see that no exit doors were left ajar, this occurred a mere 5 minutes later.
Before I arrived, the owner realized the demographics of the area were changing during the 70s, and that more and more of his clientele were Latino patrons. He was also competing for their dollars with the two other movie theaters along the Pacific boulevard shopping strip: the California and the Park (the other, the Lyric Theatre, went after, ahem, a different market).
I was taught on what is known as a Two Reel System — the older carbon arc variety. No splicing of film together to make it one large, easy to project unit. Nope…didn’t happen. The Warner’s projection booth had three, count them three, Simplex carbon arc projectors. Museum pieces, really. Only two were used at any time. The third kept as cold backup for when one of others totally arrested on you, which could happen given the age of these antiques.
So, what were the lessons gleamed while employed there? Scrimping was a way of life for independents. The economics of the movie theater in the mid-70s hadn’t changed much since the 30s and 40s either. Studios made their money from the box office — and theater owners made theirs from the concession stand.
By the mid-70s, I needed a steady job to support my endeavor of higher education. Perhaps affording to have money in my pocket for dating purposes, too. Youth and hormones can be mercenary. A college education was something my mother pushed for, and I (the oldest surviving) got that obligación. Now, my younger brother (by a year and eight months) on the other hand sought work foremost.
It was at this particular theater that my love of the movies was permanently set in stone. Not only was it the closest of the art deco movie palaces in the vicinity, and the location for many of the dates in my youth, but I would later return to this same theater as an employee. I would do a stint as a projectionist during my concluding days of college.