Monday, July 27, 2015

Circarama Theater & Telstar

There's only one picture today; but it's a pretty nice one. From the legendary stash of Instamatics comes this nice shot of the Clock of the World, with the wonderful "Circarama Theater" (home of "America the Beautiful") in the background. The "Bell System" logo makes me happy, for no logical reason.

It's hard to ignore that strange thing protruding from the top of the building; it is a model of "Telstar",  an early communications satellite that Bell Labs helped to build. Actually, it resembles both "Telstar 1" and "Telstar 2", launched in 1962 and 1963 respectively. They are still in orbit today (though inactive)! 

Apparently the "boom" that the satellite was on would rotate, which is pretty cool. Photos of this feature are not common, so it was fun to find this example. If I knew anything about 3D animation, I would have tried to replicate how it might have looked.


Nanook said...

We love the Circarama (Circle-Vision) Theatre.

Based on the signage, this image dates from somewhere between March, 1960 and September, 1966. And then if you factor-in the introduction of the Instamatic Camera, we're looking at an image from sometime between February 1963 and September 1966. (When the "New" Tomorrowland opened in 1967, the filming/projection process had graduated from (11) 16mm cameras/projectors/screens to (9) 35mm cameras/projectors/screens).

Thanks, Major.

Chuck said...

Nanook, it's ironic that the Instamatic was introduced the same month that Telstar 1 failed, a probable victim of an artificial radiation belt created by the Starfish Prime space nuclear test conducted two days before the satellite's launch.

Considering Telstar 2 was shut off on 16 May 1965 and there would have been no significant continued advantage to advertising the Bell-Telstar connection, I'm going to guess this was shot no later than 1965, although the feature may have been left in place until the remodel. An anecdote from Cox Pilot over at Daveland ( says that at some point before it was dismantled the satellite stopped turning.

And now this is stuck in my head:

Chuck said...

Further refinement of this photo's precise location on the space-time continuum...according to Chris Strodder's "Disneyland Encyclopedia," the name "Circarama" was replaced with "Circle-Vision" on 8 Nov 1964, so it can't have been taken any later than the day before. The name change was prompted by the similarity to "Cinerama" and threatened legal action.

Nanook said...

@ Chuck-

I'm aware of the November, 1964 date. But if true, I'm having trouble finding when the theatre temporarily closed so the space could be re-modeled for the larger theatre, itself. That turned the CIrcarama theatre area into the pre-show area for the new Circle-vision theatre. That's why the re-configuration seems to make more sense during the upgrade to the New Tomorrowland.

Although plausible, it seems ridiculous the name change to Circle-vision was driven by legal action, as Cinerama was established in 1952. So, it took 9 years to work through the legal 'battles'-? (1955-64). Hmmmm. That sounds more like Disney differentiating their process from that of Fred Waller's. When did the Bell System become the sponsor-? That would seem to make more sense as the driver behind the name change prior to a technology change, as the "car" in Circarama coincided with the American Motors sponsorship.

In the 1965 guidebook, they still refer to the process as Circle-vision - but guidebooks aren't often updated promptly. Questions, questions.

Nanook said...

Sorry -

Make that: In the 1965 guidebook, it's still referred to as Circarama. Sorry, too many 'cir's'.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I never would have guessed that the probable date of the photo would be the most interesting thing!

Chuck, yes, I thought the same thing, it is unlikely that they would continue to trumpet Telstar 1 & 2 after they were done. Without even doing any real research I would have guessed that the picture was taken around 1964 or 65. And, as you say, the name change to Circle-Vision narrows it down even further.

Nanook, I’ve always thought that the story of the Cinerama company threatening legal action seemed petty (if it was true), but stranger things have happened. For Disney, I doubt it was worth much of a fight when they could just change the name (and improve their own process). I’m sure you are right about the 1965 guidebook error… it might have been ready for presses when it was too late to change.

Unknown said...

Love the photo, and possibly even more the discussion of it's timing! For a little more background info, I had previously pulled this blurb from a Fall 1952 Vacationland magazine:

"Telstar, the Bell System's communication satellite is in outer space. And the day after launching, Tom McCann of the nearby Orange Daily News wrote: 'Orange County tourists today are convinced that at least one part of Walt Disney's imaginative Tomorrowland section at Disneyland is not science fiction. The nationally-famed park has on display a full-sized mockup of the Telstar satellite which was successfully launched into orbit to become the world's most famous 'switchboard.'' Telstar's full-sized mockup is on display in the Bell System's exhibit daily."

Chuck said...

Nanook - I agree with you that sponsor or attraction technology changes make more sense as a time to change an attraction's name, but I could swear I just read a few days ago about the lawsuit that prompted the name change. I think it was in Sam Gennawey's "The Disneyland Story," but I haven't been able to locate the reference yet. It's mentioned in a lot of the advance press I've found online for the book, but the book is annotated and I'd rather find the exact reference.

Based on the photos in the Yesterland article on the attraction ( and the exhaustive research at Disneyland Nomenclature (, which, I see, both you and the Major are familiar with :-) ), Bell seems to have taken over sponsorship in 1960 with the debut of "America the Beautiful." According to "The Disneyland Story," the attraction opened on 14 Jun, but the system name didn't change (although the "car" in "Circarama" was no longer emphasized).

If the 1964 date is correct, it seems to only reflect a change to the name of the original, 11-camera 16mm system, not the switch to the upgraded, 9-camera 35mm system in the larger theater that took the space that had formerly been Space Station X-1/Satellite View of America and the Art of Animation.

Chuck said...

Well, I managed to find a 1966 INA guide online (, and the description of the attraction on p 30 ( refers to it as "the Bell System's 'Circarama' display." I can understand the 1965 guidebooks not being updated right away, but I have a hard time accepting that this error would persist a year and a half after the attraction changed names, especially in the Walt era. It sounds like the error is in "The Disneyland Encyclopedia." I wonder if this was caught with the second edition?

Perhaps the 1964 date has to do with the development of the upgraded Circle Vision 360 system?

Nanook said...

@ Chuck-

"You have questions - we have more questions". (Actually, that was what a former Radio Shack employee said to me, referencing their campaign: You have questions - we have answers). Frankly, I think the real truth went something more like this: You have questions - we have blank stares-!

Never say never. Maybe there really was a lawsuit. But in the era of CinemaScope & SuperScope, and Cinerama, Technirama & Delrama (a projection lens), and VistaVision & Panavision, it sure sounds ridiculous to me.

You've definitely done your research, and referenced the same Yesterland article I used for the closing date/name change. I've also read (and seems the most-accurate) "Disneyland Nomenclature" - A Nomenclature Narrative History of Circle-Vision, which REALLY seems to have the in-depth answers - but you still never know. He cited Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, where they say "... Walt saw this process (Cinerama) at work in the Pantages Theater (sic) in Hollywood..." Actually, Walt saw the process at the Warner Hollywood Theatre - the only theatre in Los Angeles equipped, at the time, to project Cinerama. (It should also be noted in 1927, the Warner Hollywood was the first west coast theatre to feature Vitaphone - the first "talking picture" process).

I guess the definitive answer has yet to surface, but who would'a thunk so much "controversy" could surround such a seemingly straight-forward thing.

Sunday Night said...

Dates aside (love the discussion by the way. I am also a classic cinema fan) , I always loved "America the Beautiful" That scene in Yosemite in winter (coming out of the tunnel) was pretty breathtaking.