was A Teenage Projectionist
Interview with Ned Fairbain
Our page on Littlefield,
Texas brought us the following letter from former Littlefielder, Ned Fairbairn:|
"Dear TE, 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 Lubbock."
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 on forever."
"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
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
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."
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 arriving."
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."
Ned Fairbairn's website
Stories: Palace Theatre in Littlefield
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