Cinerama Out Of Doors
Being more or less thick on the subject of Cinerama (and never having seen it projected), I was not aware that Pacific Theatres owns both the process and all but two features utilizing its three-panel system (How The West Was Won and The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm belong to Warners). These ads were ones I came across in a box of Los Angeles newspapers. Cinerama was plentiful there during the fifties and early sixties, but its presence at a drive-in seemed almost inconceivable. Something about Pacific’s three-strip adventure rang a bell which was answered upon looking back into Greenbriar’s archive. Seems I’d featured this self-same outdoor venue three years ago (March 2006) after stumbling over images in a trade magazine. Let’s then consider today’s post a sequel to that, and attribute my revisitation to ongoing amazement that at least one venue actually played Cinerama to parked cars and in fact presented authentic three-panel in LA for what would be a last time for years to come.
Cinerama had been LA exclusive to the Warners Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (shown here). They exploited the process through the fifties, and after an early sixties lull, were back playing Cinerama in 1962. Pacific’s chain bought the process around that time and decided to introduce it as an outdoor attraction. Their Century Drive-In was closed and retrofitted to the drumbeat of ads promising The Newest, Largest, Most Spectacular Screen Anywhere In The World. Three-panel Cinerama was over nearly everywhere else by then. Single-strip 70mm had replaced it. This Is Cinerama’s opening at the Century on April 17, 1964 might as well have been a dinosaur exhibit for all the future this process had. They played it three weeks with two shows a night. Seven Wonders Of The World moved in on May 6 for five weeks, buttressed by a sub-run of McLintock, which was, of course, standard 35mm and must have looked punk on that giant screen after the Cinerama blow-out. The final three-panel date was South Seas Adventure, which started June 10 and ran three weeks. Pacific thereafter used conventional film and stored away their Cinerama negatives. The Century was twinned in 1973 and demolished in 1984. People who went there said it was great but for plane noises in and out of LAX. There’s a fantastic documentary called Cinerama Adventure that’s an extra on Warner’s DVD of How The West Was Won. It’s feature length and covers all history of the three-panel process. Here was my first time seeing footage from This Is Cinerama and the other travelogues. Is anyone exhibiting Cinerama nowadays? The fan base is a dedicated one. I read of one enthusiast who constructed a three-panel system in his house. Pacific has made new prints of Cinerama features. Are any of these forthcoming to their Dome theatre in Hollywood? I missed the ones they ran previously, including How The West Was Won. For all that’s written on the history of the process, here’s my go-to site for most detailed and reliable coverage.
UPDATE 6/10/09: Craig Reardon e-mailed a reminiscence of Pacific's Century Drive-In that's so good I just had to ask his permission to reprint it here. Thank you Craig, for allowing me to share the following with Greenbriar readers:
I'm FROM Inglewood, California, and grew up only a few blocks away from the Century Drive-In. As drive-ins go, it went! ( I couldn't resist.) No ... as drive-ins go, or rather did go, back in their heyday, I imagine the Century was one of the nicer ones. It had that big, art deco sort of marquee as pictured in your latest blog. It also had a big sort of 'frame' to the back of the screen, facing the street (which was Century Blvd.), that was memorably decorated with a gigantic mural of SHIPS sailing, sails unfurled, almost like a frozen scene from The Sea Hawk. It made a great impression on me, over and over again, when my Dad and Mom would take my brother and I to see something, there. I can't furnish any particulars about its history. That's the sort of remarkable information I'm more liable to find YOU turning up, one of these days! However, I can attest to having seen Gigi there, as well as Ben-Hur, so it was certainly there in the late1950s. Under the original screen, there was a complete playground and giant sandbox for kids to cavort in, while it got to be dark enough to start the first show. Often Mom would chaperone us while we played on the swings or the spinning disc-like thing that kids used to love to clamber up on, trying to beat the pull of centrifugal force and stay on, but have long since been removed from all playgrounds, another victim I presume of spurious litigation that's taken a lot of the fun out of childhood. I checked out your earlier 2006 post, with the additional pictures of the snack bar. That might've been taken right out of my brain! How well I remember that place. I DO remember that curved screen. It was not a pretty sight, particularly, vs. the more monumental, original screen. Our family did not take advantage of the chance to see these Cinerama screenings, alas. However, I did see This is Cinerama at the Warner Cinerama in the early '60s, during a (presumed) reissue, with my Dad. The rollercoaster beginning was unforgetable, at the time, and that sense of vertigo and giddy fun is very well suggested in the wonderful documentary, Cinerama Adventure, that you refer to, included by WB Home Video with How the West Was Won. Speaking of which, we ALSO saw that, in its original 3-projector exhibition, at a Cinerama theater in San Diego, visiting my uncle and aunt. That was memorable. This was a theater, like many others across the country, 'specially made to exhibit Cinerama films. It was beautiful inside, with a long, long curving proscenium with red curtain (as I remember.) They sold actual, slenderhardcover 'books', souvenir books, about the movie, in the lobby. The illustrations in the much abbreviated simulation included with the superb Blu-ray version of HTWWW are taken from that original souvenir book. You had to buy it, by the way! It did not come with the price of admission! The WB Blu-ray, especially the 'SmileBox' version, does a tremendous job in suggesting what it was like to see this splendid entertainment as it originally looked. The lines, that were not objectionable, but were visible, are almost entirely gone in the excellent restoration, as you know. In the theater, I remember being transfixed seeing the THREE projector beams meeting in the air about in the middle of the darkened theater, on their way to illuminate the three areas of the continuous, curved screen. Back to the Century, however! No, I'm sorry to say that no remnant of that special, 1964 screen, nor indeed any portion of the Century, still survives. Oh, pardon me ---- I'm addressing your 2006 post! You yourself point out in the most recent one the facts ---- it was demolished. Leave it to you and your supernatural ability to ferret out this information! ---- you even have the year it all came down: 1984. My family moved away to Redondo Beach (about a 45-minute drive from Inglewood) in 1970, and so we weren't there when this happened. Plus, I was out on my own, finally, about 1979, and I didn't know the Century was gone until I visited the old neighborhood again in 2005, and saw that one of the big box stores (Wal-Mart or Costco) currently sits without distinction where this marvelous relic of the waning golden years of moviegoing once reigned. The screen was actually visible, in spite of a 'screen' of tall eucalyptus trees encircling the back ofthe lot, from our nearby high school! Often, when there in the evening, I would pause to watch a 'silent' portion of a contemporary film, showing there. I well remember seeing (but, not hearing, of course!) the blood 'n' thunder conclusion of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave playing out, in the late '60s, as I waited for a ride from home to pick me up from some evening function, there! It may amuse you to know something I accidentally discovered. During the fine 1954 (I believe it is) George Cukor film, The Marrying Kind (written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, I believe), the young married couple played by Aldo Ray and Judy Holliday go to to a drive-in, one night. Now, the story is set in either New York or New Jersey. But, the drive-in marquee you see them exiting past, after the show, is....The Century! After all, it says so, right over the marquee, just as your vintage photo confirms. So, in other words, that fictional couple drove a hell of a long distance to see THAT movie! For me, it's a charming memento of hundreds of hours spent spellbound, staring at the screen through the windshield of my Dad and Mom's Ford station wagon (PAST the heads of my Dad and Mom!), at some of the amazing movies of that time.
The Century was located across from an Inglewood landmark that IS still there, today, as it has been for decades: the Hollywood Park Racetrack! This was evidently first built by a consortium including many actual Hollywood figures, hence the name. I infer it was a place for them to go, reasonably local to Tinsel Town, and watch their ponies perform. The other mecca for that was Santa Anita in Sierra Madre, which is east of Pasadena. From one or the other of these places, you still see many, many snapshots or newsreel glimpses of the celestial celebrities of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, up in the stands or private boxes, watching the races. So far, Hollywood Park has ridden the changing times and fashions and other social upheavals (including the shift from a poly-ethnic mix in Inglewood, when I grew up, toward its current Afro-American primary composition, today), and escaped the wrecking ball. The poor Century Drive-In was not fated to go the same distance, and it's a shame. However, today's kids would not know what to make of it, I imagine. Also, as your column often points out, and with admirable clarity and honesty, there were not in those days the magnificent options available in home theater and home video. I look at some of these things on our big set, especially in the Blu-ray format, and I think they look as good or even BETTER than they did in movie theaters, 'back in the day', let alone through my parents' tinted windshield, much as I loved the adventure of going to the drive-in. One of the other things I left out was that it was usually an occasion to go to our favorite local delicatessen, Dino's, and grab four delicious 'grinders' (submarine sandwiches----I'm not sure which of several parallel names for these familiar delicacies 'clicks' in your neck of the woods). As that song that another wonderful 'Dino' used to croon says, "Memories are made of this ..."