that sent the Kremlin rushing to duplicate them.
One had the potential to kill millions.
One had the potential to thrill millions.
The Celluloid Cold War
Cinerama arrived in Washington D.C. in May of 1953 at the Warner Theater. After about a year of sell out crowds for "This Is Cinerama", Lowell Thomas came to town to handle some other business and invited President Eisenhower to a matinee performance. Thomas had a lot of political pull in the 1950s and this time it paid off handsomely, Ike accepted the invitation gladly. The president had heard about Cinerama from White House staffers and had become quite curious about the new film medium.
The President was amazed with the impact of the show and was brought to tears and goose bumps during the flight across America finale as the Salt Lake City Tabernacle choir sang "America the Beautiful". Ike was sold on Cinerama, as Thomas had figured, and some interesting developments started to come about.
With Ike's influence a special arrangement, with no typical red tape in sight, was worked out by the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency. At that point Cinerama became part of the official U.S. Government representation at international trade fairs. Eisenhower felt Cinerama would be a good tool to show America off to the world. He was right, so at U.S. government expense a large outdoor theater was built at the Damascus, Syria International Fairgrounds and opened with Cinerama showings on the evening of September 2nd, 1954 to throngs of curious Syrians. For the Trade Fair's month long events locals were on the verge of rioting for tickets to see this new "Wonder Film". In several incidents those who could not get tickets to the show would climb trees and nearby rooftops to get a glimpse of this amazing American large screen spectacle. Injuries were a nightly event as un-ticketed fans fell from snapped branches to break arms and legs.
Thousands of Syrians and other visitors waited in line for hours to obtain free tickets to see "This Is Cinerama", while dignitaries were given engraved invitations such as this one, made out to allow a Cinerama crew member access to the exhibit.
Pandemonium reigned as crowds fought for tickets to the Damascus showing of This Is Cinerama. Meanwhile, at the Soviet exhibit, only a few people each day visited. At each evening's Cinerama showing, dozens of injuries occurred as those unable to get tickets climbed trees and rooftops to peer over the walls at the outdoor Cinerama theatre.
The Soviet's venue drew very few visitors during the day as no one wanted to forfeit their place in line for the Cinerama tickets just to look at tractors and other Russian farm equipment. The soviet delegation was furious and lodged complaints of unfair competition to the international fair officials. Variety headlines screamed, "Cinerama Success Makes Commies Scream Foul". Shortly afterwards The State Department investigated the possibility of installing Cinerama on a retired aircraft carrier and taking it to every port in the world. The plan was abandoned only after the expense of taking a carrier out of mothballs was found to be prohibitive.
After a few more trade fair incidents, the Russians were not going to let anything like this happen again. So months later, the Soviets sent a plane load of "tourist" scientists and engineers to visit the Casino Theater in London to see this film process for themselves. In early 1956 Otto Lang, the director of Cinerama's 4th film "Search For Paradise", remembers being on a remote location high up in the mountains of Gulmarg near Kashmir when the Cinerama crew noticed another crew filming near the same location. The lonely American crew happily invited the other apparently ragged & worn filmmakers to share their campfire. As it turned out it was a crew from Moscow filming a documentary on the same mountains. In spite of communication difficulties the Russians showed considerable interest in the monster Cinerama camera, its special 27mm -3 lenses and took great delight in peering through viewfinder. Eventually the Russians copied Cinerama making some slight modifications then dubbing it's creation "Kinopanorama".
Many years later in the mid 1960s the two rival compatible formats were joined in a spirit of cooperation when, "Cinerama's Russian Adventure" was released to Cinerama theaters. The film was entirely comprised of "Kinopanorama" sequences from several Russian 3 panel favorites and narrated by Bing Crosby.