90 Year Old Prop Camera Working On New Laurel and Hardy Film
Mitchell Camera #146 was purchased and shipped to RCA Photophone laboratory on November 10, 1928. It was one of the first cameras RCA purchased in the race to develop their own workable Sound on Film system to compete with the Fox Movietone system.
camera would soon find its way into the inventory of the new RKO studios in
Hollywood. RKO was the brainchild of David Sarnoff combining the resources of
the old FBO facilities with the resources of RCA (Radio Corporation of
America-owner of the NBC radio network) and its resources with the presentation
capabilities of the Keith-Orpheum theaters located across the country. The basic idea was to leverage the
radio talent of the time into creation a wholly new, modern studio designed
from scratch for so und production that might be
useful in an envisioned
future for the very experimental idea of Television (or Radio Pictures.)
Though records are difficult to find, It is fairly certain this would have been one of the most modern cameras owned by the fledgling operation and would have surely been involved in most of the early RKO pictures of the era. For sound films, it would have possibly resided inside this Fearless Blimp from RKO in that same time period.
RKO had a very unstable history and underwent a number of changes that resulted in a sell-off of much of its equipment in the 50's and 1960's when DesiLu took over the failing studios and fulfilling the original premise of a studio dedicated to television production after all those years.
Some time in that process, the camera with a number of similar older cameras found its way to England where it was put to work with Aardman productions shooting stop action animation including the popular Wallace & Grommet shorts. There it was stripped down to the basics of one lens mount, and a stepper motor with the side door and flywheel removed. Later the camera was sold to another animation studio and when finally retired in 2016, was purchased by vintage TV and radio studio equipment props rental business Golden Age Television Recreations owned by Dicky Howett and ex-Marconi engineer Dr Paul Marshall .
This UK-based business had started in 1994 with redundant tv studio equipment and later, Golden Age TV sought to broaden its inventory by sourcing classic film equipment.
Mitchell camera #146 was functional but missing major parts. Surprisingly, the Iris and 4 way matteswere still in the camera. If you see an iris in or out effect in and Aardman film, best bet this camera was to one that did that.
In short order, a motor door turned up as well as a motor and side finder but the turret and lenses as well as the front of the camera were not so easy to find. Since the purpose of the camera now was as a specialized prop, Dicky constructed a quite realistic wooden front and lenses.
However, like all true collectors, this situation could not be satisfying and in May of 2016, Dicky happened upon the MitchellCamera.com forum.
Through contacts in the membership, a complete period correct front with turret was found as well as two of the correct period and highly desirable Baltar lenses. Dicky was able to locate another two Baltar lenses as well as a hand crank. Dicky already had a matte box and recently completed the camera ensemble with two matte box rods and a very rare camera body rod fixing bracket So after almost 90 years, historic Mitchell Camera #146 is once again a working industry camera as a prop in period specific films.
Left, A green screen shot used in a documentary about Alex Korda
Right, Setting up for a rear projection shot at Shepperton Studios
Dicky Howett with some of his rental inventory.
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"The Camera That Filmed Hollywood"