California Zephyr and Cinerama Holiday
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Frank
Brehm, Western Pacific Railroad History Online web site
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.
The first feature film "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.
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.
|More in 70mm reading:|
Betty York, A Mini Bio
Cinerama, David Strohmaier and
the "We have all seen it as a kid" thing
presents "CINERAMA HOLIDAY"
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
Western Pacific Railroad History
of "Cinerama Holiday" in the Vistadome car. Note 3-panel camera and 3-panel
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.
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.
blow up from remastered "Cinerama Holiday".
Note the Trollers to the left.
Click the image to see enlargement
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.
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.
of "Cinerama Holiday", Louis de Rochemont III. Picture by Thomas Hauerslev
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.
of "Cinerama Holiday" in the Vistadome car.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Trollers and the Marshes, outside the New Neon in Dayton Ohio. USA. Left to
right: Beatrice Troller, John Marsh, Betty Marsh York and Fred Troller. Picture by Thomas Hauerslev
Thomas Hauerslev, who has the www.in70mm.com
web site, from which some of the photos and information came from has been
in contact with Betty and after seeing the original text for this page sent
Thomas a mini-bio which he forwarded
to me with the comment, “Betty felt a little left out of the story, so
she sent me her mini-bio";
Sometime after Cinerama Holiday John and
Betty Marsh divorced, both
eventually remarried. John built up a successful dental practice in
Overland Park, Kansas. John was known as a great dentist who also had a love of
the outdoors and was an avid hunter. 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.
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
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 and permission to use
his photos here. If you are interested in large film format movies I
recommend visiting his site
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