I was A Teenage
with Ned Fairbain
note: Our page on Littlefield,
Texas brought us the following letter from former Littlefielder,
"Your [magazine] is great. Attached is a photo of the Palace Theatre
in Littlefield, recently demolished. I am a vintage Projectionist
who started in Littlefield when I was in school. I worked at the Palace
Theatre as well as the XIT Drive-In. I also worked in theatres in
|We wrote back
and asked if the job of projectionist was as lonely as we've heard
decribed by others in the profession. Ned replied:
"I loved presenting movies and appreciated the fact that I worked
alone (or with someone I wanted to be with) most of the time. In 1971
I moved to Los Angeles, joined the Projectionist Union there and have
been working every since. I have worked in some famous Theatres such
as Grauman's Chinese, and Grauman's Egyptian (built in 1922). I now
work as a private projectionist for (famous comedic actor) at his
private home theatre in Beverly Hills. We play first run 35mm films
there in his theatre which is in beautiful Art-Deco, complete with
electric curtains on the stage, and state-of-the-art sound & picture.
So you might say I have done the whole trip, and I have loved it.
I have MANY stories of working Premiers and big shows. I could go
"I recently had a book of Show Calendars from the Palace, Littlefield
bound and I plan to make them available for sale. The calendars are
from the mid-1950's to mid 60's. Included are such movies such as
Peyton Place, The Ten Commandments and lots of horror films like Creature
from the Black Lagoon. I kept these calendars as a sort of diary.
Of course, there are a few missing - but I have most of them for the
years I worked there."
Recently I was featured in a newspaper article in Littlefield's paper,
telling of my days then and now. I have included this article in my
Vintage Calendar Book." - Thanks, Ned Fairbairn
|We sent a
reply and when Ned called exactly when he said (projectionists are
nothing if not punctual), we had a very entertaining conversation.
It was a little too fast to get everything down - but based on what
we can make of our notes, here's a few of Ned's stories in the form
of a loose interview:
TE: What was the first movie you remember seeing as a boy?
Ned: "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine."
TE: Since you are a Projectionist, we have to ask if you
saw the Italian movie Cinema Paradiso.
Ned: "Yes. A fine movie. I liked it a lot."
TE: How did you become a projectionist? Were you in the
high school adio-visual department?
Ned: "No, I was best friends with the theater owner's son.
I started out helping out in the concession booth, but when the owner
needed someone to show the movies - I was right there."
TE: Were there any memorable incidents involving the audience
that you remember?
Ned: (laughing) "Well, I remember when the Alamo with John
Wayne was playing back in 1960. The theater was still segregated back
then. The white kids sat to one side and the Mexican-American kids
sat on the other. The Blacks had the balcony all to themselves. When
the fighting (on the screen) broke out - there was cheering from the
whites when a Mexican soldier was killed - and cheering from the Mexican-American
kids whenever an Anglo was killed. Popcorn and cups were thrown from
one side to the other - but that was about it. The Black kids (who
didn't take one side or the other) were yelling too - for the other
groups to sit down."
TE: What was it like at the Drive-In?
Ned: "The action in the audience there was a little different.
There were a lot of cars with steamed up windows - if you know what
I mean. I do recall one winter day when we were scheduled to show
the Jayne Mansfield film Playgirl After Dark. The weatherman
had predicted a Norther and the owner was going to cancel the show
for that performance. I wanted to see the movie, too - so I convinced
him that the audience would show - despite the weather advisory. And
show up they did. Jayne appeared on screen - looking a little under-dressed
for the snow and sleet that was coming in. The audience ran their
engines to use their heaters - and by the time it was over - no one
could leave. They had either run out of gas - or their car was frozen
in place by the frozen slush."
"A similar thing happened when we showed the movie Flipper.
A less severe snow blew in - and the abundant blues and greens of
the ocean were cast out from the projector - reflecting on the driven
snow. The audience had a psychedelic experience - even before anyone
knew what one was."
TE: What were your first experiences in Hollywood?
Ned: "Well, I have to say that I got over being star-struck
pretty quick. As a Projectionist - I was present at many of the gala
premieres - and was often in the lobby when many of the stars were
TE: Who did you see?
Ned: "On one occassion I was sitting in the lobby of Grauman's
Chinese. At that time I was working there two or three times a week.
Anyway, I was talking with a man who had once managed the Paramount
Theater in NYC. His claim to fame was that his theater hosted the
Premier for Elvis' first movie Love Me Tender. He was an older fellow
- but unmistakably a New Yorker. As we talked, Katheryn Hepburn walked
in with Roddy McDowell. The pair walked right in front of us - and
Katheryn Hepburn said in her unmistakable dramatic way: "Ah, the smell
of popcorn!" Our eyes followed them though the doors to the auditorium
and my friend leaned over to me and said: "Yeah, she may like to smell
it, but you notice she didn't buy any."
TE: Being a Private Projectionist sounds like it would've gone
out of fashion a long time ago.
Ned: "Actually, you would be surprised. A lot of stars have
private theaters. People like ----------. -----------, and -------------..
There's no getting around it - film is superior to digital. When there's
a road show performance or a priemere of a restored 70 mm movie, and
it's shown as it was intended - on a big screen - a lot of industry
people might go into the movie singing the praises of digital - but
they come out as "believers" of film.
A digital projector might cost as much as $150,000 - much more than
a film projector. Theaters find it hard to justify the expense - especially
when the picture becomes pixilated. A lot of those that afford it
are switching back."
TE: Thanks for taking the time to share your stories and
let us know the ordering information for your book of vintage calendars.
Ned: "It was my pleasure and I will do that. Let me know when
the interview will appear, I'll look forward to seeing it published
in your magazine."
Mr. Ned Fairbairn's website
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