The Projection Booth

The Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder was built in 1898. It was (along with the Elitch Playhouse in Denver) one of the first places where films were ever shown in Colorado.

The auditorium has no heating or air conditioning (or even running water, for that matter). It's kind of a big "performance barn," and therefore has always been used for summer shows only.

The projection booth was probably added to the theater some years after the main structure was constructed. It is built up on poles, accessed by a steep set of stairs that are almost more like a ladder. The entire booth is lined with metal as fireproofing from back in the day when film was highly flammable.

On a recent visit to the booth, projectionist John Templeton showed me where the projectionist in 1929 had made a penciled list of the summer's film program on the metal wall of the booth. I took some snapshots (see at right, click on them for a larger view), and looked up the films that were shown.

What the 1929 schedule reveals is a list of some of the best movies of the end of the silent era. They were not necessarily "first run" movies, but were released within the four previous years. Also, it's worth keeping in mind that films were not released nationally on a particular date at this time, but started in the major cities and slowly made it out to places like Boulder.

Each program was shown for only one night. I do not know if live music was used to accompany the films. That would have been standard for quality screenings of movies at this time, but these were not first-run screenings.

Most American commercial theaters would have converted to sound by the summer of 1929, and almost certainly the theaters in Boulder were playing talkies. But upgrading to sound was expensive, so it may be that this program of silent films was a way to postpone that conversion in a theater that did not have a constant income stream from movies.

In any case, this program could be considered either one of America's last seasons of silent films, or one of America's first revivals of an out-of-date art form, Boulder's first "silent film festival," if you will.

The numerals following the titles are the number of film reels suppiled for each film title. Then in a circle, the projectionist has indicated the total number of reels for the evening program (short plus feature). There are also notations showing the start and end times of each program.

John Templeton thinks that the large, red "Lienhart" written at the top was probably the name of the projectionist that year, whose handwriting we're looking at.

The Movies

July 5: Wings (1927). This was one of the biggest films of its year, and won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. A story of pilots in World War I, starring Clara Bow, Charles Buddy Rogers, and Richard Arlen.

July 12: Eben Fine. This is not a film: Mr. Fine was a prominent Boulder busnessman and head of the Chamber of Commerce. Presumably, this was a lecture or speech.

July 13: Bringing Up Father (1928). Based on the popular comic strip, this comedy featured Marie Dressler as Mrs. Jiggs, and Polly Moran as her daughter. A short subject, Buffalo Bill's Last Fight (1927), was a historical drama.

July 16: West Point (1927). A football/college drama set at the military school starring William Haines and Joan Crawford. Heebie Jeebies is a 1927 Our Gang comedy, now thought to be lost.

July 20: The Patsy (1928) is a comedy starring Marion Davies. Pass the Gravy (1928) is a short comedy starring Max Davidson. Both of these are excellent comedies, and have been screened at Chautauqua in recent years.

July 23: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) is a version of the operetta starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Hats Off (1927) is a famously lost Laurel and Hardy short comedy.

July 27: The Bugle Call was a feature starring Jackie Coogan as a young bugle player in a Western fort. This appears to be a lost film. The Flag is probably a short film calledThe Flag: A Story Inspired by the Tradition of Betsy Ross (1927) starring Francis X. Bushman as George Washington and Enid Bennett as Betsy Ross.

July 30: The projectionist notes: "Put new tube in rectifier."

July 30: Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). A circus love-triangle starring Colorado-native Lon Chaney, sensibly paired with the circus-themed Our Gang comedy Barnum and Ringling, Inc. (1928)

July 31: Rose Marie (1928). A sadly lost version of the Canadian Mounties story starring Joan Crawford. Never the Dames Shall Meet (1927) was a short comedy starring Charley Chase.

August 6: The Big Parade (1925). A story of the Great War starring John Gilbert and Renee Adoree. Obviously, it was still popular four years after it came out. I'm not sure what "No current 8:11 to 8:35" means. Perhaps there was an electrical blackout?

August 7: The Garden of Allah (1927). A north-African drama starring Alice Terry and directed by Rex Ingram. The Laurel and Hardy short Leave 'em Laughing (1928) was originally scheduled, but was "cut for dance program." (It would be shown on 8/13.)

August 13: Antarctic Travelogue. I don't know what this was, but there were few film crews going to Antarctica at this time. Possibly 90 degrees South (footage from Robert Scott's expedition) or In the Grip of the Polar Pack Ice (a.k.a. South, footage from the Shackleton expedition). Both are roughly consistent with a six-reel length. With the Laurel and Hardy two-reeler Leave 'em Laughing (1928).

August 14: Another lecture or speech by Eben Fine.

August 16: Across to Singapore. A romantic drama starring Ramon Novarro. Came the Dawn is a short comedy starring Max Davidson.

August 17: Redskin (1929) an epic Native American story of forced and failed assimilation starring Richard Dix (and filmed in Technicolor at Acoma Pueblo and Canyon de Chelly). This was paired with the short Billy Dooley comedy The Dizzy Diver (1928)

August 20: The Wolf of Wall Street (1929). George Bancfroft as a merciliess stockbroker who short-sells copper and ruins his friends' fortunes. Paired with the two-reel Hot Scotch (1928) starring Jack Duffy.

August 28: The Fleet's In (1928). A lost Clara Bow feature about sailors and dance-hall girls. Shown with Stop Kidding (1928) with Bobby Vernon.

My last photo stops there, though the next title appears to be Abie's Irish Rose (1928), a Jewish-Irish culture-clash comedy starring Charles Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll. Only parts of this film survive today.

The next time I visit the projection booth, I'll try to capture the rest of the list, if any.

Projection Booth