“Is it possible for me to see the manager?”
“You’re lookin’ at him,” Dean quipped. They were instant friends.
“I’m a projectionist,” the stranger offered.
“We already have two, one worse than the other...” Dean replied. “The union gets to pick them...”
“Well, said the man, rising to his full height, “I’m the Chief Projectionist at Radio City Music Hall...”
We were awed into momentary silence.
“...and I’m a member of Local 306. My name is Robert Endres,” the stranger continued, offering his hand through the bars. “All I want to do is look at your theater. I admire old theaters — collect them in my head...”
You may have already read the post that begins with this glimpse of my introduction to Bob. In the days that followed his arrival in the lobby of the St. George, he took a number of shifts in our booth. He was the only projectionist I ever saw who wore white gloves to touch film (the others barely washed their hands). Bob also ran spot for us, firing up the carbon arc spotlights for a live disco performance, making the sequins on those dancers’ shifts appear to liquify the stage.
The other day he wrote to say my post on the Pantages Theatre in L.A. reminded him of a trip to that city in 1970. Bob’s been in more projection booths from coast to coast than any single human being. Here’s how he came to view the internal workings of that notable L.A. theater, back in the day:
I was attending a Society of Motion-picture and Television Engineers’ conference in L. A. when I managed with the help of some of my fellow members to wangle an invitation from the Head Projectionist at Disney to tour their projection facilities. The conference was being held near Century City just off the Fox backlot. To get from there to Burbank where the Disney studios are located I had to take a bus — not an easy thing in L.A., but doable. I got up early and had breakfast at the hotel and then started my trek. After about an hour, having had several cups of coffee, I began to realize that it would be really handy to find a restroom. I was beginning to get a little worried about this, when I saw the marquee of the Pantages.
The management had extended an invitation to all SMPTE members to visit the theatre and catch a show. I hopped off the bus thinking I’d duck into the Pantages, use the rest room and continue on my way; but when I presented my SMPTE member card at the box office, the cashier said, “Oh, just a minute” and then made a call to the manager’s office. Out came the manager and the assistant manager to personally welcome me to the theatre and invite me in to see Tora, Tora, Tora. Not only had I seen it in 70mm in its roadshow engagement in New York, I’d just finished running it for four weeks in my theatre in Kankakee, IL.
All I wanted was to use the restroom! Now I was trapped, so I let them usher me into the theatre, where I grabbed a seat until they went back to their office. Then I snuck out to the restroom. But after such hospitality, I didn’t want them to see me leaving, nor did I want to watch the picture yet again.
I managed to find the staircase to the booth. It was beautifully equipped with Norelco DP70 projectors. The projectionists were most hospitable too: they gave me a tour, including the sound mixing booth which had the original equipment from the theatre’s stage-show days.
The upstairs visit took just enough time. After my tour and some shop talk, I was able to exit the Pantages unobtrusively and continue on my way to the Disney studios, much relieved in more ways than one.
Afterthought: If you remember fondly some or another projection booth, I'd like to know. Booths that contain real projectors of any kind (carbon arc, platter) are becoming scarcer and scarcer...