Drove out to Belvidere, Illinois yesterday for the annual "Little Hershey" antique car swap meet. Amid the mountains of hubcaps and valve covers, I spotted this little Lileksian gem: An original handout flyer for the Chrysler Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair, along with a pair of 3-D glasses for the viewing of the Pavilion's three-dimensional film "In Tune With Tomorrow." Five bucks, such a deal! I loaded it up with my quarry of car parts and brought it home to share with you. Click on pics for large views.
What a show it must have been -- a Rocket Port of Tomorrow, a Talking Car, a Frozen Forest, all manner of Engineering Wonders, plus the aforementioned 3-D movie extraganza. Still something strikes me in this ephemera as very melacholy. In 1939 The US was going through a 10th straight year of economic depression (national unemployment was still 17%) and by September, WWII was underway; a stark contrast with the shiny optimism reflected these (kinda) rose colored glass. If any car company in 1939 had reason to be skittish about futurism it was Chrysler, which had recently taken a major financial bath on the too-far-ahead-of-its-time Airflow; and yet they seem pretty bullish on the whole thing here. It's hard to imagine this kind of optimisitic boosterism at Chrysler today. Belvidere itself home to a half-empty Chrysler assembly plant, which I passed on the way to the swap meet. Whether Chrysler can survive as a zombie mutant financial partnership between the Federal government and Italian industrialists, it certainly won't share DNA with the company who staged this production.
In any case, my swap meet find prompted a little research on the 1939 Mopar exhibit. All of the big 3 car makers had pavilions at the World's Fair that year, and brought out the design world's heavy hitters for the job. Most notably GM, who contracted Norman Bel Geddes for their Futurama exhibit where the first concept car -- Harley Earl's Buick Y-Job -- debuted. Walter Dorwin Teague and Albert Kahn teamed for the Ford Exposition. Chrysler's spot, this handsome streamline deco structure, was designed by a 'James Gambrel Rogers,' who is also listed as the designer of Firestone's World's Fair exhibit. It appears that he may actually be James Gamble Rogers, who designed several buildings at Yale U and Columbia.
Here's a colored postcard showing the building at daytime. On the back, "Flo and Bill" write to Betty Stempel in Bridgeport, "The fair is beautiful, but you sure do get tired." Seven days after it was postmarked, the
blitzkreig of London aerial bombing of Poland began (correction h/t J.P Martin).
Inside, a better known designer was featured in Raymond Loewy. Loewy is listed as the designer on Chrysler's "Automobile of the Future." I was surprised to see this, as Loewy was already associated with Studebaker at the time. Unlike the Buick Y-Job of GM, the Automobile of the Future at the Chrysler Pavilion appears to have never been more than this picture.
Still would be cool to see this rendered in steel, though. The big climactic attraction at the Chrysler Pavilion (listed at #1 in the flier) is the intriguing ROCKET PORT of TOMORROW! From what I found it appears it was everybit as impressive as it sounds. The Disneyania blog 2719 Hyperion posits it as an important influence on Epcot, and cites the following description from the Official World's Fair Guidebook:
“As the airplane finishes its flight across the screen, lines shoot out and harness the earth with other planets. Twinkling signal lights, the hum of gigantic motors and the warning sound of sirens indicate that the Rocketship is loading passengers for London. You see futuristic liners unloading at nearby docks; sleek trains glide to a stop, automobiles whisk voyagers to the spot, high-speed elevators rise and descend as the Rocketship is serviced for the coming journey. The moment for departure arrives. A great steel crane moves, a magnet picks up the Rocketship and deposits it into the breach of the rocketgun. A moment of awesome silence. A flash, a muffled explosion, and the ship vanishes into the night.”
Wow! Pretty cool. Had I been there at the time I would have marked it #3 in my World's Fair guidebook, after the GM Futurama and the fair's various exhibits of tastefully artistic nude girls (warning - linked movie contain tastefully artistic yet possibly NSFW nude girls from 1939).
Another attraction on the flier was the "magic talking car," which I suppose laid the technical groundwork for a really bad 1960s sitcom and David Hasselhoff's career. There isn't much information readily available about the Chrysler talking car; sadly, its designer, Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, recently passed away at age 92. Loewy associate Lundquist also designed the pavilion's 'Frozen Forest' and went on to design the United Nations logo.
What of that 3-D movie, which my 1939 Plymouth-faced glasses were meant to bring to life? Stereoptic movies go back to 1922, but the early 3-D methods did not work well and were never use in studio films.The 1950's golden age of the 3-D movie began with the release of Bwana Devil in 1952, and was made possible by Polaroid's polarization process and the associated 3-D glasses (captured by this memorable Life Magazine photo). From what I can discern, the Chrysler Pavilion's movie was the very first commercial example of the Polaroid method -- and in Technicolor to boot! It would take another 13 years for it to see reach movie theaters because of the interruption of the war, and high production cost.
And here, throught the magic of YouTube, is Chrysler's Worlds Fair feature presentation "In Tune With Tomorrow":
So the natural question is: did my 1939 3-D glasses still work on the 1939 movie? Sadly I must report no. Can't say if it was the light or digitation,the monitor or YouTube, but I wasn't prompted to dodge or weave by a single driveshaft or steering wheel flying out of the screen. I will continue investigating and see if I can correct the problem with another late 1930's Hollywood invention - reefer.
Update 5/25/09: technically astute reader Ric Locke explains why my Mopar 3-D x-ray spex won't work:
No, you aren't going to be able to see the Chrysler movie in 3D. Sorry about that.
The process depends on having two (sets of) images. The glasses don't make 3D out of a single image; they only separate the two, so that each eye only sees the channel intended for it. In the Polaroid process, the channel intended for the left eye is projected through a vertical polarizing filter, and that for the right eye goes through a horizontally polarized one. The "glasses" have corresponding polarizations, vertical for left and horizontal for right, so the left eye sees only the left image, etc.
What you see here is only one of the two channels. You won't see 3D with that, any more than you could have depth perception if you only had one eye. The Internet isn't set up for 3D viewing, anyway. You would have to have something installed on your monitor to make it work.
There are stereo viewers for computer screens, two types in fact. One of them, descendant of the original process, uses Polaroid screens to separate the images, but uses circular polarization (left or right handed) instead of vertical/horizontal because the vertical/horizontal version falls down if you tilt your head. The other system uses liquid crystal eye-shutters and a signal from the monitor that tells the eyewear when to open and close, and is much brighter and therefore preferred. You need a very high-vertical-rate monitor to make it work without notable flicker, because the monitor has to display only one of the two images at a time.
The real barrier to more 3D movies was/is the investment required by theaters, which were already under attack from TV. I asked the theater owner I worked for in the late Fifties and early Sixties if he intended to show 3D movies. The answer was no, because it required buying two-channel projectors. The really big theaters used two separate projectors with a Rube Goldbergish system for synchronizing them; they could show a full-screen Panavision (70mm) 3D film. Smaller ones used a retrofit consisting of a gizmo with mirrors and a pair of lenses to replace the original one, and a film with two images on each frame; it only worked on projectors set up for 70mm film, and projected what was effectively a 35mm format, but in 3D. The few 3D movies that did get made came with the retrofit and instructions for how to install it, which the theater owner had to rent from the movie company for the showing, just like the film.