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Mike Todd (22. June 1909 - 22. March 1958)
Idea Man behind The New Big Screen System

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Showmen’s Trade Review, October 15, 1955Date: 01.07.2008.
Updated 20.03.2021
Mike Todd with the Todd-AO "Bug Eye" lens in Spain during production of "Around the World in 80 Days", August 1955. Picture from Susan M. Todd's collection

It's a toss-up whether the most remarkable achievement in TODD-AO is the huge "bugeye" lens capable of king panoramic shots over an angle of 128° or the selling-job Mike Todd did on the University of Rochester scientist, Dr. Brian O'Brien, when he first induced this eminent man of optics to produce a process whereby the effects of Cinerama could be obtained on one piece of film photographed by one camera and thrown on the screen by one projector.

Mike Todd, a fabulous showman, has his name imprinted on the bands of his imported cigars and for these cigars he has a built-in humidor in his private plane. Crates of caviar go with him wherever he goes. He has a string of fast convertibles garaged in at most every capital throughout the world. He has a Cadillac in New York, a Thunderbird in Los Angeles, a Ferrari in Rome. He also has one of the world's most beautiful and efficient private secretaries, a Japanese-American girl named Midori Tsuji.

Enter, The Scientist

Dr. Brian O'Brien, on the other hand, is calm and deliberate in speech and gesture. He is a stereotype of the American university professor. He is a slender, quiet man in his mid-fifties and wears quiet clothes. Although the American Optical Company, of which he is vice-President in charge of research, manufactures eyeglass frames of assorted styles and shapes, O'Brien's spectacles are in a simple steel-rimmed frame. Before his association with Todd, O'Brien's only connection with movies had been the invention of the fastest cameras in existence, the slowest of which takes 10 million pictures a second.

O'Brien had never heard of Cinerama or Mike Todd until Todd's first visit to him. The Einstein of the optical world was unimpressed when Todd told him about the wonders of Cinerama and its flaws. He was uninterested when Todd asked him if he could come up with a process where everything would come out of one hole. But as Todd pounded him relentlessly with sales talks of mounting intensity the doctor gradually began to weaken, and after five weeks of holding out against Mike Todd's persistence and showmanship, Dr, O'Brien acquiesced. The results of his labors soon will become moviedom history.

Now that Todd had successfully completed his mission with Dr. O'Brien, he began working upon his next problem: money. For, a man who began working at the age of five, Todd's age when he was out helping a fruit peddler on his rounds and delivering packages for neighborhood merchants, this was not as difficult a project as acquiring Dr. O'Brien's services. He rounded up a group of backers and early in 1953 they group formed the Magna Theatre Corporation.

The Play’s the Thing

The next thing on the TODD-AO agenda was an opening vehicle and everybody concerned agreed that the musical, "Oklahoma!”, would be a natural. The process was shown to Rodgers and Hammerstein and these gentlemen, sold on the TODD-AO system, sold "Oklahoma!" for $1,020,000. In the transaction, Rodgers and Hammerstein purchased a substantial block of Magna stock

Out of all this, Todd has done very nicely for himself. He has 31% of the shares of Magna, and Magna owns almost two-third of TODD-AO, He has a five year franchise from Magna to make two TODD-AO pictures a year and when "Oklahoma!" has run its long course at the theatres, Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" will be ready for distribution. Tolstoy’s "War and Peace" will be the third TODD-AO production. Robert Sherwood has already completed three-fourths of the screen play.

Mike Todd has already raised millions for TODD-AO ventures, Millions more are available, he says, and who can deny it. For as a showman and promoter, Todd is second to none.
More in 70mm reading:


Mike Todd's "Around the World in 80 Days" in Todd-AO

"Around the World in 80 Days" with Michael Todd

Gallery: "Around the World in 80 Days"

"Around the World in 80 Days" 70mm & Cinestage Seasons

Working for Mike Todd

Showmen’s Trade Review, October 15, 1955:
Oklahoma! in Todd-AO
Magna Theatres
Todd-AO Corporation
Philips Collaborated On Projector Design
Todd-AO Projection and Sound
Six track recording equipment
All-Purpose Sound Reproduction
Rodgers & Hammerstein II
Six track recording equipment

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Updated 06-05-22