Cinérama Itinérant (Itinerama) - Cinerama's Mobile Tent Theatres
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Gerhard Witte, Berlin (Germany), 03/2017
An artist's conception of a mobile Cinerama Tent Theatre manufactured by the
Bessonneau Company of Angers in France. It is "blown up" via compressed air. The
sketch shows a segment of the inflatable plastic balloon-type tent theatre, its
3,000 seats, trailer truck booth for the three Cinerama projectors, the 100-foot
/ 30 metres (another source indicates 110-foot / 33 metres) wide, deeply curved,
louvered screen, and interior light towers along the sides of the interior.
(Image taken from the trade magazine "Boxoffice" dated Monday, 5 June 1961)
The name ITINERAMA is a combination of the two words "itinerant"(mobile/not
stationary), in French "itinérant", and "Cinerama".
A top priority of Nicolas Reisini (1905 – 1981), president (CEO) of Cinerama,
Inc. from January 1960 till December 1963 – followed by William R. Forman, was
to bring 3-strip projection to the widest possible audience, above all to the
population in the countryside. "The French countryside is an enormous reservoir
of a new, fresh clientele, eager for emotions and spectacles". Consequently, he
created in a showmanly way a portable Cinerama, the so-called "Itinerama"
(Cinerama in a huge tent), which premiered in France in Mantes-la-Jolie on
Monday, 4 September 1961 – "Why go to Paris or London to experience Cinerama,
when Cinerama can come to you?!"
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 10 May 1961:
40-Truck Caravan For Cinerama; Novel "Circusing" To Sticks In France
A 3,000-seat mobile film theatre designed to tour a country just as does a
circus, and specifically designed to show Cinerama pictures, will hit the
road in France in mid-July 1961. Theatre structure is an inflatable balloon
that blows up to a structure 210 feet (64 metres) long, 144 feet (44 metres)
wide and 62 feet (19 metres) high.
"Itinérama, S. A." (author's note: French: Société Anonyme, English:
Limited, Ltd.), a French company capitalized at $500,000 has been formed to
present the traveling cinema, and rights to the Cinerama productions have
been cleared. Maurice Dollfus, executive vice president of the outfit, was
in New York from Paris this week to provide the details.
A caravan of 40 trucks will (author's note: other sources indicate 56 or
even 58 vehicles) carry the plastic-type balloon, a 100-foot / 30 metres
curved screen, three Cinerama projectors, full-sized booth, sound and
lighting equipment, seats, rest rooms, ticket booths, generators, housing
accommodations for the crew etc. Fire-proof, gale-proof structure can be
inflated in 14 minutes (author's note: another source indicates only 8
minutes), the entire setting-up operation can be completed in four and a
half hours and dismantled in three, according to Dollfus.
Financing came from private sources, including Europe No.1, which is a
European radio complex.
Author's comment: corporate trustee of French Itinérama (Cinerama Europe No.1) was at
the time a company headquartered outside France named: "La Société
Spectacles et Programmes" (Spectacles & Programs) domiciled in Monte-Carlo
in Monaco. President of the company was Jean Frydman, who was also one of the heads of radio Europe No. 1. Cinerama did not
invest in the system directly. The trading company was financed by an
assortment of private interests and operated under license from the Cinerama
Corporation – information from "La Cinématographie Française" dated
Saturday, 9 September 1961.
Itinerama is licensed by Cinerama for the latter's pictures to be shown
initially in France and French-speaking nations, with options covering other
countries of Europe's common market. One restriction is that Itinerama is
restraining from doing business within a radius of 50 miles of any Cinerama
Actually there are three caravans ready to roll (author's note: I am not
quite sure, if this is correct. The article is from May 1961 and Itinerama's
public World Premiere took place in September – I assume that three caravans
were in planning at this time, but in truth not realized), each one to show
a different Cinerama picture, and crisscrossing France. This new departure
in cinematic exhibition, said Dollfus – "is in the time-honored, traditional
style of touring companies of entertainers, bringing their shows to the
people of Europe's villages, towns and cities – I believe it would be in the
tradition of your showboat and your tent shows." First showing is scheduled
for Angers, France (author's note: located around 80 km south-west of Le
Mans, in the Loire Valley).
The deal with Cinerama provides that Itinerama will acquire from Cinerama
the projectors, screens, transistor sound system, technical aid and the film
product. Profits will be split evenly after operating expenses and taxes.
Idea of the mobile theatre originated with Nicolas Reisini, president of
Cinerama, Inc. He approached French business interests five years ago with
the plan, and research and development thereupon got underway.
Actually, when S. H. Fabian (author's note: president of Stanley-Warner
Corporation) controlled Cinerama rights he spoke of caravan presentations
throughout the United States but nothing came of this. Whether Itinerama
will be brought to the States remains for future decisions, said Dollfus.
The balloon structure principle is not entirely new, being now in use by the
U.S.-Army for storage depots. The structure is maintained by pumping in
slightly higher air pressure than that outside. Even if a section were to be
ripped off, the building would remain erect for a considerable period of
Dollfus said that the promotion will be akin to Barnum & Bailey (author's
note: a travelling circus company in the United States). Advance men will
cover a specified route, make with the ballyhoo and arrange for ticket
sales. Radio will be used extensively in the campaigns. Itinerama then comes
From "La Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 17 June 1961 (translated
into English language – all longer original French articles in this report
are readable in the attached PDF):
Travelling Cinemas / Cinémas Itinérants
We receive from the "Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français" the
following press release:
Respective professional groups of the following four branches of the French
1. – Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français,
2. – Chambre Syndicale Française de la Production Cinématographique,
3. – Fédération Nationale des Distributeurs de Films,
4. – Fédération des Chambres Syndicales des Industries Techniques du Cinéma,
… inform about a project (sponsored by "Europe No.1") about a travelling
show in an inflatable tent, where would be presented a program showing
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Itinerama - original French articles
Advertising written on the enormous inflatable Cinerama aerotent
manufactured by the “Etablissements Bessonneau d´Angers” – the Bessonneau
Company of Angers.
Major traveling shows, especially circuses, presented their performances in
large tents, but these "big tops" were downgraded by the appearance of the
new and even bigger Bessonneau Cinerama Tent, the "Cinérama Chapiteau-Ballon".
From "La Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 9 September 1961:
What is the "Bessonneau Tent"? / Qu´est-ce que la "Tente Bessonneau"?
It is an immense hemisphere of plastic material (Rhodiacéta / Nitrolac – a
tough, fireproof and airtight plastic material) of dark blue color. On the
ground, it covers 64 x 44 metres. Fixed by 178 mechanically driven stakes,
the aerotent is inflated in 8 minutes (author's note: other sources indicate
14 minutes) by 8 powerful fans (author's note: each about the size of a
"Volkswagen"), which permanently retain its hemispheric shape by pulsing
close to 250,000 m3 of fresh air per hour. The tent is, when inflated, 19
metres high. Devices completely eliminate all risks of deflation or fire.
Under this immense dome without masts, no columns or posts, 3,000 spectators
are guaranteed to see perfectly the giant screen which has a base of 30
metres (whereas that of the "Empire Théâtre" in Paris only measures 20
metres*). It is covered by a triple projection originating not from three
distinct and widely separated cabins, but of three apparatuses placed almost
side by side, and permanently, in the same truck body where they are
immediately in working order.
*Author's comment: in reality the deeply curved, louvered screen had a
size of 22 by 8,50 metres (information from "La Cinématographie Française"),
measured along the curve? – here still the old theatre and not the new
Empire "Abel Gance" building that opened in February 1962 with a louvered
screen with a size of 30 by 10 metres.
A Berliet transport truck, and below the giant inflated tent – self-supporting
with no supporting masts, no internal columns or poles to block the view of the
screen. (Images taken from an Itinerama promotion clip)
Berliet transports us / Berliet nous transporte
Capitalizing once again on its advertising connections with Berliet, Europe No.
1 has turned exclusively to the trucks of that brand for the transport and
haulage of its equipment and staff (approximately 100 employees – author's note:
other sources give less). Purpose-built, these trucks contain all the tools
ready for immediate use, starting with the trucks positioned at the work site
for inflation of the tent (in 8 minutes, let’s not forget!) hence the
unprecedented speed of setting up and dismantling. While the technicians carry
on with their calibrations, the staff install stands supported by light metallic
tubing. The bleachers are fixed and have no back to them. Narrow and
uncomfortable wooden chairs are used for any extra seating, but these are to be
replaced by cardboard chairs that the public may take away thanks to the
generosity of the featured advertising campaign! As can be seen, everything is
running so as to assure maximum profitability for the company.
Security / Sécurité
Notwithstanding certain points of detail requiring speedy resolution, the manner
in which the Cinerama is run meets all the most important safety control
conditions with regard to the fire risks associated with the accidental
deflation of the tent. There are large numbers of emergency exits which would
permit rapid evacuation, should the need arise. Furthermore, nearly all the
materials used are non-combustible. With regard to the difference in atmospheric
pressure between the outside and the inside of the tent, this is minimal and is
therefore not likely to inconvenience people with asthma.
It should be noted in passing that the aerotent of the "Etablissements
Bessonneau d´Angers" is suitable for a wide range of uses - shows, expositions,
sporting or other events - which it would often previously have been impossible
to hold, given the absence of an appropriate spacious facility in the area. That
is to say that it can occasionally be used with benefit by the cinema, not least
in making the most of the special format of certain films.
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 16 August 1961:
Balloon Cinerama Delay Under Probe
Paris, Aug. 15 – Maiden Itinerama, slated to make its bow last month (July) in
Angers, has been delayed until the end of this month by recently organized
"Itinérama, S. A." (Société Anonyme), of which Maurice Dollfus is executive vice
Reasons for inflated balloon theatres not making debut as skedded were not
However, Cinerama president, Nicolas Reisini, is here from New York checking
into situation as well as rebuilding the local Empire Theatre in Paris as a
Author's note: perhaps had been a test preview of "Cinérama itinérant" at Angers
in July/August 1961.
Gala World Premiere
The official public Gala World Premiere of "Cinérama Itinérant" took place in
France in Mantes-la-Jolie with "This is Cinerama"(USA, 1952) on Monday, 4
Mantes-la-Jolie, with, at this period, around 15,000 inhabitants, is a little
town located around 40 miles (60 km) north-west of Paris, where Cinerama had
already been debuted in France at the (old) "Empire Cinérama Théâtre" with
"Place au Cinérama" (This is Cinerama) on Tuesday, 17 May 1955. But the famous
theatre had been closed for a total reconstruction since November 1960.
The premiere in Mantes was preceded by a protest of the theater owners'
association that was also addressed to the French film chamber as well as to the
mayor of Mantes. At that time, travelling Cinerama (Itinerama) had been granted
much more favorable amusement-tax conditions than local theatres. The local
houses required the same favorable tax conditions.
Furthermore, cinema operators feared that the new Cinerama tent theaters,
especially in smaller towns, would withdraw considerable audiences from
"regular" theaters, thereby further increasing the difficulties of these houses.
From "Le Film Français" dated Friday, 8 September 1961:
The "Cinérama itinérant" made its debut in Mantes
Preceded and accompanied by intensive advertising by posters and the peripheral
radio station "Europe No. 1", the "Cinérama itinérant" debuted in
Mantes-la-Jolie on Monday, 4 September 1961. It took place on Ladies' Island
(L'Ile aux Dames) were they had built the immense inflatable tent.
The program (ticket prices 5 to 15 NF – nouveaux francs) began in the evening
with a dance (cinema-dancing), and was then followed by the screening of the
Cinerama show which had previously unveiled this formula to the Empire Theatre
in Paris – called "Place au Cinérama" (This is Cinerama). The 3,000 places in
the huge tent were quickly filled and hundreds of spectators, despite having
tickets, could not successfully enter the grounds. This is the reason why a
second session has had to be scheduled for the following Tuesday evening.
From "La Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 9 September 1961
A Screening with Inconvenient Breakdowns
After a short dance, the screening started. At the beginning, the film was
intentionally projected onto a very small screen, but then the enlargement onto
a triple screen for the roller coaster ride sequence (author's note: the Atom
Smasher at Rockaways` Playland in New York), elicited "oohs" and "aahs" from the
audience, who were visibly won over from the start. Unfortunately, things soon
deteriorated. First of all, the distortion coming from one of the side speakers
meant it had to be turned off. Then the carbon arc lamp of the centre projector
broke down. It had gone out several times before malfunctioning (author's note:
very probably existed problems with the supply of the plus or minus carbon in
the lamp house).This forced the projectionists to interrupt the film before the
end of the first half.
The audience began complaining because it was taking so long to get the
projector working again. It should be noted that the second part of the program
was free from incidents. Members of the foreign and French press, and many local
celebrities attended this screening, as well as the inventor of the triple
screen, Abel Gance.
Author's comment: in the time before the premiere, the weather in Mantes had
been good for several weeks, but after the 4th (the day of the premiere), a
storm of exceptional violence broke out. At a few places water penetrated under
the dome, watering the bleachers during assembly and complicated the work on
image and sound adjustments – information from "La Cinématographie Française".
"Place au Cinérama" (This is
Cinerama, USA, 1952) – the first that had been exploited in permanent Cinerama
cinemas – is scheduled for a 3-year Itinerama roadshow travelling all over
France. After that, the second program will be shown. As there are currently 5
films (author's note: all 5 Cinerama travelogues) available, films / programs
for 15 years will be in reserve, not to mention those being filmed in the United
States and which are no longer "documentaries" but great fictions projectable
onto triple screens. The first ones announced in co-production with Metro
Goldwyn Mayer are "Les Contes de Grimm" (The Wonderful World of the Brothers
Grimm) and the super Western "La Conquête de l'Ouest" (How the West Was Won),
currently in filming. As the Cinerama notice says: "There is therefore no limit
to our future in this field."
From "Le Film Français" dated Friday, 8 September 1961:
We know that the film-making profession has been strongly protesting against
this travelling show, which it regards as serious competition to normal
operations (author's note: as already reported, Cinerama shows were granted
special bonus tax incentives).
Demonstrations at Itinerama's World Premiere: gathering operators in
Mantes-la-Jolie in front of "Le Cinéma Théâtre le Normandie" that no longer
exists. The carriers of the enormous banner are claiming tax fairness: "Le
cinéma Français demande l´égalité fiscal". Image below: at the premiere, the
banner remained rolled out in front of the entrance of the inflated tent.
(Images from "La Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 9 September 1961)
On Monday night, in Mantes, led by Mr. Jean-Charles Edeline, president of "La
Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français" (F.N.C.F.), over a hundred film
directors coming from the different regions where the "Cinérama" will pitch its
tent, marched through the streets of the town. They carried a banner calling for
equal tax treatment for the French cinema and reiterating the injustices taking
place during operations in this area, compared with foreign countries, and other
From "Le Film Français" dated Friday, 15 September 1961:
The Cinema Operators of Oise and the "Cinérama Itinérant"
On the occasion of the planned presentation of the "Cinérama itinérant" in the
department "Oise", Mr. Jean Ventura, administrator and departmental delegate of
the "Syndicat Français des Directeurs de Théâtres Cinématographiques", operator
in Creil (author's note: a community in the department) and in other localities
of "Oise", addressed a letter to the prefect of this department, in which he
said in particular:
Cinema operators of "Oise", conscious of representing the interests of the
profession and the public, express their great anxiety at the announcement of
the presentation of "Cinérama itinérant" in their department – a cinema show
that is falling outside usual regulations.
At a time when so many regional cinemas are fighting for survival, it is
abnormal that exceptional license should be granted to such a large business
which benefit from the double support of moral and financial backing inherent to
a peripheral location.
On a turnover of a million Francs, the Cinerama only pays 105,000 F (nouveaux
francs) in taxes, while for the same turnover, regular cinemas have to pay
between 300,000 and 400,000 F, according to local councils.
The owners of the cinemas of the department "Oise" demand tax equality.
The Cinerama is allowed to charge whatever it wants, while the tariffs for other
cinemas are fixed by the authorities.
The owners of the cinemas of the department "Oise" demand:
– the return of freedom for everybody,
– or at least that the Cinerama tariffs
be capped like those of every other cinema in France.
The directors of cinemas of the department "Oise" do not intend to discuss the
high performance of the Cinerama show, but simply express their great
dissatisfaction due to the fact that there can be two weights, two measures.
From "New York Variety" dated Wednesday, 13 September 1961:
Sam Eckman Jr. Heading U.K. Branch of Itinerama (Balloon Cinemas)
London, Sept.12, 1961 – Sam Eckman Jr., a vice president of Magna Pictures
Corp., and for 25 years head of MGM in Britain, has been named chairman of
Itinerama (London) Ltd., the company which has U.K. and Commonwealth rights to
the Itinerama mobile balloon cinema system, which was premiered at
Mantes-la-Jolie last week. Associated with him in the venture is a well-known
French indie producer, while the company has been backed by a leading but
unnamed firm of City of London bankers to the tune of $560,000.
The French Itinerama theatre, originally evolved by the U.S. Army and
subsequently developed into a roadshow caravan by French industrialists, is a
vast oval-shaped inflatable tent, 62 ft (19 metres) high, 210 ft (64 metres)
long and 144 ft (44 metres) wide. It can be inflated in 14 minutes, has no
supports or rigging and has a capacity of 3.000. It is supported solely by the
variations in air pressure inside and out, and can be air-conditioned to suit
any climate from the Pole (author's note: but it is very, very cold there) to
the Equator. It is fire, sound and waterproof, and has been tested to withstand
gales of up to 100 miles per hour.
Author's comment: there must be a mistake in the information. 100 mph (160 km/h
or 86 knots) are in this case beyond all limit values. I remember an unusually
strong thunderstorm here in Berlin on 10.07.2002.
Two boys were killed in a camp on an island located in the lake "Wannsee". Under
the influence of a hurricane-like gust of 95 mph (152 km/h or 82 knots) –
more than wind force 12 (+ 73 mph / + 118 km/h / + 64 knots) – eight trees were
uprooted and two of them slew the children.
Eckman told VARIETY that it was hoped to have the first Itinerama theatre in
operation by the end of the year (author's note: it was not until April 1964,
with a newly remodeled tent), and that the British company intended to have two
mobile units working in the United Kingdom. They would be sited in key
provincial cities, and in the first instance would be concentrating on Cinerama
programs which, hitherto, have not been shown out of London. Later, "spectacle"
productions would be made, possibly in collaboration with his French production
In addition to the British outfit, there is also a French Itinerama company
(author's note: "La Société Spectacles et Programmes") which has just been set
up by a group of French businessmen and Europe No. 1, a European broadcasting
company. The two groups have an equal share in the French company, which has an
initial capital of $560,000.
Equipment for Itinerama will be imported to Britain from France, while the
Cinerama gear will have to come from the States, probably via France. Among the
equipment needed are 40 trucks, three of which are needed to house the Cinerama
projectors and the collapsible screen sections. The screen is over 100 ft (30
metres) long and 40 ft (12 metres) high and the throw from projector to screen
is around 200 ft (60 metres).
A schedule of "Cinérama Itinérant" performances in France – taken from the trade
magazine “Le Film Français” dated Friday, 15 September 1961
The show debuted in Mantes-la-Jolie, located in French department "Yvelines"(No.
78), on Monday, 4 September 1961, and ran there for only two days.
Then, performances continued at following 6 locations and days:
2.) at Compiègne (located in department "Oise", No. 60) from 7 till 9 September,
3.) at Reims (located in department "Marne", No. 51) from 11 till 14 September,
4.) at Serémange (located in department "Moselle", No. 57) from 16 till 17
5.) at Strasbourg (located in department "Bas-Rhin", No. 67 ) from 20
till 24 September (the show on 25th had been cancelled, see text below),
Colmar (located in department "Haut-Rhin", No. 68) from 27 till 29 September and
7.) at Mulhouse (located in department "Haut-Rhin", No. 68) from 30 till 4
Here information about all 101
The revenues of "Cinérama Itinérant" – successful wherever it appeared
Information taken from "La Cinématographie Française" dated Friday, 29 September
Result of the first 16 days of operation of Itinerama: 29,763,227 old Francs
(anciens francs). There were 24 performances: 2 at Mantes, 3 at Compiègne, 7 at
Reims, 3 at Serémange, 9 at Strasbourg. The seat prices were: 5, 7, 9 and 12 NF
(nouveaux francs). The inflatable tent stayed 5 days in Strasbourg with 5
evening and 4 afternoon shows.
… and additional information about this subject from another article from that
Itinerama, mobile balloon theatre now touring France with "This is Cinerama"
(USA, 1952) has played to capacity audiences plus standing room frequently since
its introduction Sept. 4, according to Nicolas Reisini, president of Cinerama.
Grosses in various locations during the first two weeks exceeded $60,000, he
Gross was $8,000 in two nights in Mantes-la-Jolie, drawing 6,000 people of the
town's total population of 15,000. Three days in Compiègne brought $7,200 and a
four-day stand in Reims meant $21,000 at the box office. Five days of
performances in Strasbourg were sold out in advance for a gross of $20,000.
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 20 September 1961:
Coin Potential As to Cinerama
"This is Cinerama" (USA, 1952), first of the five travelogues produced in
triple-screen process, has grossed $40,000,000 in less than 60 theatres,
Cinerama president Nicholas Reisini stated after returning to U.S. from Paris
after debut of Itinerama in Mantes-la-Jolie.
With Itinerama, president adds that financial return on single Cinerama picture
can hit well over $100,000,000. This is anticipated for MGM-Cinerama's "How the
West Was Won" which won't be ready until next May or June.
Three Itinerama caravans will tour France. Others are slated for Germany, Great
Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain and perhaps Yugoslavia.
It is estimated three French mobile Cinerama units can gross approximately
$7,500,000 in that country annually. Total European audience for Itinerama, when
organized, according to Reisini, is targeted at between 20,000,000 to 30,000,000
Depending on population, touring shows will remain two or three days in each
city or town beyond 50 mile clearance zone of permanent Cinerama theatres.
Itinerama visits will be limited to once or twice a year per location.
And then – unfortunately Great Problems with the Bessonneau Tents!
Due to stormy winds, two tents collapsed – one in Lorient and one in Lunéville.
Amongst others, the tent's anchoring system was inadequate to a building of this
In October 1961, a tent collapsed at Lorient, located in department "Morbihan"
(No. 56). Image and following article are taken from the trade magazine "La
Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 14 October 1961:
Analysing the collapse of the LORIENT inflatable marquee – what if it had been
the Cinerama tent?
Disaster at the Lorient trade fair – the fair’s highlight and key attraction was
the famous Bessonneau tent, the same type currently used for the travelling
"Cinérama Europe No.1" attraction. Shaken by a storm, the balloon tent tore and
then toppled over. Aside from the material damage, which was substantial, the
incident was shocking and similar in many ways to a real disaster.
At the Lorient Fair, the enormous balloon served as a roof for numerous stands
and each evening after closing became one of the main meeting places in the
town, competing with cinemas by projecting films chosen by the fair’s committee.
The space created inside had capacity for three thousand people. In fact, the
Fair Committee decided to impose a limit of 1,500 people (a number which was
reached on the Thursday prior to the disaster, with visitors on that day being
mostly children). For additional security, the head of the local fire department
demanded that extra precautions be taken. Tripods supporting the tent’s cables
were therefore installed inside the tent, which were meant to support the canvas
in the event of deflation. It is to some extent thanks to this that the
balloon’s puncture and subsequent collapse to the ground did not cause too great
Fortunately, few people were inside the tent at the time of the incident.
Nevertheless, piercing cries could be heard within a 100-metre radius, let out
by dozens of people rushing towards the gates to escape the collapse as the
enormous canvas spread over a tangle of collapsed stands over an area of 3,000
The Fishmonger’s Union and those organising these stands will be demanding
considerable compensation, and one may expect long and difficult litigation. The
damage has been calculated at several million old francs (anciens francs),
without accounting for the "inflatable structure" itself, which represents an
investment of 30 million old francs, although everything is of course covered by
The tent is owned by the city of Tours and was rented to the town of Lorient for
2 million old francs.
Why were there not more spectators in the balloon, considering it had been full
since the opening of the fair? The reason for this is that significant shaking
had prompted visitors to leave, whilst also alarming staff, who were still
It seems that the incident was caused by a lack of internal pressure, which
meant that the canvas was more susceptible to be caught by gusts of wind. The
instructions provided by the Bessonneau group state that in the event of a
storm, the pressure should be increased to 15 to 20mm to ensure the correct
resistance for 74 mph (120 km/h or 64 knots) winds. The pressure stood at around
12 to 13mm at the moment when the tent tore, while the wind speed at that moment
was evaluated at only around 31 to 37 mph (50 to 60 km/h or 27 to 32 knots).
We can report that other precautions had been taken – the evening prior to the
incident it was decided that the children’s meeting would be cancelled if the
wind speed exceeded 34 mph (55 km/h or 30 knots).
Security services will certainly have to be more demanding when it comes to
attractions taking place under the "largest tent in the world".
… and in the same month a second collapse. This time
it was the Itinerama tent
in Lunéville, a commune located in the department "Meurthe-et-Moselle" (No. 54).
After being set up at Lunéville, the tent was torn by the wind on Tuesday, 17
October 1961. Image on the right: the remainder of the deeply curved, louvered
screen. Fortunately no cinemagoers were in the tent at the time, but two staff
members were hurt and substantial material damage occurred – extensive enough to
put the installation beyond economic repair. (Image and information from "La
Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 28 October 1961, and the date of
storm damage from "La Polyvision, espoir oublié d’un cinéma nouveau" by
Jean-Jacques Meusy – see attached link)
From "La Cinématographie Française" dated Saturday, 28 October 1961 (shortened):
The End of the Travelling Cinema?
The travelling Cinerama is gone, with hardly anyone noticing, on the Champ de
Mars at Lunéville. Rarely has any event managed to attract less attention than
this from the Parisian press, and that includes "Actualités Cinématographiques"
that seems almost to have ignored its passing.
A complete death, or mere hibernation before winter? It may be too early to say,
but Mr. Merlin (author's note: chief executive / directeur général of "Europe
No. 1") is not the kind of man to take things lying down and he is probably
currently studying the workings of Bessonneau’s efforts and how to set the
wheels in motion for a new way forward.
In terms of security, our representatives at the Commission Centrale have
witnessed the rapid confirmation of the fears they had expressed and a total
justification of the concerns that had been exercising them.
From "Le Film Français" dated Friday, 16 March 1962:
Next release of "ITINERAMA"
Under a recent agreement, the group "Europe No. 1" has now full control over the
Itinerama organization (author's note: I think no longer the company "La Société
Spectacles et Programmes / Spectacles & Programs" domiciled in Monte-Carlo /
Monaco, and the Dollfus group "Itinérama, S.A.").
Cinerama continues to act as producer-distributor, and a newly remodeled tent
with a metal frame would be under construction in the workshops of a major
French specialized firm.
Author's comment: a new incarnation of Itinerama. After the disaster with the
inflatable tents in France, new Cinerama tent theatres were designed – now
smaller, constructed around a framework of steel and with aluminium struts,
which were driven into the ground. Were they also introduced in France? At the
time, the very first was set up in Hamburg.
A new stable Cinerama Tent in Germany
From "Boxoffice" dated Monday, 6 May 1963:
Cinerama's Portable Theatres Start In Europe; Hamburg Gets the First
New York – With one Cinerama mobile tent theatre operating in Hamburg, Germany,
two others will be opened shortly, one in England (author's note: it opened one
year later in Richmond, a city district in the south-west of London, on Friday,
24 April 1964) and the other in France (author's note: here, I did not find any
Nicolas Reisini, president of Cinerama, Inc., said that by the end of next year
there will be many of these "caravans" travelling throughout Europe, Africa, the
Near, Middle and Far East (author's note: it is questionable how many of these
planned venues were implemented into reality at the time).
Reisini said that Cinerama would receive 50 per cent of the gross film rentals
from these caravans known as Itinerama and that a parent operating company,
Bresorama, S. A. (Société Anonyme), Geneva, had been set up by private interests
to franchise the tent theatres in various parts of the world *. Cinerama has
received $1,000,000 from Bresorama as a licensing fee for this right and,
according to Reisini, "Cinerama doesn´t invest one cent in the entire operation
or bear any of its expense". He added that after an initial period of operation,
Cinerama will split the proceeds equally.
* From another "Boxoffice" article: during 1963 Cinerama entered into
arrangement with Bresorama, S.A., a European company, calling for the
establishment of Itinerama operations in the entire world outside of the U.S.
The Hamburg tent opened on April 27, seating 724 persons (author's note: it
opened somewhat later, early in May 1963), and will remain for the six months of
the famed Flower Fair.
A second tent of 2,000 seats will be delivered to the British franchise holder,
Itinerama, Ltd., in late June, opening in Wales and then moving throughout the
British Isles. The English company is headed by Lord John Manners and will be
operated by the Mills Bros. Circus organization (author's note: I think they
speak of the British Bertram Mills Circus and not of the American Mills Bros.
A third tent will be delivered shortly to the French operating group and will
begin operating in the south of France.
The pilot operating of Itinerama began in the fall of 1961 in ten small French
towns with highly successful results, said Reisini – (author's note: apart from
the fact that two tents had collapsed). The tents will be air-conditioned in the
summer and heated in the winter and have passed safety tests by leading European
insurance companies, he stated.
The Itinerama tent in Hamburg. Image taken from the book: "Mach dir ein paar
schöne Stunden – Das Hamburger Kinobuch" with courtesy of the authors Michael
Töteberg and Volker Reißmann (original source: Staatsarchiv Hamburg /
On the occasion of the International Horticultural Exhibition (IGA –
Internationale Gartenbau-Ausstellung) in Hamburg, which took place from Friday,
26 April 1963 till Sunday, 13 October 1963, the first and the only German
Cinerama tent theatre was set up in the northern part of the "Heiligengeistfeld"
(Field of Holy Spirit) in Hamburg`s district of St. Pauli. Deutsche Cinerama
GmbH was the operator.
They screened the 3-strip movie "Windjammer" (USA, 1958) on a 29 x 11 metres
large screen. The official opening for the public took place on Friday, 10 May
1963. Later, from Thursday, 4 July 1963, additional screenings were held, the
first of which took place in Hamburg and which included excerpts from the film
"This is Cinerama" (USA, 1952) as part of a special 50-minute Cinerama show. The theater was equipped with comfortable armchairs.
"Windjammer" ran there until
the end of the Flower Show. The Cinemiracle movie had its Hamburg premiere at
"Ufa-Palast am Gänsemarkt" (opened on 26.02.1958) on Friday, 1 May 1959.
Three adverts from that period
A.) dated 9.5.1963 – a movie that cannot be surpassed! "Windjammer" in the first
Cinerama Tent Theater on the Heiligengeistfeld – premiere on Friday.
B.) dated 4.7.1963 – advertising below a NEW! special 50-minute Cinerama show
with 4 performances per day. Cinerama takes you to the most beautiful places in
C.) and on right side, dated 5.9.1963, with following text: Please cut out. This
advert is also a voucher for 3 D-mark when buying two tickets. Herewith CINERAMA
gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy the unique color film "Windjammer" in the
latest "Cinerama-Filmtheater" on the Heiligengeistfeld – entrance
Glacischaussee-Feldstraße. GIANT SCREEN – comfortable armchairs. No IGA entrance
fee for visitors.
A Mobile Cinerama Tent Theatre in the U.K.
The interior of a British Itinerama tent: the deeply curved (louvered? – I do
not think so) Cinerama screen, and numerous foldable aluminum chairs with
backrests. (Image from the author's collection of unknown origin)
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 4 December 1963:
Huge Tent for Use by Cinerama in England
Constance (Germany), Nov. 26 – The biggest tent ever turned out by the Stromeyer
and Tentmakers Corporation here has just been sent off to England for use by
Cinerama. The enormous tent will be used for special exhibitions of the Cinerama
technique. Cost of this unusual tent is around $125,000.
Author's comment: Whether it had been "the biggest tent ever" is
questionable. Was it the first Itinerama tent that opened in England
(Richmond) in April 1964? Did they also produce the Hamburg tent? – the
probability is great. At the time, the German firm of Stromeyer dominated
for many years the tent-making market – also the famous British Bertram
Mills Circus got "big tops" from the company. Ludwig Stromeyer and Julius
Landauer founded the tent factory in 1872 at Romanshorn in Switzerland –
located on Lake Constance. One year later they moved to Constance in Germany
(Baden-Wuerttemberg) – also located on Lake Constance. They manufactured,
amongst others, tarpaulins, awnings, backpacks and tents. Special "big tops"
were produced since 1878. In the same year Landauer, the co-founder, left
the company. Known major projects, also in collaboration with the renowned
German architect "Frei Paul Otto"(1925 – 2015), were, e.g.: in 1967, the
German pavilion at the EXPO in Montreal, or the roofing of the Munich
Olympic Stadium, which opened in May 1972. In 1973, the company had to file
for bankruptcy. Stromeyer still exists today, divided into the two branches
"Stromeyer Planen GmbH" and " Stromeyer Hallen GmbH", both located in
Radolfzell on Lake Constance (source: mainly "Wikipedia").
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 29 April 1964:
First Mobile Cinerama Premieres in U.K.
London, April 28 – Cinerama's first Mobile Theatre had its premiere on Monday
(27) at the Athletic Grounds in Richmond (author's note: it most likely
premiered earlier, on Friday, 24 April 1964). It will remain there for two
weeks. It is the first of 50 mobile houses planned globally by Cinerama.
There are 11 permanent Cinerama theatres in the British Isles, with several more
skedded to open this year, but many areas remain where Cinerama films can´t be
seen unless they are taken to the people, thus the portables.
In Richmond, a 1,216-seat theatre will cover the South Coast of England. Next
year two more will tour the East Coast of England and Scotland with a final
target of five for Great Britain, to include coverage of Wales and Ireland.
Next spring two mobile theatres will start operating in France, three in
Germany, four in Italy, three in Spain and Portugal and one each in Austria and
Switzerland (author's note: it is questionable how many of these planned venues
have been implemented into reality, but previously, in 1963, already one in
Hamburg). They will supplement the "regular" Cinerama houses already in
existence in those countries. The worldwide target by 1966 will be 50 mobile
The theatre which opened at Richmond is 128 feet (39 meters) in diameter and
made of plastic-treated canvas. The 103 feet (31 metres) wide by 37 feet (11
metres) high screen is the largest in the British Isles (author's note: another
source indicates a width of 109 feet / 33 metres).
"ITINERAMA MAKES HISTORY!" – an advert announcing the World Premiere of the
first British Mobile Super Cinerama Tent Theatre in Richmond (a city district
located in the south-west of London) on Friday, 24 April 1964, and on the right:
an advert of a Mobile Super Cinerama Tent Theatre in Sheffield (England) from
April 1965 "see for yourself this luxury theatre on view every morning from 11
to 12.30 free of charge". (Richmond advert from "New York VARIETY" dated
Wednesday, 29 April 1964)
The Sheffield advert is taken from following interesting
website (here you can
also see admission tickets, and an aerial shot of the tent).
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 29 April 1964:
Plan 50 Mobile Cinerama Tents
London – Itinerama Ltd. plans to have 50 worldwide Cinerama Mobile Theatres on
the road by 1966, giving Cinerama a potential weekly gross of around $840,000 as
extra gravy to the receipts from its hardtop houses. The first mobile Cinerama
Theatre in Britain had its premiere at Richmond, near London, last Friday (24),
teething troubles, including temporary collapse of the blue big top, delaying
the opening by a week. This mobile theatre is the first of five planned for U.K.
by next year, covering East Coast, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The Richmond season is for about two weeks, with 15 weekly shows, at price
ranges of 70c to $1.35. The cinema will then move on for similar seasons at
Brighton, Southampton, Southsea, Poole and Paignton, wintering at either Bristol
or Cardiff. The Mobile Theatre is a 1,216-seater, centrally heated and fully
carpeted, and drawn to its locations by 42 red and yellow colored lorries,
trailers and caravans. Cinerama Inc. and Mills` Circus, represented by the
brothers Mills, have financial stakes in the venture.
With eleven permanent Cinerama installations in theatres throughout the U.K.,
this mobile unit had already experienced more than one year of success in
British provincial and seaside towns. The projection box was positioned outside
the tent on a large steel framework. They used 3 Cinerama projectors and one
sound machine. Due to the small booth for all three projectors (they stood
closely together) the 3-strip films were projected onto the screen like
Cinemiracle, with the help of deflecting mirrors. (Image from "Motion Picture
Herald" dated Wednesday, 23 June 1965)
From "New York VARIETY" dated Wednesday, 9 November 1966:
Cinerama Mobile Unit Starts Winter in U. K.
The Cinerama mobile theatre started its third winter season earlier this month,
having pitched tent at the Fairground Site, Leeds, where it is running "This is
Cinerama". Initial split-screen program will be followed by "Seven Wonders of
the World", "South Seas Adventure" and "Cinerama Holiday", with a Gala opening
December 26 of "How the West Was Won". Following its stand at Leeds, the mobile
unit will move to Nottingham and later to Leicester. During the summer season,
the unit played Southsea and Paignton for a total of 18 weeks.
At the Report's End
As Bonus at the Report's End some Information about Cinerama's newly
transistorized 7-Channel Stereophonic Sound that was applied in the Mobile Tent
Cinemas at the time
From "Motion Picture Herald" dated Saturday, 14 January 1961:
Transistor System of 450w Output for Cinerama Sound
Cinerama has adopted a completely transistorized sound system. In announcing
development of the new equipment, Nicolas Reisini, president of Cinerama, Inc.,
stated that it will reduce theatre installation costs "materially".
The all transistor power amplifiers by Dr. D.G.C. Hare of the Grass Valley Group
of California are rated to deliver the same total audio power to the theatre
speakers (about 450 watts for the seven-channel system) as the former tube
amplifiers supplied. With transformers eliminated, cross-over networks are
supplanted by electronic action of the separate amplifiers which drive the high-
and the low-frequency speakers.
Special output transistors were furnished by the Semi-Conductor Division of the
Motorola Company. The Altec-Lansing Corporation is providing 50 complete sets of
speakers without networks. The Westrex Corporation produced special sound film
The Century Projector Corporation is building 280 projector mechanisms for new
Cinerama installations, and light sources ordered for them are Ashcraft Super
Wentworth D. Fling, vice president for engineering of Cinerama, Inc., is showing
all of the transistorized components of the new sound system. In his hand is one
of the seven pre-amplifier "cards" of the 5 1/4-inch panel on the table. The
panel unit, which replaces a rack 6 feet high, also contains a monitor
amplifier, three power supplies and all metering equipment. Pictured on top of
the panel is one of eight transistorized power amplifiers. (Image from "Motion
Image on the right: as comparison the Cinemiracle system's vintage sound dubber
with a seven-part magnetic-sound head to scan the seven tracks of the 35mm wide
magnetic sound tape. To the left of the audio recorder, which has the
preamplifiers built into the lower panel, the amplifier cabinet with the RCA
output amplifiers. The device had been installed into the booth of Munich's
"Royal-Palast" for the German premiere of "Windjammer" in July1958. (Image and
information from the German trade magazine "Film-Echo", No. 96, dated Saturday,
29 November 1958)
It was not easy to get all these information on the Cinerama tents, and I think
that this report only tells a part of the story about these venues. How long did
they exist? Roland Lataille informs on his
website about the closure of British Itinerama at
Walsall, located north-west of Birmingham, on Saturday, 4 November 1967.
The Itinerama shows in the U.K. were supported with financial stakes from the
Bertram Mills Circus organization. At the time, the brothers Bernard and Cyril
Mills ran the Circus, and after more than 45 years of existence it was finally
disbanded – also due to widespread television viewing. This was also in November
1967. Existed at the time a correlation between the end of the Bertram Mills
Circus and the end of the Itinerama? – In addition it is also worth remembering
that there were no more real 3-strip Cinerama films in production since 1962.
So, the tents didn´t get new movies and were dependent on the few existing
3-strip films – although, I think, that it had also been possible to present
single lens 70mm Cinerama movies in the tents at the time.
I remember that small, inflatable cinema tents appeared at fun fairs or leisure
parks in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Here were projected short event movies
onto huge screens using 70mm large film format that gave an
"audience-encompassing feeling" too. In the tents were no seats and patrons
enjoyed all while standing. These shows had the name "Cinema 180" or in German
"180-Grad-Kino". These tents are, of course, not to be confused with the large
Cinerama tent cinemas of the 1960s with their 3-strip film projections.
I noticed that some information written in articles from that period, also on
other themes, were not quite correct or announced projects were not fulfilled in
the end – e.g., three Cinerama caravans in France (?), the worldwide target: 50
new-type mobile Cinerama tents (?), or 3 tents in Germany etc. – so, all these
articles are always to be judged in their individual context and with critical
Here an example of misinformation (see advert in the image on the right side),
which I had spotted in "New York VARIETY":
The World Premiere advertisement of the movie "Mackenna's Gold" at
"City-Filmtheater" – it took place on Thursday, 20 March 1969, at the time with
personal attendance of Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Ted Cassidy and Eli Wallach.
"Where the Wind of Great Adventure blows – you can find Mackenna's Gold", and on
the right: an advert from "New York Variety" dated Wednesday, 25 January 1967,
with following text:
"Mackenna's Gold" will be filmed on location in the U.S. by Carl Foreman
(author's note: he was responsible for the screenplay) for Columbia in CINERAMA.
It is the first Western adventure to be made in CINERAMA since "How the West Was
Won". It brings together again the creators of "The Guns of Navarone" –
Producer-writer: Carl Foreman / Director: J. Lee Thompson / Composer: Dimitri
Tiomkin, who will co-produce, and Columbia … the total look in entertainment!
The film was partly shot in Super Panavision 70, but was never released in
At the time, since "How the West Was Won" (USA, 1962), the next Western
released in Cinerama (but 70mm single lens Cinerama) was "The Hallelujah
Trail" (USA, a comedy, filmed in Ultra Panavision 70), which premiered at
the Los Angeles Warner Cinerama Theatre on Wednesday, 23 June 1965 – or had it
been "Custer of the West" (UK, France, Spain, USA, not a comedy, filmed
in Technirama), which premiered at London's Casino Cinerama Theatre on Thursday,
9 November 1967?
Finally, here at the very end, the author of this article would like to know
A.) How many newly styled, stable Cinerama tent theatres existed in the U.K.? (I
assume only one)
B.) In which other countries, except U.K., Germany and Spain, were they also
set up? ("Spanish Mobile Cinerama" by Mikael Barnard")
It would be very nice, if some in70mm.com readers can share some stories /
experiences about it – thank you.
More about Itinerama
article from the trade magazine "Boxoffice" dated Tuesday, 16 May 1961 (the
mobile tent in the image is an English Itinerama tent)
Hamburg's Film- and Television Museum about the World Premiere
of "Mackenna's Gold" at Hamburg's "City-Filmtheater"
"Cinema 180" in Denmark
"La Polyvision, espoir oublié d’un cinéma nouveau" (Polyvision, forgotten hope
of a new cinema) by Jean-Jacques Meusy:
"Spanish Mobile Cinerama" by Mikael
"A History of Itinerama" by Mikael Barnard:
"Ken Draper interviewed", written by Mikael
The Cinerama Century Drive-In, Inglewood, California, opened with "This is
Cinerama" in mid-April 1964. The theatre had a mobile screen with a size of 180
ft (55 metres) by 62,5 ft (19 metres) – with a 30 ft ( 9 metres) deep curve –
advertised by Cinerama at the time as "the largest motion picture screen in the
"Cinerama Unfolds Wide-Screen Finances" – an interesting article by William P.
Luce dated Monday, 7 December, 1964
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