Cinerama Road Trips!
How special was Cinerama to 50’s audiences? I’d guess it ranked below Disneyland, but higher than a circus or the Ice Capades. It was less about going to the movies than seeing an indoor natural phenomenon. People dressed up for Cinerama and recognized presentations for something truly special. There’s an IMAX theatre at Myrtle Beach, SC and we’ve been a few times. I could wish folks regarded that a bigger deal, but patronage wearing flip-flops don’t seem overwhelmed. Does IMAX surpass Cinerama? What I’ve seen looks impressive, but three-strip excerpts and photos of all-engulfing screens make me long for the old process. I keep running into ads for Cinerama in big city newspapers turned yellow. Shows played two or more years then. California hosted Cinerama in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Ads for three-strip attractions were published in adjacent cities as the process was deemed worth driving to see. Frisco's Orpheum tied in with Greyhound and lured customers in Sacramento to bus ride the 86 miles in something very much like the 1955 Courier pictured below, newest of luxury highway transports. I noticed in these ads that Greyhound’s depot was only a block and a half from the Orpheum. Comfort and convenience were major selling points then. I guess people knew all too well how rugged bus travel could be. So how long would 86 miles in a Greyhound have taken in 1955? You’d have to figure your entire day for hours both ways plus the show. That’s wanting pretty badly to experience Cinerama.
Orpheum ads said Will Not Be Shown In Any Other Theatre In Northern California. Inquiry suggests their legend stayed true at least through the 50's, as no other cities in California seem to have gotten Cinerama until San Diego later on, then finally Sacramento in 1963. The ads promised it was More Fun When You Go Greyhound. My family drove up the California coast in 1962 and that was no picnic, ours being a station wagon with four kids, two beleaguered parents, and no air-conditioning. A bathroom stop I needed could not be gratified on LA freeways the likes of which we’d never encountered on NC byways, so a paper cup ended up having to do (it didn’t). So how does any eight year old properly handle a situation like that? I’m picturing accommodations on a Greyhound bus seven years earlier. Traveling that way always seemed the province of down-and-outers like Dana Andrews in Fallen Angel where he’s thrown off for not having fare. I’ve done a Google pass to see when buses got cooling systems. Greyhound introduced the Scenicruiser into its fleet in 1954 and these represented big strides for travel comfort. From best I’ve determined though, air-conditioning and rest rooms weren’t generally available to passengers until the company took delivery of fully equipped forty-foot coaches between 1957 and 1960. I’d guess a lot of people enjoyed bragging rights they’d acquire for having witnessed Cinerama. If nothing else, it meant you’d visited the big town, as no small burghs had three-paneled screens. My own chance to savor the process was blown during the nineties when I was too bone idle to drive a mere 416 miles to Dayton, Ohio where prints from John Harvey’s collection were being shown. That’s a miss I’ll always regret.
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