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The Montrose Silent Movie Man

Posted by on Feb 17th, 2011 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

CV resident Joe Rinaudo grew up with silent movies. That’s not to say he was a kid in the ‘10s and ‘20s. He wasn’t. He was a child of the ‘60s. But he was introduced to silent movies as a youngster at the Brand Park Day Camp, where the kids were shown classic silent comedies as entertainment. The old movies fired his imagination, and he felt like he was magically looking into the past. This intro to silent films started a love affair that has not abated a half century later.

Joe discovered his Dad had a stash of silent movie reels, and young Joe began buying and trading for projectors and more movies, bankrolled by admission fees to silent movie shows he put on for neighborhood kids. As an adult, he picked up a “day job” as an auto mechanic, but his off hours were spent collecting and restoring the mechanical devices that entertained in the ‘10s and ‘20s such as antique phonographs, hand crank motion picture projectors and nickelodeons. His crowning achievement was his restoration of a 1926 American Fotoplayer, a bizarre combination of piano, organ, drums, xylophone, and sound effects that allowed one musician to provide full music and sound effects for silent films. This extremely rare instrument was the focus of a Huell Howser “California’s Gold” episode a few years ago.

Joe’s current day job started 30 years ago when, as he was watching a Laurel and Hardy classic, he noticed a particular lighting fixture in the background that he really liked. Not able to buy the fixture, he hand-made one in the workshop behind his parent’s house. Someone admired it, asked him to make one for them, which snowballed into more requests. By 1982, he found himself making and selling these fixtures full time, and in 1987 he opened his own production facility, Rinaudo Reproductions, located in Montrose. Here he cranks out Victorian-era light fixtures that are shipped all over the world. Disney is his biggest customer, and Rinaudo light fixtures illuminate restaurants and haunted mansions in all five Disney theme parks. Closer to home, his fixtures light the restored Victorian mansions of Angelino Heights’ Carroll Street and Glendale’s Doctor’s House, plus the sets of several feature movies. His business is so successful he now runs two shifts at his little Montrose factory.

But all this funds Joe’s real passion –  silent film. Joe has “gone pro” in his expertise on old films. He is a featured lecturer/performer for film societies and organizations nationwide. He is constantly involved with film restoration for top Hollywood preservation groups, and his silent movie shows are in huge demand. He gets big money now for a showing of a Chaplin classic on a hand-cranked projector, but like most people whose passion has become their work, he’s not in it for the money. His time is filled with bringing his silent movie shows for free to elementary schools and local historical societies like ours.

Joe says now his biggest thrill in life is to hear kids shriek with laughter during their first look at a classic silent movie comedy. He’s introducing a whole new generation of kids to a magical look into the past. For him, putting on these shows for kids brings his life full circle. “This all started for me in the ‘60s at Brand Park Day Camp when once a week an old guy would drive up, pull a projector and a bunch of old movies out of the trunk of his car, and entertain us kids for an entire afternoon. Now I’m that old guy!”

Joe will be putting on a free silent movie show for the community at the regular meeting of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley this Monday, Feb.  21 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living located at Dunsmore and Santa Carlotta. A popular L.A. musician, Dean Mora, will be providing the live background music in classic silent-movie-house style.

You’re all invited, so I’ll see you there!

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