“Panic Narrowly Prevented When Film Blaze Starts in Theatre; Daily Newspapers Suppress Facts”

Artifact Type Labor Newspapers, Sources
Publication Minneapolis Labor Review
Number X64
Page Number 1–2
Place Minneapolis, MN
Publication Date September 27, 1927
Transcript Show/Hide

Headline: “Panic Narrowly Prevented When Film Blaze Starts in Theatre; Daily Newspapers Suppress Facts”

Subhead: Fire Department Called to Hennepin–Orpheum Fire in Projection Room

Musicians Join Controversy; Stage Employes Insist One Day’s Rest Is Only Issue

What might have developed into a panic, costing the lives of women and children, was narrowly averted last Friday night when a fire started from a motion picture machine operated by a strikebreaker at the Hennepin–Orpheum theatre.

Eye witnesses to the near-tragedy say the smoke poured out from the projection room and the fumes of the burning film filled the theatre. There was only a narrow margin between calmness and absolute panic on the part of what audience was present when the blaze transpired. The noise and din made by the large amount of downtown fire apparatus responding to the alarm almost precipitated another stampede after the ushers had succeeded in quieting the crowd’s first fears caused by the smoke and stench.

With the exception of one line, buried under a small headline, “Fire Alarms,” not a word appeared in any of the Minneapolis papers about this fire imperiling the lives of women and children who were present at the show.

Motion picture machine experts, in explaining probably causes of the fire, are emphatic in stating that no greater fire menace can be created than that brought about by placing an inexperienced operator on a motion picture machine. These experts point out that the base of a film is composed of the same material as is used in high explosives—gun cotton, and it requires constant alertness on the part of the operator and a thorough knowledge of the mechanism of projection machinery to prevent disastrous fires. A good operator, they say, can tell by the sound of his machine if everything is all right. The moment he detects a strange sound he is able to locate the trouble and thus stop a fire before it starts.

With the exception of the Dewey, 38 Washington avenue S.; Cozy, 405 Plymouth avenue; Miles Standish, 3736 Twenty-third avenue S.; Stockholm, 103 Washington avenue S., and the Alhambra, 3211 Penn avenue N. all of the theatres in Minneapolis are operating, or trying to, with nonunion stage employees, picture operators, musicians, scenic artists and bill posters.

The musicians joined the controversy Sunday when they walked out of the showhouses in response to orders from their international union.

The dispute is now in its second week. The stage employees walked out September 18 when the managers refused to consider their request for one day’s rest in seven. The subsequent use of nonunion workers brought about a strike of picture operators employed in theatres using stage employees. This was follwed by a lockout of operators in houses not affected by the stage strike. The lockout was engineered by the managers’ association.

Much misrepresentation has been resorted to by the Threatre Owners’ association. Through statements and advertisements in the daily newspapers, the managers have tried to befuddle the issue, which the theatrical unions’ committee says is nothing more than the right to have one day’s rest in seven.

The claims made by the owners’ association and the unions’ joint committee’s reply follows. The managers’ statement is set in small type and the unions’ answer is in the regular size type. [On this website, we will use italics for the managers’ statements instead.]

  1. That the stage employees walked out of their own accord.
    Stage employees left their positions only after The Northwest Owners’ Association absolutely refused to consider their vital request of One Day rest in seven.
  2. In sympathy with them, the Motion Picture Operators went out. The Operators took this action after they had arrived at a satisfactory agreement as to their wages and working conditions, and a contract between all parties had been signed on September 3, 1927.
    Motion Picture Machine Operators walked out in accordance with the contract in effect at that time between the Mangers’ Ass’n and the Motion Picture Machine Operators.
  3. Seven days’ pay for six days’ work.
    Existing Contracts read—(Fractions of a week shall be computed on a six (6) day week). The seventh day has always been given without pay.
  4. The right to say who shall work at each theater, regardless of owner’s wishes.
    An Absolute Misstatement.
  5. That non be discharged without consent of the union.
    The only request made by the Stage Employees was that managers show cause for dismissal.
  6. In two theatres, they insist on using ten men where six have always been employed, conditions and policies the same.
    This proposition was withdrawn during negotiations.
  7. In the legitimate theatres that were open fourteen (14) weeks last year, they demand thirty weeks’ guarantee whether the theatre is open or not.
    This was also withdrawn during negotiations.
  8. Segregation of all departments. This means that a stage carpenter cannot hold a ladder for an electician while he puts in a lamp : but another electrician must be employed.
    A Deliberate Falsehood.
  9. To sum up;—Their demands mean that the Operation of the theatre is taken entirely out of the hands of the owners and placed in those of the stage employees’ Union.
    To sum up—The Stage Employees request one day’s rest in seven and nothing more.

Strike headquarters have been established on the second floor at 818 Hennepin avenue, and the union committee announces it will be pleased to answer any and all inquiries regarding the strike and lockout.

Archive Labor Review Archive Project
Read In Context http://www.minneapolisunions.org/labor_review_archive_about.php
Citation “Panic Narrowly Prevented When Film Blaze Starts in Theatre; Daily Newspapers Suppress Facts,” Minneapolis Labor Review, September 27, 1927.
Location MinneapolisMinnesotaSaint Paul
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