Reflections on the 60th Anniversary of Todd-AO
screening of Oklahoma
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The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Dick Whitney, Southbridge, USA
Whitney at the Todd-AO display with the new 60th anniversary "Oklahoma!"
A few weeks ago I took my family to see the 60th Anniversary screening
of the 1955 Todd-AO production of the movie
"Oklahoma!". A restored
version of the original film was being shown at a local movie Theater in
Worcester, MA. When I emailed Thomas of this event, he asked me to document
this for his website. I was glad to do so as I have a long time interest in
this film and Todd–AO as I will explain in this article.
My name is Dick Whitney and I am the Executive Director of the Optical
Heritage Museum in Southbridge MA, where American Optical developed the Todd-AO process. Before recounting the 60th Anniversary Theater screening, it
is appropriate that I give a brief background of my special interest in the
film, and my connection with Thomas and his superb website that includes
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"Oklahoma!" in Todd-AO
in70mm.com Presents: You are in the
Show with Todd-AO
Background to this story
playing in New York, October 1955. Image by Donald Whitney
began working at American Optical 41 years ago, and today I work for Zeiss,
which is now sponsoring the Museum. They purchased AO’s eyeglass business 10 years
ago. My Father, Donald Whitney, began working at AO in 1947 in ophthalmic
lens design. He was hired by John Davis, who later would be involved in
Todd–AO. Don was also was an avid photographer. A hobby which he passed on
to me. That hobby, and his appreciation of music such as big bands, jazz and
Broadway musicals, were interests that he passed on to me.
I was born and still live in Southbridge, MA where AO was headquartered.
Growing up it was not uncommon to hear my family and friends discuss
Todd–AO, and recount when Hollywood came to Southbridge! My parents and my
in-laws both were in the Audience at the
Rivoli Theater a few days after the
film premiered in NYC in Oct. 1955. The outside shot of the Rivoli marque
was taken by my father Don at that time.
The Southbridge / Denmark Connection
Hamel greets a visitor at the AO Southbridge R&D building ~1955
In 1997, I began to dabble with posting family photos on the Internet,
and also began to collect American Optical memorabilia. At that same time
Thomas planned a trip to the area to meet with those involved in Todd–AO and
to tour American Optical. As luck would have it, he contacted me and I gave
a tour of the complex and also showed them the AO / Optical Heritage Museum.
Founded in 1983 for the 150th Anniversary of the company, the Museum was
housed in a small room in the AO main plant building. By then, most of the
building had been vacated and in 2000, it would be put in storage when much
of the AO Main plant was demolished. By that time I was asked to oversee the
collection, but until 3 years ago when my company Zeiss sponsored the
re-opening and expansion of the Optical Heritage Museum, I had no place to
When Thomas visited Southbridge in 1997 and met with Walt Siegmund and
others involved, I became increasingly interested in the technical aspects
behind this unique film process. The excitement by all involved in
recounting their experiences was contagious. Thomas’
account of his visit
when we met for the first time is on his website:
I continue to be amazed by what he has posted and his work on documenting
the history of Todd–AO is amazing! I also have a link on my website in
tribute to Todd–AO, but always point people to the ultimate authority –
This is a
Youtube video that I posted of a video taken at the Museum the day of
their visit in 1997.
Also, this is my
on Todd–AO on my American Optical History portion of my site.
Fast forward to the 60th Anniversary Screening of
Oklahoma - Nov 1, 2015
Chris and Erica outside the cinema
wife Peg and “children” (Chris and Erica - now grown adults), came with me
to the Worcester Showcase Cinema complex to view the movie
and Erica were exposed to this movie since they were pre-schoolers, for at
that time we had a Betamax recorder and my father had gotten a recording of
the movie. They played this movie over and over and acted out many parts of
the film, singing and dancing by the TV.
None of us had ever seen this film on a large screen, however, and we all
were excited to see it full screen format in the movie theater. While it was
not on the curved screen of the
Rivoli, the experience of seeing this film
restored and projected in the theater was something I will never forgot.
I could not resist using my cell phone camera to capture the opening credits, and was especially excited to see the opening credit to
American Optical Company.
the actual film was a segment that included a talk by Ted Chapin (President
and Executive Director of Rodgers and Hammerstein org) and Kristine
Chenowith (Broadway singer). He discussed the Todd –AO film process and held
up examples of the film types. He also credited American Optical for this
film process developed 60 years ago.
While I expected to be pleased with seeing the film in full screen, I did
not expect to be blown away. The quality of the image, and the whole film
production of "Oklahoma!" was outstanding. The opening sequence where “The Corn
is as high as an elephants eye” set the tone of movie, but seeing it full
screen in the Theatre made it a whole new experience. It was apparent that
this restoration and theatre experience brought the viewers in the audience
as close to that 1955 production as was possible. The clarity of the image
was amazing, and seeing it on the screen rather than my television made me
experience this film in a whole new way. I also was reminded of the
perfection of the film rendition of this American musical classic.
I could not resist using my cell phone camera to capture the opening credits
and was especially excited to see the credit to
American Optical Company.
I left the Showcase North Movie Theater, I was pleased to be presented with
the poster to the movie. Prior to the screening I had requested it, as I
explained the Optical Heritage Museum / Todd–AO linkage. I subsequently
had I framed for display in the Museum. Yesterday it was placed above the
case that houses Todd-AO artefacts (as well as early AO Fiber Optics items),
both of which were developed by AO Southbridge.
Shown below is closer image of the case, which includes an original reel and
the tickets/theatre booklet from the 1955 NYC movie debut.
Optical Heritage Museum
A closer image of the case, which includes an original reel and
the tickets/ theatre booklet from the 1955 NYC movie debut.
Image by Dick Whitney
Dick Whitney is the Executive Director of The Optical Heritage
Museum, which is dedicated to the preservation, education and research in
the history, growth, culture and contributions of the optical industries
from the 19th Century to the present.
Please visit the
Heritage Museum if you are in the area. We are situated one hour west of
Boston Mass and only 5 miles from Old Sturbridge Village (founded by AO).
The Optical Heritage Museum is open Wednesday - Friday 10.00am to 4.00pm or
by appointment. Please phone Dick Whitney to arrange an after hours tour
Optical Heritage Museum
12 Crane Street
Southbridge, MA 01550
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