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Now it happens that the original specs for Ultra-Panavision (70mm with a 1.25 squeeze) yield the same aspect ratio as Cinerama (2.76), and 3-panel prints could be made from the negative, although this has never been done. (Imagine the chariot race from Ben-Hur projected this way!) Worse, Reisini also called a halt to all R&D, which stopped production of Waller’s design of a 16-perf pull-across camera with a curved gate, and curved real element lens. Three-panel prints would be made from the single negative, forever solving the image kinking problem where the panels (each with its own vanishing point) met. Waller had never stopped trying to improve the process, and had always seen 3-panel as first generation technology. He would know none of the fate of his brainchild, however. He passed away in 1954, just days after receiving an Academy award for Cinerama.
The Cinerama name rapidly lost its cache and market share. Theaters were un-converted to conventional projection. Of the several purpose-built “Super Cinerama” theaters, only a few remain, and only two, the Seattle Cinerama and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, are equipped to show 3-panel films. (The Cooper in Denver, Colorado was recently demolished for a parking lot despite its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.) The company assets and distribution arm were purchased by Pacific Theaters, which mothballed the equipment and sold the remaining prints as sound spacer.
The last presentation of 3-panel projection was at a festival in Paris in 1972. As late as 1976, Lowell Thomas was still trying to revive interest in the process for the nation’s bicentennial. He firmly believed that someday, someone would help Cinerama achieve its potential. And so it languished, presumed dead, for nearly 20 years.

The Cavalry Arrives
In 1983, American Cinematographer Magazine commissioned a 20th anniversary retrospective article on How The West Was Won. Appearing in the October issue, it celebrated Cinerama and mourned its passing.
This caught the eye of retired projectionist John Harvey, who decided he would bring back Cinerama “if I have to do it by myself.” He ferreted out three projectors and a sound head and installed a full working Cinerama theater – in his home. At first he only had 4 minutes of footage. Gradually, he cobbled together a print of TIC and one of HTWWW, the latter in IB Technicolor. Eventually he acquired a pristine, but faded Eastman print of Cinerama Holiday. These he happily shared with the British Museum of Photography and Film in Bradford, England beginning in 1993. For years this was the only place on the planet where Cinerama could still be seen.
In 1996, Larry Smith, manager of the small art house cinema, The New Neon in Dayton, Ohio, convinced Harvey to move his equipment there. And so began the renaissance of ‘ole 3-eyes. Press attention brought people from all over the world to see the process they thought was lost forever.
Not long after, Paul Allen saved the Seattle Cinerama Theater from the wrecking ball, and restored it to its full 3-panel glory, ordering new prints of TIC and HTWWW.
Much of the continuing interest in saving Cinerama can be traced to the efforts of Dave Strohmaier, who has spent 5 years researching the process, and collecting memorabilia and interviews with surviving cast and crew for his documentary, The Cinerama Adventure. A labor-of-love project, it is now being completed with the help of the American Society of Cinematographers and Laser Pacific.
The original film materials for all the travelogues have been vaulted for decades. Fading as we speak, they are awaiting restoration – if only someone will put up the money.
And what of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood? Nearly lost in a planned conversion to flat-screen and buried inside a parking structure, the Dome was saved largely through the efforts of the Los Angeles Conservancy under the direction of Doug Haines’ Friends of Cinerama. This is quiet vindication for John Sittig, long time Pacific Theaters manager, who has been quietly lobbying behind the scenes for years to install Cinerama in the Dome.
This fall, it happened at last. Made at the order of Michael Forman, head of Pacific Theaters, a new print of This Is Cinerama, struck from the original negative by Crest Lab, was shown on September 30th , the 50th anniversary of the original premier in New York. This marked the first time 3-panel has ever been shown in the Dome. In October, a 40th anniversary re-premier of How The West Was Won is planned.
This will be welcome news for millions of baby boomers for whom Cinerama is a cherished childhood memory of an utterly unique experience they’ve been denied for over 40 years. Come September, they’ll all feel a bit like Lillith Prescott toward the end of HTWWW, when she is joyfully re-united with her family after decades of separation.
“Oh my,” she gently weeps, “I swore up and down I wasn’t going to cry.”

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Copyright ©2002 Greg Kimble, HTML Transcription Copyright ©2003 The American WideScreen Museum