On occasion, we will try to add something to this page that adds some historical perspective to our craft. Hopefully, it will serve both to entertain and enlighten.


A Visit with Two Cinerama Originals: Tales from the Denver Cooper Theater (Will open in a new page. To return back to our home page, click the link at the top or bottom of the page.)

New: Pictures of the Denver Cooper can be seen here.

The webmaster got his start as a "button stomper" or projectionist while serving in the US Navy in the sixties. However, his kindling for the business came from a visit to the projection booths (yes, that's plural) of the Cooper Cinerama theater in Denver as a high school student. In February of 2001, he had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing two of the Cooper's original projectionists. Both gave a fascinating glimpse into the 3-strip projection process.

The Hall & Connolly High Intensity Spotlight (Will open in a new page. Use the navigation links at the top of each page.)

This illustrated 3-page section from an early Hall & Connolly catalog details the spotlight that saw use in numerous theaters during the Vaudeville era and many of these lamps survived through the latter part of the 1900's. John Raney, one of our members and the Tulsa PAC's House Electrician, has actually operated one! The unit was jointly patented by the Sperry Company who, during World War II, went on to manufacture a large number of the searchlights that were used in antiaircraft operations. Sperry was also the company of gyroscope fame.

Historical material courtesy of Corky Coble and J.W. Murphy

The Limelight (Will open in a new page. To return back to our home page, click the link at the top or bottom of the page.)

Certainly you've heard the expression (or a variation of) "You're in the limelight." Did you know that there was, in fact, such a thing as a limelight? Click on the hyperlink to learn more!

The Spots That Made Toledo Famous! (Will open in a new page. To return back to our home page, click the link at the top of the page.)

For "Old Stagehands" (that is those of us who predate the modern xenon light source), most of our first contact with a high-intensity follow spotlight (or "frontlight") was with one of two units made by the Strong Electric Corporation of Toledo, OH. Beginning in the 40's, Strong manufactured an AC-version of a carbon arc lamp called the Trouper. This model was originally manufactured expressly for the traveling ice show circuit but soon found widespread use in fixed installations. At one time, Local 354 owned 6 of these spots and we still have a couple collecting dust somewhere.

Later (around 1955), they manufactured the hugely successful Strong Super Trouper, which for most of us, remains the Cadillac of spotlights. This model utilized a DC high intensity lamp and was so popular that during its heyday, many performers specified in their riders that they would only appear under a Super's light. It was also made famous in the singing group ABBA's song, Super Trouper, although it's assumed the average person had no earthly idea what a Super Trouper was!

While the Toledo plant has been closed now for almost 20 years (Strong moved its operation to Omaha and is now the Strong International Division under Ballantyne Corporation), both these well-built models continue to see use in many venues today. In fact until 1997, the Tulsa PAC still operated three of the carbon arc Supers. They have since been swapped out for the Strong Xenon Gladiator II and the old units see occasional use at the Tulsa Maxwell Convention Center arena.

The Magnificent Theater Organ

Over the past several decades, the entertainment industry has witnessed the demolition of thousands of theatrical treasures including the magnificent movie palaces that once provided motion picture entertainment to a countless number of Americans. Gone are the Ritz's, the Fox's, the Rialto's and the Palace's of the motion picture age; replaced by parking garages and lots, sterile office buildings and in the most extreme and insulting cases, weeded and seedy vacant lots. Their destruction, which many of us consider a national disgrace, has robbed our children and grandchildren of one of the most precious treasures of America's incredible entertainment heritage.

One of the most unique components of these long-gone venues was the venerable theater organ. In the days just prior to the advent of the talkies, there were over 40,000 theater organs in existence. While less than ten per-cent of the original number remains, many of these magnificent electromechanical wonders were saved or have been restored by theater organ preservationists and live on today, entertaining enthusiastic audiences with their magnificent sound.

During the days of silent films, a skilled organist often accompanied the motion picture with a score that incorporated music, sound effects and even a musical imitation of voices that added those missing pieces to the projected image. All of this was provided by the theater organ, of which the most famous were manufactured by WurliTzer and Barton. In addition to motion pictures, the theater organ saw use in indoor stadiums, convention centers, skating rinks and numerous other locations where an orchestra was desired but where a clever and skilled organist could play the part of every musician.

What sets the theater organ apart from its cousin, the church organ, is the range of instruments and percussion it provides. It can produce the high trebles of brass, the banging cadence of a full band's percussion section and the playfulness of that same section's unique instruments such as xylophone, cymbals or bass and snare drum or the earthshaking rumble of a full bass section. In the largest installations, the bass notes were produced in pipes that measured 32-feet in height and in which a person could actually stand inside of! In some respects, the theater organ was a massive version of a carousel organ but with a countless variety of added treasures that made it akin to a symphony orchestra. Bluntly stated, once you hear the sound of a theater organ, you'll never forget it.

The most active group in preserving these entertainment treasures is the American Theater Organ Society at http://www.atos.org, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the preservation of a unique American art form -- the theatre pipe organ and its music. The membership includes musicians, technicians, and enthusiastic listeners -- all devoted to the preservation and continued enjoyment of what they (and we) believe to be a national treasure. Please visit their web site. By clicking on the organ console after you enter their site, you will have a chance to download and listen to a number of full-length versions of theater organ masterpieces. We're confident that if you have never heard a theater organ's magic, you'll want to explore further. That said, you might even consider becoming a member of this wonderful organization. Enjoy!

A Third of a Century of Light- Celebrating Harry H. Strong & Strong Electric
(from the July 1960 edition of International Projectionist)
[A special note of thanks to Brother Corky Coble for providing the original publicatin for scanning!]

Prior to 1925, moving picture projectionists were required to hand-feed their cumbersome carbon-arc lamps as the projectors flashed their image to theater screens. This task, coupled with the projectionist's need to hand-crank the projector with the other free hand, placed a heavy burden on the operator's shoulders. But in that year, an equipment engineer and tinkerer named Harry H. Strong set about to change this dilema. By attaching a vacuum cleaner motor and gear assembly to a vertical-arc lamphouse, Strong was able to maintain a correct gap between the carbon electrodes and eliminate the need of hand-feeding the arc. This single development led to the creation of a manufacturing giant in projection lamp technology, Strong Electric Corporation. Today, that company continues as Strong International and remains a primary supplier of projection lamps, follow spotlights, theatrical lighting equipment and motion picture projectiors.

In July 1960, the monthly periodical, International Projectionist, published an informative history of Strong Electric detaling not only the history of the company itself, but a fascinating narrative of the development of the modern high-intensity carbon-arc projection lamp. The article's author, Robert A. Mitchell and an IA brother, was widely regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on projection technology of the day and his publications remain a valuable reference tool for operators and historians alike.

Click on the link above to view this interesting article.