A History of Teleprompters
By Valentin Ewan
A History of Prompters
Since ancient Greece there have been those who have struggled to remember their lines in plays and speeches. Teleprompters arose in response to this.
Back then “prompters” were people who would whisper lines to stage performers from the left of the stage. As media developed and television began its ascent into the public consciousness in the late 1940s, performers relied on cue cards held by stage hands in order to know their words.
Seeing how cue cards had to be changed abruptly from one whole piece of text to another, they sometimes resulted in clunky speeches with awkward pauses or transitions.
It was in 1948 when a Broadway actor sought help in order to read his lines more smoothly. He approached technical friends who helped to create the first teleprompter! The first teleprompter was just a simple machine that rolled a piece of paper across half of a suitcase.
The new invention was greatly valued because it did allow for much smoother readings. But it still looked noticeable on television when a person was using a teleprompter, because their eyes were always diverted away from the camera. It was a producer on the famous show “I Love Lucy” that led to the creation of the teleprompter we are familiar with today, which allows speakers to look directly into the camera while reading their lines.
Teleprompters became very popular with television but where they got the most attention was in politics. Teleprompters appealed so much to politicians because it saved them from needing to memorize countless speeches and with the new medium of television allowed them to make closer connections to viewers by being able to look directly into the camera.
Some people like to give President Obama trouble for using a teleprompter but people should know that each president, from Eisenhower to Obama, have all used teleprompters.
The only president who didn’t use a teleprompter after its invention was Richard Nixon, an admirable feat, but it hardly made him a great president.
Teleprompter operators throughout the development and use of the machine have played a key role in making sure that everything runs smoothly, as a good teleprompter operator must scroll the text at the appropriate speed for the speaker and account for any variability or changes within the text. Recent technological developments have allowed some teleprompters to adjust their scrolling to the speed of the speaker’s voice automatically without the aid of an operator.
Despite this new technology, the majority of teleprompter users favor using teleprompter operators because it allows for more control over production and the automated technology is not yet perfect.
Those who have used teleprompters to the most effect have always been those who sought out good teleprompters and skilled operators to work them. Teleprompters have been successfully in almost all types of media, from live events and scripted shows to even musical pieces of media. Teleprompters have even found a place in documentary film in the form of the Interrotron, a camera that works to show the captured speaker not text, but their interviewer’s face. Teleprompter use and rental should always be considered an option if you wish to give an intimate speech or presentation and don’t have the time to memorize it. Prices for renting teleprompters or hiring teleprompter operators are very reasonable if you look in the right place.
Teleprompting has come a long way and is likely to continue well into the future. Society just needs to make sure that the literacy rate of actors and politicians doesn’t drop any further.
A history of teleprompters