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Request help w/historical info on 1958 theater running Simplex projectors!

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  • #16
    My vandal in the novel only had a moment to do the deed and knew nothing about the machinery. But a lot does go wrong. You would be happy with the disaster of it.


    • #17
      A determined but naive saboteur who only had a moment to do the dirty deed could probably inflict the most damage in the least amount of time with a grand marteau, upside the chassis, right above the lens. A couple-three good, hard whacks would deform or crack the casting, rendering the machine virtually unrepairable.

      While the rest of the parts could be cannibalized for repairing other projectors, the bulk of the machine would, basically, be junk.

      Since your villain would, presumably, be smart enough to understand that the innards of a projector can be salvaged, he could take a few swings at the film compartment, just to add insult to injury.

      Targeting the film gate and surrounding areas would ensure that no film could go through the machine and could possibly break the chassis where the gate bolts in place, again, junking the projector.

      The intermittent sprocket would be another good target. Bust that and you've driven a proverbial stake through the projector's heart.

      An enemy with blood in his eye, a strong arm and a BFH in his hand could trash a projector in less than a minute.


      • #18
        Wow! Incredible info. Let me absorb and process. (am up in the middle of the night working on it) Alan


        • #19
          My vandal has only what he could pick up in a quick break-in to the projection room - the biggest wrench that might be on hand. He has no knowledge of the projectors workings. He just wants to do damage - so he probably trashes the lens and the more delicate workings that are visible. The film gate and surrounding areas. Tell me about that intermittent sprocket - if broken, could it not be replace. Also, at this stage, I am not sure if the machine is unfixable or not - having it trashed but fixable with used parts might be the best for the story. Not sure about the merits of needing parts versus needing a replacement Simplex - I guess it could be either an E7 or XL if the XL can pair with the older Simplex. Alan


          • #20
            A right handed person might stand at the operator’s position and take a swing at the machine, hitting it in the lens, smashing it but also hitting the bulkhead, probably denting or fracturing the casting. If that happens, it’s game over.

            Inside the film compartment almost anything would be damaged but a good enough hit could also break the casting.

            The intermittent is the heart of the machine. It’s the part that gives you the 24 frames per second pull down. Without an intermittent, there is no movie. The parts inside are fitted to sub-micron tolerances... Very delicate. If the intermittent sprocket gets busted, the projector is out of commission. If the shaft that sprocket runs on gets bent or broken, the intermittent is down for the count.

            The intermittent is replaceable. In today’s money, it would cost $2,000 to replace it with a rebuilt one. A new one would cost more.

            Back in the time your story is set, the cost would be different but still prohibitively expensive.

            What kind of damage do you want?

            Do you want, “That’s all folks!”

            Or, do you want, “I might be able to fix it but it won’t be cheap.”


            • #21
              At the moment - maybe fix it - but not cheap - Alan


              • #22
                I know we did have a few spare Simplex Supers and E7s in the basement years ago and I think an RCA sound head. Most theatres did have spares either in their own theatre storage if they were one of a part of a group or "chain," headquarters would usually be able to get replacements within a few hours that could be swapped out to get the booth operational within a short time. Also, almost all theatres contracted with a theatre service company that would be able to deal with such circumstances. The really nice thing about the theatre industry is that there are lots of standards that keep lots of equipment backward compatible but integrated. Lamphouses, sound heads, projectors and pedestals could usually be replaced fairly easily.

                As for odd booth stories, how's this: I was a very curious kid and when I first got into a booth, I was working with the old Simplex E7 projectors. Originally these models had the shutters mounted in front of the lens rather than behind the gate.
                The ones in my booth had that front shutter removed and moved to more common location behind the film gate. However, on these particular machines, the shaft that the front shutters originally were mounted on were simply left in place after the shutters were moved to the back. So here is this shaft, about 3/8in in diameter, extending about a foot out in front of the projector head, just under the lens. This shaft of course still rotated when the machine was running.

                The reason I mention that I was a curious kid was because in this odd story, that curiosity "is what done me in," as Eliza Doolittle would say in the very movie i was running this day (MY FAIR LADY). In the course of threading up the incoming #2 projector, I noticed something amazing. There happened to be a strip of white leader on the real I was threading and when the I put the film in the gate, low and behold, I notice that the image that was on the theatre screen was being displayed on that piece of white film in the gate; a miniature, little movie playing in perfect focus in the film gate...a perfect little moving picture image in the gate. It mesmerized me. I did understand that it was just reverse optics, but I was fascinated by it. The lenses in both projectors are focused on the screen and when on e projector is running film, the other projector's lens is 'looking" at the screen are focusing that image back to the gate. I just had never seen it before.

                Well as interesting as that is, the story is not over. Thing is, in 1963 I have with VERY long hair. It is long here in this 1977ish picture; it was even MUCH longer back in 1963 when I was playing around with the image in the E7 gate.

                So now I have to really inspect my new discovery in depth, but I have to wait for the next changeover. I make the changeover and now is my chance to investigate this phenomenon. I am at the outgoing projector and, letting curiosity cloud my judgement, I grab a white index card and stick it in the gate; remember, I hadn't turn the motor off and I am leaning over and trying to position myself so I can better inspect my discovery -- viola! there it is, that miniature movie playing in the gate of the projector. But what was also going on, was the whizzing shutter shaft, spinning right there in front of the lens....where my head was. In a millisecond, that thing catches a clump of my curly locks, wrapping up the hair so tight, and when it can't wrap it any tighter, it literally rips all the hair out from fully one half of my head. A scream comes out of me that is heard throughout the theatre. Reel 3 of MY FAIR LADY is still playing uneventfully on projector #1. I am now completely bald on one half of my head; years later I was able to accomplish that over my WHOLE head naturally! I feel my head, no blood; the scalp was not injured so, I guess no harm, no foul.

                The boss heard the scream as did everyone else in the theatre and came running to the booth. He wanted me to go to the hospital, but I said no, I have a movie that is running and after getting over the shock and assuring myself that my head is fine, I was determined to finish the show and the shift. "Now everyone get out of my booth." Mr. Schulman reluctantly allowed me to continue and as he left he muttered, "In all my years in this business, I never heard of anything so bizzare." I told not to worry, it's that the same as if I shaved my head, but got distracted and only did half. I did finish the show, but had to pull a lot of hair off that shaft. As far as the audience was concerned, the show played without incident (other than an other-worldly scream during "Wouldn't It Be Loverly") I ran the next two shows and closed the theatre for the night, only to go home to tell all the story to the other students in my dorm. It was a good enough story for a bunch of us to get drunk.

                And THAT is my encounter with the amazing Simplex E7.
                Last edited by Frank Angel; 11-21-2020, 06:57 PM.


                • #23
                  Originally posted by Alan Adler View Post
                  At the moment - maybe fix it - but not cheap - Alan
                  Okay, let's think...
                  If I was a relatively naive person who wanted to damage a movie projector with a wrench or hammer, what would I do?

                  Presumably, I would stand in front of the machine where the operator stands, facing the machine. If I was right handed, I'd have my implement in my right and I would swing it around, from right to left, like a billy club.

                  I would probably hit the front of the machine where the lens is, destroying the lens. (A replaceable part.)
                  If the machine has a front shutter, that would be smashed and need replacing but it wouldn't totally destroy the projector. Even if the shutter shaft got bent, that part is still replaceable, although it would require a teardown to do it.

                  So far, all that would be needed are parts and labor. It could be repaired in a day if you have the parts on hand. Cost of the parts is a factor but, given the time period, I don't know how to calculate that.

                  If the guy goes at the inside of the machine, again, with a right handed swing, he would likely hit the film gate and the sprockets, damaging them. Again, all replaceable parts with labor and the right amount of money.

                  If the intermittent gets damaged, that's a very expensive repair but still recoverable, provided the projector housing is still intact.

                  Consider that the attacker would have to work in a tight space where he probably couldn't get a full swing, especially at the front of the projector. There's a cement wall on the right, about two feet from the projector. There is another machine or a rack of equipment, situated two feet behind the operator. You've only got a three foot wide aisle to stand in. Also, the film compartment is a relatively tight space. The attacker would have to swing downward or use a check-swing to get in from the right. He probably wouldn't be able to give a full-on wallop unless he stood sideways, facing the screen, and swung inward and down.

                  The most likely candidates for destruction would be the lens, the front shutter, the film gate, the infeed/outfeed sprockets plus, maybe the intermittent. All of these are replaceable, with time and money, provided that the projector housing is not damaged too badly. I'm guessing that there would be some dents and scratches on the housing but it is possible that the damage is only cosmetic or minor enough that the machine could still run.

                  Would the gearing inside the projector be damaged? Maybe. Maybe not.
                  If the machine is idle at the time of the attack, likely not. If it is running, All the gears would be stripped out and all the bearings would be trashed. Bye-bye baby!

                  Does the attacker have the time to have a go at the sound head? If it was a "smash and run" scenario, probably not. The sound head is low, down below the waist. The attacker would probably see "the place where the film goes" and home in on that, leaving the lower parts untouched except for collateral damage from flying debris.

                  In an aftermath scene, I can imagine the theater manager, the projectionist and, maybe another person such as a repair man looking over the carnage. Maybe there could be a cop, too.

                  The cop would be collecting evidence. The manager would be standing with his head in his hands and the technician(s) would be surveying the damage, saying, "It's pretty bad! I might be able to fix it but it's going to take time and a lot of money."

                  Time to repair depends on the time period, the location and the financial situation.

                  Time period: In the old days, projector parts weren't common and likely the only source would the manufacturer. If the projector is out of date, the manufacturer wouldn't be able to supply parts in a timely manner, if at all. The factory people would probably tell you to buy another projector. Maybe some spare parts could be found in the theater's basement or maybe from another theater.

                  Location: If the theater is in a city, there's a better chance of finding parts. There might be another theater on the other side of town. If you're out in the country, your only chance would be to go into town or, possibly from the next town over.

                  Money: You'd have to look inside old projection manuals to get prices from the day but, even accounting for inflation, it's still going to be expensive. Several hundred dollars or even a couple thousand. The cost of parts would likely approach the cost of buying a new machine.

                  If you're in a place where parts are available and money isn't a problem, a couple-few days might be needed to fix the projector.
                  A day to disassemble the machine and catalog the damage and calculate the cost. A day or two to get the parts. (Variable) A day or two to do the work, depending on the skill of the technician. An expert like "Scotty" from Star Trek could do it in an afternoon's work. An average technician would need a whole day, maybe two. An "Uncle Jim-Bob" would need longer... Up to a week.

                  If you're out in the boonies with little or no money, the time it would take to recover is open ended. Weeks... Months... Possibly never.


                  • #24
                    Frank that is a truly hair-raising story!


                    • #25
                      Randy - Once again, you're a man with great ideas. I like the way you go through the beats, timeline and angles on the action. You show a very organized and methodical, almost scientific nature. Seems like all the traits that would make for a world-class projectionist! Or maybe a detective! Good notes - all taken to heart. Am working away. Alan


                      • #26

                        I've always liked science and technology, since grade school.

                        I studied Criminal Justice in college and worked in security and in corrections.

                        I worked in movie theaters and legitimate theaters for nearly twenty years.

                        I should be taking care of projectors in a movie theater, right about the time of your novel but I guess I was born too late.


                        • #27
                          Wow! I got the science and detective angle. I will add one other trait. You're generous with your time and knowledge. Great getting to know you. Thanks for you help on my book. You can see some of the crazy things I've done if you IMDB me - Alan J. Adler. 50+ years in the business. Alan


                          • #28

                            I'm happy to help and it makes me happy to know that I COULD help.

                            I looked up on IMDB. Have you ever had an experience when you talk to somebody and think that you kinda'-sorta' know who they might be but you don't exactly remember enough details to be sure? Then, when you finally put two and two together you think, "Hey! You're THAT guy!"

                            Well... Hey! You're THAT guy!

                            Nice to meet you!


                            • #29
                              I started running theater projectors in 1960 in Houston, Texas. I worked with a guy that would open the lamp house door and light his cigarette. Another operator would change Gordo rectifier bulbs while the show was running. A guy I did not work with was sent to a booth because the regulator operator was in a car crash. The booth had Brenkert projectors which he had never run before. He called down to the union hall and asked another operator how much oil was supposed to be in the machine. He was told to look in the little glass window and be sure it was filled half full. The window he looked in was the gear side of the machine, so he filled it half full. When he started the machine it blew oil all over the place and then it sheared the coupling pin and that was that. I pulled a few shifts in a first run downtown theater and in the booth was a doorbell button. You would push the button and a buzzer would sound backstage to signal the stagehand to open or close the curtain. Well the button was pushed and the curtain did not open. Pushed it a couple of more times, nothing. So I ran down two flights of stairs to the stage and no stagehand. I could not push the button to open the curtain because I was not in the stagehand union. Just then the stagehand ran in. He had misread his watch as he had been in the bar down the street.



                              • #30
                                Great stories. I can really see someone lighting a cigarette from a carbon arc. That kind of tells the whole tale of showbusiness in one go. The oil story made me laugh out loud - only because it sounds like the kind of mistake I would have made!

                                After all the great stories above from everyone, I will tell my one projectionist story. I was about 10 - it's 1958 - Asheboro, N.C. - I had my Bell and Howell reg. 8 and my Caslte 200' monster movies. Must have been 4th grade, I guess. On rainy days when I knew we had no outdoor playground time and the kids would be wound up playing stupid games like bounce the ball into the trashcan (which was, actually, kind of fun) I would take my projector and films to school and project classics like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS and THIS ISLAND EARTH (titled War of the Planets by Castle). They had a screen as I remember, but I set up right in the middle of the room and cranked her up - showed the movies forwards, then sometimes backwards - the Creature swimming backwards underwtater was a real crowd pleaser. I have to say those screenings are still etched in my memory. You would not believe how those kids screamed and shouted and oohed and aaahed. I felt like a little magician and in complete control of the show. I guess it was one of the things that changed my life and put me on the road to being a film maker -but I will tell you all, even though 8 mm, it was a Cinerama moment to me! I will always feel like there's a little projectionist in me, deep down inside, putting on the show. Thanks for sharing your stories and hearing mine! Happy Thanksgiving to all.