When I was researching The Box, I met Bill Parker, who started off in television, working for the inventor U. A. Sanabria in the 1920s. Later, he went to work for Philco and RCA. Bill was a lovely guy and shared some terrific stories. At one point in the conversation he mentioned he had some video from the early 1940s, taken when he was working for W3XE, the still-experimental Philco station in Philadelphia.
A few days later a package arrived in the mail. I popped the cassette in my VCR and then my eyes nearly popped out. There on my TV was actual footage taken from the 1940 Republican convention, not coverage that appeared on TV but of the TV coverage from the convention center in Philly. He also had a silent clip from a live dramatic performance at the station. These were little experimental dramas the stations put on to test their operation in the years before TV went commercial. Because the TV cameras were not very sensitive and needed lots of light, those little shows were very tough on the actors, and I heard lots of stories from people who were nearly fried under the hot lights. One one show, the prop person let a glass of water sit under the lights until the water nearly boiled. The actor who was to drink the glass of “poison” let out a scream when he put the glass to his lips, except he wasn’t acting and had to go to the hospital with third-degree burns. I also remember an old RCA exec relating how they could tell when the lights were too bright: the actor’s hair would catch fire, which apparently happened often enough.
Anyway, here’s a few minutes from Bill’s film.