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Florence, South Carolina

J. Frank Reynolds with projectors at Circle Drive-In

The smile on his face says it all. What could be more fun than being a teenager and working at the drive-in movie theater in the early 1950s? That's what J. Frank Reynolds was doing shortly after the Circle Drive-In opened near their home on South Cashua Drive in Florence, SC.

That's not to say the job was easy. It could be demanding and uncomfortable work. Mr. Reynolds is standing between two Simplex E-7 model projectors, manufactured by the International Projection Corporation at their plant in Bloomfield, New Jersey. They were among the best projectors available at the time. Threading the reels of film, keeping the image properly framed and in focus were all challenging tasks for the projectionist.

The projection room could get very warm due to the intense heat produced by the carbon-arc lights used to project the image on the distant screen. The bright arc of light was created by passing a very high electrical current through two carbon rods. These rods had to be watched carefully to maintain the proper distance between them. Eventually, they would burn away and have to be replaced. There is an unused package of carbon rods just beneath the Peerless Magnarc lamp housing in the photograph above. At the top of the lamp housing is a metal pipe that vented some of the excess heat and fumes through the roof of the projection room.

A feature film could not be held on one reel of film. The projectionist had to watch for a visual cue near the end of each reel. When he saw the cue, he switched the other projector on to pick up the next scene in the movie. If he was good, the audience never noticed the reel change. When the first reel was finished, it had to be removed and rewound. In addition to managing the reels that made up the feature film, the projectionist was often responsible for editing together the other pieces of film that would be shown. These might include a cartoon, coming attractions, and a promotional film to encourage the audience to visit the snack bar.

Many people recall their happy memories of the drive-in movie theater. Florence had two of these theaters, the Circle Drive-In and the Palmetto Drive-In. Both were filled with cars on a good night. Mosquito coils burned to deter the annoying insects. Speakers hung on the car door. While there may have been some teenagers making out here and there, many of the cars were full of families. Mr. Reynolds' daughter recalled, "My favorite part was that my brother and I could go in our pajamas."

No matter what your drive-in movie memories might be, you probably never thought about the young man in that hot projection booth. Without his skill and dedication, nothing would have lit up that enormous screen. We are very grateful to Peggy Hendrick for sharing this extraordinary photograph of her father, J. Frank Reynolds. It gives us an opportunity, however belated, to express our appreciation to those folks who worked hard behind the scenes to make our trip to the drive-in a joy we will forever cherish.

We would love to hear from anyone who remembers any of South Carolina's Drive-In Movie Theaters. Just email us here info@scmovietheaters.com

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