Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Nomenclature Narrative History of Circle-Vision

Every so often in this thesaurus business, I take a breather and survey all the terms I've assembled about a various topic to see if I've been blurring definitions, need to create new terms, and/or need to do some additional research. This is one such evaluation, of all the terms I've collected so far for Circle-Vision. Hopefully we can get this straight. The following encompasses terms related to physical locations, processes, films, lessees/participants, and the nomenclature of the attraction itself. I believe the whole Circle-Vision ball of wax to be one of the most confusing in Disneyland's history because of the attraction's very complicated story.

What follows is a glimpse into what I go through. The usual caveat applies that I still have a veritable mountain of sources to examine, so this is very much a work-in-progress. Below is a behind-the-scenes look at piecing together a history; in the next few days I'll have a more definite, easier to digest history--made possible by laying all of this out today and hopefully getting some knowledgeable comments!

We'll start at the broadest level--the process. I began this post by talking about "Circle-Vision"--that is, a generic term to group all of this together. Eliding all but the grossest technical details, we could actually speak of two processes: the Circarama process and the Circle-Vision process. (Somewhat confusingly, Disney A-Z says the process was "later renamed Circle-Vision 360 in 1967 and in 1984 World Premiere Circle-Vision," when it actually means the attraction was renamed.) The Circarama process, using eleven 16mm projectors, immersed the Guest by presenting the action in-the-round. It was inspired by, and its name a play off of, the Cinerama process which used three 35mm projectors. Disneyland: The Nickel Tour relates that Walt saw this process at work in the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, and then inquired of his technical staff if they could put the full circle together. For filming, the Circarama cameras were mounted on the roof of an American Motors (more on them shortly) car and were dashboard controlled. To further cement the car connection, the "car" letters within Circarama were red-lettered on the attraction's marquee, as seen on this June 1956 photo from Gorillas Don't Blog:

In the 1960s, Disney improved its process and subsequently needed nine 35mm cameras. It is not clear to me at this point if that change coincided precisely with the change to Circle-Vision 360. From the listing of Circle-Vision films in Disney A-Z, it would seem that it did not. Italia '61 (1961) is listed as the first film requiring nine cameras, while Magic of the Rails (1965) indicates the name was changed to Circle-Vision 360. For the Disneyland films (more on them below), the date change makes no practical difference, and for my own sanity's sake I will be using the Circarama process to refer to producing eleven-screen films, and the Circle-Vision process to refer to producing nine-screen films. The Nickel Tour renders Circle-Vision as CircleVision, something I haven't come across elsewhere.

It's probably easiest to next go to the films. The Opening Day film was A Tour of the West, which showed scenes from around Southern California, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley. It was an eleven-screen film (Circarama process) and ran from July 17, 1955 until ca. 1960. (It probably stopped playing in the early part of 1960.) The next film to be shown at Disneyland was the first of three instances of America the Beautiful. This Circarama process film debuted at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958 and opened at Disneyland in June 1960. This version of the film ran until September, 1966, when the attraction closed to make way for the New Tomorrowland. A nine-screen (Circle-Vision process), re-shot version of America the Beautiful opened June 25,1967. It ran until approximately 1975, when Disney revised the film to include scenes of Philadelphia for the Bicentennial. This revised version of America the Beautiful closed on January 3, 1984. Beginning July 4, 1984, the attraction alternated two Circle-Vision process films: Wonders of China (in the morning) and American Journeys (in the afternoon and evening). July 7, 1996, marked the end of the line for these two films. In preparation for the attraction's permanent closing for the New Tomorrowland of 1998, the 1975 version of America the Beautiful returned, running from July 11, 1996 through September 7, 1997.

The attraction's name has changed several times, and is one of those attractions surrounded by a cloud of nomenclatural uncertainty. It opened in 1955 as Circarama, U.S.A. At least, according to Disney A-Z. Plain ol' Circarama seems a more likely name, however, given its use in some 1955 newspaper articles, the November 1957 Disneylander, and the 1958 souvenir wall map (A), and the attraction marquee (as seen above). If you want to bring the sponsors into this, the 1955-1960 attraction was also called American Motors Circarama Exhibit and American Motors Exhibit in a couple Disneylanders, and the signage could be interpreted as American Motors presents Circarama. 1960 brought a new film, a new sponsor, and a new name for the attraction--but I'm still up in the air over what that name is! The first signage might indicate that it should be America the Beautiful, as can be seen in this December 1960 photo courtesy of Stuff from the Park:

By May 1964, the signage had changed and now seems to indicate the name as Bell System Presents "America the Beautiful" (at the Circarama Theatre), as seen in this photo courtesy of Daveland:

In print, I have also seen Bell System "America the Beautiful," Bell Telephone's "America the Beautiful," Bell Telephone System America the Beautiful, and Bell Telephone System Exhibit.

In 1967, the attraction reopened as part of New Tomorrowland as Circle-Vision 360--perhaps. Disneyland Guide Summer 1972 and Disneyland Guide Fall 1973 provide this name, as does Disney A-Z. Signage indicates that it might be called America the Beautiful Presented by AT&T, as seen in this August 1976 photo from Daveland:

I have also seen America the Beautiful Circle-Vision 360 (Disneyland Guide Spring 1976), Bell System's America the Beautiful (Disneyland Guide Fall/Winter 1970-1971, Disneyland Line (6/19/1980)), Bell Telephone Circle-Vision 360 (Disneyland Guide Summer 1970, Disneyland Guide Fall/Winter 1970-1971), Bell Telephone Exhibit (Disneyland Line (6/26/1974)) The Bell Telephone Exhibit (Disneyland Line (2/17/1977)), and Bell System exhibit (in the October 1967 p.t.m. magazine for Bell employees). These terms refer to the attraction between June 25, 1967 and January 3, 1984.

On July 4, 1984, the attraction re-opened as World Premiere Circle-Vision. This is the name given by Disney A-Z and Disneyland: Your Souvenir Guide for 1984 (4/1984), and shown on the signage, as on this photo courtesy of Bearride at Videblog:

Finally, some certainty! This name persisted through April 1989, with the attraction shown below in another photo from Bearride:

In 2001, I found WORLD PREMIERE CIRCLEVISION on the Cast Member podium in the theater:

Disney A-Z says the attraction at some point changed to simply Circle-Vision. The Disneyland 1993 Souvenir Guidebook (1/1993) uses this designation. This perhaps happened when the attraction got a new marquee. By the time America the Beautiful returned for its final engagement, the attraction's name was assuredly simply Circle-Vision:

The lessees and sponsors of Circle-Vision through the years only add another layer of complexity. We could possibly say that these were American Motors, Bell Telephone, PSA and Delta Air Lines--and leave it at that. Of course, that would be a gross simplification.

We'll start with American Motors. According to Wikipedia, "American Motors Corporation (AMC) was an American automobile company formed on January 14, 1954 by the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company." I make note of this merger because the exhibit area within Circarama, below the screens, displayed Kelvinator refrigerators and American Motors automobiles. The attraction's marquee indicates that American Motors "presented" Circarama. In today's Disney parlance, this would mean that American Motors was a participant, paying to have its name in lights. I believe, but have not confirmed, that American Motors was actually a lessee, additionally providing its own personnel to staff the attraction.

This supposition is drawn from two Disneylander snippets that imply the employees mentioned worked for American Motors. The first is from September 1957:
LOU CURRAN and RAY KOMARA, both of our Disneyland Security Force, are now working part-time at the American Motors Circarama Exhibit.
And from December 1957:
Cliff Grundy and Mel Phillips (formerly with the American Motors Exhibit) are now with the Monsanto Chemical Co. in Disneyland, and are working at the Monsanto "House of the Future."
The American Motors association with the attraction lasted as long as A Tour of the West. When the attraction reopened in 1960, now playing the eleven-screen America the Beautiful, it was presented by the Bell System (which I've also seen as The Bell System). This association continued with the New Tomorrowland of 1967, though now signage indicated the attraction's sponsor (still a lessee) was AT&T, with the "host company" being Pacific Telephone. (I'll readily admit to not understanding how the telephone monopoly has manifested itself throughout the years! It's all basically the same entity, however.) Bell System Hostesses from Southern California staffed the attraction exclusively until some male hosts began in March 1973. (In 1973 the "Bell Girls" also won the canoe races!) I assume that the Bell sponsorship and staffing continued until the run of America the Beautiful ended January 3, 1984.

When the attraction re-opened as World Premiere Circle-Vision, playing Wonders of China and American Journeys, PSA [Pacific Southwest Airlines] was the sponsor. Although PSA had its last flight in 1988, its sponsorship apparently continued until 1989, at which point Delta Air Lines stepped in. I do not know when Delta ended its sponsorship; it was still the sponsor in March 1995. The attraction had no sponsor when it closed.

We're down to the last piece of the puzzle: the physical make-up of the attraction through the years. From 1955 to 1966, the attraction was crammed into the westernmost part of Tomorrowland's north exhibit pavilion. There seems to have been some sort of a pre-show area, as the Summer 1960 Vacationland says:
Entering visitors are given a demonstration of cross-country Direct Distance Dialing by Bell System representatives, then invited to view the wide-ranging story of communications, told through a dimensional, curving mural that carries out the theme "...from sea to shining sea."
It goes on to say that America the Beautiful is shown in the "adjacent" Circarama Theater. In 1964, the attraction also featured a demonstration of Bell's Picturephone, linked to the company's pavilion at the New York World's Fair. At any rate, the 1955-1966 incarnation of the attraction was small compared to its later version.

From 1967 to 1997, the attraction had three-parts: a pre-show, the Circle-Vision Theater, and a post-show (although much of the post show disappeared sometime in the 1980s). Aside from showing different films, I do not believe the central Circle-Vision Theater (replacing what had originally been Space Station X-1 and then The Art of Animation) experienced much change over the years. The pre- and post-show areas, did, however. I am not an expert on those, but I know they're fondly remembered by some of you out there, so chime in (if you're still reading!).

Let's first address the pre-show area. The 1967 pre-show featured the Bell Hostesses telling the story of the Bell System. It's not clear if this was still the case in 1974, as this June 26, 1974 Disneyland Line article is awfully vague about what's going on in there!:
The pre-show area at the Bell Exhibit has proven extremely popular with our guests as it gives them a chance to participate while waiting for the next show. Asked about how the banners were created for the pre-show area, Mary [Hanson, Exhibit Manager] explained, "Our company engaged a couple in the New York area to do the abstract banners. The intent was to get something that would welcome guests to the area and would give them something entertaining while waiting the 18 minutes for the next show."
When PSA took over in 1984, the pre-show was changed to a show called All Because Man Wanted to Fly, which Disney A-Z describes as "a lighthearted look at early human efforts to fly." Was this a film shown in the pre-show area? It lasted as long as PSA's sponsorship, until 1989. At that time Delta Air Lines became the sponsor, and the Circle-Vision SOP describes Delta's "Magic Wall":
The Preshow area of the attraction offers guests an opportunity to learn more about Delta with a 4½-minute film hosted by “Dusty,” the Delta Air Lion, Delta’s “Magic Wall,” and a 28-foot route map depicting the many Delta destinations. The film not only introduces “Dusty,” but explains what a Circle-Vision theatre is and how 360° filming is done. At the conclusion of the film, Dusty presents Delta’s “Magic Wall.” This wall graphically displays Delta destinations with the aid of over 30 animated cut-outs on the walls surrounding the Preshow area.
When Delta ended its sponsorship (1995 or 1996), I believe this pre-show was just covered up. In its final year state flags hung upon the walls, and that was the gateway for Cast Members to engage the audience. And, we can't leave the pre-show without emphasizing the magnificence of its air conditioning and cushioned seats!

In 1967, the post-show offered Guests the opportunity to use some "advanced communications equipment." The October 1967 p.m.t. article referenced earlier lists the following devices:
  • "voice mirrors" to see and hear your voice
  • Picturephone, linked to EXPO '67, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, or "booth-to-booth"
  • "Weather Station" to phone for the weather in eight major cities
  • "Family Booths" to utilize speakerphone functionality
  • "Kiddie Phones" (also known as Character Phones), to talk with Disney characters who relay phone etiquette tips
I don't have information immediately available about how the post-show changed, but I do rememeber the "Family Booths" being there much later. Were those available until the very end? I know that voting for the Epcot Center Poll Person of the Century also occurred at the Circle-Vision exit.

The post-show area shrank considerably after Bell's sponsorship ended. That happened in early 1984, while The Premiere Shop opened December 18, 1985. The timing is too coincidental for me to believe that the store wasn't designed to fill that space, but I don't know if it was vacant or had something else temporarily there. At least some elements of the post-show remained, such as the "Family Booths."

And with that, we wave goodbye to Circle-Vision... at least for a day or two! Thanks again to the following blogs for allowing use of their images: Gorillas Don't Blog, Stuff from the Park, Davelandblog, and Videblog.


Westcot2000 said...

You're alive! Great post.

Additional trivia:

American Journeys was supposed to end with a Disneyland scene. In, fact, it may have even been filmed!

I believe the state flags were added for the revival of the 1975 America the Beautiful.

The projection system for Circle-Vision is pretty immense. Each projector is contained in a large air-tight case and the film is a continuous loop; thus the name, "Bin Loop Projector". Nearly all Disney theme park films use this type of system.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post!

The amount of research you have done is impressive and engaging.


I do remember doing the family boothe in 1996. I couldn't believe how cool they seemed back then.

Katella Gate said...

Congratulations on your stamina. What a puzzle to sift through.

Will Robison said...

There's additional information about the people who created the Circle Vision system (or whatever its called) in the new Jeff Kurti book on the first Imagineers. As I recall from some back section of my mind, the move from 11 cameras to 9 cameras had something to do with the need for a certain angle to make the effect smoother - maybe there was overlap with 11 cameras?

The Extinct Attractions Club used to sell a DVD about Circlevision. It has complete films of America the Beautiful, American Journey, and the Rocket Rods (which used the Circarama theater as part of its line and some of the footage was mixed in as well). In the American Journey's film, it also shows the pre-show area (including the PSA film) and a brief look at the post-show area. As I recall, the Magic Wall was a series of small mechanical representations of the cities that Delta visited (like a pop-up book... for instance, San Francisco had a cable car that rolled up a hill). Each one would be highlighted in turn and relatively quickly. I vaguely remember a film as well, but I do know it wasn't as good as the PSA one which I want to say was animated by one of the 9 Old Men.

Circlevision was always one of my favorite attractions and I never missed it. I'm hoping it'll come back.

One last bit of trivia, the composer of the music for American Journey was the same composer who did Conan the Barbarian (Morricone, if I recall) and other films. Its perhaps the reason the soundtrack has never been available to the public.

Yellows said...

Ha! The podium has spiels for rocket rods breakdowns stuck on. I doubt that World Premiere Circlevision ever went "101." Great work!

Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, incredible job of navigating some confusing waters. I had no idea that this attraction went through so many changes! I sure would love to be able to see some of those early Circarama presentations, showing the country the way it was 40 or even 50 years ago! Las Vegas 1958, awesome!

I promise to send you a scan of the interior of the Pre-Show area, circa 1968! Or I'll just put it on my blog....?

Anonymous said...

OMG! Thank you soooo much. I have been trying to figure out what I remembered as a child with a lion and colorful animated things on a wall. I knew it was a pre-show and was pretty positive it was Dreamflight in Florida. This makes sense now! I have been trying to figure this out for years.

Anonymous said...

It's great to read all the positive comments about my old home, "the big room" as we called it, or Circlevision 360 to Disneyland guests. I was an attractions host at Circlevision from 1990 thru 1997. I loved every second. You are correct the magic wall was a tour of of Delta desinations through out the country.
The castmember working at the greeter area (entrance) was the same person that would introduce Dusty and the pre show film. After the film in pre-show was over and the magic wall finished, they would welcome guests to Circlevision (sponcered by Delta Airlines of course)ask everyone to walk up to the blue doors,standing behind the line in the carpet as the doors would open toward them and they would leave a "lasting impression" if you stand to close!!!Once the doors opened another castmember would welcome entering guests to the theater. After a brief load time, the cast member working the "big room" would recite a short speil and the show would begin as the lights dimmed.Three shows an hr.Or every 20 minutes
That show was a real class act as far as I am concerned.
Most park "guests"today don't have the interest or enough style or class to enjoy a theater show like Circlevision anymore. Too bad. Our society only wants (demands) cheap fast rides and thrills now. The world has changed and Disney continues to run after that dollar regardless of where it takes them. Don't get me wrong, Disneyland is still the best theme park in the world as far as I am concerned. I only wish world class shows and first rate entertainment were sought after by the masses. Once, Disney designed shows to bring up peoples expections to THEIR (Disney's) level, now sadly it has become a tug o war with the dollar.
I honestly hope the Magic "Kingdom" does not become like "Magic Mountain"

Ryan said...

What a great stroll down memory lane. Every time I came to Disneyland as a kid, my mom and I always went to see the Circle-Vision show. I had never seen anything to magnificent in size and scope and it left me awe-struck. We'd see Wonders of China and then at night come back to see American Journey. I also remember the pre-show because as a kid I was really into travel and learning about the world, so the huge map was so cool to me. We came back to see America, the Beautiful when we heard that the theater was closing for good. It was really sad to see such a special show go. The other poster is right - this show was a class-act and I guess in our internet virtual reality world, seeing the world on a giant circular screen no longer has the impact. But I'll always miss Circle Vision. I went to Epcot lat year and saw the China show - and it was as good as ever. I'm glad to know that it's still there (and on a hot summer day, packed).

Unknown said...

I have the answer to the mystery of this paragraph you have cited:
The pre-show area at the Bell Exhibit has proven extremely popular with our guests as it gives them a chance to participate while waiting for the next show. Asked about how the banners were created for the pre-show area, Mary [Hanson, Exhibit Manager] explained, "Our company engaged a couple in the New York area to do the abstract banners. The intent was to get something that would welcome guests to the area and would give them something entertaining while waiting the 18 minutes for the next show."

As I recall “what was going on” with the banners was that there were abstract banners hanging from the ceiling in the pre show area that each represented the names of one of the fifty states. While you were waiting the hostess would play a game with the audience and see if they could guess the name of the state represented by one of the banners she pointed to. I can’t remember enough to describe any particular one of them to you, but I’m sure this is what the above paragraph is talking about. As I recall it was a fun time killer that everyone seemed to enjoy while waiting to get into the movie.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the trip down memory lane at the America the Beautiful exhibit from the 1970's. Mary Hanson, Exhibit Manager from 1971 to 1981 was my aunt and so many times I met her in the park for lunch and conversation during my college years. I got acquainted with many of the exhibit staff from various telephone companies over the years. Jim Hanson

Nanook said...

Thank you for all your great research into what amounts to a somewhat obscure corner of Disneyland history. It's no wonder I often get confused when attempting to provide a chronology of it.

I can shed some first-hand light on the 1967 pre-show. As you already noted, the room was outfitted with 50, abstract-design flags - each one representing one of our 50 states. However, Disney threw in one extra "ringer", whose design was just a bit more 'over the top'.

The hostess would point at each flag and guests would try to guess the correct state represented for each one. But when that 51st one was called-out and no one could figure out the answer, she could then announce to the assembled group: "...why that's the State of Confusion-!" Oh that Disney sense of humor. You either gotta love or hate it.

Thanks again for sharing all your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

On a lightly different note: Does anyone know whether the projection system still uses film, or does it now employ video projection? With the film I seem to remember just a tiny bit of "jiggling" between the screens.

Anonymous said...

I was a Bell Hostess in 1970 and have wonderful memories of my tour there. This was a great post!

Kathy Frazier