From the very beginning, the Chinese Theatre has striven to give the public the best possible show. Part of this experience includes the projection room. From the silent era to IMAX®, the Chinese has played host to the entire range of motion picture technologies. This heritage is so illustrious, that a history of projection and sound reproduction systems is a long and complex tale. We welcome readers to help flesh out this history, as it, while fascinating, is a most elusive subject.
The end of the Second World War brought with it many changes in the American moviegoing marketplace. One misfortune after another befel the Hollywood studios, beginning with a drastic drop in attendence. In May of 1948, the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Paramount Decision, which found that the Hollywood studios were continuing to monopolize exhibition. Accordingly, the studios were forced to sell off their interest in their theatre chains.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California, from the week starting Friday, October 19, 1951. Folks milling about the forecourt while the Chinese plays host to The Desert Fox and Havana Rose, while the pink banner above the box-office proclaims that “It’s Movie Time, U.S.A.”
With the presence of television in 50% of households by 1952, along with the changed sensibilities of the post-war audience, the need for a change was evident to everyone. To compete with television, producers fought back with film experiences a customer couldn’t get at home: color, widescreen, and stereo sound along with big-budget spectacle and (somewhat) racier subject matter. The “event” movie would come to rule the day.
However, before the “event” movie could make its debut, the Simplex Projector Coprporation introduced a new machine in 1950. Called the Simplex XL, it had been tested during a trial run at the Loew’s State Theatre on Times Square in New York City in 1949. Along with a slightly different case design featuring the unmistakable curved glass door, there were several aspects of the XL design whch were considerable improvements over the E-7:
A truly “one-shot” lubrication system: Everything is now enclosed in an oil bath — transport gears, intermittent — the works.
The upper and lower sprockets have a larger diameter in order to handle the film more gently.
4-inch diameter lens mount for larger lenses. One could still use step-down rings for regular sized lenses.
New single direction double exposure shutter.
Simplex XL ad, 1954. Scan courtesy Carbon Arc via flickr. Drive-Ins were coming on strong during the early widescreen era.
Simplex XL, “film side.” Introduced in 1950. From Simplex Operations Manual, 1950. Scan courtesy of darrell.org.
Simplex XL, “drive side.” Introduced in 1950. From Simplex Operations Manual, 1950. Scan courtesy of darrell.org.
The challenge in shutter design had been: How can the shutter open quickly enough to allow for both the double exposure of each frame and the greatest amount of light to shine through?
Efforts toward this end had been hampered by placing the shutter far away from the film gate itself, making the action slow and fuzzy. For the Powers projector of 1927, the shutter was placed before the lens, which is a good deal away from the film gate, requiring a large shutter, which could only open and close so fast or sharply.
The Super Simplex of 1930 took the shutter and placed it between the light source and the film gate which reduced the heat transfer to the film, but in order to make it safe, it was enclosed in a housing, which necessitated it being further away from the gate.
While the Simplex E-7 of 1938 utilized two shutters resulting in opening the light through the gate in an eyelid-like fashion, both shutters were quite far from the gate itself.
In the Simplex XL, the shutter was bent into the shape of a bowl. This shape allowed one side of the bowl to come very close to the gate itself, while the shaft it spins on veers off out of the way at an angle.
This resulted in the shutter blades being able to come very close to the film gate, which allowed for a faster, more instantious flash of light into the film gate. This approach would become the standard in Simplex projectors for years to come.
Los Angeles Theatre, Los Angeles, California. Projection Room. Simplex XL projector, introduced in 1950. Photo by Magnetic Lobster, 2010. Via flickr.
Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, Illinios. Projection Room. Simplex XL projector, introduced in 1950. Photo by Rebecca Hall. Via sprocketschool.org.
The Cinerama Story
In the 1930s, a movie technician named Fred Waller (1886-1954) had been playing around with panoramic cameras and various methods for filming and projecting spherical images onto the inside of a dome. His “Vitarama” system consisted of 11 16mm cameras, but Waller was unable to have Vitarama exhibited at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. A personal connection brought it to the eyes and ears of the Army Air Corp, where they asked him to design and implement a simulator to be used for gunnery training.
The Waller Flexible Gunnery Trainer, installed at United States Air Corps bases in both the United States and Great Britian. Circa 1942. Test subjects are on top, left and right, officials in the center, and places for terreted test subjects on the left and right below. Photograph courtesy of The American Widescreen Museum.
After World War II, Waller became convinced that conventional motion pictures could be photographed with a 3-camera system, which would then be projected onto the inside of a huge semi-circular screen. With the introduction of Kodak’s Eastmancolor “monopack” color negative in 1950, this giant image could be in color also!
But that wasn’t enough. The sound had to be huge also. A key collaborator Waller had met while promoting the Vitascope at the World’s Fair, Hazard E. Reeves (1906-1986) was a specialist in the new field of magnetic recording. Reeves envisioned a 7-channel set-up for the system, and at the same time, he became company president. By 1950, Waller and Reeves were knocking on the door of the Pentagon, suggesting that America could be kept safe with their process, now called “Cinerama,” to teach soldiers how to think and react faster. Sounds good to us!
Warner Theatre, New York City. Moveover premiere of This is Cinerama, June 5, 1953. Photo from A Silver Screen Special Edition: Ladies and Gentlemen: This is Cinerama, by Robert Siegel. Via blu-ray.com.
Somehow, veteran reporter Lowell Thomas (1892-1981), no stranger to motion pictures he, saw a demonstration of the system, and became an instant convert, marshaling some of his Hollywood friends to get involved and invest, including, Michael Todd (1909-1958) and Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973). They showed it to all the studio heads, but no one snapped it up.
They decided that if Hollywood didn’t want their invention, they would make a film and prove them wrong. The premiere of This Is Cinerama on September 30, 1952, at the converted legitimate Broadway Theatre in New York, caught their attention; This Is Cinerama was hailed by one and all as an incredible experience — a total departure from the past.
Now, all the studios wanted something like Cinerama. For starters, to get the “widescreen” look, they started cropping the top and bottom of films composed for 1:1.33, along with stereo — any kind of stereophonic sound. And as it had before, this new trend would visit, nay — roost — at the Chinese for some time.
The Roots of Magnetic Recording
The hi-fidelity stereo heard in This Is Cinerama would not have been possible without a marvelous invention called magnetic recording. As with anything having to do with sound engineering, people will argue endlessly about who invented what, but after the development of sound on film technologies, which hinged on converting impulses from a microphone into a pulsating light which could be photographed, various people attempted to find different mediums to record and store sounds coming from a microphone.
To trace the origins of magnetic recording, which is to convert audio signals into magnetic fields on something and back again into audio signals, one would look to the 1877 work of American inventor Oberlin Smith (1840-1926), or to the first working magnetic recorder, built in 1899 by Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen (1869-1942), which utilized wire wound around a drum, then played back with a reader, much the same as a cylinder phonograph would.
LEFT: The Blattnerphone Recording Machine. Circa 1930. Photo courtesy of orbem.co.uk. ABOVE: AEG Magnetophon Tonschreiber B, circa 1942. From the Military History Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo by George Shuklin, via wikipedia.org.
Then, with the German and English-designed Blattnerphone of 1930, we were recording the magnetic fields down on thin steel tape in a large spool. In a few years, the German companies BASF, IG Farben and AEG had built the first modern-day “tape” recorder, the Magnetophon, which utilized thin, pliant PVC tape covered on one side with iron oxide. When these units were captured at various radio stations at the end of World War II, U.S. interest in magnetic recording exploded. The American firm which lead the charge to complete the first tape recorder was the Ampex Company of San Carlos, California, along with the development of the magnetic tape itself by the 3M Corporation of Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Alexander M. Poniatoff. Unknown Date. Photo via nndb.com.
Ampex had been started by Alexander Poniatoff (1892-1980) as a maker of small motors for the military. At
the end of World War II, Poniatoff began recruiting electrical engineers from Bay Area companies and from the universities. He found himself surrounded suddenly by a staff whose primary areas of interest were — audio technology! In May of 1946, a Signal Corp Major named Jack Mullin (1913-1999), demonstrated the captured German Magnetophon he had brought back from the war at a meeting of an electrical engineering society. The Ampex gang was there to see, hear, and drool over it, and their imagination for how to improve upon it took off.
Working for over a year developing the mechanics, the first model, called the 200A, began shipping in April, 1949 and was an instant hit. It used an experimental "RR" 1/4-inch tape from 3M at 30 inches per second. Ampex sold every one of the hand-made machines, but the pace of invention was moving so fast that the 301A came out shortly after. The 301A used an improved 3M “111” tape at only 15 IPS.
Ampex offered upgrade kits to all of their early machines at cost, and this kept them at the head of the pack throughout the transition to magnetic recording happening in the worlds of radio, television and movies.
But how does magnetic recording work? It is a bit mysterious, because unlike optical sound which you can see, a magnetic recording is not really visible. The process can be broken down into 6 elements:
The tape or film
The erase head
The bias signal
Incoming audio signals
The record head
The playback head
The tape or film is the base material, coated with iron oxide granuals. Generally, the tape has been magnetized to give it what is called a magnetic elmusion — a magnetic pattern of charges which can be re-arranged during recording.
The erase head applies a high amplitude, high frequency AC magnetic field called the “erase signal” to completely randomize the magnetic elmusion on the tape, making it clear for recording, HOWEVER:
The bias signal is sent along to the tape in order to completely conform the magnetization orientation of the magnetic emulsion just prior to recording. The magnetic fields in the emulsion are very weak, but even still, they are prone to recalling their former magnetic patterns. The bias signal conforms all the granuals in the emulsion to the same magnetic orientation so that:
The incoming audio signals may be sent down to:
The recording head which recieves the signal from a microphone or other source and converts them into magnetic field patterns in the magnetic emulsion.
The playback head reads the magnetic fields in the emulsion and converts them into audio signals.
Naturally, the magnetic heads found in film projectors are playback heads only.
Magnetic Recording and Hollywood
During World War II, Semi Joseph Begun (1905-1995) had been working a great deal with wire recorders, and began agitating for the use of magnetic recording in motion pictures. In 1946, he made a formal request to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to look into the advisability of converting all of American movie production to magnetic systems. The AMPAS Basic Sound Committee, headed by Loren Ryder (1900-1985), then the head of the Sound Department at Paramount (and who was familiar with the German Magnetophon due to having been in the Signal Corps during the war), looked into the matter and then issued a recommendation.
The AMPAS Committee stated that, for magnetic recording to succeed with movie studios and producers, it had to have all three facets of the "fast, cheap and good" triangle: magnetic sound would have to be easier to process and edit, cost less, and sound better than optical.
Marvin Camras (1916-1995) had been working with wire recorders during World War II, but had been thinking of applying magnetic recording to films for some time. After the war, he built a specially-designed recorder which used 35mm film as its base, with the iron oxide fused to it. Camras set his recorder to run at 24 frames per second so that movie sound could be recorded in perfect synchonization with a camera. At the same time, RCA engineers were thinking the same thing and had convinced the DuPont Corporation to begin manufacturing 35mm "fullcoat" by 1948. Meanwhile, the Rangertone recorder also appeared that year, which could record in synch with cameras using 1/4-inch tape. Multi-track 35mm fullcoat recorders began to appear also.
So now we had magnetic technology standing ready to overtake all the Hollywood sound departments. Let's take "Fast Cheap and Good" step-by-step:
FAST: Being able to make magnetic recordings meant that you no longer had to send the track to the lab and have it developed before you could hear what you recorded. Playback could be heard almost instantaneously. Incredible as it seems, there was resistance to working with magnetic tracks in the sound editing process, because some of the sound editors could "read" the optical soundtracks, whereas they couldn't with magnetic, and they thought that this would slow down their work. The studio's answer: Adapt or perish.
CHEAP: 1/4-inch tape to use while recording on the set, and fullcoat to make transfers cost much less than having to record on film and develop it. All of the equipment was less expensive too.
GOOD: The sound quality of magnetic sound seemed miraculous to everyone at the time. Magnetic recorders beat the stuffing out of optical sound in all three areas of sound reproduction, with greater frequency response, higher signal-to-noise ratio, and lower levels of distortion. Here is how it techs out:
Frequency response: 30Hz to 15K Hz
flat + or - 2dB
Certainly by 1950 or so, most Hollywood movies were being recorded, edited and mixed on fullcoat. Magnetic recording was faster, cheaper, and sounded better on the dubbing stage. When those beautiful tracks got converted to optical sound, with all of its inherent flaws and schemes employed to make it sound better — well, it must have made all the sound people in Hollywood pretty annoyed. What was needed was a way to deliver the sound magnetically in the theatre, so that what the picture makers heard at the studio could be heard in the theatre. With This Is Cinerama blowing people away with its 7-channels of magnetic stereo, the Hollywood studios began searching for a way to convert what they were doing into something more — Cinerama-like.
LEFT: Jack Mullins and two Ampex 200A Tape Machines. Introduced in 1948. July 1948 issue of Audio Engineering. Photo taken at the ABC studios in Hollywood, California, 1948. Photo courtesy of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Historical Committee. Via historyofrecording.com. ABOVE: Pictureville Cinema at the National Media Museum, Bradford, England, 2003. 35mm fullcoat 7-channel soundtrack begin threaded (or laced) up on Cinerama sound dummy, Photo by Thomas Hauerslev, via in70mm.com
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Hollywood Premiere of Shane, June 4, 1953.
At the Chinese, the first shot of the widescreen war was fired on June 4, 1953, with the Hollywood Premiere of director George Stevens’ Shane.
Shanehad begun filming in July of 1951 in what was the state-of-the-art before This is Cinerama changed everything: 3-strip Technicolor, 1:1.33, with mono sound.
Trouble was, Stevens dallied with the expensive production for such a long time in the editing room that his studio, Paramount, decided to make Shane into an “event” picture by cropping the 1:1.33 frame to something wider, like 1:1.66, and doing the soundtrack in stereo.
From what we can glean, Shane was converted to widscreen just the same way that “flat” pictures would be done for years thereafter: shoot it in the 1:1.33 ratio for television, and compose your images in the center, so that they can be cropped top and bottom in the theatre.
Trouble was, Shane had not been shot with the wider aspect ratio in mind. The credits for the film were composed to be cropped, allowing projectionists to center the lettering on the screen, ensuring that the first reel would be cropped correctly. For the Grauman's Chinese engagement, Paramount sent out a Technicolor IB print in 1:1.33 which was cropped to fit onto “Our New Giagantic Panoramic Screen.” The film went through editing and previews in 1:1.33 and mono before Paramount finally got finished with the stereo soundtrack, recording it onto 3-channel 35mm fullcoat to run on interlocked sound dummies. At least Stevens got to see it in the old ratio once or twice. The film had its World premiere in widescreen but in mono sound at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 23, 1953, and both in widescreen and stereo at the Midwest premiere at the State Lake Theatre in Chicago on May 27, 1953.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing 1:1.66 screen 25’ x 41’ installed for the engagement, from Thursday, June 4, 1953, to Thursday, July 30, 1953, of Shane.
At the Chinese, a larger, slightly curved screen was installed. In the spring of 1953, most of the major Hollywood studios began cropping their films in the first-run houses, and after 50 years of the 1:1.33 ratio, this must have been an exciting change. Paramount had decided that their films would be cropped at 1:1.66, and this is the shape of the screen at the Chinese. Both Shane and the next attraction, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes were shown on this screen.
We are not able to state categorically what sort of arrangements were made for the 3-channel stereo sound for Shane. Presumambly, two sound dummies capible of reading the magnetically recorded 35mm fullcoat soundtrack were installed. We also presume that the previous sound system — the Western Electric Mirrophonic System — was probably enlarged to 3-channel for Shane. Two more amp racks as well as two more speakers behind the screen. There was no surround channel.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing position of projection room and 1:1.66 screen 25' x 41', 1953. Drawing by Kurt Wahlner.
Most filmmakers of this period would have been delighted with high-fidelity stereophonic sound being added to their pictures, but Stevens was philosophical about Paramount’s decision to enlarge the scale of Shane. It was their money, and it was their job to release the film to maximize a return on their investment. But he must have enjoyed both the public’s reaction to the film, and the changed aesthetique of widescreen, since his next film, Giant, would be in the same format (and show at the Chinese also, only in mono sound).
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California, during the engagement, from Friday, June 17, 1955, to Thursday, July 28, 1955, of The Seven Year Itch.
With the introduction of the CinemaScope format in September, 1953 at the Roxy Theatre in New York City and Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, 20th Century-Fox' answer to Cinerama came, saw, and conquered Hollywood filmmaking, becoming the perfect mirror of society's desire for the new, the wide and the colorful. With almost all of the Hollywood studios and directors making films in the CinemaScope format, the wide aspect ratio and ease of shooting allowed CinemaScope (or its equivalent) to be adopted by every filmmaking center and every movie theatre on the face of the globe.
Since the Chinese had a proscenium opening of 64 feet, and since it belonged in the 20th Century-Fox orbit, it was the perfect place to become "The Hollywood Home of CinemaScope" hosting virtually all of the Fox CinemaScope films released during this four-year period.
The Search for a Game Changer
Of all the people in Hollywood who were battling the box-office slump of the early 1950s, Spyros Skouras (1893-1971), was perhaps the most far-sighted. A former theatreman with his two brothers Charles (1889-1954) and George (1896-1964), Spyros had marshaled his holdings into a controlling interest in 20th Century-Fox, becoming its president in April, 1942. In 1954, Skouras set down some of his reasons for the promotion of what would come to be known as "CinemaScope":
After the advent of television motion picture attendance declined year after year until hardly more than a year ago (1952) the situation became most critical for the whole industry. At that time about six thousand theatres had already been forced to close their doors for lack of attendance.
Many pioneers in the motion picture business who had helped to develop it lost their investments and those of their families and friends. In many instances entire families who had devoted themselves to the industry were wiped out financially and were in the predicament of being unprepared for any other type of business. In trying to keep their theatres going and return their investments they had been completely liquidated.
There were dire forecasts that the screen was doomed and it must be admitted that our industry was confused and depressed.
Obviously it was imperative that some way be found to make motion picture entertainment so attractive that people would return to the box office and pay admissions to see motion pictures instead of remaining home before their television sets.
Spyros Skouras had a rare combination of qualities to be found in an executive, being knowledgable in the world of finance, but also of the place of movies in society and its impact on our culture. Like many other film people, he had taken the trip to Oyster Bay, Long Island, along with the head of the 20th Century-Fox Research Department, Earl I. Sponable (1895-1977), to see a demonstration of Cinerama. Although Skouras was wowed, Sponable thought the system "impractical."
Skouras and Sponable had also traveled to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in order to acquire the rights to a large-screen television projector developed there called the Eidophor. Fox and Paramount were hoping to establish a network of theatres able to show televised events nationwide, but this scheme eventually came to nothing when the FCC wouldn't grant them their own UHF band for distribution.
Meanwhile, Sponable had made a discovery. As Skouras tells it in his memoirs:
I was returning from my Far Eastern trip in December (1952) by way of Zurich when Mr. Sponable informed me enthusiastically about a Professor who had what he called "Anamorphoscope" lenses. When I heard Anamorphoscope, which is a Greek word, I became very much interested.
Anamorphoscope. From the Greek "Ana" a prefix for "up," "back" or "again"; "Morph" meaning "to change shape"; and "Scope" from the word "Skopus" meaning to seek, aim or see. A "scope" typically means a device which allows for the viewing of something.
Strictly speaking, an anamorphoscope is a mirrored cylinder, which, when placed on properly distorted images, would show the image undistorted. Artists had been working with this idea since the Renaissance, and more generally includes any image which is distorted and which requires a device or special knowledge to view correctly (our favorite being an image painted distorted above a doorway, and becomes undistorted as one looks up while passing through underneath).
Anamophoscope with one of a set of eight lithographed images. English, ca 1800s. Unknown dimensions. Via Marion-Harris.com.
The "Professor" Skouros and Sponable went to see was a French astronomer named Henri Chrétien (1876-1956). Born in Paris, Chrétien had been employed for a number of years at the Nice Observatory, home of what was at the time the world's largest refractor telescope which had become operational in 1887. The Nice Observatory was a plaything of the upper classes; privately funded and founded in 1879 by a Belgian banker, Jonathan-Raphaël Bischoffsheim (1808-1883). The director of the Observatory during Chrétien's tenure there, Henri Joseph Anastase Perrotin (1845-1904), was devoted to the study of Mars and Venus as well as asteroids, having several of the rocks named after him.
Trained as an optician, Chrétien spent time in America. Beginning in 1910, he worked on a new telescope design with George Willis Ritchey (1864-1945), at the Mount Wilson Observatory above Pasadena, California. This collaboration led to what became known as the Ritchey-Chrétien optical system (R-C for short), which wasn't completed until Chrétien found funding for the final tests in Paris in 1927.
During this time, however, the always enterprising Chrétien began dabbling with the optics of anamorphosis knowing that others were doing the same; some say he developed an interest in this idea after seeing the 1927 film Napoleon, directed by Abel Gance, with its 3-panel "Polyvision" finale. Chrétein experimented some more, and brought out a lens he felt could be used in film production shortly thereafter, calling it the "Hypergonar" lens, and receiving a patent for it. Several silent films were made in France using this lens (both horizontally and vertically [!] ). Chrétien had even licensed his Hypergonar lens to Paramount in 1935, but the option to use it expired. A dispirited Chrétien allowed his patent on the lens to expire also. No one in Hollywood was interested much — until Cinerama.
Since the system had been on the shelf in Hollywood, it is reasonable to conclude that various engineers at the studios would recall it, and suggest picking it up again. There is a legend (probably true) that when Warner Bros. had the Hypergonar anamorphic lens recalled to their attention, they tied up an option for it with Chrétien, but that they had allowed it to lapse. One day later, Chrétien was visited by the Fox team.
Henri Chrétien lived near Nice in the sumptuous Villa Paradou on Cap Ferrat, and it was here that Spyros Skouras and Earl Sponable saw a demonstration of his "anamorphic" lens. They viewed the silent films which used the system, and offered to pay to lock up the rights to the lens worldwide (excluding France and its possessions). Cinema would never be the same.
Earl I. Sponable, Spyros Skouras and Henri Chrétien, who is attaching his Hypergonar anamorphic attachment to a camera in Cap Ferrat, December 18, 1952. Photo via in70mm.com.
The Anamorphic Lens
To demonstrate how the anamorphic lens works, we should like to draw your attention to this series of photographs. For this demonstration, we should like you to consider a reflective surface, like a mirror.
When you look into a mirror, light bounces off of the perfectly flat surface and there is no distortion.
When you look into a mirrored cylinder, as above, light reflects off of the curvature of the column, and so distortion is introduced. You can also see that a much wider angle of view is captured. And this is very much what happens in an anamorphic lens. Find a way to remove the distortion when projecting it, and you have it made.
The trouble is that the closer you get to the cylinder, the less compression there is, because the surface is "flatter" and becomes more proportionately flat as you get closer to it. This is the challenge with anamorphic lens design.
The trick is to figure out a way to squeeze everything that is out there in front of the lens at the same rate, regardless of how close or how far. The projection "desqueezer" doesn't have this problem to nearly such an extent, because the film and the screen are flat and stationary. Chrétien's Hypergonar lens was not really able to correct for these problems, but the Fox team was so anxious to get into production against Cinerama, that they shot all three of their first CinemaScope productions using Chrétien's old Hypergonar lenses. This anamorphic attachment was small; only 50mm or longer lenses could be used with it, and so, this distanced the camera from the performers also.
These factors account for the visually static nature of these early CinemaScope films. No one gets too close to the lens or they would look to fat (what came to be called the "CinemaScope Mumps") and objects in the distance (especially the straight lines to be found in architecture) would get thinner at the edges of the frame, since they were farther away, which becomes very noticeable during a slow pan across a building or interior set. With these limitations, it was no wonder many old time directors and cameramen disliked working in this new format.
This frame blowup from How to Marry a Millionaire (the first CinemaScope film to be put into production) shows how conservative and distant the camera is from Ms. Bacall. This was the early CinemaScope way of doing a medium shot. Close-ups weren't much closer. Note also how the window wall behind Bacall bends back toward its vanishing point. This is called "barrel distortion." The chair in the right hand corner is thinner than it would be if it was in the center of the frame, while the widow frame next to it is slightly curved top to bottom. Overcoming these imperfections in Chrétien's lens would be a merry chase for engineers at Bausch & Lomb and Panavision for years to come.
So, this is what is happening in a CinemaScope film shot with an anamorphic lens. The scene is shot through a prism designed to "squeeze" the image horizontally by a factor of half the original. Then, that image is projected through a lens which does the opposite: it expands the image horizontally by a factor of 2, thereby removing the distortion.
Another thing must be made mention. It has to do with grain. Movies shot on film are captured on filmstocks of varying grain. The faster the film, the bigger the grain. In films shot with anamorphic lenses, the compressed image is recorded on 35mm film, and then the grain is expanded to twice its width on the screen. But since grain doesn't really have a shape, the expanded grain isn't really noticeable as such. It is an optical trick; it ought to look more grainy, but for most people, it doesn't. Still, early CinemaScope films were shot on the slowest filmstocks they could get away with, to avoid a grainy look on the (for the most part) larger screens.
Detail of regular and anamorphically expanded grain structure, taken from a 64 ASA Kodachrome slide of the mask capitals of the columns of the central pagoda at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Photo taken in 1961. This high-resolution drum scan reveals the grain structure, which is elongated when projected through an anamorphic device with an expansion factor of 2.
The CinemaScope Package
The whole point of CinemaScope was to give the public that Cinerama feel — without having to make expensive alterations to a theatre. Because of the grain factor, Sponable wanted to use as large a negative as was possible in 35mm, which meant going back to the silent aperture, which had the famous aspect ratio of 1:1.33. Expand that by 2 and you have 1:2.66, which would be wider than Cinerama (if the three panels were flattened out anyway).
The sound would be carried on a magnetic fullcoat dummy, just as Shane had been: 3-channel. One of the major benefits of the CinemaScope rollout was obtained when Hazard E. Reeves (of Cinerama fame) and his Reeves Soundcraft Corporation did the unthinkable: put the magnetic soundtracks on the film carrying the picture!
Frequency response: 40Hz to 12K Hz
flat + or - 2dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: 52dB
Distortion: 3%; less than 0.75% harmonic distortion.
It was an obvious thing to do, yet it wasn't until Reeves discovered a way to "stripe" an actual release print that Sponable and the gang at Fox realized that here was a way to make the whole thing work: 4-channel sound on the film.
So what they did was to narrow the sprocket holes, so that the space between them increased, then placed mag tracks for the left, right and center speakers, with a smaller one for the effects track. This came to be known as a "composite" print.
How did the magnetic sound on the print get read? Simple. The International Projector Corporation, owners of the Simplex brand, were asked by Fox to design what came to be called a "penthouse." Since the Chinese (and the Roxy Theatre in New York City) already had the Simplex XL projectors in the booth, the task of designing and constructing the first 4-track mag penthouse went to Simplex.
When optical sound heads came into the industry, the units were designed to attach underneath the projection head, with the take-up magazine attached to the bottom of the sound head. Since below the projection head was already taken by the optical sound head, the new 4-track magnetic sound heads would be mounted on top of the projection head, with the feed reel mounted above it. This higher position caused the unit to be called "the penthouse" and these units were a common fixture on 35mm projectors until digital sound readers pushed them out in the 1990s. The penthouse was designed to add only 4 inches to the projector, so loading the feed reel would not be changed dramatically.
This position on top of the projector head had several other advantages, such as keeping the mag head away from the magnetic fields surrounding the projector motor, power supply, etc.; and it also allowed the film to be read while cool — before passing through the hot picture gate. This was an important consideration, since the playback heads would be sensitive to warp in the film due to overheating.
Simplex XL Magentic Sound Reproducer. Introduced in 1953. Photos by Dan Lyons. Via www.film-tech.com.
The Simplex XL Magnetic Sound Reproducer shared the rotary stabilizer design concept with the Western Electric TA-7400 optical sound head introduced with the Mirrophonic Sound System in 1935. The XL penthouse was entirely film-driven, meaning that there was no motor in the unit. The film was carried through by two finely-balanced flywheels encased in oil acting as stabilizers for the film as it went through the penthouse, thereby reducing "flutter," or undesirable sounds caused by the mechanics of transporting the film past the mag head.
All of the parts of the penthouse which come into contact with the print were made of stainless steel, to avoid de-magnetizing the film soundtrack. The whole unit had a zillion shields, each attempting to reduce hum in the system. The mag pickups were made by the Brush Electronics Company of Cleveland, Ohio, which had been in the phonograph stylus business and had become proficient in making heads for tape recorders. Their model number BK1544-S1237 was used in the Simplex penthouses. The mag head itself could set in place with set screws allowing for precise alignment of the head making contact with the film mag tracks.
The "gap" between picture and the sound is that the picture is 28 frames ahead of the sound. This gap would remain the same distance for 70mm, but in 70mm, it is only 24 frames, since they are taller.
The amplifiers were wall bracket units; each of the three projectors having four plug-in preamps in one case, and one power supply/switcher, which contained the power supply and two "effects" switchers in another case. The preamps utilized both the RCA 5879 and the 12AT7 preamp tubes. Output distortion for the preamp was less than 0.5%. The power amps were probably the AM-1026 model with 60 watt output.
The "effects" switchers turned on the "surround" preamps when the effects track contained a 12-kc "control tone" in the track, which was considered inaudible to the average person. When the surround track speakers were on but not making any sounds, it was felt that the magnetic hiss was, on the whole, excessive. It was decided that this "control tone" would turn the surround track off when not needed. Inside the system was a notch filter, which would cut out any sounds near or at 12 kc, thereby filtering out the control tone itself. Hard to imagine today, but this system remained in place for 4-track magnetic films up into the 1980s.
LEFT TOP: Simplex 4-track preamp case, showing 4 plug-in preamps. LEFT: Simplex power supply and switcher case, showing plug-in power supply and two plug-in effects switchers. Both for the Simplex Stereophonic Sound System. Introduced in 1953. From The Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, March 1954, "Four-Track Magnetic Theatre Sound Reproducer for Composite Films" by S.W. Athey, Willy Borberg and R.A. White. Via www.archive.org.
The projection lenses used to uncompress the CinemaScope image were initially made by the Bausch & Lomb optic company of Rochester, New York, who were given exclusive rights to manufacture the lenses and sell them through 20th Century-Fox's newly-created CinemaScope Products, Inc.
Bausch & Lomb had been in business since 1853 initially making monocles and microscopes, and venturing into construction of camera lenses, scientific projectors, binoculars and telescopes. B & L's projection lenses had been on the market since 1906 or so.
The company had been given the patent diagrams to Chretién's Hypergonar lens and were asked to improve upon it, "focusing" on some of the issues mentioned above. Many of the improvements made to the design were patented by the company, and mostly have to do with making the edges of the frame brighter.
All anamorphic lenses utilize some sort of "clamp ring" whose aim is to align the lens perfectly square with the screen each time the lens is mounted into the projector. If the lens is out of "roll" alignment, the image distorts dramatically.
RIGHT: CinemaScope Projection Attachment Series 1. Introduced in 1953. Photo by filmmakingdragon.
CinemaScope lens "roll" alignment. This sort of distortion will result if the anamorphic lens is not properly aligned squarely with the screen.
CinemaScope lens distance setting test. If you look carefully while focusing, and your horizontal lines focus separately from the verticals, your distance setting is off.
Right behind the red bezel ring is another ring for setting the projection distance. By using a test loop with horizontal and vertical hash marks, you were not properly set if, as you focused with your focus knob on the projector, one set of lines got fuzzier and the others didn't. Adjusting the projection distance ring brought these two elements into focus simultaneously. Once your projection distance was properly set, all the lines would focus at the same time. If you were not set correctly, a shift in focus would occur.
Finally, the CinemaScope process setup required a more reflective screen than had been used in the past, due to the fact that the screen was generally much larger and wider than before. Most people in motion picture engineering were anxious to achieve the same levels of picture brightness as was attained in the old 1:1.33 format.
But obviously that would be a problem, considering that the picture aperture in the projector was only slightly larger, while the optics of the anamorphic lens consisted of more light-reducing elements. Lamphouses of greater brilliancy were a help, but a screen covered with a more reflective material would help also, hence a screen the CinemaScope Products, Inc. called "Miracle Mirror."
CinemaScope Miracle Mirror screen, presumably set up on a stage at 20th Century-Fox in 1953. Photo via 3-D Film Archive.
What set the Miracle Mirror screen apart from other screens was what they called "controlled reflectivity." In the past, movie screens were designed like reflective signs on the highway: as long as you are anywhere near the line of the projection throw, the increase in brightness is observable.
The Miracle Mirror screen was of a cotton canvas embossed with a tiny pattern of diamond-like shapes, coated with several layers of plastic with an aluminum top coating. The pattern was designed to take as much of the light coming from the projector, and to reflect it back in a downward path and side to side — towards where the seats were typically in a theatre. Controlled reflection, see?
The Miracle Mirror screen was touted as being "twice as bright" as previous screens, but like a lot of claims made by the CinemaScope Products, Inc., this was sort of hard to swallow. They also claimed that the screen would last "several times" longer than those ordinary white screens. Oh yes. You could not clean them. You could dust it, but if a stain developed, that was that. The embossed surface would get messed up if you attempted to clean or resurface the screen. No wonder theatre owners across the country were reluctant to install them. It was not a required part of the CinemaScope package after December, 1953. We are not aware of a single theatre in the world which still has one of these screens in use.
So — our CinemaScope checklist is like this:
4-channel sound head
New sprockets with the "Fox-Hole" teeth
New aperture plates
Anamorphic projection lenses
Miracle Mirror screen with adjustable masking
We are all set.
CinemaScope at the Chinese
When CinemaScope was unveiled in the Autumn of 1953, the aesthetics of the movies changed forever. The old black and white 1:1.33 shaped films were now relegated to television — never to be seen in theatres again. At least for a while.
It is difficult to imagine the impact CinemaScope had both on the movie-going public, and on the industry itself. In the atmosphere of the 1950s, with its emphasis on newness and consumption, when air travel was still fairly rare, the Fox CinemaScope productions, which attempted to take viewers to strange exotic places in a story context which Cinerama could not hope to achieve, pumped new life into the whole industry.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. CinemaScope sign lit up during the engagement, from Thursday, September 24, 1953 to Thursday, December 10, 1953, of The Robe.
Grauman's Chinese was "chosen" as the ad men would say, to be the "Hollywood Home of CinemaScope," and after the premiere of the The Robe in September of 1953, the "event" picture had finally arrived. Each CinemaScope film, regardless of what studio was releasing it, was A Big Deal, with large crowds and huge box-office figures. During this time, the Chinese reverted back to their original policy of exclusive, long, or reasonably long, runs. CinemaScope reigned supreme — until some of the theatremen who controlled the Chinese decided to get into the movie production business themselves.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood California. First Floor Plan showing position of projection room and CinemaScope screen installed in September, 1953. From The American Architect, August 1927, "Chinese Theatre at Hollywood, California."
The first thing to do was to figure out how to fit the CinemaScope screen into the proscenium. The opening at that time was 64 feet, and so, the screen could have been as wide as 62 feet by 24 feet tall.
CinemaScope screens were to be curved, like all attempts to simulate the Cinerama experience. The severity of the curve was based on the width of the screen and the length of the projection "throw." The throw at the Chinese in this case is around 90 feet. The recommended "rise" (the distance between the outside edges of the screen and how far back the center is) for such an installation is 5.5 feet. As may be seen on the above floor plan, this curve is an arc whose center point is where the lens of the projector is.
Placing the screen in this position meant that the seats in the side sections close to the front would have their view of the entire screen compromised. In order for the sightlines from the sides to be improved, the non-load-bearing columns flanking either side of the proscenium were removed (their locations being commemorated with gold-leafed discs attached to the ceiling, where they remain today). The pagoda "singing boxes" on either side of the stage had a balcony which thrusted over the seating areas, so these were removed and a modest pedestal replaced them. Since the column had been removed, revealing the marble flanking the stage, the pagodas looked off-center, so some artificial palm trees were placed in the space.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. "Signing Box" on left side of the stage, after CinemaScope remodelling of 1953.
It appears that this alteration was accomplished while the theatre played host to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, while during the two days the theatre was dark prior to the opening of The Robe, all of the old seats were taken out and replaced with new Haywood-Wakefield seats. The seating apacity of 1,990 was kept, with all of the new seats being attached to the exsisting steps on the auditorium floor.
Simplex XL projector and Peerless HyCandescent lamphouse with additional Simplex XL Magnetic Sound Reproducer and Bausch & Lomb CinemaScope lens. From the Manual of Preliminary Instructions on Surveying Theatres for CinemaScope, published by CinemaScope Products, Inc., 1953. Courtesy of John P. Pytlak. Via The American Widescreen Museum.
In the booth, we are fortunate to have an eye-witness account of the equipment used at this time. John Eickhof, who had run Northwest Theatre Equipment for years and years, recalls that the trio of Simplex XL projectors received their Simplex XL Magnetic Sound Reproducers, along with all of the new Simplex amps. The first of the Bausch & Lomb Series I CinemaScope lenses were there, along with a 2.5 inch prime element, which enlarged the image, while the anamorphic element expanded it.
Byrd Theatre, Richmond, Virginia. Projection Room. Simplex XL projector with Bauch & Lomb CinemaScope Series I lens, installed in 1953. Photo by Gary Cowardin.
LEFT and ABOVE: Oakland Paramount Theatre, Oakland, California. Simplex XL projector with Simplex XL Magnetic Sound Reproducer and National/Strong Excelite lamphouse. Photo by Paul Michels, July 2008. Via www.film-tech.com.
Since the CinemaScope screen was so much larger than anything before (the Chinese screen was now 1,488 square feet!), a stronger light source was going to be required.
Beginning in the late 40s and early 50s, the manufacturers of carbon arc lamphouses began marketing higher-intensity units for use in the drive-in theatres which were becoming popular around the country.
The Excelite High Intensity Projection Arc Lamp was made by The Strong Electric Company of Toledo, Ohio, and was introduced in 1952. It was marketed as the "National Excelite" due to the fact that it was sold through National Theatre Supply Co., which was a subsidiary of National Theatres, sister company of Fox West Coast Theatres, to which the Chinese belonged, and which was controlled by the Skouras family. Nowadays, they are just called "Strongs."
This very large lamphouse was a DC "angle trim" unit, running from 75 to 135 amperes with arc voltages of 50 to 70 volts. They could be run off of either rectifiers or generators. Depending on the amount of light required, one could use 9, 10 or 11mm carbons, and select different power settings as well, so there was a lot of variables involved, but the unit was set up to allow for this flexibility.
The carbon arc itself was supposed to be 36.5 inches from the film plane, however, if "the greatest brilliancy was required" the distance could be reduced to 35 inches, which was what was probably done at the Chinese. Everything which could be done to brighten that picture!
Moorlyn Theatre, Ocean City, New Jersey. Projection Room. Simplex XL Projectors and bases, with National/Strong Excelite Lamphouses, and latter-day magazines. ca. 1978. Photo via moorlyn.com.
For extra fun and potential for danger, the Excelite lamphouse provided for water cooling of the carriage holding the positive carbon, which is the horizontal one in the center of the unit. Some projectors at this time were beginning to have aperture water cooling systems as a feature. If used in conjunction with the water cooling in the lamphouse, the water would circulate to the aperture first, and then to the lamphouse. The water was in a closed system, not connected to the regular water supply, so the tank was probably a medium-sized trash can shaped unit standing directly behind each projector. To prevent rust from forming in the system, it was recommended to add one pound of rust inhibitor to the water supply every year — sort of like cleaning out your coffeemaker.
At the rear of the unit was an 18-inch reflector. At the higher currents being used in these units, there was increased danger of the reflectors discoloring or cracking, so the exhaust and ventilation systems had to be beefed up considerably, requiring 8-inch chimneys.
At the front of the unit there was a blower, which sent room temperature air past the opening toward the screen. There was an interchangeable clear glass heat filter, which was another attempt to keep excessive heat away from the film as it sat momentarily in the gate. Projectionists could always tell if a print had been shown at a drive-in, because the film would have the tell-tale embossing from improperly adjusted high intensity lamps.
Projectionists during this time had a lot to worry about, and the one thing that they didn't want to have to do was ruin an expensive 4-track mag print of something. Even still, one thing which was a standard rule during these first-run engagements at the Chinese: a backup print was always there just in case the first print got damaged somehow.
For CinemaScope, the Fox studio simply asked theatre owners to install three speakers behind the screen which all matched. There was no set requirement for these speakers. However by this time, a new speaker design had made its appearance — Altec Lansing's Voice of the Theatre speakers.
Voice of the Theatre Loudspeakers
The last time the Chinese got new speakers was in 1935 after the design of the Shearer Horn became the industry standard. Since that system was designed by engineers working for several different outfits, there were several companies making them — Western Electric, RCA or Altec Lansing. The Chinese was a testing site for the Shearer Horn as it was being developed under the supervision of Douglas Shearer, head of the sound department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.
Two men working at Altec Lansing Corporation had been the main designers of the Shearer Horn: Jim Lansing and John Hilliard. Beginning in 1944, these two men decided to try to improve on the Shearer Horn concept they had come to know so well.
They felt that the Shearer Horn design lacked "presence"; that there was a dip in the response in the mid-bass range, radiation from the rear of the system, the continuing problem of phase distortion due to the long folded bass horn airpath, and cabinet resonance.
Their design solution was to reconfigure the bass speaker enclosure, so that the drivers were fully enclosed, thereby reducing rear radiation. Next, the bass horns were presented directly in a widely flared horn bell, which brought the bass mid-range up, as well as correcting the phase distortion. The newly-designed bass speaker/driver could not get below 100 hz, so it was decided to "port" the enclosure with holes in the front. The porting of speaker enclosures takes advantage of air vibrating off the rear of the speaker driver, creating an airflow through the port, which creates a lower pitched sound. Now the speaker could deliver sounds as low as 50 hz. This cabinet was known as the 210.
The enclosure was also braced and reinforced within an inch of its life, to avoid unwanted resonances. Additional bass resonance came from wing baffles on either side of the bass enclosure.
Altec Lansing Corporation Voice of the Theatre speaker, model A2. Introduced in 1945. 108.5" in height (including horn), 113" in width (including baffles), 39.5" in depth. 1,300 pounds.
New drivers were designed for both the bass horn and the cellular horn at the top of the unit, which got a new compression driver, number 288. The new bass driver, the 515, had a considerably larger voice coil 3 inches in diameter, which made the woofer more efficient. Both drivers were the first to have permanent magnets instead of electromagnets. Since both drivers were the same distance from the screen, phase distortion was eliminated altogether.
The Voice of the Theatre speakers were introduced in 1945, but we are figuring that the Chinese did not upgrade to them until the CinemaScope rollout, which is why we are placing them here. They may have been installed during the engagement of Shane, which was run on 3-channels behind the screen on an interlock fullcoat sound dummy, but that was for Paramount, who may or may not have rigged up their own equipment for Shane and then pulled it back out again.
In 1945, Altec Lansing introduced a whole range of the Voice of the Theatre speakers, which differed according to the size of room they were in. Most of them were topped with the 288 compression driver/multi cellular horns. The bass cabinet underneath was where the models differed. A cabinet design was set up to contain two of the 515 driver/cone assemblies. One of these units with baffles on either side was called the A4, and was for theatres between 750 and 1,200 seats. If two of these units were side-by-side with the baffles, this was called the A2, which was recommended for theatres between 1,200 and 2,800 seats. There was an A1-X which utilized 6 of the 515 drivers, but this was for the over 2,800 seat houses. The Chinese, was definitely considered to be between 1,200 and 2,800 seats, so three A2s were installed. The A2s are rated to handle 80 watts. These Voice of the Theatre speakers were probably augmented to five stage speakers for CinemaScope 55, and remained on duty until the THX period opened in the Summer of 1984.
LEFT: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. West wall of auditorium with effects speaker cabinets, circa 1953. ABOVE: Altec Lansing Corporation 629 "auditorium" loudspeaker with 12" speaker cone. Introduced in 1953. 17" in height, 22" in width, 13.25" in depth (at top). 33 pounds. Via voiceofthetheatre.com.
At this period, sound engineers had had only a few years to fret over the distribution of the "effects" channel speakers. There was no set formulae to follow. The main thing was to try to disperse the sound evenly, avoiding "hot spots" where the sound would be louder than in the rest of the auditorium.
The Chinese was probably outfitted with as many as 20 of Altec's 629 "auditorium" loudspeakers, scattered along the inside edge of the Cathay Lounge overhang. For the front part of the auditorium, Altec had a larger 15-inch speaker, the 631A, encased in special speaker enclosures, spaced between the columns, three to a side. These cabinets remained in place until the coming of Cinemiracle in 1958.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing position of projection room and 1:2.55 screen 62' x 24', 1953. Drawing by Kurt Wahlner.
There is a story that is told of the first night of the run of the first CinemaScope picture, The Robe, at the Chinese. The lights went down, the curtains began to part. The beginning section of Alfred Newman's "Fox Fanfare" began to play — louder and more crisply than anyone had ever heard it before. The audience gasped audibly, "Aaaaah. . ." The curtains continued to open while the new section of the Fanfare announcing that this is a CinemaScope production blared out. The audience continued to gasp, "AAAAHHH. . ."
Then, when the curtains had opened all the way and the first shot of the picture dissolved in, everyone saw how grainy the picture was, and there was this, ". . . ohhhhh" from the audience. As cool as CinemaScope was (and it was and continues to be), everyone knew it needed some improving. The amount of work that went on to convert all of 20th Century-Fox production to CinemaScope and figure all the engineering and the promotion of it — all in a year and a half — is a truly remarkable feat we can all learn from. The gamble paid off, and Hollywood entered into a new era.
Now, if we could only make it a bit less distorted and grainy. . . That is our next stop.
CinemaScope's lock on single lens widescreen filmmaking would not last forever. In October of 1954, Paramount unveiled a competing widescreen process they called VistaVision with the film White Christmas. The idea behind VistaVision made sense photographically: by using a specially designed camera which ran 35mm film horizontally at 8 perfs per frame, a much larger negative would be produced. Taking that larger negative and printing it down to standard 35mm would result in a sharper print, which could then be magnified beyond what was sensible with conventionally photographed 35mm films.
35mm VistaVision Eastmancolor negative, running hprizontally with 8 perforation "pull-across."
35mm VistaVision Technicolor IB release print, running vertically with normal 4 perforation pull-down.
In October of 1955, the Todd-AO 70mm system made its debut with the film of Rogers and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma! Developed by ex-Cinerama producer Mike Todd (1909-1958) and the American Optical Company, Todd-AO was a serious contender for widescreen supremacy, due to its much larger negative which made its picture sharper, but also that the frame was wide to begin with, so did not use an anamorphic lens. This made the picture very natural-looking, with little (if any) annoying distortion.
Furthermore, since Todd-AO 70mm was only supposed to be presented on huge deeply curved screens close to matching those used in Cinerama, a six-channel magnetic soundtrack system provided a soundscape which came very close to what Cinerama was able to achieve. Todd-AO did Cinerama one better by upping the frame rate to 30 frames per second (for its first two films anyway), which eliminated flicker altogether.
65mm Todd-AO Eastmancolor negative, with 5-perf pull-down.
70mm Todd-AO release print with magnetic stripes for 6-channel sountrack.
Todd-AO suffered from having to require theatre owners to install new Dutch-made Philips / Norleco DP 70 70mm / 35mm projectors, sound system, and screen. The 30 FPS requirement was a problem too, so after a time it was dropped back down to 24 FPS. Rogers and Hammerstein liked the Todd-AO system so much that they were induced to invest in the company, and most of the films made from their string of Broadway musicals were filmed in the system — most of them, except Carousel and The King and I.
The screen rights to both Carousel and The King and I, had been bought by the 20th Century-Fox studio before Rogers and Hammerstein had even heard of Todd-AO. Both films were conceived as fitting into the studio's pattern of glamorous trips to distant places via CinemaScope. But many moviegoers had been disappointed with CinemaScope's graininess and distortions.
To combat this, CinemaScope 55 chose one from column A and one from column B: The larger negative/printdown concept of VistaVision, and the 6-channels of magnetic sound concept of Todd-AO.
Earl I. Sponable, head of the Research Depeartment at 20th Century-Fox, had the camera department dig up some of the old Fox Grandeur cameras, and converted them to handle film which was slightly wider than 55mm. Larger Bausch & Lomb anamorphic lenses were made for the larger frame, which ran at 8 perfs each. This larger negative would either be shown on specially made 55mm projectors, or would get printed down to the normal 35mm CinemaScope format.
55mm CinemaScope Eastmancolor negative, with 8 perforation pull-down
35mm CinemaScope Technicolor IB release print, with 4 perforation pull-down and 4-track magnetic sound.
Typical 35mm magnetic fullcoat sound dummies of the type used to run the 6-channel soundtrack for Carousel.
That's the VistaVision part. The Todd-AO part was to do the film sound in six-channel stereo, which would either go onto magnetic stripes on the 55mm print, or, it would get remixed into the standard 4-tracks of 35mm CinemaScope.
So that was the set-up when 20th went into production on Carousel in 1955. Carousel, being a musical, had to have all of its musical numbers recorded for playback on the set, so all of this material was recorded in six-channels. Although they began shooting Carousel in both CinemaScope and CinemaScope 55, the 35mm 'Scope version was discontinued before long, so the picture we see today is the 55mm negative throughout. The unblimped CinemaScope 55 camera was so noisy that all of the spoken dialog had to be dubbed in later.
By the end of 1955, Carousel had finished shooting when a decision came down: there were not going to be any 55mm 6-track showings of the film — ever.
This must have been a terrible disappointment — after all, Grauman's Chinese seemed to thrive on having to rip all their projectors out every couple of years. But with the decision to not follow through with the 55mm exhibition prints came the problem of what to do with their gorgeous six-channel soundtrack that had been prepared for the 55mm version. And what about The King and I, currently shooting (with a blimped camera, thank God) with all of its musical numbers recorded and mixed in six-channel?
It was decided that for deluxe first run bookings, to take the six-channel soundtrack for Carousel and transfer it to 35mm fullcoat in six-channel and interlock it to the 35mm 'Scope picture. Fox undoubtedly thought they would do the same for The King and I.
Unknown Cinerama installation. Five Altec Lansing "Voice of the Theatre" A2 speakers with double 288 compression drivers and cellular horns. The set-up backstage at the Chinese for Carousel would have looked very similar to this view, with the exception of the double 288s.
At the Chinese, this is what they did — for Carousel only, which had its Hollywood premiere on February 16, 1956. Since the Todd-AO set-up had 5 speakers behind the screen, this is what had been planned for CinemaScope 55. Accordingly, two more A2 Voice of the Theatre speakers were put on stage, the left and right speaker cabinets were shoved over some to make room for the new intermediate ones, with all the additional amps, switches and folderol, plus probably three 35mm sound dummies interlockable with any of the three Simplex XL projectors.
The screen and masking remained the same, so there was nothing really all that different-looking about CinemaScope 55 — except that it was sharper — if we can believe eyewitness accounts. It is doubtful anyone alive today has seen a first-generation 35mm print of either Carousel or The King and I, so it is hard to say. Recent reviews of both films released in the Blu-Ray format have not been encouraging enough to suggest that Fox has gone back to the 55mm neg, so judging the relative sharpness of the format remains elusive.
What you can say, is that going through the trouble of shooting in 55mm didn't really solve anything. An anamorphic lens of that period was still an anamorphic lens — with none of its drawbacks rectified. And worse yet, even though Carousel broke even and The King and I was a big hit, the public didn't seem to notice any perceptible difference. Perhaps 20th didn't test market the system since they were so anxious to fix what were thought to be CinemaScope's photographic deficiencies. A big expensive hole in the ground.
Panavision Curved Gates
Schematic of the curved gate to be found in the Simplex XL projector from the operator's side, looking toward the screen. Curving the film like this would encourage it to retain its shape while being exposed in the gate.
There is one more thing before we leave the CinemaScope Era, and it has to do with the introduction, or should we say, re-introduction of the concept of curving the gate in a projector.
In the late 1930s, Eastman Kodak began investigating what was happening to their nitrate film when it was exposed in a projector’s gate. They used the Simplex E-7 for these tests, which they prographed using high-speed motion picture cameras. What they discovered was that during the millseconds the film is exposed to intense light in the gate, the film would ocsillate ever so slightly, due to the heat. Kodak was trying to find the limits of this heat distortion in order to convince projection lens makers to address the problem. Lens makers didn't do much about this, but when M-G-M began developing a new format which would out-do even Todd-AO, the head of projection on the lot, Merle Chamberlain, got to thinking about how Camera 65's big frame would be affected this way.
What they came up with was, as usual, a technology which had existed before, but had been forgotten: a “curved” gate.
The warping of film when exposed in the hot film gate was known to projection engineers from the beginning, but only really became an issue with the Simplex design for the Grandeur 70mm system in 1929-1930. The bigger the piece of film, the more likely it would warp in the gate. So the Grandeur projectors were outfitted with curved gates, as were the new Dutch-made Philips / Norleco DP 70 70mm / 35mm projectors created for the rollout of the Todd-AO 70mm system.
By curving the path the film travels through in the gate, the film would naturally retain its curve, thereby resisting warping due to the heat. With a curved shoe with highly-polished stainless steel bands for where the film would rub against it, the film is curved out away from the screen, and is held in place by two tension bands on the base side, also made of stainless steel.
Where does Panavision come in? Panavision was an up-and-coming outfit at this time. Founded in 1953 by Robert E. Gottschalk (1918-1982), Panavision took off by making a variable-squeeze anamorphic lens for CinemaScope which was less expensive and for some theatre owners, more versatile than the Bausch & Lomb lenses. A relationship had formed between Panavision and the M-G-M studio camera department (which Panavision would purchase in 1962). Panavision got the contract to develop Camera 65 (which would be renamed Ultra Panavision after the sale).
Gottschalk was looking for all sorts of ways of improving both optics and his bottom line. By August 8, 1956, Panavision had announced that they had created a curved gate adaptor and had installed them in all three of the Simplex XL projectors at Grauman's Chinese where The King and I was showing. Panavision was planning on making curved gate conversion kits for all makes of projectors as well as offering to adapt Simplex XLs to become 35/70mm projectors, which would have delighted many a theatre owner.
Events however, overtook those plans as Panavision focused on making fun things for filmmakers, while the curved gate concept was eventually rolled into most projector designs after 1958 or so. Panavision has not made products for theatre projection systems since.
The widescreen era continues with the introduction of Cinemiracle in 1958. Many forces combined to create this competitor to Cinerama, which had its premiere rollouts in April at both the Roxy Theatre in New York City, and Grauman's Chinese in Hollywood. Cinemiracle was conceived as a "portable Cinerama" capable of telling narrative films in a spectacular form and bringing it to the hinterlands. While the original program was not carried out, Cinemiracle remains an interesting example of showmanship not seen since the days of the nickelodeons: the theatremen decided to begin making films.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California, during the engagement, from Tuesday, April 8, 1958, to Tuesday, December 16, 1958, of Windjammer. Elmer C. Rhoden's vision for the Chinese Theatre is now complete, and while it was sad to see the Grauman name taken off the building, it hasd to be admitted that the new dragon marquees were pretty spectacular.
With the Paramount Decision in May of 1948, all of the Hollywood studios were ordered to divest themselves of one of the three branches of the Motion Picture business: Production, Distribution, Exhibition. All the
studios chose to let go of their theatre chains.
For the Chinese, this meant that its parent company, National Theatres, headed by Charles Skouras (1889-1954), would become separated from 20th Century-Fox, headed by Charles' brother Spyros Skouras (1893-1971). The idea was that the theatres would now be free to book and to play films from all producers, big and small, and this was supposed to help the smaller producers get playdates at theatres across the country.
As we can see, for the Skouras family, with Spyros in charge of a huge studio and brother Charles in charge of a huge theatre chain, the relationship between 20th Century-Fox and National Theatres was going to continue, with Grauman's Chinese Theatre being the flagship of the chain, it became "The Hollywood Home of CinemaScope."
Both Merlene Marrow (as Miss Cinemiracle) and Elmer C. Rhoden (as preseident of National Theatres) attended the World premiere of Rhoden's brainchild, Windjammer, held at Grauman's Chinese, Tuesday, April 8, 1958.
When Charles Skouras stepped down from the presidency of National Theatres in the early 1950s, his hand-picked successor was Elmer C. Rhoden, who was a theatreman through-and-through. Having graduated from Nebraska University in 1912, he began working as a salesman for the General Film Exchange in Omaha. After serving in World War I, he became branch manager for the First National exchange in Kansas City, becoming a pillar of that community.
He began acquiring theatres, which became part of the Fox Midwest chain, of which he was President for many years. Rhoden assumed the presidency of National Theatres in 1952. His vision for the company was to diversify: make films, invest in T.V. stations, "kiddielands" and so forth.
Rhoden was obviously a big fan of Cinerama, but knew that its physical requirements would always limit the number of theatres which could play the format. It was Rhoden's desire to do something about bringing a Cinerama experience to more theatres. This led him (and long-time National Theatres technical director, Russel H. McCullough) to the Smith-Dietrich Corporation, which had developed a 2-panel process for widescreen films.
National Theatres bought up the system, and had Smith-Dietrich Corp. go back to Mike Todd's description of what he envisioned for Todd-AO: "Cinerama out of one hole." What they came up with was actually compatible to the Cinerama format with two improvements: Less lens parallax, and you could show it from one projection room which could, along with the screen and sound system, be moved from place to place.
Rhoden was confident of his plans; he had made a deal with the Justice Department allowing him to make up to 16 films in the process within five and-a-half-years for production, and to be able to release the films for two-and-a-half-years more, thereby re-entering (with the JD's permission) the golden triangle: Production, Distribution, Exhibition.
National Theatres was allowed to control 20 hardtops with the process, and they could have ten mobile units. Much coin was going to have to come from foriegn markets, unencumbured with U.S.A. based restraints.
Now photographically, if you are looking across a panorama, the spot you are turning your head is called the nodal point. Cinerama had some trouble with this, because the system criss-crossed the lenses in order to capture the scene.
Cinemiracle camera being attended to during the shooting of Windjammer in 1957. Photo from the collection of Dick Babish. via in70mm.com.
Cinerama had designed three tall, thin cameras in order to get the small Kodak Ektar lenses as close to the nodal point as possible. What was done with the Cinemiracle set-up was kind of crazy genius: cut into the left and right panels with a mirror, thereby diverting light into cameras set at the proper angle to capture the image in the mirror.
The mirror to the right and left of the "B" camera had to be beveled and positioned to a precise degree, so that it would not be photographed by the "B" camera. It seems kind of funny today, that a major motion picture production effort could hinge on something so elementary, but there you have it.
The Cinemiracle camera was a monster, since it was three Mitchell cameras placed atop a base, which contained all the electronics required for keeping the cameras in sync. Cinemiracle used the same 27mm lenses that were used in Cinerama, but they were controlled by a complex system which kept the matchlines in the same places as you changed the focal plane of the lens — they swivelled ever so slightly. The base also contained a viewfinder. The camera shot at 26 frames per second, which was true for Cinerama also. People tend to exaggerate the weight of these things, but when fully loaded, some estimates have suggested this rig weighing close to 600 pounds! And no blimps for sync sound either.
Cinemiracle had seven tracks on its 35mm fullcoat soundtrack: 1: Left; 2: Left Center; 3: Center; 4: Right Center; 5: Right; 6: Right Wall Surround; 7: Left Wall Surround. There was an alternate for the surrounds which went like this: 6: Right and Left Wall Surround; 7: Back Wall Surround. At the Chinese, and at other "Deluxe" engagements, the switching between the two surround arrangements was signaled by a 1.6 KHz control tone carried on one of two mag stripes on either side of the sprocket holes of the center "B" panel. The other track contained the entire track to the film in mono, which had been done for Cinerama films playing in drive-ins, so it is continued with Cinemiracle.
In order to remain compatible with Cinerama, Cinemiracle replicated the entire format in every particular (so did the Russians, but that is another story). 35mm film. three strips with six perf pulldown, with the seven-channel soundtrack being played on a separate dummy. 8,000 foot reels. All four pieces of film were edge-numbered to keep sync. The projection beams would be pointing straight out — horizontal.
Cinemiracle had to deal with the "join lines" appearing between panels. Instead of the mechanical "gigolos" used to try to feather the image sides during projection to get the panels to blend,
Cinemiracle feathered the sides in the print itself. The center "B" projector would project its image straight ahead, while the "A" and "C" projectors would be facing the corners of the booth. In these corners was where the projection mirrors were.
The mirrors were on beefy pivots; they could swivel with micrometer adjustments until you had your panels aligned just so. And this is where things begin to slide from Cinerama's standard.
Cinemiracle producers held to the conviction that it was the film people were coming to see, not the curvature of the screen. A miscalculation to be sure, but the fact remains that very few Cinemiracle installations came anywhere near the hoped-for 120 degrees of curvature — except the Roxy Theatre in New York City, due to the fact that the projection room there was at the front of the mezzanine. The Roxy was able to do what other theatres couldn't: magically suspend the booth over the audience, slightly behind the "sweet spot."
National Theatres was even OK with having their premiere film in the system, Windjammer, playing on a flat, or close to flat, screens. The film also had a Cinerama-like "prologue" shot in 1:1.33 black and white with mono sound, which had to be projected from another machine either in the theatre's regular booth, or placed alongside the center projector in the Cinemiracle booth.
Cinemiracle release print; intermission card artwork from the film Windjammer (1958). In many ways, Cinemiracle acheived its goal of Cinerama compatibily — you just showed the two outside panels into mirrors. If you were showing a Cinerama print, all you had to do was to flip it in the reels, and the mirrors would do the rest. Another nod to Cinerama compatabilty is the use of the two-track striped center panel, which Cinerama used to carry a mono mixdown of the soundtrack for drive-ins. The other track was just a "balance" stripe, so the film would wind up evenly; in Cinemiracle, it contained a 1.6 KHz control tone to toggle between two different layouts for the 2 surround channels.
Altering the Chinese for Cinemiracle
Many changes came to the Chinese to prepare for Cinemiracle, but here in our projection history, we shall focus on those having to do with the projection systems. Firstly, Cinemiracle was committed to "wall to wall" set-ups, meaning that the image ought to be as wide as was possible for the room. For the Chinese (which had not hosted a real stage presentation since the "Dr. I.Q." radio programs in 1947), this meant that the proscenium arch walls, the columns flanking the stage as well as the pagoda "singing boxes" would have to come out.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood California. First Floor Plan showing position of new main floor projection room, new seating and 92 x 36 foot Cinemiracle screen installed between February and April, 1958.
The second criterion was that the projection beams needed to come out perfectly horizontal. This meant that the projection room would have to be moved to the rear of the orchestra floor. With the three beams coming straight out from this point, this would determine the curvature of the screen, which in this case is 52 degrees. The opening for the screen was going to have to be increased, and so the traproom under the stage was divided in half horizontally; this would become the new auditorium floor level. The orchestra pit was partially demolished (after the Wurlitzer pipe organ was removed and donated to St. Finbar's Church in Burbank — don't worry — it isn't there anymore). The entire auditorium floor with its steps was removed, ramps were designed to carry patrons around the concession stand / projection room bulk, a new stepless auditorium floor was poured, and the house was completely re-seated with plush loge seating. A great deal happened in the mere 8 weeks the theatre was dark for these alterations.
The "prologue" for the Windjammer film was projected from the old booth upstairs on the Simplex XL projectors which remained operational until 1961.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood California. Cross-Section Plan showing position of new main floor projection room, new seating and Cinemiracle screen installed between February and April, 1958. The old booth in the Cathay Lounge was used to run the "prologue" reel of Windjammer.
Ad for Century projectors, circa 1951. Via Carbon Arc on flickr.
The Century projector was developed concurrently with the Simplex. A projectionist and union rep named Sam Kaplan began making replacement parts for the Simplex in the 1920s. He called his outfit the "Kaplan Sure-Fit Company"
By the early 1930s, Kaplan was making a knock-off of the Simplex, calling it the Kaplan projector. Later, he called it The Century Model K. Kaplan sold out in 1938, with the company being re-organized as the Century Projector Company. Taking advantage of European engineers coming to America at the time, the new Century Model P was introduced in 1939.
The focus of design work at Century was always to be on the lookout for making the Century better than the Simplex. In the Century, framing was accomplished through rack and pinion rasing and lowering of the intermittent. The Simplex rotated the thing. Centuries also used ball bearings everywhere they could be useful, while the Simplex didn't. The Century also allowed for the tension on the film at the intermittent to be different than that of the film trap itself.
In the early 50s, Century was taken over by United Industrial Syndicate, who were able to give the brand a sales push into the then-expanding market, where it was selected as the brand of choice for all of the Cinerama installations. It was only natural that the Century would be used in the Cinemiracle test theatre in Los Angeles, and at the screening room where they did all the post-production work on Windjammer — the Mount Eden Theatre in The Bronx.
Mount Eden Theatre, Bronx, New York. Cinemiracle projection room, Summer, 1957. Two views of Century projectors with Strong Excelite High Intensity lamphouses. It was here that all the rushes of Windjammer were screened, edits viewed and possibly even the scoring took place here. Photos courtesy of Dave Strohmaier.
Roxy Theatre, New York City. Projection room, 1958. Russel H. McCullough demonstrating the Century "G-1" center projector, which has been modified for Cinemiracle, along with RCA magnetic penhouse, and Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouse. From Cinemiracle in a Dramatic Bow from Boxoffice Magazine, April 14, 1958.
Royal-Palast Cinema, Munich, Germany. Projection room, 1958. Century "G-1" Cinemiracle projector, RCA magnetic penthouse, with Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouse. From the article Cinemiacle/Cinerama in Germany by Gerhard Witte, on in70mm.com.
For Cinemiracle, Century modified their new "G-1" projector. The one "G-1" designated single shutter. Water cooled apertures. 26 FPS. 6-perf pulldown. A bigger holder for all these bigger lenses being used, and a redesigned, removable intermittent. The case was designed to be compatible with all of the widescreen formats being introduced. A notable feature of the Century projectors made for most Cinemiracle installations was that the 10,000 foot feed reel was located on the "drive side" of the projector in its own magazine, doors, friction clutch and so on. This was done to reduce the height of the unit, but also to avoid having the projectionist have to heft the heavy reels over their heads and dropping them.
There was a "chute" added to the drive side, which had sprockets pulling the film up from the feed reel, and up over the projector head, and down into the gate, thence into the takeup reel. Since the Cinemiracle projectors had this feature, projectionists had to have the ability to approach each projector from either side.
Vinterpalatset Cinema, Stockholm, Sweden. Projection room, 1958. Century "G-1" Cinemiracle projectors, RCA magnetic penthouse on center projector, with Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouses. The cylinders just aft of the projector bases are for the water cooling system, which cooled the aperture, then, the positive carbon contacts. Photos courtesy of Peter Andrén, via adru.se.
Ashcraft Super Cinex Lamphouse
We can now state definitively that the lamphouses used at the Chinese for Cinemiracle were the Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouses, which were introduced in 1955. Ashcraft actively sought out the Todd-AO system, and attempted to hitch the Super Cinex to the Todd-AO star. Many of the original Todd-AO installations utilized this model of lamphouse.
Ad for the Ashcraft Super Cinex Lamphouse. Introduced in 1955. From the International Projectionist, Volume 33, Number 4. April, 1958. Via the Internet Archive.
It looks big, and it is. The Super Cinex is one of the largest carbon-arc lamphouses ever designed. It was water-cooled. It was air-cooled. It had an enormous reflector mirror at the back. It was only capable of running 13.6mm positive carbons at anywhere from 135 to 165 amps. A 20-inch carbon burning at 135 amps would burn 6 inches per hour. The individual Cinemiracle panel is roughly 30 x 36 feet, which is over 1,000 square feet per panel (for comparison, the recently removed CinemaScope screen at the Chinese was 62 x 24 or 1,488 square feet, illuminated with only one Excelite lamphouse).
By the time the Ashcraft Super Cinex was ready for installation at the Chinese, Ashcraft had introduced their "Micronic" light control, which was a gizmo which took a look at the carbon crater itself, analysed it, and made corrections in its position so that consistent light and color could be maintained.
Because the lamp was designed for 35/70, the sighting glass had two sets of markings. With the positive slightly closer to the reflector for 70mm, the spot at the aperture was increased in size from about 1 1/2" to approximately 2 1/2". The large box over the lamphouse is actually an exhaust fan system, designed to remove as much heat and carbon smoke away as quickly as possible.
Cinemiracle Sound System
Cinemiracle's sound was on 35mm fullcoat with seven tracks. At the Chinese, it was probably read off a sound dummy built by the Stancil/Hoffmann company, who made the sound dummies for many Cinemiracle installations around the world. The dummy had a built-in transistorized pre-amp, which then sent the appropriate tracks to the rack full of RCA amps, which had output ratings of 60 watts per channel. We are assuming that the speakers backstage were the Voice of the Theatre speakers which had been brought up to five units for Carousel in 1956.
We have a wonderful "earwitness" to the Windjammer presentation at the Chinese in 1958.
When he finally got to see the film, he thought the screen behind the curtains was the biggest thing he had ever seen. Then, he mentions the kicker:
"The Auditorium was well-lit at this point, and the "Overture" played through the sound system. I'd heard it many times on that sountrack recording, but it had never sounded like this! I had goosebumps."
Unknown projection room. Cinemiracle Stancil/Hoffman sound dummy with RCA sound racks on the left. The 7-channel system had a rated output of 60 watts per channel. From Cinemiracle/Cinerama in Germany by Gerhard Witte. Published on in70mm.com.
The new booth, measuring approximately 36 x 22 feet, was placed at the back of the orchestra floor, just slightly above the seats running before it. A system of new walls, all painted coal-black was strewn across the backwall of the orchestra floor.
It was at this time that the first attempts to acoustically "deaden" the Chinese were performed. This consisted of tall panel drapes hung on tracks between the side columns (see above). Curtain motors would open them during intermissions, and close them during the film presentation. These helped, but the Chinese continued to be a "live" boomy house.
Since the overhang of the Cathay Lounge would cut off viewing of the much taller screen from the rearmost seats, the front of the lounge was modified and re-plastered, so the rear seats could have an unobstructed view.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium. Before and after views of the soffit of the Cathay Lounge, executed for Cinemiracle in 1958. This was done so that the rear row of seats would have an unobstructed view of the screen.
Since many other things were being redesigned for Cinemiracle, the three effects speaker cabinets hanging between the sidewall columns were given fanciful Chinese-themed front grilles.
It is strongly suspected that the original speakers hung for CinemaScope in 1953 were retained with these new grilles attached; they may have been replaced with new units.
In any case, these speaker were on duty at the Chinese until the dawn of the THX era in 1986.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. West wall of auditorium, circa 1983. From Pictorial Souvenir of Mann's Chinese Theatre, Showplace of Hollywood, a "Colorpicture" Publication, Boston, Massechutetts, 1986. Chinese-influenced cabinets for effects speakers installed for Cinemiracle in 1958.
Cinemiracle failed to catch on. National Theatres was able to get Windjammer booked into theatres in the Northern European market, and across the United States, but as for it being portable — well, that never happened on a large scale. There was one mobile unit which toured the Scandinavian countries — understandibale, condisering Windjammer's subject matter. National Theatres had hoped to enter into feature filmmaking with the major studios as partners, but that never happened either.
1958 wasn't like the old days, when exhibitors like Carl Laemmle and Louis B. Mayer could go out and make their own one-reelers. The widescreen era was all about lavish productions in exotic places and all of that cost plenty of money. Without co-production deals with the Hollywood studios, Cinemiracle just couldn't continue.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing position of old and new projection rooms and Cinemiracle screen 92' x 36', 1958. Drawing by Kurt Wahlner.
National Theatres sold the entire Cinemiracle system plus the rights to Windjammer to Cinerama in 1959. But by then, Cinerama also found it difficult to continue without the Hollywood studios, and, after a couple of attempts with M-G-M in 1963, Cinerama had to discontinue the production of its 3-strip films.
More and more producers and theatre owners turned to the 70mm Todd-AO system, which had dropped their requirement for a 120 degree screen. Meanwhile, several widescreen systems utilized the 70mm format for their release prints, so for the Chinese to remain as Hollywood's premiere situation, 70mm would have to be the next step.
The widescreen era reaches its apex with the 70mm format. With its superior sound delivery and (potentially) sharper and bigger picture quality, films presented in 70mm acquired a decided marketing advantage with the public — a superiority that every movie-goer could recognize was special.
Films released in 70mm were special too, impacting audiences with experiences which last a lifetime. Beginning in 1955 with Oklahoma! the race was on to provide the Baby Boom generation of families with ever-increasing spectacles. Whether it was an historical epic or a musical, these films were hyped to the skies, then rolled out into the marketplace slowly. Only a few theatres in each city would become the homes of the competing "roadshow" films: big films in 70mm and stereophonic sound, two-a-day reserved seats, souvenir programs — long runs.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood California. Hollywood Premiere of West Side Story, December 13, 1961.
The Chinese Theatre was able to revert back to the two-a-day long-running exclusive engagement policy it had when it first opened. Crowds who wanted to see these early blockbusters ahead of everyone else would have to drive all the way into Hollywood to see them. The combination of seeing these deluxe films at the glamorous Chinese Theater with its new gigantic screen became a ritual for many. For so many that West Side Story ran for over a year.
The Chinese played host to a number of 70mm films in the 1960s, but it wasn't until the 70mm release of Star Wars with Dolby System stereo in 1977 that the real boom in 70mm occurred. In the wake of Star Wars, producers were frantic to provide audiences with the same sort of experience, and audiences would actually make the trip to Hollywood and the Chinese Theatre in order to see these films in what was thought of as being the "ideal" conditions.
The development of digital sound delivery systems in the early 1990s took away 70mm's advantage over 35mm, and the number of films released in 70mm after the debut of Batman Returns in Dolby Digital in June, 1992 is minimal. Only director James Cameron carried the torch for 70mm, linking his last 70mm film, Titanic, to a digital soundtrack provided by the DTS system. But it was a losing battle.
Important directors may be indulged by their studios, but for the rest, no. It would only be a matter of time before the digital revolution would make even 35mm film obsolete.
Although the Todd-AO process used 70mm film, they did not have the exclusive right to use it.
While the motion picture industry had toyed with wide film in the past, most notably Fox Grandeur in 1930, technicians and others had seen the results of 70mm's impact on audiences with Todd-AO, and wanted to emulate it. Other camera companies began to use the 70mm format as a delivery system for their new widescreen processes, beginning with Technicolor's system, Super Technirama 70, debuting with Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Auntie Mame, which played the Chinese right after Windjammer in December, 1958, was filmed in Technirama, but it wasn't released in 70mm (drat!). The optical printer for making the 70mm blow-ups hadn't even been thought of yet. Super Technirama 70 was an afterthought.
Also debuting in 1959, The Big Fisherman, which was filmed with Panavision's Todd-AO knockoff. It used Panavision-made lenses on a 65mm camera, along with a deceptive black blimp. At first, they didn't know what to call it. For a while, it was called "Panavision 70" which is what West Side Story was shot in. Later, it became known as Super Panavision 70.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing original masking settings for regular CinemaScope films after the Cinemiracle remodel: x 21 x 50 feet. 1958.
And if that weren't enough, at the end of 1959, M-G-M's new film of Ben-Hur was presented in a system called "M-G-M Camera 65" which was 70mm film with a 25% anamorphic squeeze, resulting in the widest picture yet. It later became known as Ultra Panavision.
Before long, the mechanics and optics of printing machines would make it possible to take a film shot in regular 35mm CinemaScope and blow it up to the 70mm format, and after 1963, many producers chose to go this route in order to take advantage of 70mm's superior sound delivery, without having to go through the expense of actually shooting a film in 65mm.
With all of this going on, the Chinese needed to install the best in 70mm equipment and sound. After the parent company of the Chinese, National Theatres, decided to sell the Cinemiracle system to Cinerama in late 1959, plans were formulated to take the downstairs booth and outfit it with 70mm equipment. They could take their time with this, as films booked into the theatre after Windjammer closed in December, 1958, were run off on the Simplex XL projectors in the upstairs booth (on what seem today like ridiculously small settings). They purposefully kept the 35mm sizes small in case Cinemiracle made a comeback, but after that became unlikely, the settings for 1.85 and 'Scope became larger.
The 70mm format carried four magnetic stripes, containing six separate tracks of sound. Five speakers behind the screen would create an emmersive sound field in front, while the effects track would be fed to speakers spread around the edges of the audience.
By 1959, there were several 70mm projector models to choose from, but the Chinese decided to go with the original Todd-AO projector, the DP 70, made by the Phillips Corporation of Holland.
The Philips / Norelco DP 70 Projector
Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector U.S. catalog cover from 1960. Via in70mm.com.
The Philips / Norelco DP 70 Projector was born from the desire to have a new state-of-the-art projector for the Todd-AO 70mm process. It made its debut on October 13, 1955 at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City, for the World Premiere of Oklahoma!As might be imagined, the creation of this iconic piece of gear began somewhat earlier.
Mike Todd. Circa 1950s. Unknown Photographer.
Producer Mike Todd (1909-1958) had been one of the founding partners of the Cinerama company, but even before they hit paydirt with This Is Cinerama, Todd quit the company with the intention of improving upon what he thought were Cinerama's defects. To build a new system, Todd sought out the American Optical Company of Southbridge, Massachusetts, headed by Dr. Brian O'Brien. American Optical had made a fortune making sunglasses for all the branches of the military in World War II. Todd paid O'Brien & Co. $100,000 as a downpayment to develop his new idea: "Cinerama outta one hole."
With this as their object, The Magna Theatre Corporation was formed with the addition of Broadway composer Richard Rogers (1902-1979), his writing partner, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), film magnate Joseph M. Schenck (1878-1961), and film exhibitor George Skouras (1896-1964).
While American Optical was working on the lenses, the Mitchell camera company was induced to dust off some old wide gauge 65mm cameras, and a film of Roger's and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma! was slated to be Magna's first production. But what about projectors? American Optical didn't have the capacity to make them. They had approached several projector makers to see if any of them could produce the new Todd-AO projector in the short space of only 9 months, but all of them turned the assignment down.
But O'Brien had a plan. He had a friend named Jan Jacob Kotte (1908-1988), who worked for Philips Electric Corporation in Eindhoven, Holland. Philips had begun making light bulbs by the father/son duo of Frederik (1830-1900) and Gerard (1858-1942) Philips in 1891. Within 4 years, Gerard's younger brother Anton (1874-1951) was on board, and the company began to branch out into making radios, and most famously in 1939, an electric shaving razor they called the Philishave in Europe, but marketed as the Norelco shaver in North America (Norelco is a portmanteau word for "Northern Electric Company" and became the name for all of the Philips products marketed in North America).
In 1929, Philips had hired an ingenious young engineer named Jan Jacob Kotte, who before long had developed a record turntable which could be synchronized with a film projector (sound familiar?). Philips was a leading supplier of sound systems for cinemas in Europe, so they had Kotte head up the design of a new series of film projectors, debuting in 1938 as "Family Program" projectors.
LEFT: Philips FP (Family Program) 2 35mm projector, designed by Jan Jacob Kotte. Introduced in 1938. Photograph courtesy of Gerard Bierling, via wichm.home.xs4all.nl. This seems to be a double-headed projector with two of everything in one unit. Note how the projection head swivels to the proper projection angle. ABOVE: Jan Jacob Kotte with prototype DP 70 projector. Unknown newspaper clipping, 1956. Via in70mm.com.
With Kotte as chief designer, Philips accepted the Todd-AO assignment in September of 1953. Philips required Magna Theatre Corp. to purchase 50 of the new projectors as a minimum. Working in collaboration with American Optical's William E. Peck, the new project was conceived of as a "dual purpose" machine, with the ability to run 70mm mag prints as well as 35mm mag and/or optical sound prints, and to be able to make the switch from one gauge to the other in a short span of time.
Three prototype projectors were delivered to Magna Theatre Corporation in late 1954. They were installed at what would become Todd-AO Stage A at 1020 North Seward Street, in Hollywood. Apparently, they were used to check each 70mm print of Oklahoma!as they were delivered from the nearby Technicolor lab for sound or picture problems.
The prototypes differed from the production run in two ways: first, the case door had its hinges on the left, rather than the right (so the projectionists at Magna must have cleared this one up), and the inside of the case was the same gray hammertone as the rest of the machine, not the white of the production run.
American Optical Test Facility, Southbridge, Massachusetts. Philips / Norelco DP 70 prototype projector, 1955. Shown with Ashcraft Core-Lite Lamphouse. Via in70mm.com.
Rivoli Theatre, New York City, New York. Exterior view during the engagement, from Thursday, October 13, 1955, to Tuesday, October 16, 1956, of Oklahoma! From the article The Rivoli: The First Todd-AO Cinema by John Belton. Via in70mm.com.
Rivoli Theatre, New York City, New York. Mezzanine projection room circa 1955. From the article "There's a 'New Look' at New York's Rivoli" from The Modern Theatre insert of the December 3, 1955 issue of Boxoffice Magazine. From the collection of Robert C. Weisgerber, via the American Widescreen Museum. These are part of the very first installation of the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projectors to be installed for Todd-AO. The lamphouses are Peerless Hy-Candescent condenser type high intensity arc lamps. Ampex sound dummies on the rear wall.
The unit had a catalog number of EL4000/01, but came to be known as the DP 70; DP for "double projector." The original release projectors are identifiable by the two motors protruding out the front, under the lens opening. The two motors were for the two different speeds: 30 FPS and 24 FPS. The upper motor was connected directly with the main shaft driving all the internal mechnisms, while the lower motor was connected by a toothed belt to the main shaft. Later models (shipped after 1960) only have the lower motor with the toothed belt connecting to a clutch, which is connected to the main shaft. The clutch allowed for shifting between the two speeds: 24 FPS or 30 FPS.
The DP 70 was a smashing success as 70mm became popular all over the world. No one really knows how many were made, but estimates are close to 1,000 machines were made over the years. At the 1963 Academy Award ceremony, the DP 70 became the very first projector to receive a Scientific and Engineering Award. Models shipped after that were called the "AAII." The last of the this design were shipped out in 1966.
Promotional photo of the Philips / Norelco DP 70 prototype projector, introduced in 1955. With Hy-Candescent lamphouse. Courtesy of Stefan Adler.
Publicity photograph of the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Introduced in 1955. Via in70mm.com. Because this projector only has the one motor, this photograpph was taken after 1960 or so.
Since 70mm film is wider, and runs faster than 35mm film does, Kotte and his design team conceived of the new projector in terms of sheer bulk. The physics of 70mm film running at 140 feet per minute, combined with the magnification required for the large Todd-AO screen, meant that the projector needed to be more tank-like than any projector had ever been made before. The base and head are made of monocoque styled cast iron. This approach resulted in a machine so sturdy and elegantly engineered and reliable that many people consider it the finest projector design ever. Let's talk about some of its features:
Designed to make the conversion from 70mm to 35mm easy and quick, requiring only a change of the gate, aperture plates, tension bands, replacing 70mm pressure roller for the 35mm one, adjust the tension on the mag head, adjusting the lens centering and change your lens. Nothing to it. . .
Single blade shutter, allowing for the greatest possible amount of light to reach the screen.
All sprockets and rollers made of non-magnetic hardened aluminium, with unique "barbell" shape for both gauges of film.
35mm /70mm sprockets used in the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Photo from DP 70 European product catalog, 1960. Via in70mm.com.
Separate motors for 30 FPS and 24 FPS. Theoretically could change motors for different frame rates.
Triple filtered lubrication system.
Massively constructed base and tilt mechanics for rock-steady projection.
Lathe bed lens carriage, allowing for lenses of any size.
ABOVE: Cinema Royal, Malmö, Sweden. Projection Room. Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Photograph by Thomas Hauerslev, no date. Via in70mm.com. The unit is threaded up with 70mm film with the gate in the forward, or closed position.
ABOVE RIGHT: American Cinematheque at the Eygptain Theatre, Hollywood, California. Projection Room. Philips / Norelco PD 70 AAII projector. Photo by Leo Enticknap, 2014. Via wikipedia. In this photograph, the gate assembly is retracted, or in the open position.
RIGHT: Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector, with single blade shutter. Photo from DP 70 European product catalog, 1960. Via in70mm.com.
Part of what makes the Philips / Norelco DP 70 unique is the relation between the film gate and the lens. Nothing is allowed to interfere with this relationship. In the DP 70, in order to open the gate to thread film through, one opens it from behind, via a large ball-topped release handle.
The assembly tilts back, then is pulled forward to close it. Since the shutter is directly behind the gate, the single blade of the shutter, with its opening of 180 degrees, is synchronized so that when the gate is opened, the shutter is out of the way. Clever.
Conventional double-blade shutter design. 35mm film at 24 FPS. Two flashes per frame, rotating at 1,440 RPM.
Philips / Norelco DP 70 single blade shutter. 35mm film at 24 FPS. Two flashes per frame, rotating at 2,880 RPM.
The shutter itself was designed to allow absolutely the greatest amount of light through as is physically possible. Since the gate size for 70mm is around 51 x 22 mm, the shutter is quite large, and has to turn at double the frame rate in order to produce the standard two flashes per frame; 2,880 RPM for 24 FPS, 3,600 RPM for 30 FPS. At these speeds, the shutter reveals the gate much faster than double-blade shutters, thus allowing more light to come through. The shutter acts also as a fan to suck cool air from outside the unit toward the film gate, cooling the picture portion of the film.
Philips / Norelco DP 70 single blade shutter. 35mm film at 24 FPS. Two flashes per frame, rotating at 2,880 RPM.
Philips / Norelco DP 70 single blade shutter. 70mm film at 30 FPS. Two flashes per frame, rotating at 3,600 RPM.
River Oaks Theatre, Calumet City, Illinios. Projection Room with Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector outfitted with D-150 Super Curvulon lens, circa 1969. Photograph courtesy Joe Kelly. Via Steve's Vacant Lot.
The rest of the film area is cooled by a water-cooling system, which circulates all around the rear of the gate itself. The standard closed-system outboard water system is employed, which also circulates water cooling to the lamphouse.
Special attention and over-engineering went into the design of the lens carriage. It is a rather large heavy table, engineered like a lathe, with the focusing knob in the front. It is carefully constructed to have zero play in it at all. The ring holding the lens is huge, and can accommodate lenses of standard diameter, providing the appropriate step down rings are used.
Since 70mm is perfectly symmetrical while 35mm has its picture center to one side due to its optical soundtrack, the lens holder is designed with an asymmetrical ring inserted inside with a lever allowing for a slight rotation. If the lever is up, the ring is slightly shifted away from the operator, and centered for 35mm opitcal, then insert your 35mm lens. If the lever is down, the ring brings the center of its hole over the center of the 70mm film.
The magnetic cluster is located in the upper right-hand corner of the case. The 10 magnetic pickups are in a nylon mounting. The cluster is easily removed, since it connects with the sound system via a PBX connector.
Dual magnetic cluster for the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Photo by larry41. Via eBay.com. Underside showing nylon barbell shape, and the rear with its PBX connector.
Cine Aperagon projection lens of unknown focal length mounted in the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Photograph and lens from the collection of Thomas Hauerslev, Copenhagen, Denmark. Via in70mm.com.
Originally, the DP 70s were outfitted with Cine Aperagon lenses, custom made by American Optical for each theatre. By the time the Chinese installed the machines, other lenses for 70mm might have been used. Other companies offered 70mm projection lenses, so it is unknown what lenses were installed. In any event, with a throw now measuring 125 feet (38 meters), using a 3.5 inch (or 76mm) lens would produce a picture 79.6 feet wide by 36 feet tall (24 meters wide by 11 meters tall)
All of the parts required for changing from one film gauge to another, such as the 70mm or 35 mm gate, tension bands, pad roller assemblies and so on, were kept in a very handsome wooden storage box, which is also where one could keep the various aperture plates and whatnot.
Wooden box containing all the parts needed for film gauge conversion in the Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector. Photo from DP 70 European product catalog, 1960. Via in70mm.com.
LEFT: Loew's State Theatre, New York City. Projection Room, 1959. Three Philips / Norelco DP 70 projectors with Hy-Candescent lamphouses. Photograph by the Todd AO Coporation. Via in70mm.com. This photo gives the idea of what the Chinese booth would have looked like after the three Norleco projectors were installed in the downstairs booth in 1961. ABOVE: Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, California. Projection Room, 1975. Photograph by Thomas Hauerslev, 1994. Via in70mm.com. The Goldwyn projection booth with its three DP 70 projectors, also gives an idea of what the Chinese booth would have looked like after the Norelcos were installed there in 1961.
At the Chinese, three Philips / Norelco DP 70s were installed in the downstairs booth. The left-hand projector was serial number 752, while on the right was number 754. The serial number of the center projector seems to have been 753. Eyewitness reports indicate that the Norelco's were running films by early 1960 if not earlier. The first film to play in modern 70mm was the "Grandeur 70" reissue of The King and I, in 1961. It is probable that the Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouses were retained for this installation.
The old projection room upstairs in the Cathay Lounge area, was converted into a formal VIP seating / reception area after the downstairs booth was fully functioning. The VIP area would remain until the 2001 remodel of the theatre, where the projection room was returned to the Cathay Lounge area, while the downstairs booth was converted into a larger area for consessions.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Rear of auditorium, circa 1933.
Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Rear of auditorium, showing Cinemiracle projection room downstairs and VIP seating box where the upstairs booth used to be, circa 1983. From Pictorial Souvenir of Mann's Chinese Theatre, Showplace of Hollywood, a "Colorpicture" Publication, Boston, Massechutetts, 1986.
The DP 70 projector heads and motor assembly were made in Holland, while the base, lamphouse table, and film magazines were made in the USA at Philips' plant in Mount Vernon, New York. The DP 70 was shipped unassembled in eight wooden crates. Without lamphouse, they weighed slightly over 1,000 pounds, and, in 1961, cost almost $4,000 each. The projector is 87 inches tall, 73 inches wide (from the front of motor to the end of the lamphouse table, and 21.5 inches deep.
Colosseum Cinema, Oslo, Norway. Projection Room. Philips / Norelco DP 70 projector running 70mm film. Photograph by Thomas Hauerslev, 1995. Via in70mm.com. A magical image, showing the fact that, through the green-tinted door window, it is possible to see the actual film in the gate. At some theatres like the Chinese, it was possible for tall filmgoers to see something like this view.
In Hollywood and Los Angeles, The DP 70 was installed in every big old barn theatre there was. It was installed at all of these theatres:
Palais de Congrés, Lyon, France. Projection Room with two Philips / Norelco DP 70 projectors with Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouses. Photograph by Gilbert Travin, 1976. Via in70mm.com.
The DP 70 has now become a much sought after collectable among film buffs around the world. They are becoming more and more valuable as time marches on. For more information on this projector and all things 70mm, please visit www.in70mm.com, and say hello to its editor, Mr. Thomas Hauerslev.
Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium with projection room windows. No Date, proabably late 1990s. Photographer unknown. The center DP 70 projector is running trailers while the house lights are not full up, but dimmed. A lot of film has been projected through these windows. . .
The 70mm at the Chinese Honor Roll
Below is a list of all the films to play in conventional 70mm at the Chinese from 1961 through 1998. From the first engagement to the last represents a total of 1,914 weeks of playing time. All of these 70mm films played for a total of 400 weeks.
And so, during this time, 70mm films were on the screen an average of 21 percent of the time — not bad!
Friday, December 19, 1997 - March 5, 1998 (11 Weeks)
Director of Photography: Russell Carpenter (Oscar Winning)
35mm Super 35 neg - 70 Blow-up - Print by DeLuxe
Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Auditorium showing new projection room and 70mm screen 85 x 36', 1961. Drawing by Kurt Wahlner.
Xenon Lamphouses: 1971-Present
Sometime in mid-1971, The Chinese Theatre pulled out the Ashcraft Super Cinex lamphouses after only ten years of service. What they replaced the carbon-arc lamps with was the technology of the future: the xenon arc lamp. First developed in Germany in the late 1940s and brought to market by Osram in the early 1950s, the xenon arc lamp was able to produce a non-flickering intense white light, bright enough to illuminate a movie screen. Although the bulbs were (and still are) hideously expensive, they would provide a decent number of hours of operation, and they could remain on for long periods without stress, which would be perfect for a future technology the industry was toying with: automation.
Carbon arc lamphouse, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Mark Pearce, September, 2006. Via flickr.com.
A difficulty theatre owners had with the carbon arc lamp was that the carbons would burn for only so long — 60 minutes or so was about the longest period they would last. It was necessary for a projectionist to insert carbons in their carriages and replace them after they had burned away; this way not the sort of thing you could just set and forget. This was the way it had been done since the beginning of projected films: one projectionist had to attend to a pair of projectors. The Xenon lamp changed all of that.
How Xenon Lamps Work
Xenon short arc lamps are gas discharge lamps, like neon tubes used in signs, and the “aeo-light” used in the Movietone system. Gas discharge lamps create light by sending electricity through an ionized gas — in this case xenon gas. The lamp envelope itself is made of fused quartz — silica with all impurities melted out — which allows the lamp to withstand extremely high temperatures (700 degrees Celsius — 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures. The air in the discharge vessel is vacuumed out and replaced with pure xenon gas. When the xenon gas is charged with DC current, “ionization” results: electrons in the xenon gas are free to mix with other electrons.
The other electrons come from the electrodes, which are positioned in the center of the discharge vessel; they almost touch in the middle. The gap is mere millimeters, which makes these "short arc" lamps. Since one electrode is negatively charged (cathode) the electrical current flows from it to the other electrode, which is positively charged (anode). Both of the electrodes perform a special assignment: when high levels of electrical power are sent thorough them, traces of thorium (which contain valence electrons — electrons which can join with electrons of other atoms to form chemical bonds) coating the surface of the tungsten electrodes exchange electrons with the electrons missing in the ionized xenon gas, which causes the gas to illuminate.
Diagram showing the main components of the xenon short-arc lamp. From XBO® - theatre lamps. Technology and application. PDF brochure by Osram, no date.
For the lamp to work, DC power must flow from the cathode to the anode electrodes. Even though the gap between them is small, it is too large to complete the circuit. In order to have the DC power “arc” through this space and exchange electrons with the xenon gas, it must be ignited, which is called "striking." A quick burst of 25,000 volts AC does the trick. It completes the circuit through the xenon gas, which flares into a bright light. Over time, this “striking” action causes pitting of the electrodes, and so, “striking” becomes more difficult — repeated strikes must be made — as the lamp ages to the end of its life, pitting the electrodes even more. The color spectrum of this light is similar to that of sunlight, which is thought to be ideal for transferring the color of the film to the screen accurately. Since the lamp is DC powered and under optimum conditions, the light produced does not flicker, which makes it perfect for a projector.
An example of a Christie brand xenon CXL lamp. From 1,000 to 7,000 watts. Via Christiedigital.com
Xenon lamps are under very high pressure inside the discharge vessel. If the unit cracks from mishandling, or the envelope is defective in any way, they may explode. Fingerprints or any sort of oil is to be avoided also. Xenon lamps will produce their optimum light for only so many hours, which is expressed by manufacturers as their “rating.” The lamps are generally guaranteed for the life of the rating. In order to keep track of the hours on a given lamp, xenon lamphouses have an elapsed time meter on them. When installing a new unit, along with notating the date, hours, and the serial number, and you would have an idea of how many hours the lamp has been in use.
It is possible to run the lamp past its rated number of hours — the top of the quartz envelope blackens over time. To combat this, operators rotate the lamp 180 degrees. When that too becomes blacked, it is time to replace the lamp. Xenon lamps are shipped with a protective shield surrounding the bulb, which is kept in place during the installation of the unit in the lamphouse. When the lamp is done, it ought to be replaced in its shield before sending them back to the manufacturer for proper disposal.
Expired Optical Radiation Corporation (ORC) xenon short arc lamp, showing the blackening which occurs on the envelope, c. 1995. Photo by petsmoneymike, Ithica, New York, via eBay.
Expired Osram XBO® xenon short arc lamp enclosed in a shipping shield and carton, c. 1995. Photo by petsmoneymike, Ithica, New York, via eBay.
Because of the high cost of xenon lamps, technicians and theatre managers will endlessly argue over when to replace them. A good rule of thumb seems to be to run the lamp for its rated life plus 15%, then replace it. If a defective unit explodes during the “warranted life” period, manufacturers would have to replace the lamp obviously, but also pay to repair any damage done to the lamphouse. This did and still does happen, but quite rarely. Running too much power through a lamp would void its warranty.
When xenon lamps began showing up in theatres during the 1960s, specially designed lamphouses were created for them, but it was also possible to convert whatever carbon arc lamphouse you had to xenon. After xenon lamps became the standard by 1975, these conversion kits became fewer and fewer.
Opitcal Radiation Corporation 6000 xenon lamphouse. Original version introduced in 1971. Rescued from the Ranch Drive-In Theatre, Ames, Iowa. Photo by Craig Binnebose, 2000. From drive-intheatremuseum.org.
In 1971, the leading manufacturer of xenon lamphouses for motion picture use was the Optical Radiation Corporation (ORC) of Azusa, California. ORC was founded in 1969 by John N. Wilkinson, Richard Wood and Carl Knopp. All three had been working for Electro-Optical Systems, a division of Xerox in Pasadena.
Never start a new company unless you already have a buyer for your product. ORC contracted with the U.S. Air Force to manufacture a 2 kW xenon searchlight for Lockheed's AC-130 Gunships just then coming into use in the Vietnam War. With that under their belt, Wilkinson wanted to develop something the movie business was getting interested in: xenon projection lamps. With Knopp, who had a PhD in Plasma Physics, they thoroughly understood xenon lamps and how to get them to function in the less stressful confines of your typical projection room.
ORC brought out their first model, the 6000, in mid 1971. Wilkinson was a gifted engineer, but he also had the confidence and charm to go out and sell theatre owners the ORC product. Knowing theatre owners were always looking for ways to economize, Wilkinson struck a deal with National General Corporation (owners of the Chinese at the time) to outfit some of their larger theatres with the Model 6000 units, making the Chinese one of their early plums, along with the National Theatre in Westwood and the Hollywood Pacific.
Opitcal Radiation Corporation 6000 xenon lamphouse. Original version introduced in 1971. Approximately 30" wide x 19" tall x 13" deep. Rescued from the Ranch Drive-In Theatre, Ames, Iowa. Photo by Craig Binnebose, 2000. From drive-intheatremuseum.org. The lamphouse is shown in relation to the Philips / Norelco DP 70mm projector.
Hollywood must have agreed, presenting Wilkinson with a Scientific and Engineering Award at the 1972 Academy Award ceremonies for “for the development and engineering of a system of xenon arc lamphouses for motion picture projection.” Wilkinson's talents and conviction have much to do with the conversion of the industry from carbon arcs to xenon lamps. ORC diversified, going into medical optic devices and computer chip etching systems, as well as developing the first practical digital sound delivery for theatres, Cinema Digital Sound in 1990. By then, Wilkinson was semi-retired. He died tragically of a gun accident on Christmas Day, 1993, at his ranch in Montana, aged 53.
The ORC 6000 originally held a 4500 watt Canrad Hanovia model X6000 lamp, with a Miller welding power supply running 32 volts DC. ORC put their name on the power supply, but later made their own, as well as making their own brand of xenon lamps.
Installation of xenon lamphouses at the Chinese might have been triggered by the first of the FILMEX events, held in November of 1971. The head of FILMEX, Gary Essert (1938-1992), planned on showing 16mm, and so, to get all of the projectors on the same page, xenon lamps were installed on all four projectors (the 16mm projector, installed to house left of projector number 1, is of an unknown brand).
Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Projection Room, showing both sides of the Philips / Norelco DP 70 #754 with the later version of the ORC 6000 xenon lamphouse. Photos by Mark Gulbrandsen, 1984.
ORC received a good deal of industry acceptance for their xenon lamphouses, allowing them to expand their product line, making a range of sizes of lamphouses for the burgeoning multi-plex theatres proliferating around the country. In February, 1973, Ray F. Boegner helped start ORC’s “Lamp Division” in Union, New Jersey of all places. Dr. Knopp moved there in August, but the whole operation was pulled back to Azusa by February, 1975.
At the Chinese, the original ORC 6000 was replaced by an improved model, which in addition to containing an actual 6000 watt lamp, also had a beefier ventilation system, and it is this lamphouse we have in our photo above from 1984.
In Hollywood, when a premiere was to be held, it became standard practice for the organizers to ask for new xenon bulbs to be installed, in addition to having a sound tech coming out to tune the room, even if the room had been tweaked recently. First impressions are important (a good script would be better), so who can blame impresarios from insisting on the best presentation possible?