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arolina i heatre retains earlv opulence
with interior technologica! advances
By LISA CAUL
The date was October 14, 1942. Americans had
been fighting in World War II for almost a year,
but construction of the opulent new Carolina
movie theater had gone on through the summer
Projectionist Duke Williams fondly remembers
opening day. " 'The Major and the Minor ran
three days long. It was the longest picture we'd
ever run in Chapel Hill. We were sold out the first
two nights,'.' he said.
In those days, there was a space in front of the
auditorium for the piano player. A fan system
blew air over cool water or ice to cool movie-,
goers. "That water cooler would get the theater
twenty degrees cooler easy," Williams said.
Williams went to work for the original Carolina
Theatre, now the Varsity, in 1935. He worked part
time for three years, then became a full-time pro
jectionist until his retirement this year.
Williams followed the Carolina owners when
they moved across the street to the. Pick-Wick,
which later became Jasper's. Then construction
began on the new Carolina Theatre, the first"
theater in town to be built specifically for show
ing movies. r
The. new theater, with 1,145 seats (the Pick
Wick held only 500), was big even by today's stan
dards. The exterior was' modelled after 17th-century
Williamsburg with creamy fluted col
umns and a two-story hand-made brick facade. .
Inside, guests could relax in "ultramodern"
overstuffed chairs in the Art Deco style lobby.
Sofas decorated with brilliant peacock feathers
framed a round blue mirror and two gazelle
statues graced the main sitting area. Large
cushioned chairs were placed to the side beneath
large framed floral prints: .
Even the women's lounges were lavishly fur
nished with sofas, thick carpets, framed pictures
and mirrors. ; ,
Chapel Hillians, weary of gas rationing, scrimp
ing on luxuries and worryingabout the war, were
eager for the grand escape to the movies. Movie
goers of the 1940s respected the privilege of their .
escape, Williams said.
"That was the only entertainment you had in '
those days. People took care of the theater. They
were more obedient They went to the show and
really listened they didn't cut up the seats or
throw trash around." - -
Going to the movies now Is not such a special
occasion, Williams said. "Now, you, go; to the
movies to love a little in the back seats, or to
carry on a conversation you forgot to finish at the
office. It's not entertainment like it used to be."
Williams retired this year after 46 years with
the theater. Williams and his partner, Thurman
Tripp, who also retired this year after nearly 40
years, are sometimes called out of retirement to :
make emergency repairs on "their" projectors. .
"Don't ever retire," Williams said, "you'll find
yourself. busier than before." .
Today, the theater's exterior looks much as it
did 40 years ago. The same black and white tiles
pave the entrance and two. of the lounges. During
the school year, the theater shows classics of the
1920s, '30s and '40s. Some afternoons visitors can
, return to be transported to the days of the
theater's opening. ;
' But inside, several changes have been made.
The auditorium has been divided into two
, theatersthe "Blue" and the "White." The conces- -,
sion booth sells popcorn for quite a bit more than
the five-cent bags that used to lure war-weary
"' crowds.' y
But most noticeable are the technological ad
. vances made since the war years.
"If you'd have seen the (projection) equipment
in those days, you'd've been scared to come and
watch the show. It was so easy for the whole thing
to catch fire," Williams said with a rueful Jaugh.
"Back then, you had to know everything (about
running the projectors). Now the projectionist just
punches a few buttons."
THE MAJOR AUD THE MINOR
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