Mountain Home native’s love of movies becomes family business
In 1957, when he was 16, Mountain Home resident Henry McCalmont took a high school job at the old Baxter Theater, just off the square. He earned $17.10 a week.
According to his daughter, Tammy McCalmont, he took the job because he knew how to work on air conditioners, but before he knew it, Henry was selling popcorn and candy at the concession stand and eventually began to run the projectors.
Henry, now 78, was recently selected to participate in the “Second Wind Dream” program sponsored by Elmcroft of Mountain Home. The program is designed to allow seniors to do something they’ve always dreamed of doing, or gives them another opportunity to do something they always enjoyed doing.
On Friday, Henry and a couple of his friends went to catch the latest Brad Pitt movie “Ad Astra”, playing at the Sun Valley Cinema 6, along with his daughter and nephew, Mark McNew, the general manager of both Sun Valley and the Baxter Cinema.
When asked if he liked the Springfield-native Pitt, Henry joked “I don’t know him.”
McNew explained that even though the Baxter Theater only had one screen, back in those days it took at two projectors to show one movie.
The old movies were shot on 65 millimeter film and cut into smaller, 20-minute reels that were spooled flat on round, metal sheets like giant pizza pans. As the film began to run out on one projector, Henry would have to stay sharp and keep an eye out for the “cigarette burns” one the screen.
Cigarette burns — for those who have never seen the movie “Fight Club” — was the Hollywood term for the three horizontal dots that would quickly pop up at the far right corner of the screen. That served as as a visual queue to start the next reel on the next projector.
When the next reel was started, a low tone audio queue went “boop,” and Henry had 20 minutes before the whole process had to be repeated. Back then, the well-worn film would occasionally break, or the projectors would get too hot and the film would catch on fire.
Henry recalls one day he was on the staircase to the projector room when the owner, Mrs. Evans, fell on the stairs. Henry looked up just in time to catch her. She told Henry, “Well, I guess you’re good for something.”
“She could be a grouchy old gal,” Henry said.
In his day, Henry remembers screening movies that swept numerous Academy Award categories and would become classic films, like “Lawrence of Arabia.” Clocking in at 3 hours and 48 minutes, Henry performed a number of reel changes.
Tammy said working at the theater in those days made her dad’s dating life difficult.
“Whenever he asked a girl out, she’d want to go see the latest Elvis movie, which he’d already seen,” she laughed.
Henry was always a fan of westerns, and still is. Elvis movies? Not so much.
“There aren’t as many good movies as there used to be,” Henry lamented.
He doesn’t remember how much movie tickets were back then, but by today’s standards, he said they were “cheap.”
Even though Henry eventually left the Baxter Theater to peruse other opportunities, Tammy would eventually go to work for the Evans family too. The Baxter Theater would eventually move out to its current location next to Big Lots and the Twin Lakes Twin theater opened where SNC Custom Flooring and Countertops sits today.
She recalls how back in the 80’s after “Jaws” became the first summer blockbuster, movies like “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” would stay in theaters by popular demand for months, even well over a year for some.
In 1997, Tammy purchased what became the Twin Lakes Tri-Cinema and in 2003, built what was originally called the Sun Dance Theater, but she said they later changed it to Sun Valley Cinema after hearing that Robert Redford might open his own movie theater chain named Sundance after his own production company and film festival.
McNew joined the family enterprise around 1997 to set up computers and install software.
In 2009, the theaters went from film to digital projectors. Then, in 2011, McNew and Henry went to Canada to learn how to troubleshoot and repair the new projectors.
A year later, the pair went around the area helping other “Mom and Pop” movie theaters install digital projectors in their theaters. In 2014, McNew became the general manager for both theaters.
Katie Hammett, the healthy lifestyle director at Elmcroft, even worked one summer for Tammy when she was in high school.
McNew and Tammy tried to remember what the last movie was that Henry had seen, but couldn’t.
“Whatever it was, I’m pretty sure I didn’t like it,” Henry said with a laugh.
Read or Share this story: https://www.baxterbulletin.com/story/news/local/2019/10/09/mister-movie/3920903002/