Remembering Cinerama

posted by Coate on September 15, 2008 at 8:00 am

Part II: Chicago

With last week’s DVD and Blu-ray release of the Cinerama classic “How The West Was Won,” as well as the recent screenings of “How The West Was Won” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, I thought this would be a great time to take a comprehensive look at Cinerama for those who experienced it when it was new and for those who know it only as history.

The following is Part Two of an ongoing series of retrospective postings on the Cinerama process (and copycat formats such as Cinemiracle and Kinopanorama) which provides a reminder of the many great movie palaces in which these memorable events took place. Part I: New York City was posted a few days ago. This entry focuses on the Cinerama presentations in Chicago.

Enjoy the flashback!

Theater: Palace
Premiere: July 29, 1953
Engagement Duration: 98 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Promotional Hype: “Cinerama puts YOU in the picture, in the most remarkable new kind of emotional experience ever brought to the theatre. You are swept into the picture, actually surrounded with the magic of CineramaSound. Have you got your tickets yet?”

Theater: Palace
Premiere: June 15, 1955
Duration: 78 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Midwest Premiere Of The New, The 2nd Cinerama Presentation, Imitations may come and go but only Cinerama puts you in the picture.”

Theater: Palace
Premiere: December 12, 1956
Duration: 70 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “The New, The 3rd Cinerama Presentation Will Light Up The Entertainment Sky. There’s nothing in the world like it. When YOU share the fabulous pageantry, live the intimate drama as YOU hurtle to the four corners of the globe.”

Theater: Palace
Premiere: April 16, 1958
Duration: 22 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Cinerama takes you on an elephant ride and down a raging river on a frail raft to visit lands and peoples virtually unchanged since the days of Marco Polo!”

Theater: Opera House
Premiere: June 20, 1958
Duration: 14 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinemiracle
Hype: “Ahoy! Ride The Mainsail To Adventure, Romance And Excitement With Louis De Rochemont’s ‘Windjammer’ Cinemiracle Too exciting to describe! Too big to believe!”

Theater: Palace
Premiere: September 18, 1958
Duration: 59 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Escape With The New Cinerama Adventure To The Moon-Drenched Mystery-Washed South Seas!”

WINDJAMMER (Return Engagement)
Theater: McVickers
Premiere: December 25, 1959
Duration: 22 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinemiracle
Hype: “So vast is the canvas upon which the adventurous thrills of CINEMIRACLE are painted that the management of this theatre made structural changes in order to bring you CINEMIRACLE in all its exclusive original dimensions.”

THIS IS CINERAMA (Return Engagement)
Theater: Palace
Premiere: June 28, 1961
Duration: 14 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Exciting news for Chicago!!! Cinerama is coming again. First time in the world at popular prices! Nothing cut but the prices!”

Theater: Palace
Premiere: October 4, 1961
Duration: 15 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “See it today, Talk about it tomorrow! ‘Seven Wonders Of The World’ in the 8th wonder of Cinerama”

CINERAMA HOLIDAY (Return Engagement)
Theater: Palace
Premiere: January 17, 1962
Duration: 11 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “New Thrills! New Excitement!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: August 8, 1962
Duration: 29 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Cinerama present The First Full Length Dramatic Story In Cinerama With A Dazzling Array Of Stars In Fascinating Roles. It Puts YOU In The Picture!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: February 27, 1963
Duration: 37 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “The Great Dramatic Motion Picture That Puts You In Every Scene!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: November 19, 1963
Duration: 33 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Biggest Entertainment Ever To Hit The Cinerama Screen!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: July 8, 1964
Duration: 15 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Cinerama Surrounds You With The Greatest Thrill-Packed Story Ever Filmed!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: October 21, 1964
Duration: 9 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama
Hype: “Now You Are Catapulted Across Five Continents And 100 Centuries! Cinerama’s Greatest All-Time Thrills Presented For The First Time In One Exciting Cinerama Production!”

Theater: Cinestage
Premiere: December 25, 1964
Duration: 13 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Cinerama Has Thrilled You With ‘This Is Cinerama’, ‘Seven Wonders Of The World’, ‘South Seas Adventure’, ‘Windjammer’ And Now The New Cinerama Production ‘Mediterranean Holiday’ ”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: March 10, 1965
Duration: 29 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: None

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: September 28, 1965
Duration: 9 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Cinerama Sends You Roaring With Laughter And Adventure Down That Wide, Wonderful, Fun-Trail!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: December 22, 1965
Duration: 14 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “At Last! The Super Action Show In Super Cinerama”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: March 29, 1966 (World Premiere)
Duration: 11 weeks
Format: 3-Strip Cinerama/Kinopanorama
Hype: “You’re here, there, everywhere! Only the original 3-Camera Cinerama is marvel enough to plunge you into the most incredible adventure of all!”

Theater: McVickers
Premiere: June 22, 1966
Duration: 11 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Where The Nile Divides, The Great Cinerama Adventure Begins!”

Theater: Cinestage
Premiere: January 25, 1967
Duration: 24 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Cinerama Sweeps You Into A Drama Of Speed And Spectacle”

Theater: Cinestage
Premiere: April 11, 1968
Duration: 36 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “An Epic Drama Of Adventure And Exploration!”

Theater: Cinestage
Premiere: April 17, 1969
Duration: 10 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “Ice Station Zebra…remember the name, your life may depend on it!”

Theater: Cinestage
Premiere: June 26, 1969
Duration: 12 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “The New Super Cinerama Hurls You Into The Incredible Day That Shook The Earth To Its Core!”

Theater: Edens 2
Premiere: June 13, 1973
Duration: 7 weeks
Format: 70mm
Hype: “‘This Is Cinerama’ Is Back To Entertain A Whole New Generation”

Future postings will focus on other markets, enabling the reader to compare how Cinerama was handled in different regions. For example, markets varied on which films played, the duration of an engagement, the sequence in which the films were released, the manner in which they were promoted, which films were re-issued, which Cinerama theaters were custom-built vs. retrofit older venues, etc.

Compiled by Michael Coate

Sources: Chicago Tribune and Variety.

Comments (14)

markp on September 15, 2008 at 8:05 am

Once again, amazing to see runs of 30, 40 50, even 70 weeks or more. And these all played in theatres with thousands, not hundreds (if that nowadays, some even 100 or less) of seats. And all performances were probably filled. Truly a great time in a great era for movies.

terrywade on September 15, 2008 at 11:27 am

Thanks again Mike for the Cinerama info. Will you be doing LA/Hollywood or San Francisco CA in the future? I hope so!

Coate on September 29, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Here are some additional details I left off the original posting.

Chicago was the 4th city in the world to equip a theater for Cinerama exhibition (New York, Detroit and Los Angeles were the first three).

“Russian Adventure” (1966), which had its world premiere engagement in Chicago, was a compilation of footage from Soviet-produced Kinopanorama films.

“Custer Of The West” (1967/68), which played as a 70mm-Cinerama roadshow in selected U.S. cities, played in Chicago only as a 35mm general release.

“Scent Of Mystery,” which was converted to 3-strip format and re-titled “Holiday In Spain” (1961) for selected bookings, played its world premiere engagement in Chicago in 1960 under its original title and in its original 70mm format.

Roloff on October 14, 2008 at 10:50 am

Here’s a look at an odd artist’s rendition of the Palace Theatre and Bismarck hotel on a vintage postcard:
View link

JackFritscher on December 27, 2008 at 10:27 pm

In late July 1953, six weeks after my 14th birthday (June 20), I convinced my parents I was old enough and I boarded the Rock Island Rocket train and dared head out all alone, north from tiny Peoria, on a three-hour journey,to the forbidden (in Peoria) metropolis of Chicago with the sole purpose of buying a ticket for one of the first showings of “This Is Cinerama.” Movies were my way out of Central Illinois. I caught the matinee, and was thrilled beyond description. Emerging from the Palace theatre on Randolph Street, I was a different boy as I walked back on clouds to the train station for my return trip of 150 miles to Peoria. After that, Peoria could not contain me. Cinerama liberated me all the way to San Francisco. Like Pauline Kael, I lost it at the movies.

Coate on May 18, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Part 1: New York City
Part 2: Chicago
Part 3: San Francisco
Part 4: Houston
Part 5: Washington, DC
Part 6: Los Angeles
Part 7: Atlanta
Part 8: San Diego
Part 9: Dallas
Part 10: Oklahoma City
Part 11: Syracuse
Part 12: Toronto
Part 13: Columbus
Part 14: Montreal
Part 15: Northern New Jersey
Part 16: Charlotte
Part 17: Vancouver
Part 18: Salt Lake City
Part 19: Boston
Part 20: Philadelphia
Part 21: Fresno
Part 22: Detroit
Part 23: Minneapolis
Part 24: Albuquerque
Part 25: El Paso
Part 26: Des Moines
Part 27: Miami
Part 28: Orange County
Part 29: Pittsburgh
Part 30: Baltimore
Part 31: Long Island

GFeret on October 12, 2009 at 11:28 am

As one who was lucky enough to be brought downtown as a boy to either the Bismark (now Palace) or McVickers theatres in late ‘50s-early-'60s by my wonderful uncle (we called him Johnny) to see these in their original 3-strip projection format (including the CineMiracle variant), a few first-hand things I can add:

1) at the time(s) I went in those years, usually but not always Christmas, the showtimes were well attended but by no means ‘full houses’. Yes the engagements’s seem to go on forever. Considering the level of set-up engineering needed to insure a seamless picture-perfect (pardon the pun) performance for each new release, it’d seem they’d want to get the longest mileage run out of it;

2) tickets were always sold reserved seat fashion, I enjoyed it all no less from the cheapest (upper) balcony seats in any case;

3) it’s always amazed me the projectors (3) utilized ‘vibrating aperture plates’, obviously to blur the 2 hard edges between picture panels and make them less noticeable, although they always could be made out by the picky;

4) and it’s worth pointing out (maybe it’s been already elsewhere) at least one 3-strip title I know of – BROTHERS GRIMM – got printed in Technicolor’s old dye-transfer process, furthermore for the Cinerama prints only (not 35mm general release).

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