A Kiss and a Promise
On a July afternoon in 1968 news cameraman Lou Calderon returned to Television Station KPIX in San Francisco, bearing the fruit of his labor. Entering through the front glass door on Van Ness Avenue, he routinely walked past uniformed security at the reception desk and proceeded along the first floor corridor to the rear of the building. Arriving at the processing area, he deposited the Giants game he had shot earlier onto a receiving table - camera magazines loaded with exposed 16 millimeter black and white reversal film. The processing machine dominated the room, an imposing row of stainless steel tanks filled with chemicals, driven by a labyrinth of film spools, and extending ten or twelve feet from a darkroom wall to a dry-box and take-up reel at the far end. Now it stood motionless and unattended. As always, Lou couldn't help but notice the sign on the darkroom door which read: DONT LET OUT THE DARK.
The film processing technician, a young novice named Raymond, delivered his reel of developed film to the news department on the third floor, then returned to his post at the processing machine downstairs. He collected magazines of exposed film left for him on the receiving table and carried them to the darkroom for unloading. Opening the outer door, he instinctively closed it again before opening and entering through a second door. Standing in total darkness, he set the magazines down onto a workbench to prepare the film for processing. With Braille-like efficiency, he unscrewed and opened the round panel door on the take-up chamber of the first magazine. Tipping the magazine just so, he carefully removed four hundred feet of exposed film from inside the chamber. Once wound securely around a plastic core within the chamber, the roll of film now moved slowly, precariously between his hands toward the spindle on a rewind flange. He was inches from the spindle when Lou Calderon stepped from his hiding place in the dark and kissed him gently on the cheek. The first three innings of the Giants game hit the ceiling, then spiraled downward to the darkroom floor which was now bathed with streaks of invading light, as Raymond exited through the inner door, the outer door and the front glass door on Van Ness Avenue, never to be seen or heard from again. As told to me, so goes the story of how I got my first big break in television news.
IRONICALLY, THE KPIX darkroom fiasco occurred at the same time I was performing duties similar to Raymond's at a film lab not far away. I had been working as a film processing technician at Monaco Laboratories for about four years when opportunity came knocking on my own darkroom door. "You in there, Hank? Call Channel Five."
I would, but first I had to complete the task which, in retrospect, made me appreciate poor Raymond's fate all the more.
Back in 1968, film used for shooting television news carried a high speed emulsion for exposure at lower light levels, sometimes in difficult environments. Due to the extra sensitivity to light, processing called for loading the film in the dark. With precision and sans safelight, the overlapping ends of film and machine leader were stapled together. Guided along by the leader, a resilient 16 millimeter wide pilot strip with matching sprocket holes, the film snaked around spools in the "first developer" and stop bath tanks in total darkness, initially producing a negative image. Then it passed into the light through a tiny aperture in the darkroom wall, where each frame reversed as positive in the tank of "second developer." The film wound and dipped through another stop bath, a cleansing rinse, air squeegees to blow off moisture and a box housing heat lamps to dry. The fifteen or twenty minute journey finally ended on a take-up reel outside the dry box.
Originally, all news film shot for KPIX had been processed at Monaco Laboratories. Cameramen showed up at the service coun