You are here

With the stock market crash of 1929 (headlined by Variety as “Wall Street Lays An Egg”), the bottom fell out of the box office

Photo caption: IA photo lab technicians were a vital link in the film distribution process, providing a quality control check on the millions of prints that passed through film labs every year.

Source: National Archives

Unemployment soared and theatre attendance plummeted.  The movie houses were hurt, but legitimate theatre suffered even more.  Some projectionist locals responded by re-training stagehands to become projectionists.  This was only a temporary fix, however.  Union projectionists who had worked at the same theatre for years now found themselves locked out at contract time, as owners hired low-wage, nonunion projectionists as replacements.  Projectionists working for Loews and Publix eventually made wage concessions.  Other locals followed suit, with more than 400 taking the cuts.

It was a brutal and difficult time.  In cities where union projectionists were locked out, there were attempts to disrupt performances through stink bombs and other means.  The harsh response of the union projectionists reflected the overall fear and desperation of the nation, as The Great Depression tightened its grip on the people.

Unemployment in nonmanufacturing jobs soared to more than 25 percent.  In manufacturing, that figure was more than 50 percent.  Half the nation’s unemployed were concentrated in seven industrial states: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and California.  In just four years, the total income of America’s wage earners had been cut nearly in half.  Payroll in the motion picture industry had declined by nearly two-thirds.