Tales from The Oaks #1–Matinees

Background
In 1971 I married my soulmate and next year we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. In 1972 I lost my job as a credit manager and needed to reinvent myself. I decided to pursue my dreams and bought my first Nikon F camera. While learning my new craft I still needed to earn money. So in addition to becoming a teamster and driving a Yellow Cab, I began working as a projectionist at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont Pennsylvania.

With another projectionist we worked like doctors, three days on and three days off. It was fun and awful at the same time. Enjoyable to see new movies every week but also physically strenuous work. In that era movies were exhibited using 35mm film and the light source were Simplex carbon arcs projectors. An average movie had four to seven reels. Each reel weighed about 20 pounds. As the first reel got close to the end you would fire up the carbon arc on projector 2 and changeover from projector one to projector two. Then physically mount reel #3 on the first projector and manually rewind the first reel for the next show. After two years my right arm looked like Popeye The Sailor.

One of the owners was a colossal officious jerk. He was kind of like Ted Knight in Caddyshack. Sometimes his added stress would trigger us into some nasty pranks. We had no cell phones, TV or radio. There were no laptop computers so well we invented our own humor.

Episode One…The Matinee

We hated when they decided to have Saturday matinees. The person who pulled Saturday would essentially pull a double shift. Movies would normally start on Friday’s. We had no idea what would be waiting for us, so we had to arrive early on Fridays to carry the heavy containers up the stairs. We had to inspect the movies to make sure they were intact. Sometimes they weren’t rewound, and we had to rewind them.

The worst feeling was arriving Friday night and seeing 9 film cans rather than the normal 4 or 5. It mean there was a matinee on Saturday. Eventually we convinced our idiot bosses to provide a schedule but even so you could do nothing but groan when you saw all those heavy film cases.

There was a turntable and records in the booth so we could play music through the large Voice of The Theater Speakers before the show. Our boss insisted on playing Frank Sinatra before the Kids movies on Saturday. “No sense getting them all worked up” he said with his Ted Knight smile.

So, there I was on my third Saturday in a month, my partner was on vacation. I was pissed at missing another Saturday night anyhow and certainly aggravated that I had to be there on a beautiful fall afternoon. I locked the projection booth door and put on Frank Sinatra, yah don’t want to get them worked up. Hey wait, it occurred to me, I’m up here and idiot boss is down there…hmm fuck Frank Sinatra. I began to look through the albums. Hmm the United States Military Academy Band playing John Sousa’s marches. The kids should like this, right? It’s amazing how loud those big Voice of The Theater Speakers’ can get. As the theatre filled up, I cranked up the volume. I really didn’t hear the knocking on the door. Honestly, I didn’t. I was too busy watching the manager chase after the kids that were literally jumping on and over the seats. Oh well, it’s show time, I quickly dim the lights start the projector and lastly turn down the march music.

I didn’t work many matinees after that.

To see other images and buy apparel or prints, please visit my commercial gallery.

The Oaks Theatre