Chartered in 1914
IATSE Local 333 received its charter on April 20, 1914. Our first 15 charter members were a mixed group of theatrical craftsmen, electricians, and motion picture projectionists. This small, but dedicated group of individuals initially met in a dressing room at the old Academy of Music at King and Market Streets in downtown Charleston (today, the site of the Riviera Conference Center).
In 1914, Charleston was not the cultural mecca it would later become. Theatrical offerings consisted primarily of Vaudeville presentations and "the movies"--then called "photoplays". The motion picture operator of the silent film era has been described as "an invisible employee . . . enduring the worst working conditions in the film industry." Confined to a hot, cramped booth for long periods of time, he earned an average salary of $10 per week. His primary duties included changing out the movie reels (multiple reel films required the projectionist to change over every 7 to 18 minutes), threading up the films, and transporting the films to and from the theatre. In addition, he was a "showman"--often in artistic control of the houselights, footlights, title curtains, projected scenic effects and incidental music. He also had to clean the house and sweep out the theatre!
In those days, the Academy of Music was Charleston's principal playhouse and a number of Local 333's members worked there as spot operators, carpenters, electricians and property men. But the great majority of Charleston's theaters were movie palaces owned by the Pastime Amusement Company. Run by Albert Sotille, Pastime was clearly in a position to control salaries and dictate working conditions. Late in 1914, Pastime would also acquire the Academy of Music from it's previous owner. Surviving meeting minutes from our Local's earliest days indicate our members were actively involved in recruiting from among projectionists "scabbing" at various movie houses, some under the control of Pastime, as well as others who operated independently.
Local 333's success in this venture is a matter of record. As the advertisement from the August 15, 1919 Charleston Evening Post indicates, by 1919 Pastime and its primary competitors were running union movie houses.