By Barbara LaMonica
He returned to Paramount in 1929 and left in 1936 to begin work on special features for the New York World’s Fair. He created special motion pictures projected on the interior of the Perisphere, an enormous modernistic structure that served as the central theme of the fair. He built his first model for the Cinerama process but it was considered too expensive and radical at the time. During this period, he bought the Kenyon Instrument Company of Boston and relocated it to Huntington as the Kenyon Instrument Company. The new company produced nautical and aircraft instruments.
During WWII, he developed the Waller Gunnery Trainer, a simulator utilizing multiple cameras projecting pictures of moving planes onto a conclave screen. This resulted in producing realistic aerial battle situations, thus showing gunners how to hit them. The U.S. Air Force, Navy and the British Admiralty used the trainer, which is credited with saving over 350,000 lives during combat.
Essentially the process Waller created called for three 35 mm cameras equipped with 27mm lenses. Each camera photographed one-third of the picture in a crisscross pattern. The film was projected from three projection booths onto a large curved screen. The process attracted Lowell Thomas who organized a corporation to further market Cinerama. Louis B. Mayer was Chairman, Thomas was Vice President and Waller was Chairman of the Board.
On September 30, 1952, This is Cinerama opened in New York City to a capacity crowd. The film opened with a breathtaking rollercoaster ride, and critics lauded the production, seeing it as an alternative to the rising popularity of television. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won were two of the first features to be shot in Cinerama. However, it soon became obvious that the Cinerama process was too cumbersome to shoot with three cameras mounted on one crane, and the need for three projection booths with at least three projectionists added to a prohibitive cost. Most existing movie theatres could not be easily converted to accommodate the process, as the cost for this could be as high as $75,000. Eventually producers decided to shoot on 70mm film with a single camera and project onto a larger screen with a single projector. Even though the Cinerama process gradually faded out it still remains a significant contribution to cinema technology being a precursor to IMAX and Virtual Reality.
This blog has been written by various affiliates of the Huntington Historical Society.