Cinerama Holiday

Since its debut the California Zephyr had included among its ridership well known actors and actresses, state and federal political figures, foreign heads of state, as well as many others then in the public eye.

One of those early riders happened to be Louis de Rochemont, a prominent and successful New York motion picture producer, who proclaimed it "the finest train I have ever ridden." Because of his fond memory of that ride on the Zephyr Mr. de Rochemont invited the three railroads operating the transcontinental streamliner, Western Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy to take part in his production of the second Cinerama film—"Cinerama Holiday."

Mr. de Rochement was not new to motion pictures. A former line officer in the U. S. Navy, he was formerly a staffer for International Newsreel, assistant editor of Pathe News, director and producer of Twentieth Century-Fox, and co-founder and first producer of "The March of Time." He produced such pictures as "The Ramparts We Watch," "The Fighting Lady," "The House on 92nd Street," "13 Rue Madeline," "Lost Boundaries" which received eleven major awards, and others.

From Cinerama Holiday booklet showing Cinerama process.

So, what is Cinerama you may ask? Cinerama was the culmination of fifteen years of untiring research by Fred Waller, who was a mechanical and photographic wizard and a full-time inventor. Among his noted inventions was a still camera able to take a 360° picture, a Photo-Metric camera that measured a man for a suit of clothes in a fiftieth of a second, and an aerial gunnery trainer which saved thousands of American lives in World War II, and which was the final step along the road to Cinerama.

Mr. Waller had began experimenting with wide-angle lenses while he was head of Paramount's trick film department, during which time he also performed a study of sight in people to find out why they saw the things they did, saying at one time, "If I could devise cameras and projectors that would duplicate most of the normal vision as seen by a pair of human eyes, the human brain would do the rest."

By surrounding the viewer completely with action and sound in an environment, Cinerama creates an illusion of reality closely associated to the function of the retina of the human eye and the drum of the human ear. Cinerama reproduces a picture in almost a complete half-circle, 146 degrees wide and 55 degrees high.

In order to accomplish an undistorted picture, the Cinerama camera has three 27mm lenses set at 48 degree angles. Each lens takes a third of the picture's total width; the one in the center points straight ahead, the one on the left takes the right side of the picture, and the one on the right takes the left side. A single rotating shutter whirls in front of the lenses at the point where their lines of view cross, making foolproof simultaneous exposures on each side of the 35mm films housed in one of the three 1,000-foot magazines jutting from the back of the 150-pound camera. Single focus and diaphragm controls adjust settings on all three lenses simultaneously.

The process is reversed when three standard projectors in booths throw the images from each film out onto the huge screen, measuring 75 feet from tip to tip, and 26 feet high. The picture from the projector on the left is projected onto the right third of the viewing screen, the picture from the projector on the right is projected onto the left third of the viewing screen, and the one in the center projects straight ahead to the center of the screen.

By projecting the images in this way there is no distortion and fuzziness on the curved screen as the great depth of focus of the projector lenses keep the picture sharp. The screen itself is made up of 1,100 vertical strips of perforated tape set at angles like louvers of a sideways Venetian blind. Reflected light bounces off a louver and escapes behind the louver directly in front of it. Sitting right at the edge of the Cinerama screen and looking up at a tight angle, the figures still look round and full.

Another pioneer, this one in the field of sound and electronics, was Hazard E. Reeves, the man responsible for experimenting, designing and building the sound equipment. The stereophonic sound produced heightens the realistic illusion of Cinerama. When shooting the film, five microphones are placed to cover all action seen by the camera's eyes. Others are placed to one side or behind the camera to pick up the sound of voices, the rumble of a train, or whatever the action may be. In the theatre, five speakers are arranged behind the screen to reproduce the sounds picked up by the mike that was in a similar position on the set. Other speakers on the side walls and in the rear of the theatre reproduce the offstage noises picked up by the extra mikes. The actual sound of a speeding train, for example, will travel across the screen and roar away in the actual direction of its travel. The end result is omni-directional sound of flawless quality. It has what experts call "presence" which is just another way of saying it's as good as being on the spot. Sometimes it's even better, because, in the case of an orchestra for example, engineers can create a better musical balance than if the orchestra itself were present. Reeves sound is no mere adjunct to the Cinerama picture —it's a full-fledged partner.

The first feature film to be produced using this new technique, "This Is Cinerama," premiered on the evening of September 30, 1952 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. The second film, Louis de Rochemont's "Cinerama Holiday" marking a big advance in the use of the Cinerama process had its premiere on February 8, 1955 at the New York Warner Theatre.

The Troller's amd Marsh's during filming of Cinerama Holiday.

Where the first Cinerama production was intended as a demonstration of the new medium, which it was believed would revolutionize the motion picture industry, "Cinerama Holiday" was a story-telling picture.

The theme of "Cinerama Holiday" concerns the travel adventures of two young couples, an American couple touring Europe and a European couple seeing America. Two Cinerama units were used simultaneously to film the experiences of the American couple in Europe while the American scenes were being taken.

Neither of the Europeans, a young Swiss artist named Fred Troller and his charming wife, Beatrice, is a professional. They were selected for their parts by de Rochemont for realism as a happy sightseeing couple actually on their first trip to America. Their itinerary included a trip around the East, a ride through the Arizona Indian country via motor scooter, and after a week spent in San Francisco, returns to Chicago aboard the California Zephyr. The picture ends when the four young people meet after their travels to compare their exciting experiences.

Modified nose of locomotive for filming Cinerama Holiday.

In order to film the sequences aboard the California Zephyr an extra vista-dome streamliner was run clear through from Oakland to Chicago. With the cooperation and coordination of the three railroads a special train schedule had been fixed six weeks prior to the start of production with that of the regularly scheduled trains.

The special left Western Pacific's Oakland yard on February 22, 1954. Aboard the train, in addition to the Trollers, were Otis Carney, the writer and producer in charge of this Cinerama unit; Philippe de Lacy, the director; cameraman Harry Squires, ASC, who filmed "This Is Cinerama" and aided in development of the special camera; the Cinerama crew of some 30 people; some Western Pacific employees and the usual train and Pullman personnel including the Zephyrette. The Cinerama support trucks were routed separately to meet the train each evening.

Three months of advance preparation was done to prepare the special train for its part in the picture. The normal glare-proof safety glass was removed from one of the vista domes and replaced with thin sheets of optically perfect plexiglass in order to insure technically perfect filming of the scenery without the least color distortion or reflection. (The normal vista-domes slightly tinted safety glass had little effect on color pictures taken by non - professional photographers.) The first three pairs of seats on each side of one dome were removed to allow room for setting the camera when shooting exteriors from the dome, or interiors of the passengers within. Special platforms were added to enable the camera to work inside and outside of the train. Also, in order to take action pictures of on-coming trains and achieve the realistic feeling of being on a speeding train, the door was removed from the front of the diesel cab and replaced with a specially made plywood panel equipped with a small hole to accommodate the triple lenses of the camera and a viewing window for the cameraman.

Film crew using WP motor car in Feather River Canyon.

Cars used in the special included a baggage car, diner, two sleepers, vista-dome coach and lounge observation car from regular California Zephyr equipment, a standard sleeper, and a Western Pacific business car. The train was hauled by a three-unit passenger diesel set. The baggage car was used for the generators supplying power for the camera and lights cabled throughout the entire train, baggage of those aboard the train, the motor scooter, and other necessary equipment. Panel trucks, some equipped with darkroom facilities, camera repair facilities, extra generators and other equipment not used for train sequence shots were loaded in gondolas and sent on ahead by freight train. Telephone equipment was installed throughout the train in order to communicate with the engine crew when necessary to back up and re-shoot pictures.

Actual filming of the railroad part of the picture began on February 21, 1954 under the direction of Louis de Rochemont III, Mr. de Rochemont’s son, when exterior shots were made of the California Zephyr leaving Oakland. Before the special left Oakland the following day, the camera was placed in the nose of the diesel for shots moving through C. T. C. signals and downtown Oakland en route to Niles. A stop was made at Niles to transfer the camera from the diesel into the dome car for pictures in Niles Canyon, after which the special proceeded to Oroville where it tied up for the night.

The director and camera crew then proceeded by track motor car with John McNally, assistant superintendent, for an inspection trip of the Feather River Canyon as far as Pulga to plan the next day's shooting.

The next morning the train left Oroville for Pulga where pictures were taken from the dome of the meet with the westbound California Zephyr. The special was then backed to Bloomer to continue the day's shooting while traveling through the Feather River Canyon as planned on the previous day. During the course of the day the 300-pound, $250,000 camera was shifted several times between the dome and the diesel, all of which required meticulous handling and considerable time.

A short stop was made at Portola. While the cast enjoyed a snowball fight the camera crew proceeded to set up the camera and huge Kleig lights in the rear lounge car for shots that evening as the train proceeded on to Salt Lake City at normal speed.

The realism of Cinerama is such that those who view the picture have all the sensations of being right at the scene of action. The three-lens camera covers an angle of 146 degrees and gives the feeling of seeing straight ahead as well as to both sides, very nearly the same as normal vision. Sounds are also completely realistic, being reproduced on seven sound tracks and heard from whatever direction the action is taking place on the screen.

With Cinerama you actually perceive more than you would if you were on the scene, strange as that may seem. This is the new technique for seeing the world of reality as well as the world of make-believe through new eyes.

A young Arthur Lloyd, WP public relations department, and his wife Eleanor, were among personnel aboard the train during filming.

In addition to the Trollers and the train personnel, Western Pacific personnel taking part in the picture were Barbara Gunzel, Fran Skinner, Marilyn Craig, Bonnie Barnhill, Claire Postel and her husband, "Bee," a former employee, Arthur Lloyd and his wife, Eleanor, Mrs. Dan Irwin and her daughter, Cheryl Anne, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Wheeler, James J. Hickey, and Gilbert H. Kneiss.

It was thanks to this newest advance in movie production that millions of people who had never had a chance to ride the California Zephyr now had that opportunity when they saw "Cinerama Holiday." This second Cinerama presentation had its San Francisco premiere at the Orpheum Theater on August 2, 1955 and was also being shown in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. It was also to be shown in Los Angeles and Washington, D. C., and in several European countries.

At the time of the “Cinerama Holiday” premier there were 19 theatres worldwide which had been equipped to show this complete illusion of three dimensional effects in color and sound without the use of glasses.

The complete illusion of three-dimensional effects in color and sound gives movie-goers a thrilling sensation, second only to actually riding on the train. Not only does the viewer experience the feeling of really riding in a Vista-dome as the train passes through the colorful Feather River Canyon, but through the three eyes of the Cinerama camera he experiences other sensations not commonly available to passengers on the train. From the very front of the diesel cab the roadbed literally leaps at the viewer while the train winds its way along the brink of the Canyon. Then, from a platform built out from the side of the train, the camera brings to the screen another unexperienced thrill as the California Zephyr sweeps around the curves.

The Marsh’s, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. de Rochemont, experienced part of the journey enjoyed by the Troller’s during filming of the picture, when they rode to San Francisco aboard the California Zephyr to take part in the premiere at San Francisco.

Upon arrival in Oakland they were greeted by Western Pacific President Fredrick Whitman, a host of dignitaries, and press, radio and television writers, followed by a cocktail party held aboard the California Zephyr's diner as it was being transferred to WP's coach yard for servicing before its return trip to Chicago.

Prior to the premiere, the "Cinerama Holiday" party attended a dinner at the Palace Hotel where they were entertained by Western Pacific's choral group. They then took part in a parade up Market Street from the hotel to the Orpheum Theater.

After its premiere in New York on February 8, 1955, Cinerama Holiday went on to become the second highest grossing film of 1955 in the United States and continued being shown in Cinerama equipped theaters through 1962. In spite of their popularity with 1950s film audiences, the Cinerama films became largely forgotten for many years as none were released on home video in which to remind modern audiences of the reasons that these films were so popular in their day. The Cinerama process though has never really been forgotten as there have been various film festivals over the years in which these films have been highlighted.

The Trollers and the Marshes outside the New Neon in Dayton, Ohio. Left to right: Beatrice Troller, John Marsh, Betty Marsh York and Fred Troller. Dayton, Ohio April 27, 1997.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hauerslev.

One of those film festivals occurred in Dayton, Ohio over the weekend of April 26 & 27, 1997. This would be the first time since the release of the original film that the Marsh’s and the Troller’s had seen each other. This allowed "in person" appearances by the 2 couples for those in attendance. During the intermission, another rare treat was when the breakdown/emergency reel that was made for "Cinerama Holiday" by the two couples, but which none of them had ever seen, was shown. It was during this showing that the age of the film became apparent as the print had lost the majority of yellow and blue, so was quite pink.

It is through the efforts of David Strohmaier and Cinerama in restoring this classic treasure and preserving it for the ages that it is now available on Blu-ray disk. Flicker Alley in 2013 released the restored version, including color, of Cinerama Holiday.

Sometime after Cinerama Holiday John and Betty Marsh divorced, both eventually remarried.

John built up a successful dental practice in Stilwell, Kansas where he was known as a great dentist who also had a love of the outdoors and was an avid hunter. Unfortunately John was killed in an automobile accident in Harrisonville, Missouri on September 25, 1998. He was 71 years old at the time of his death.

(Thomas Hauerslev, who has the web site, and assisted with this text has been in contact with Betty and after seeing the original text for this page she sent Thomas a mini-bio which he forwarded with the comment, “Betty felt a little left out of the story, so she sent me her mini-bio);

"When we [Johnny and I] separated I went to New York and successfully broke into photographic modeling and TV commercials, making good use of my SAG (film) membership which unions required. I also did freelance greeting card designs, building on the years I spent as a designer with the Hallmark Card Company in Kansas City. I met my next husband Van McNeel on a blind date in New York where we eventually were married and I moved to Atlanta where Van was living and that is where our son was born. Every city I lived in I always modeled and did card designs, most notably exclusive Christmas Card designs for Bergdorf Goodman which were always advertised in the Sunday New York Times as well as California Artists. According to the BG Stationery Manager my cards were always in demand by the ladies who lived on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue and as he put it 'owned fine art'. I lived in Clearwater, Florida for a number of years and was the Producer and co-host of the brand new ABC TV affiliate. Then I became the Fashion Coordinator for the finest Department Store in the ST. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater area, an Allied Stores affiliate which is now owned by Macy's.

I moved to San Francisco around 1969, did several short term marketing positions while still doing photographic modeling and eventually joined Holiday Inns in San Francisco in their sales offices, and worked my way up to being Director of Sales and Marketing for the Holiday Inn on Fisherman's Wharf, the biggest money maker for the firm in those years. My specialization was the Tour and Travel markets and I was fortunate to travel for many years internationally in that position. I took early retirement in 1992 and eventually moved to Sarasota, Florida where I have very happily lived ever since. Since retiring I resumed painting in oils and watercolor and I have made many painting trips with art groups and instructors to Italy and Provence. Many people have collected my paintings until they had no more space. I do freelance work as an Interior Designer, a field I love. For 17 years I have been on the Board of the Sarasota Opera Guild, a volunteer arm of the Sarasota Opera Association with several different positions. I tried to retire last year but they named me Director Of Public Relations and I am now back on the Board.

I have not been idle since 'Cinerama Holiday', but do credit that film for giving me a taste of what lay beyond the border of Kansas City."

Fred Troller became a well known design director who helped popularize a minimalist typographic style called Swiss New Typography in the United States in the 1960's. An alternative to the decorative and ornamental graphic-design mannerisms fashionable in the 60's, the Swiss approach relied on stark photographic imagery, bold sans-serif typefaces and primary colors in unfettered compositions. Fred specialized in trademarks, advertisements, annual reports and book jackets for clients like Exxon, General Electric, I.B.M., Westinghouse and Doubleday. It was in the 1970's that he created a series of eye-catching destination posters for American Airlines that were more like stop signs than scenic tableaus. Fred died on October 11, 2002 at his home in Rye, New York of cancer. He was also 71 at the time of his death.

Beatrice, who moved with Fred to the United States in the early 1960s, studied photography at New York University and became a noted photographer with her expressive and experimental personal photography having her work displayed in exhibits at the Swiss Institute of New York, the Hiram Halle Memorial Library in Pound Ridge, New York; the Swiss Institute in New York, the Rye Arts Center Gallery, the Wainwright House in Rye, New York; and the Parrish Art Museum in Southhampton, New York. Beatrice passed away on August 18, 2015 after a valiant battle with cancer at the age of 83.

I want to thank Thomas Hauerslev for his assistance in the preparation of the text and permission to use his photos here. If you are interested in large film format movies I recommend visiting his site