June 3, 2022—Harold “Howard” Baker, projectionist for 40 years at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington, passed away on May 3 at the age of 94. The Facebook group Pacific Science Center Staff and Alumni Community recently posted, “His 40 years as the projectionist at the science center was only part of his story. He was a mentor, confidant, and cheerleader for all of us in the time we were with him.”
His online memorial states, “He never stopped living life to the fullest. His passion was his love for his family and determination to put a smile on everyone’s face he met. He had a gift for making people feel loved and cared for. When Howard would meet new people he would start every conversation with ‘Have you heard of the Pacific Science Center?’ as this was his biggest accomplishment other than his family."
Giant screen colleagues Diane Carlson, Jenn Bentz, Philip Cosand, Ingrid Lae, and Cherie Rivers share their memories of working with Howard.
Diane Carlson, Giant Screen Cinema Consulting and previously at Pacific Science Center
Howard was a classically trained projectionist following in the footsteps of his father. He was hired to run a custom-designed 65mm 5-perf film projector made by the Cinerama Camera Corporation for the 1962 World’s Fair in the US Pavilion that would become Pacific Science Center (PacSci). In the 6-month run of the fair, over 4.5 million guests enjoyed a “Journey to the Stars” in the Boeing Spacearium projected onto a tilted dome with a 75-foot diameter.
That was perfect training for his next special projector system, an IMAX film projector installed in 1979 in a flat screen theater. Howard was very proud of “his” state of the art projector—number 15 in the network. The operation of that projector required the projectionist to actually “watch” the film in order to manually change the field flattener when any dust specs appeared on the screen. For example, Howard watched the featured film To Fly over 4,000 times to keep the image as clean as possible. And in 1998 when an IMAX 3D GT projector was installed in the new Boeing IMAX Theater, the projector was named “Howard” with the lettering easily visible to guests through the projection room window.
Perhaps most importantly Howard was a “people” person. He was friendly and gregarious with everyone and was the Science Center’s human “dating app,” always willing to give relationship advice, especially to younger staff members. I recently learned that one projectionist introduced his girlfriend and future wife to Howard even before his parents!
Howard was a member of my staff for over 20 years, and he was a champion for the organization and our IMAX theaters. Pacific Science Center’s staff in many ways was an extended family for Howard and we were enriched by knowing him.
Jenn Bentz, Pacific Science Center
Howard was here when I got here. He was always someone who would lend a hand, ear, wink, whatever you needed, from projection to personal advice. Even though he wasn't officially a regularly scheduled projectionist, he would still come up to the Eames booth, and as long as we started the film and were there to stop it, he would sit there and man the booth so we could take a quick breather outside.
He was also always trying to be helpful in the relationship department. "You still hanging out with those boys?" he would ask, trying to help me. When my husband and I, whom I met at PacSci, got engaged, Howard had two words of advice for him: "Yes, Dear."
He and his wife Polly were both still very active at PacSci as she was also a volunteer. We would chat when we would see each other, catch up, or whenever he brought his grandson around. It was a bittersweet day when he finally decided to hang up the reels.
My office is where his office used to be, and my desk is his old desk. I have so many memories of Howard, but the main one is he was just the best to be around. Warm, kind, and always a slightly mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Ingrid Lae, Science World British Columbia
Howard was a real gem. I first met him about 40 years ago when I was an apprentice projectionist, and I wanted to see as many projection booths and types of equipment as possible. I was making regular trips to Seattle, where I met many friendly and helpful projectionists. Prior to one of those trips, a friend in Vancouver told me that I must visit the IMAX theatre. I had no idea what that was, but on that advice, I went there, only to find out that they were down that day. I was initially very disappointed but thought it was worth asking anyway if I could see the booth. I was surprised and very pleased that the staff member called up to the booth, and the projectionist (Howard) said yes. Howard gave me a wonderful tour of the booth. It was their 35mm magnetic sound playback device that wasn't working that day, and they were waiting for the service company to come, so luckily for me, Howard was able to give me lots of time. I was completely befuddled about the soundtrack not being on the film and how a separate soundtrack could possibly sync with the image, but Howard patiently explained to me how it all worked.
I was very interested in this “new to me” format and could hardly wait to see it in action, so as soon as I was able, I made a return trip to visit Howard and saw Speed, which totally knocked my socks off. Thanks to Howard and the amazing IMAX system and MacGillivray Freeman's film Speed, I became determined to work with the format. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too many years before EXPO '86, which brought two IMAX theatres to Vancouver and employment for me, doing the work I'd dreamed of. All thanks to Howard.
I always enjoyed my visits to see Howard. He was really a lovely fellow. I'm SO lucky to have known him.
Howard was like a second dad to me when I started working in the IMAX in 1982. I think I was the first female projectionist that he ever worked with, but I was quickly able to convince him that I was capable. We stayed in touch for many years.
Philip Cosand, Pacific Science Center
If you have ever seen a show at Pacific Science Center, it’s because of that lovable Canadian, Harold “Howard” Baker. He moved to Seattle in 1957 and in one summer he worked in 31 different theaters. He was one of five people trained to run the Eames’ 70mm projection system for the Science Pavilion, part of the Seattle World’s Fair. Before there were seats in the theater, there was Howard and a room filled with people.
When Pacific Science Center opened after the fair, Howard came onboard full time, and when the fifteenth IMAX projector ever made was installed in 1979, Howard ran the show. Before “beta testers” became a common job, Howard was dealing with every new quirk and hiccup that came his way.
When the Boeing IMAX Theater opened in 1998, they named the projector machine after him. When they later replaced the machine, it took two digital projectors to fill the hole left by one analog device. So maybe there was a bit of Howard in there after all.
Technically, I only worked under Howard from 1998-2002. However, those interactions I had with him in four short years were pretty great and made me want more. Each of his visits post-retirement was a treat.
As he told me once, “Never let yourself be rushed. Take the time to get it right.” In hindsight, that holds true for a lot more than threading complex projection machines.
Howard’s office was underneath a thunderously loud projector and above a constantly rattling air compressor. With the loud noises all around, he’d still have quiet chats with his staff. He took the time to get to know the people ripping the tickets and threading the films. He watched out for his projectionists.
He was a guy who wanted his staff to be happy, and he had no problems encouraging workplace dating. He was all for it. When I told him that I was driving a friend to work he would coax and prod. “Oh, her? She’s real pretty, don’t you think?” If he saw me with my jogging partner, he would grin. “She’d be a good match for you, don’t you think? Why not see what happens there?” My theory is that all the years working on movies fed the romantic in him. He spent all those decades splicing film reels. How was he to resist joining two youngsters together?
Howard made folks feel loved, that their boss wanted his crew to have lives outside of work. We were not underlings to him. We were people. He would overlook our mistakes as long as we were trying to do better. Instead of lecturing me, he pushed me to improve. He reminded me of my responsibility. To this day, when I am training someone, I think back to Howard. His compassion. His kindness. Any success I’ve had as a higher-up comes directly from his example.
When I think of movies, I don’t think of tablets, downloads, or phone screens. I think of a guy who was going bald, with glasses, and who always had a pad of paper and a pen in his button-up shirt’s pocket. A man who brimmed with wisdom but spent half a century helping to tell other people’s stories. A man who made it his life’s work to entertain, dazzle, and delight crowds. Martin Landau’s character in The Majestic? That’s Howard to me. Howard: The Motion Picture stopped playing in theaters last week. It was a first-class production with a fantastic lead character. His co-star, Polly, was never one to be waiting in the wings. While Howard worked, Polly volunteered. Those two paired up and audiences cheered. Ninety-four years was a remarkable run. And no one, anywhere, could ever put on a show quite like he did.
Howard is survived by wife Polly Baker, daughter Reesa Duncan (Craig Duncan), grandchildren Josh Duncan (Brianna Duncan), Brooke Payne (Joseph Payne), great Grandson Colt Duncan, and many nieces and nephews. The family will hold a celebration of life in the coming months. Click here to read Howard's obituary