In Focus
The APC Newsletter

"In Focus" was the newsletter of the Army Pictorial Center.  Eleanore Mencik recalled that when she went to work as a clerk-typist for Information Officer LTC George B. Schuyler, one of her duties was to type "In Focus.

See the example story, Early Press Clippings, below.

The first 20 years were captured in Center Enters 20th Year of Films for Army Signal Corps, below.

Don Fednyak has provided the July 1958 edition.  Eleanore (Mencik) Jettmar provided additional issues:

In Focus July 1958.pdf

In Focus July 1959 s.pdf

In Focus September 1959 s.pdf

In Focus December 1959 s.pdf

In Focus March 1960 s.pdf

In Focus May 1960 s.pdf

In Focus August 1960 s.pdf

In Focus May 1961 s.pdf

In Focus December 1961 s.pdf

In Focus January 1962 s.pdf

In Focus March 1962 s.pdf

In Focus April 1962 s.pdf

In Focus June 1962 s.pdf

In Focus July 1962 s.pdf

In Focus August 1962 s.pdf

In Focus September 1962 s.pdf

In Focus December 1962 s.pdf

In Focus January 1963 s.pdf

In Focus February 1963 s.pdf

In Focus March 1963 s.pdf

In Focus April 1963 s.pdf

In Focus July 1963 s.pdf

In Focus November 1963 s.pdf

In Focus December 1963 s.pdf

In Focus August 1964 s.pdf

In Focus October 1964 s.pdf

In Focus December 1964 s.pdf

In Focus was the studio newsletter.

Featured in the December 1968 edition was coverage of a massive fire demonstration for schoolkids from that year's Fire Prevention Week, with photos by Staff Sergeant Blanco:


From In Focus March 1962


From the moment the word leaked out to the nation's press corps the public read thousands of lines of type and viewed numerous photographs about the Army entering the magic realm of motion pictures to produce training films.

It all started with the first printed lines speculating as to when and where the Army would set up its venture in the realm of celluloid.  The endless stories in newspapers and trade journals followed the purchase of Paramount's Astoria studios, the Army moving in, formal dedication ceremonies and on and on.

Below are some of these stories picked at random from historical files.


New York -- The War Dept. is now reported considering the takeover of Warner's Brooklyn studio for the production of training and civilian films, with a decision on either the Warner's plant or Paramount's Long Island studio expected this month.

(Printed 8 Jan 1942)


New York, Jan. 13. -- It is understood that a deal has virtually been set for the Army to take over Paramount's Eastern Service Studios at Astoria, Long Island, for a Signal Corps film production laboratory.

Technicians from the Signal Corps probably will be moving in within the next couple of weeks, with the expansion of its facilities at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, for the production of Army pictures.

(Printed 14 Jan 1942 in Variety)


Lt. Col. Darryl Zanuck has been advised by the War Dept. that the acquisition of a New York studio for the Signal Corps will not affect the production of training films now being made by the Academy's Research Council, as elaborate production facilities will not be established in the East.

(Printed early in 1942)


Whatever hopes Mayor La Guardia and certain independent film producers might have entertained about setting up a miniature Hollywood in New York were finally and completely crushed last week. For it was announced in Washington that the War Department has acquired for the exclusive use of the Army Signal Corps the only motion picture studio in these parts that has the necessary floor space for any extensive film production.

The Signal Corps has requested that the name of the studio and its location be treated as a military secret, but revealed that the Army Training Film Laboratory, now -quartered in Fort Monmouth, N. J., will transfer its activities to the new headquarters.

The Training Film Laboratory, commanded by Lt, Col, Melvin E. Gillette, has in the last three years expanded from practically a one-man undertaking into an organization now composed of approximately 250 soldiers and 35 officers.

It is to this unit that many draftees from the motion picture industry have been assigned.

Because of the importance commanders in the field have lately attached to motion pictures as visual aids in training soldiers and in acquainting troops with the working of various instruments of war, the T.F.L. has had in recent months to step up its activities beyond the capacity of its present production facilities. The Army film makers are scheduled to move into their new home here in March. Meanwhile the main building of the new headquarters, which houses the studio stages and other facilities, will be re-conditioned and the workshop building will be converted into a barracks for the soldiers.

(Printed 1 Feb 1942 in the New York Times)


New York, Aug. 18. -- Washington reports that Major General Dawson -Olmstead, chief Signal Corps officer, is coming to Astoria late in September to install the first permanent motion picture

Signal Corps is seen as scotching rumors that the photographic corps would move from New York to the Coast. Reports were born of the wishful thinking of the rank and filers at Astoria, many of whom hail from Hollywood and would prefer being headquartered there.

(Printed 18 Aug 1942 in Variety)


His Honor, the Mayor, arrived at the United States' Army Signal Corps Photographic Center in Long Island City yesterday on the dot of 4:30 p.m. to officially welcome via NOC hookup "this very important Army post in our town.  I've been trying to get moving pictures back in this shack for a long time."

Mayor LaGuardia's brief broadcast, reiterating previous speaker Major General Dawson Olmstead's invitation to men interested in all means of communication, film production, and photography, to enlist in the Signal Corps, followed a two-hour inspection tour of the plant by some hundred members of the press. Colonel M. E. Gillette, commanding the Signal Corps, acted as host, and m.c.'d the radio program, which was climaxed by the screening of a nostalgic compilation of clips from ancient Paramount films, and three short Signal Corps subjects.

(Printed 23 Sept 1942 in the New York Post)


New York -- Practically all script material for Army and Air Force Film will in the future be turned out at the Signal Corps' photographic center at the Astoria studios on Long Island, and civilian writers are being hired to speed up the work, it was learned here yesterday. Approximately 50 civilian writers will be brought on from Hollywood and will be paid at the rate of $20 per day plus $6 daily for sustenance."

(Printed 12 Nov 1942)



Twenty years!  The end of March brings to a climax the salute from approximately 700 civilian employees and 300 military personnel to Army Pictorial Center as it goes into the 20th year of producing training and information films for troops around the world.

It was 20 years ago that a small detachment of service men came from the Training Film Production Laboratory (TFPL) at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, to Astoria on 1 March to take possession of the old Paramount studios.

Little did this small band of soldiers realize they not only were occupying buildings extremely rich in history of the fascinating world of entertainment but taking part in a venture that would be emblazoned in the annals of Army archives.

Early Use Of Films

But this wasn't the beginning of the move by Army technicians entering the business world of producing motion pictures.  It started years before.

During World War I, this branch of service made use of films in training through social hygiene pictures made by medical units. By 1918 nearly 100 reels of training films had been acquired by the Signal Corps before the Armistice was signed.

Production slackened and finally ceased until 1928 when the Army again went into the motion picture field.

Production was disrupted once more with the coming of that age of "talkies."  After 1932 a steady schedule of training films was produced in the Signal Corps Photographic Laboratory at the War College in Washington, D. C. 

This unit later moved to quarters at Ft. Monmouth.  Then came the year 1940.  Hundreds of thousands or men were being drafted into service. The film program expanded so that special arrangements had to be made for its housing.

Adequate Facilities

Paramount's Eastern Service Studios in Astoria came into the picture. After searching for adequate facilities, the Army closed its option on the purchase of the Paramount studios -- built at an estimated price or $10 million -- on 27 January 1942.

Although possession of the studios was taken on 1 March, actual work on extensive alterations to permit the housing of troops and adaptation of the buildings to Army film production requirements wasn't begun until 22 March.  WPA workers were brought in to help clean up the buildings. Department of Sanitation trucks from New York City were lined up outside the buildings in the mornings to carry away unwanted articles.

On 8 May TFPL and the motion picture section of the photographic school moved from Ft. Monmouth to the studios to be known as the Signal Corps Photographic Center (SCPC). They were followed on 26 May by the school's still picture section.

Facelifting Process

Colonel Melvin E. Gillette became the first Commanding Officer of the studios where only a few years before Walter Wanger reigned over his Paramount regime.

This original band of officers and enlisted men witnessed a complete facelifting of the Paramount facilities which had stood in comparative idleness for quite some time after the company moved its headquarters to Hollywood.

This progress was also seen by 60 civilians still working at the Center who came here in 1942.

Studios previously used to produce such firsts as a big feature musical -- "Coconuts" starring the Marx Brothers – and a full-length sound picture -- "The Letter" with Jeanne Eagles – changed appearances for Army purposes.

The areas where the Post Exchange and TV Maintenance are now located were made into living quarters Ior the servicemen. The wooden buildings behind the present cafeteria were constructed for barracks (original plans for a four story brick building were discarded).

Military personnel were also housed in hotels throughout the city.

Famous Personalities

The orderly room was located where TV studio's control room is now.

The present post cafeteria was then a mess hall. A troop recreation area was installed in the spaces now occupied by TV Operations and Intelligence Office.

Dressing rooms previously used by such famous personalities as Walter Huston, Maurice Chevalier, Billy Burke, Gertrude Lawrence, Char les Ruggles, Rudolf Valentino, Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Tallulah Bankhead, Preston Foster, Richard Dix, William Powell, Gloria Swanson, Frederick March, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Lionel Barrymore and many more were converted into working areas for the deluge of employees to come.

The acquisition from Paramount included just the studio areas located in Buildings One and Two. Other buildings were later leased or purchased as the demand for them grew.

Building locations

Building 13 was used by a civilian firm as an aeronautical school to teach Air Force recruits before being purchased for use by the Center.

The photography school was conducted a few blocks away on Broadway. An obstacle course was built elsewhere in Long Island City to train cameramen for combat duties. Animation was housed in Manhattan on the top floors of a 13-story building at 32nd Street close to Lexington Avenue. Film was stored in a building on Crescent Street in Astoria.

The smaller buildings on 35th Street opposite the rear gate of Buildings One and Two were leased to house the Motor Pool until the APO building at 48th Street and Northern Boulevard was made available by the Army.

The present barracks in Building 24 were constructed by Army engineers in 1953. Before that time the space had been used as a parking lot.

Military Remembrances

There are 12 men employed here today who came to the Center in 1942 as military personnel. They tell of the times when they had to fallout in the mornings for reveille on 36th Street—also for inspections and drill. They remember marching up and down this street early in the morning shouting cadence.

On days when weather was bad such drills would be held on the main stage.

Autograph hounds would line up outside the rear gate during the early years of the Center hoping for a chance to see their favorite movie idols who were stationed here as service men.

Many Hollywood personalities, including actors, technicians and directors were at SCPC in 1942 and 1943.

Formal dedication ceremonies of the Center were held 22 September 1942, with such dignitaries as New York City's Mayor F. H. La Guardia and Major General Dawson Olmstead, Chief Signal Officer on hand with Col. Gillette for speeches.

The occasion, with liberal coverage by the nation's press, was described as not only being "an important one for the military services, but it was a historical occasion for the cinema industry, recognizing, as it did, the part that visual education plays in our modern, mechanized streamlined Army."

Production Program

The ceremonies were broadcast by radio station WJZ~ the Blue Network's 50,000 -watt outlet in New York, and picked up by 140 stations on a coast-to-coast hook-up.

SCPC had a two-fold mission during the war: To produce training and educational films which would help to teach men soldiering quickly and to teach photographers the art of making combat pictures. Personnel reached an approximate strength of 3,000 during the war.

With today's personnel force around one-third the size it was then, a year's production program and the selection of film subjects is not a hit-or-miss affair, but a well-considered, well-planned decision based on the training needs of the Army's various agencies, weighed and evaluated in reference to the needs of the entire Army.

After the final decision has been made, scripts are written, casting done, stages set, and film shot, developed, edited and synchronized with sound. The job couldn't be called completed until distribution of these training and information films is made through a network of film libraries throughout the world.

The Army has been rewarded not only by speeding up training of its soldiers but has been honored by numerous organizations for films produced at the Center .

. Among the top honors were three "Oscars" awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  “Seeds of Destiny" in 1946 and "Towards Independence" in 1948 were termed as the most outstanding documentary short subjects .

"Prelude To War" in 1942 also won an "Oscar" for its "outstanding achievement.

Other Honors

The film "Operation Blue Jay" was nominated for another "Oscar" in 1953 as the best documentary short subject.

Among other honors are these top awards: The U. S. Camera Achievement Award in 1942 in recognition of outstanding achievement in photography; National Headliner's Club Award for "best newsreel reporting” in 1944; National Committee on Films for Safety accorded highest honors in the general safety field for non-theatrical films produced or released in 1950 for "Once Too Often" and again in 1953 for "On Post Safety”; Venice International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art first prize for natural science film "Rodent Control" in 1951 and "Schistosomiasis" in 1948; Freedom's' Foundation Award for the film "Voices of the People" in 1949, "Communism" in 1950 and "International Communism" in 1953.

Talents and professional skills of Hollywood celebrities stationed at SCPC as military personnel during its early years were put to good use in many of the films produced here.

Among these personalities were William Saroyan, John Huston, Frank Capra, William Holden, Carl Laemm1e, Jr., Jesse Lasky, Jr., and Harry Warner, Jr.

Another important phase of production at the Center is the work done by Television Division. Although a comparatively new-comer to the Army, television has left a definite mark.

Television came to the Center on 13 July 1951, with the assignment here of a mobile TV unit. This was detached to Fort Monmouth until adequate facilities and manpower could be attained.  Originally this unit was equipped with four bus-type vans.  After a few trips to the field, the vans were termed impractical and were converted to tractor-trailers in 1953.

Kinescope recording equipment was authorized shortly thereafter when Washington was convinced that such facilities would be advantageous in that filmed programs could be shown over and over again.

TV Studios Added

This new equipment was anything but idle in its infancy at the Center. Personnel would hardly get a chance to take a quick look at the installation before they would leave with the field unit once more.

During this time television was proving to military leaders its significance to the Army.

Perhaps the year 1954 was the one of greatest expansion for the TV Division.

Other mobile units were added and a complete, modern studio was installed where the troops slept before Building 24 was constructed.

During 1954 both CBS and NBC television networks used the facilities, equipment and personnel in the studios here for coast-to-coast hook-ups. One of these shows won NBC and the Army Signal Corps the coveted "Peabody Award" for its presentation.

In 1956 the first television cameraman's class was started. This successful course was conducted for two years and discontinued because it was felt the supply of cameramen was sufficient.

Color Unit Received

Through the years TV cameras manned by Center crews have been trained on many important events, including: parachute jumps of tactical exercises with a portable camera; launching of missiles; Armed Forces Day celebrations; national defense exercises; and the presidential inauguration ceremonies of both Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 and John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Another first in the Army was achieved in November 1958 when APC received a mobile color television unit—among the first in the entire TV industry.

History repeated itself again in the month of the Center's 20th anniversary when yet another color van was delivered.

Advancement continues today in the TV studios and field units as more and more technical knowledge in telecasting is continually strived for.

A history of the Center couldn't be complete without the mention of another new phase of pictorial science—photo instrumentation.

Such a mission was assigned to APC in 1959. Photo instrumentation involves the application of photography to scientific or engineering purposes. It is the recording on photographic film and other light or radiation sensitive materials of phenomena under scientific observation, which later can be analyzed and measured.

This division of the all-important work day after day here also continues to be analyzed and the stress is on constant improvement of services.

Indeed, as history was once made here by commercial film makers, it will continue to be made by the Army as production continues at a high rate of speed. There are approximately 300 to 350 projects in some phase of production per fiscal year with over 600 reels completed a year and film processed at the rate of four to five million feet per month.


Page created June 9, 2019.




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