Time to shine : Hollywood honors Aguanga man's work

Tim O'Leary 04/04/2000 The Press-Enterprise Riverside, CA


Kevin Spacey grabbed best actor honors at the Academy Awards ceremony. But Marlowe Pichel is the only one the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to honor as "best reflector."  A plaque recognizing innovation in movie projection equipment marked a milestone for an Aguanga couple that has had its share of
tragedy and hardship.
 "It was wonderful, a miracle," said Nancy Pichel, previous owner with her husband of a Temecula searchlight firm.

On March 4, weeks before the Academy Awards show, Nancy Pichel and 20 friends and family members flanked her husband when he received a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy.
"It was wonderful, the whole evening," she said.

"Wonderful" is a word that Nancy has been saying a lot since she received a liver transplant in February 1999.

"I was very ill," said Nancy, who suffered from hemochromatosis, a terminal genetic disorder that destroyed her liver. "They didn't think I would have made it through the summer."

Nancy's disease was diagnosed in 1997, two years after the couple's daughter, Marla, died of breast cancer at 35.  But after Nancy's surgery and recovery, it was her 71-year-old husband's turn to shine. He received an Academy plaque for developing a process nearly 20 years ago to manufacture Electro-Formed Metal Reflectors.
Combined with special lamps, the reflectors are now the worldwide standard for motion picture projection systems. The reflectors replaced the carbon-arc light source for film projection. The old system was costly and required extensive maintenance.

Living in Aguanga on 45 acres since 1974, the Pichels moved their business, Sky-Tracker of America Inc., to Temecula in 1975.  The company, which manufactured promotional searchlights for movie theaters, employed about 30 workers. The couple sold the business in 1997 when Nancy became ill.
At that time, Marlowe signed a long-term consulting agreement with the new owners, Ballantyne of Omaha Inc., a leading supplier of motion picture and specialty-entertainment lighting equipment.

He continues to work for the company and periodically travels to Omaha on business.  Nancy said her husband's award, which he received from actress Salma Hayek, was a fitting achievement for himself and his family.  "We've survived, and I'm happy and wonderful," she said. "This was an exciting award for him. He earned it. But he should have gotten an award for being the best nurse. He really took care of me. But they weren't giving an award for that."