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Oh What He Could Do With
Some Plastic and a Bucket of Rust.

Circa 1952

This biography of Hazard Reeves was issued by Cinerama, Inc. for press releases to be used for opening engagements of This is Cinerama. While it provides a nice summary of some of Reeves' accomplishments, it fails to mention a few of the more surprising things that the man was involved in. We'll give you a few more details following the release.



When some fifty of America's leading orchestral artists cheer a recorded version of their own performance, that's news. Yet that is precisely what happened after each recording session of the score for This Is Cinerama, the film that introduces to the world a thrilling new motion picture experience.

For Cinerama is not only a new kind of movie to look at, it offers a new kind of sound to listen to. "Stereophonic sound," it is called, a sound that literally surrounds an audience. For the first time voices and music come from the screen from the right or the left, from before or behind, to correspond to the position of the actual performers. For the first time orchestral sound is spread across the breadth of a stage instead of being constricted into a single loudspeaker. It was this new dimension of space that won the applause of Cinerama's special orchestra, drawn from members of the NBC Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. "Never before," they said, "have we been able to hear ourselves precisely as others hear us."

Behind this remarkable innovation in recorded sound is a personable young pioneer in sound recording techniques. His name is Hazard Reeves – "Buzz" Reeves to those who know him better. At 46 Reeves is recognized as one of the leading sound engineers in the country, and an extremely able executive as well. Not only is he President of Cinerama, Inc., the firm that develops and produces all Cinerama equipment, but he also heads his own Reeves Soundcraft Corp., the largest sound service laboratory in the East.

Baltimore born, Reeves took his degree from Georgia Tech in 1928, then headed north for a job in the research engineering department of the Columbia Phonograph Co. Soon after, he was appointed as special consultant to the Harvard University Film Foundation, a, connection which proved decisive in his life. Since that time, Reeves has been the expert on sound film problems and sound equipment. By 1933 Reeves was on his own. He opened his own studio in New York, began designing special recording equipment, established a preview projection service that is still widely used by the film industry in New York. He developed a magnetic tape, his Magnastripe process, primarily as a flexible system for sound recording in the field. Immediately adopted by virtually all documentary film producers, the Magnastripe became Reeves' clue to the revolutionary sound system he developed for Cinerama.

Reeves met Fred Waller, Cinerama's inventor, for the first time when the two were working together on a special installation for the Eastman Kodak exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1939. The two men hit it off immediately. Both were extremely practical inventors, both had unconventional ideas. When Waller showed Reeves an early model of his Cinerama camera, Reeves began to think of a multidimensional sound to go with it. In fact, he did more than that. He invested in the Cinerama process himself, aiding Waller through the long and costly period of designing and displaying a working model of his camera.

When the war came along, Reeves, with several of his associates, founded the Reeves-Ely Laboratories specifically to manufacture a very difficult crystal for the U. S. Army Signal Corps. Within less than a year the company had contracts totaling many millions of dollars and had won the Army-Navy "E" Award for merit. During the course of the war, Reeves-Ely won the "E" Award four times.

In 1946 Reeves set up his Soundcraft Corp., an organization producing recording tape and film, record discs, wire cable, television tubes and cameras and precision recording equipment. It was at this point that he began to devote himself increasingly to the problems of Cinerama's sound. He knew that he wanted the highest fidelity of reproduction. But more than that, he hoped to reproduce in sound the new dimensions of the Cinerama screen.

Reeves' method of recording directionally made possible the accurate placing of sound. The instruments in a symphony orchestra are heard in their proper positions on the stage. The voice of a singer off to the left actually comes from the left side of the screen; a trumpet call on the right is heard from the right.

Even more sensational is the effect of being surrounded by sound. In Cinerama's famous roller coaster ride, the illusion of being in the front car of a scenic railway is immeasurably heightened by the realistic clatter and then the screams that seem to come from all about the spectators – as well as, frequently, from the spectators themselves.

Reeves, an extremely energetic man, has one passion in addition to high fidelity sound – good eating. When locating a restaurant to meet his exacting demands for fine food proved difficult during the war years, he opened his own. Today his Cafe Niño, on New York's fashionable East Side, is an unqualified success. Its specialty – wild game and fish, served to sports lovers in a special club room.

The man that developed Cinerama's remarkable sound system was obviously a gifted engineer. If Reeves' gifts were limited to engineering we probably would have never heard of him.

In addition to his engineering skills, Reeves was a highly successful businessman and during his lifetime he founded over 60 public companies. The Reeves Sound Studios, founded in the early 1930s, was one of the more well known of the group and one of its first major productions was coverage of the abdication of the Duke of Windsor. Another company, Audio Devices, developed a "Pyrolac" record blank that allowed people to make their own disc recordings. As Reeves said, "Once again as so often happens in business a small sideline struck pay-dirt. We sold thousands of copies of a book entitled 'How to Make Your Own Recordings' and of course mentioned our product on every other page. Reeves Sound Studios was now a proud parent, and from these children would come grandchildren and great grandchildren as the company broadened and diversified like a family tree." The firm even sold cactus phonograph needles which, it's reported, were excellent for dulling the scratch noises in the old shellac records. Reeves would earn many millions from companies that got their seed money from $1,500 borrowed at 25% interest in 1930.

Reeves was an immensly practical man. In 1943, band leader Fred Waring had established a company to make a home appliance but materials shortages had prevented him from doing anything other than sink money into the project. When Reeves saw it he liked the idea and immediately put up a $15,000 down payment with another $250,000 to be paid after the war, along with a small royalty. Thus the Waring Blender Company came into being.

Reeves Sound Studios had benefitted from the record industry becoming lethargic with the widespread acceptance of radio, thinking that their days were numbered. Before long, work involved in the technology of producing phonograph records soon evolved into recording sound for motion pictures and later television. Following the end of the Second World War, Reeves put significant resources into further developing magnetic recording which had been introduced by the German propaganda machine. Reeves Soundcraft made equipment for simplified field recording of sound on a magnetic tape. Soundcraft was a major force in magnetic recording from the late forties through the seventies. Among hundreds of other products, both the Soundcraft and Audio Devices divisions manufactured magnetic recording media, Soundcraft primarily supplied the commercial market and Audio Devices the consumer market. Audio Devices was sold to EMI - Capitol Records.

Waller's three strips of film won him an Oscar® in 1954 for the year of 1953. Though Cinerama debuted in 1952 it did not play in the Los Angeles area until 1953, a requirement for Academy nomination. Waller was ill at the time of the ceremonies and was unable to accept his statuette. He passed away a few days later.

Reeves Soundcraft won a class 2 Oscar® for the invention of a method of applying magnetic oxide stripes to motion picture film, benefitting CinemaScope, Todd-AO, and all other single film stereophonic systems that followed. Hazard Reeves' Academy Award acceptance speech was surely one of the shortest in history, "On behalf of Reeves Soundcraft Corporation I want to express our appreciation for this honor."

April 1954, Fredric March presents Hazard Reeves with the AMPAS Class 2 plaque for figuring out how to stick rust to acetate, something that Reeves was exceptionally good at.
Kinoscope © AMPAS

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