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Cinérama Itinérant (Itinerama) - Cinerama's Mobile Tent Theatres

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Gerhard Witte, Berlin (Germany), 03/2017 Date: 22.04.2017
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.

A Restriction

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 theatrical installation.

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.

Never Acted

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 time.

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 to town.

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 Cinématographic Industry:

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 Cinerama pictures.
More in 70mm reading:

PDF: Itinerama - original French articles

Gerhard Witte's in70mm.com Library

Internet link:
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 president.

Reasons for inflated balloon theatres not making debut as skedded were not revealed.

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 Super-Cinerama.

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 September 1961

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 (shortened):

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 industries.

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. Watch

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) – that's 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 associates.

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 September,
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),
6.) at 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 October 1961.

Here information about all 101 French departments.

The revenues of "Cinérama Itinérant" – successful wherever it appeared

Information taken from "La Cinématographie Française" dated Friday, 29 September 1961:

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 time:

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 said.

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 people yearly.

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 size.

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 a panic.

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 square metres.

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 insurance.

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 working.

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".

L.F. Hervieu
… 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 confirmation).

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. and Canada.

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. Circus).

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 / Conti-Press).

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 the world.

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 theatres.

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 transports.

The Century Projector Corporation is building 280 projector mechanisms for new Cinerama installations, and light sources ordered for them are Ashcraft Super Cinex lamps.

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 Picture Herald")

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)

Final Words

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 eyes.

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 Hamburg's "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 CINERAMA.

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 following:

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

An article from the trade magazine "Boxoffice" dated Tuesday, 16 May 1961 (the mobile tent in the image is an English Itinerama tent)

Information from 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 Barnard

"A History of Itinerama" by Mikael Barnard:

"Ken Draper interviewed", written by Mikael Barnard

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 world".

"Cinerama Unfolds Wide-Screen Finances" – an interesting article by William P. Luce dated Monday, 7 December, 1964
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