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Howard Crider Remembers After 40 Years as Projectionist

This article appeared in a special edition of The Arlington Citizen-Journal published in February 1972, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Citizen-Journal. It was written by Suanne Copeland.

Have you ever envied the movie projectionist because he gets to see all the latest pictures free? Howard Crider, projectionist for 40 years with theatres in Arlington, admits that he doesn’t even watch the shows. “I just read anything I can get my hands on or watch television or listen to the radio,” he says, “It gets a little lonesome up there sometimes.”

Crider can remember back to the early days of entertainment in Arlington...back to the barn-raisings and circuses and traveling shows that played in the open-air theatre which was located where City Hall now stands. (Editor’s note: that would be the old City Hall on the SE corner of W. Main and Pecan Sts.) “The big road shows would come through with a variety of acts, and it was a great event,” he said.

He remembers that a dance hall used to be located at the east end of town, and he said that an opera house which used candles for light was once located across from City Hall where an A&P Food Store later stood. “When they tore down those old buildings over there, they found the stage of what used to be the old opera house,” he said.

He can’t remember back to the first movie in Arlington. However, according to the July 16, 1942, issue of The Arlington CitizenJournal , it was opened about 1911 or 1912. It was located on the second floor of the Cox and Walton Building on E. Main St., and was operated by W. F. Carr. The first movies were shown by a hand-crank machine, and the operator had to provide his own current for light because the city light plant wasn’t strong enough to run the show. The town turned out nearly 100% on movie night, that issue says.

In 1913, S. G. Dycus of Dallas opened a more modern picture show with power-driven machines and an electric piano. Also in 1913, J. H. Bunnell of Decatur put in a show in the Airdome, on the corner of Abram and Mesquite, and another show was operated by “Bob White” Lawrence, who worked out of a covered wagon. He came by his name, according to old timers, because when anything went wrong with his equipment as he showed Civil War slides to his audiences, he gave the “Bob White” call to get assistance from his helper.

All of this, of course, preceded the theatre history remembered by Crider who, as a boy of 12, went to work at the Palace in 1924 delivering circulars and posting bills for $3.50 a week. The Palace, owned by J. M. Reynolds, closed in 1929 because of the stock market crash, but in 1931, Irving Melcher reopened it . He changed the name to the Texan. Admission was 10 and 20 cents at the downtown location.

In December 1936, Melcher opened the Aggie Theatre on the north side of E. Main, where buildings have now been torn down for the new City Library. The Aggie was named for North Texas Agricultural College (now UTA). Two years later, Melcher sold out to Interstate Pictures. The photo of the Aggie theatre (below) was taken in 1937. The young man standing beside the vertical marquee is Howard Crider.

Projectionist Howard Crider on the marquee above Arlington's Aggie Theatre - 1937

In 1940 and ‘41, one big “New Texan” movie theatre was made from two downtown buildings on the south side of W. Main. “It was the super theatre of its day,” Crider said, “seating about 700 people.”

Arlington's Texan Theatre - 1947

During all these years, Crider was working for the theatres in one capacity or another. (Editor’s note: Both the Aggie and Texan Theatres were no more when the downtown buildings were razed in the 1970s to make way for the new Library and City Hall.)

In February 1950, the Arlington Theatre opened at its present location (see photo below) and Crider continued his career as projectionist there. Managers he remembers include R. H. Woodall, C. W. Moss, Harold Eppes, and Walter Grubbs, the current manager of the Arlington Theatre.

Arlington Theater - 1955 (now Arlington Music Hall)

“I first began operating the machines in 1932,” he said, “and since then I have seen many changes in the equipment; it has grown much more complicated.” He remembers the silent films and the first sound films he projected in 1928-29. “The sound was on discs, and every time the freight trains went by, the needle would skip, and then you’d be out of synchronization.” Later the sound and picture were made to go together. Much later, Crider saw the brief fad of 3-D and the addition of wide -screen and stereophonic sound.

Surprisingly enough, after all these years of motion pictures, his favorite movie isn’t one of the classics like “Gone with the Wind.” It is “Imitation of Life” (the earlier version, starring Claudette Colbert). “That one was a real tear-jerker,” he said. Usually Crider prefers musicals and comedies, and he believes that many of the new “realistic” films are “awful, dirty, and vulgar, and not even entertaining.” “I like to go to a movie and relax,” he said, “ and you just can’t do that anymore.”

His favorite stars over the years have included Mary Bryan, Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Louis Stone, the Barrymores, Tom Mix, W. C. Fields, Mae West, and Humphrey Bogart. He has even met some of these stars when they made one of the Arlington theatres their headquarters while in this area. “I saw Mary Bryan, Jack Benny, and Bill Boyd (Hoppalong Cassidy),” he remembers.

Recently he was in on a secret that few Arlingtonites knew about. He was told one afternoon to be at the theatre the next morning for a private screening of “The Late Liz” which turned out to be for Billy Graham and his entourage. “He’s the only one I ever asked for an autograph,” Crider said.

Crider observes that audiences are noisier now, and that he sees fewer teenagers at the movies. “There aren’t as many “smoochers” in the balcony anymore either,” he said.

“Yes, I can remember in 1951 when the only shows in this area were the Arlington Theatre, Arlington Downs Drive-in and the Arlington Drive-in. Now there are 16 screens within a four-mile radius of the Arlington Theatre,” he said. These screens include the two at the Arlington Twin Drive-in ; four at the Century IV Drive-in in Grand Prairie; one at Cinema, Park Plaza; two at Cinema II, Six Flags Mall (which opened in the fall of 1970); six at Forum 6 Theatres, which opened in Forum 303 in August of this year (1972), and, of course, the current Arlington Theatre screen.

Howard Crider in the projection room of the Arlington Theater - 1972

The year 1972 will mark Howard Crider’s 40th year in the movie projectionist business, and his 60th birthday, and he plans to keep on going. After all, with a television in the projectionist’s booth to entertain you, what more could you ask?