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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas


Wide Visit With Willem Bouwmeester
Looking at Cinerama History

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Thomas Hauerslev Date: 20.08.2009
Willem with the Editor holding Fred Waller's diary from 1950 pointing at the date, 8 November, when Mike Todd visited Oyster Bay to see Cinerama for the first time. Image by Maria Hauerslev

I have known Willem Bouwmeester for more than 20 years. Our friendship began when he came to Copenhagen in 1989 for one of the very first service visits to the IMAX cinema. Willem lives in Rotterdam and works for IMAX in Europe with two other technicians, making sure all IMAX cinemas are working properly. Service visits are typically done 2-3 times year.

On top of that, he goes to Canada, home of IMAX Corporation, every now and then to keep updated with the latest IMAX technology. Willem really travels a lot in Europe, but also occasionally to Kuwait, Australia and the far East.

Willem is also a Cinerama enthusiast to the highest degree. He was one of the very first to join The International Cinerama Society, which was founded in 1985. Some years later he encouraged Johan Wolthuis to start a similar 70mm association, which 20 years later has evolved into in70mm.com.
More in 70mm reading:

in70mm.com's Cinerama page

Projecting Cinerama @ the Pictureville

Speech for Willem Bouwmeester 2002

On the Trail of "Windjammer" - A Visit to Oslo

Cinerama Afterglow - A Get Together in Dayton, OH

Historical Wide Screen Gathering

This is Oyster Bay

Internet link:

Willem is pointing at the former Charlie projection room. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

During all these years we have met regularly to talk about our favourite subject - Cinerama and Todd-AO history. Our meetings usually take place in his "unofficial Copenhagen office", the respected and highly regarded restaurant "Frida's Bodega", just opposite the IMAX cinema. Frida's serve typically Danish food, aquavit and beers. It's very classic, and the interior has not changed as long as I can remember. Its a popular place; If you want to go there, booking a table is recommended.

Since our initial meeting we have also met in Bradford many times as well as in in Oslo, trying to arrange a "Windjammer" screening with Harald Tusberg and to interview Louis de Rochemont III, as well as in Dayton in 1997 for the memorable "Cinerama Holiday Reunion" (with appearances by the Marches, Trollers and Louis de Rochemont III, director of the film). The second part of that tour included a visit to Southbridge & Oyster Bay (NY), birthplaces of Todd-AO and Cinerama. For me it has always been an inspiration to spend time with Willem, and listen his his latest discoveries in the world of Cinerama and 70mm.
Willem lives in Capelle A/D/Yssel, a suburb of Rotterdam. He has been married with Sonja for many years and they have one daughter, Natasja. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

We have often talked about his Cinerama files and finally, for our latest meeting in June 2009, we decided to meet in Rotterdam to find some rare and unique Cinerama material, suitable for our new mutual Cinerama page found here on this web site. The International Cinerama Society came along too early to have something known as a "web page" - a missed opportunity - so this is an attempt to help improve that situation.

The Rotterdam visit would also include a small tour to Rotterdam's long closed 70mm and Cinerama cinemas.

Willem has been interested in films and cinema since childhood. He is approaching retirement in 2010, so he has indeed spent a lifetime in the movies. He was brought up in Rotterdam where his dad often took him to the cinema. Willem was hooked on cinema from the beginning and soon became a projectionist in Rotterdam and later on also on Dutch ocean liners to New York. He was there at the time of the release of "Song of Norway", a "masterpiece" (or Norwegian documentary, as it is also know among some 70mm friends) he later showed on the boat.
Despite a threatening closure, the bright red neon letters still say CINERAMA. The Cinerama cinema of Rotterdam, rebuilt to the present seven screens in the mid 1970s, and now mainly showing art movies. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Cinerama made an unforgettable impact on Willem when he saw it during childhood. Cinerama disappeared completely over the years and Willem had abandoned all hope of ever seeing it again. He had almost forgotten all about Cinerama, until one day.....

Once upon a time...Before VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, home cinema enthusiasts could buy 8mm and 16mm versions of films in specialised shops. On one visit to a shop in London to buy an anamorphic projection lens for his home cinema, he discovered  - very much to his surprise - that there was a "Cinerama Society".

He had stumbled on a flyer and discovered "The International Cinerama Society". He contacted Keith Swadkins in the UK, who with another fellow from New Zealand had organized this society in 1985, with the ultimate goal of re-creating an authentic, three projector, seven-channel soundtrack Cinerama installation.
John Harvey and Willem Bouwmeester hit it off immediately and became instant friends - and long lost "Cinerama brothers".

Delighted and excited about this endeavour, Willem started to make a list of Cinerama Theatres all over the world. Every time he was on a mission from IMAX, he spent his spare time looking for long-closed Cinerama theatres, and finding abandoned equipment and prints. Keith Swadkins continued to work on the list, typing it up and made at least 18 issues of the newsletter including updates with amendments. It was ground breaking research, and it has been copied many times over now, here on the web.

He went to the Rotterdam Library to look for Fred Waller's address, which turned out still to be listed, as of the late 1980s.

His efforts were worthy of even the best private detectives - tracking down almost every single living person of former Cinerama staff and families.

About the same time he also learned about a certain Mr. John Harvey of Dayton, Ohio who, it was rumoured, had a complete and fully working 3-strip Cinerama set up in his bedroom!! Could this be true? In the 1950s, John had also been bitten by the Cinerama bug, and had become another lifelong fan of the three eyed projection system. Inspired by an article in American Cinematographer in 1983, John had decided to build his own 3-strip cinema in his bed room.
Willem and his collection of Cinerama film souvenir programs. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

After the annual IMAX Christmas party in Canada in 1986 or 87, Willem visited John Harvey in Dayton on his way back to Europe. Indeed John had Cinerama installed, but he was reluctant to talk about it and even show it, for fear of being "caught" by the movie companies - as he did have 3-strip prints of some of the classic films: "This is Cinerama", "How The West Was Won" and "Cinerama Holiday". Prints he had assembled from bits and pieces of many 3-strip prints. Willem and John hit it off immediately, became instant friends - and "long lost Cinerama" brothers.

Back to the Cinerama research: Willem wrote a lot of letters to people based on the addresses he could find in the library, and very slowly answers began to come back. Unfortunately some of the original key people had passed away, but many were still eager to talk about Cinerama.

Most of the people were primarily located in the US, including a very nervous Doris Waller in Huntington. She asked Willem if he would mind calling her son, Fred Waller's stepson, John P. Caron, to explain his interest. Of course Willem didn't mind at all. Waller had been married three times, and Doris was his third wife.
Cinerama blueprint. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

When Doris found out what Willem was looking for, she, too, was happy to help, so they were invited to come and visit. John and Willem drove all the way to Huntington on Long Island. Doris showed them around the house and Fred's studio; "Waller Stvdio" [sic], which was virtually untouched since Fred's death in 1954. When they turned on the light, there was a smell of burned wire and insulation, so they quickly turned off the power. Among the things they found was Fred's 1950 calendar which included detailed information about who visited Oyster Bay, and Vitarama, and his book of addresses and telephone numbers.

The Cinerama expedition also made a unique visit to the legendary  address, 8 Pond Place in Oyster Bay, which once housed the famous Indoor Tennis Court - the home of Cinerama Studios.

Willem continued locating original Cinerama staff and key people involved in the birth of Cinerama. Still working from names from the phone book, but also from information which was now coming in by mail, it was a giant jig-saw puzzle of information which was becoming more and more interesting. Names like Wentworth Fling, Louis de Rochemont III, Richard (Dick) C. Babish, Robert (Bob) Gaffney, Michael Todd, Jr., Gayne Rescher and many, many more began to emerge.
Fred Waller's address book. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Some had already passed away, like Lowell Thomas, Fred Waller, Mike Todd, Thomas Conroy, Bob Bendick, Hazard Reeves, Harry Squires but their families were still around and interested to share Cinerama memories. One example was the son of Lowell Thomas, Lowell Thomas Jr. who told them which library had all his fathers papers and files. John and Willem went to the library of Poughkeepsie (NY) - and copied many papers with fascinating insights to the life of Cinerama Inc.

Many were very interested to contribute and gave Willem many letters and files

Willem's interest didn't stop there. He managed to contact and meet Michael Foreman when Mr. Foreman was in Amsterdam.

Foreman was head of Pacific Theatres in Los Angeles, and current owner of Cinerama Inc. His father, William Foreman, bought Cinerama from Nicolas Resini in the early 1960s.
done for free, no money in it - pure enthusiasm and philanthropy

Fred Waller's address many years ago. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Foreman had absolutely no interest in resurrecting Cinerama or allowing anyone else to do anything with it. It took a long time to convince him to accept. The turning point was the idea of a Cinerama installation at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, in Bradford, Yorkshire, UK.

Thanks to the visionary museum director Colin Ford's enthusiasm for Cinerama, a deal was made to re-create an authentic, three projector, seven-track sound Cinerama installation for the first time since the last 3-strip presentation in Paris in 1972. Foreman had expected a group of nerds setting up a Cinerama museum in a dark alley in London, but was pleasantly surprised to learn it was going to be at a government supported museum.
Gunther Jung in his home. Image by Willem Bouwmeester

Willem and John were instrumental in installing Cinerama in Pictureville in 1993. It was very hard work. Willem and John followed Cinerama Inc's original drawings down to the individual wire.

• Go to Projecting Cinerama @ the Pictureville
• Go to Bill Lawrence in Conversation

Gunther Jung, was the owner of "Pix Fix" in Hollywood, and an employee of Cinerama Inc. He saved the Cinerama negatives and equipment from being junked in the late 1970s. "Are you sure you want to do this"? he asked the management, and luckily they were unsure about the wisdom of that decision.
Pacific Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Image by Willem Bouwmeester

Gunther also showed Willem the basement in the Pacific Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard where all the 3-strip cameras were stored. Untouched for several decades, Gunther and Willem managed to start up camera number 1. It was magic. The camera had not been used since the filming of "How the West Was Won". Thanks to Pacific Theatres enthusiasm, the camera was sent to Bradford to be exhibited for more than 10 years, until it was finally returned to LA for exhibition there.

All cameras had been stored in the basement, except one, which was lost in the Indus river during the filming of "Search for Paradise".

All the negatives were safe, but what about soundtracks, with language versions for Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Argentina etc? They turned out to be at the Bell Storage in LA, and there was a terrible smell of vinegar in that room when they opened the doors.

In the mid 1990s David Strohmaier approached Willem about the whereabouts of the Cinerama pioneers. Willem sent him in the right directions, but Dave also found a lot more material and people. He even hired a private detective to find people. In 2008, his excellent documentary, "Cinerama Adventure", was finally released on the Blu-ray version of "How the West Was Won".
Perhaps the person with most Cinerama knowledge today? Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Our day in Rotterdam was coming to an end, but before we had a nice supper prepared by Sonja, Willem called John Harvey in the US to say hello. Willem asked him if he'd be interested to come to Bradford for a "Cinerama Society Reunion" in 2010.

Unfortunately it is not possible for him to travel without help, a nurse. John Harvey suffered a stroke some years ago and has since been living in a nursing home. He shares a room with another person. John, now in his mid 70s is not having an easy life.

In order to pay the bills for the nursing home, John's now ex-wife sold all his Cinerama equipment for a bargain, sold his houses, and cleared his storage rooms of film equipment, in order to raise money to pay the bills.

Sadly, "Mr. Cinerama" has lost all his collection and only has a very few items left.
Calling John Harvey at the nursing home in Dayton, Ohio. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Next to his work with IMAX, Willem spent a huge amount of time on his Cinerama hobby, culminating in 1992/3 with the installation of Cinerama at the Pictureville cinema in Bradford. Not only did he supervise all aspects of the 3-strip system, but also managed to find other missing pieces all over the world to make everything fit together.

He worked very enthusiastically until the completion of the Cinerama installation in Pictureville, then slowed down on tracking down Cinerama history, until now. He recently bought a complete set of Century Cinerama projectors. Thought to have been lost for 40 years, the Athens Greece equipment was recently offered for sale and Willem spent a July week, driving all the way from Rotterdam to Athens to collect the equipment.

One of his biggest discoveries, was a container full of Cinerama prints. Almost a complete set of all films was recently given away by the French Cinematheque to the respected French Cinema Technician Francois Herr of Paris' Cinemeateriel.
Rusty Cinerama film containers. Image by Willem Bouwmeester

The collection of prints in their VERY rusty cans included French versions of all the travelogues and the two MGM films, except "South Seas Adventure", which was not one of their better film and thus wasn't released in that many prints in France. Despite the rusty cans, amazingly there was no smell of vinegar.

Francois Herr's dream is to install 3-strip Cinerama in a cinema in Paris and show a season of Cinerama films. The soundtracks will be re-recorded onto digital media, and playback during film, will be digital. It's a very exciting project which will attract Cinerama fans worldwide. I will follow the developments closely.

Willem let me borrow many of his unique files for copying to in70mm.com's new Cinerama section. A homepage hosting all the Cinerama information which is already available, plus new and exciting classic articles about the birth and life of Cinerama. My daughter Maria and I returned to Copenhagen by train Sunday morning after our memorable visit to Willem's Cinerama Headquarters.

Now in planning stages are the following articles:

Looking back at his life in the movies. Image by Thomas Hauerslev
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Updated 21-01-24