The photo here is of my grandfather, Jack Arthur, taken in 1944 at the Navy barracks at the foot of Ferry St. in St. Louis, MO. Jack enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was sent there soon after to help perform demolition on sunken and damaged ships.
He would occasionally tell me about his days as a projectionist in the Navy, and about trading 35mm film prints with other ships when they were in port. He loved the movies. As a kid in Michigan in the 1930s his grandfather would take him to see shows at an old movie house, and he had a sharp memory for all the old westerns and war movies from those days.
With the projection skills he learned in the Navy, he intended to find work after the war at a cinema. He was soon told, though, that he needed a “sponsor” to get into the union and it would cost him thousands of dollars without one. His career as a film projectionist was over before it had even started.
As the days of traditional celluloid film projection wane, and the age of movies shown via computer file formats and hard drives has quickly arrived, I know my grandfather would appreciate our efforts to save the Hollywood Theater. The Hollywood represents so much more than just a big silver screen - it’s a special place for people who love not just movies, but movie history.
Sitting in the darkened hall of a historic, neighborhood cinema and watching a movie is a different experience from what you get at the giant corporate multiplex. The screen isn’t two stories tall, and the sound system probably doesn’t blast you out of your seat with booming sound effects. You generally don’t hear people talking loudly on their cell phones during the movie, and you also won’t pay an arm and a leg for a popcorn and soda. But more importantly, you experience the movies just as people have since the 1920s – in a local cinema, on the Main St. (or Potomac Ave.) of a community, and with family, neighbors and people you know.
The Hollywood Theater has provided that experience for almost a century now. It’s somehow escaped the same fate of the South Hills Theater around the corner on W. Liberty, where a chain pharmacy now stands. But with the rise of digital projection and the need to purchase expensive equipment, the Hollywood’s future isn’t safe. If you believe in what the Hollywood Theater represents to Dormont, the South Hills, and to Pittsburgh and beyond, now is the time for you to show your support by coming to see our movies and events, and by bringing your family and friends too.
My grandfather is gone for a dozen years now, but his passion for the movies has stuck with me, and I’m sure it’s a reason why I’m here talking about this now. I bet for many of you there was someone special that took you to the movies and shared the magic of cinema with you. Don’t forget to pass that on!
See you at the Hollywood.