John Harvey (10/13/1936 – 5/3/2018)
passed away in his sleep but made thousands of people happy during his 81
|Read more at|
The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Larry
Harvey at the New Neon, Dayton, 1997. Picture: Thomas Hauerslev
John “Cinerama” Harvey was a retired projectionist (for 60+ years) who had a
unique cinema history. From the carbon arc days of 1950’s drive-ins to
sharing a 2-man booth duties in classic big city grand cinema palaces
(4,000+ seats), to installing state of the art cinema equipment in modern
multiplexes, to classic film festivals (presenting variable speed early
silent film with live musical accompaniment) and outdoor public screenings
in parks, or on the sides of buildings using 70mm equipment projecting out
of the backs of trucks. And especially his first love Cinerama…
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is John Harvey… and John Harvey, this is your
(John had suffered a series of strokes so this biography/interview was
rewritten by a friend of his for a lifetime achievement presentation at the
National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford, England in
My name is Larry Smith and I am lucky enough to have been a friend of Mr.
Harvey’s for over 40 years. John Siegfried Harvey was born Oct 13, 1936 in
Dayton, Ohio. John tells me the earliest film he remembers seeing was a Hal
Roach, Our Gang comedy short. Question: Is it true you used to go door to
door doing imitations of Al Jolson after seeing THE JOLSON STORY (1946)?
(John answers: Yes, six songs for a dime!)
John’s older brother Charlie worked as a flashlight boy directing cars to
empty spaces at the Miami Cruise, Drive-In, but instead of what was on the
screen John was fascinated by the light coming out of the projection booth
porthole. Which led to his learning the craft from a seasoned projectionist,
Al Hill, just like the boy in his favorite movie, Cinerama Paradiso. And his
father's interest in newsreel commentator Lowell Thomas led to his seeing
"This Is Cinerama"
at the Capitol Theatre in Cincinnati in 1954 when John was just 16 years
old. His first job as a projectionist was at the downtown cinema the Park
Theater. Later, John’s mentor Al Hill helped get him into the projectionist
During the 1950’s John was a full time union projectionist that handled
duel-projector 3-D (1953’s Natural Vision 3D), the first stereo sound system
installations, most wide screen processes (VistaVision, CinemaScope, etc.)
John first projected Cinerama at the Dabel theater in Dayton, Ohio in 1963
and if he wasn’t operating the Abel projector he was monitoring the Sound
unit. It took 5 technicians, three projectionist on the 3 projectors (all
interlocked), one projectionist on the sound playback unit and the fifth man
at the front center of the auditorium monitoring the image alignment and
sound speaker balance.
|More in 70mm reading:|
Widescreen Weekend 2010. John Harvey's visit to Europe
Visiting John Harvey
John Harvey's Cinerama
Speech for John
John Harvey "Mr. Cinerama" in
Time Traveling to
the New Neon
Afterglow - A Get Together in Dayton, OH
Harvey with the main cast of "Cinerama Holiday", and Leonard Maltin at the
New Neon, Dayton, 1997. Picture: Thomas Hauerslev
In the 1970s John got to meet his hero
backstage after Thomas gave on of his famous travelogue lectures with a
slide & moving image show. John later gave Lowell a demonstration of his own
Wonderama process, an invention John based on true, Fred Waller (Cinerama’s
inventor) principles using a deeply curved, screen made of hundreds of
narrow ribbons but only a single camera, a single projector.
But it was a 3-panel trailer for "How
The West Was Won" that John saved from the end of the Dabel run that
John used to tell me it was as if the film was calling out to him. And since
he knew of no one else that was doing anything to bring Cinerama back, he
decided to start modifying three Simplex projectors for the six-perf,
(instead of the common 4 perf) pull-down. Eventually recreating the whole
Cinerama projection system in his basement.
I remember when I first met you back in 1984. You lived in a single story,
brick ranch house with some modifications to the first floor... you had
removed 2 bedrooms, part of the living room, part of the kitchen and raised
the ceilings and reinforced the floor to install three projection booths and
a curtained screen. I was one of the lucky few who saw THIS IS CINERAMA
& HOW THE WEST WAS WON in your living room cinema. John introduced
the movies, ran all the equipment himself, rewound each print and inspected
every foot of film between every showing. He even severed real movie theater
popcorn made in his own popcorn machine, he even had napkins custom made
with the Cinerama logo on them and bought pizza at intermission for his
audiences of 12-18 people! John how big was that living room screen? (John
answers: 25’ wide by 10’ tall.)
LARRY: I remember you told me that you used your vacation time to travel to
meet other Cinerama films buffs like Gunther Young of Cinerama Inc. and
Boumeester of IMAX, eventually traveling to meet the inventor’s widow
Mrs. Fred Waller
& Cinerama Technical Chief Wentworth Fling. I love the story of Mrs. Waller
telling you that no one had been in her husband’s workroom since he died.
And then, she handed you the keys! Later in 1993 you came to England for the
first time to work with Willem
installing Cinerama at the
Museum in Bradford England where Cinerama shows every month ever since!
LARRY: Back in the early 1990s, you went from being just a good friend to
helping me make major improvements and modifications at the New Neon Movies
cinema where I was manager. We first installed two-projector 3D including a
giant 30’ diagonal silver-screen that was automated to flip up or down from
the ceiling on hinges as needed. Later you installed a 70mm projector
literally overnight so we could play the restored director’s cut of
LAWARENCE OF ARABIA in 70mm.
Even with all that success, in 1996 the landlord wanted to split the
auditorium into two smaller theaters. But we had a dream, if we built it….
They might come. So we started a letter writing campaign to convince the
powers that be, that the public would come to see Cinerama if we could
simply alter the building. We got over 1,400 letter from 30 different states
& 11 different countries!
So for one month after closing each night my dad Edward Smith, several Neon
employees, a handful of dedicated volunteers, John Harvey and I took out 1/4
of the ceiling, 88 out of 300 seats to install a floor to ceiling,
wall-to-wall, 146 degree curved screen made out of over 1100 ribbons. John
what was that like? (It was one heck of a lot of work!)
LARRY: So after 4 weeks of working around the clock while the theater was
still open every day, never losing a single screening, we converted our
little art theater into John Harvey’s larger living room and the only
Cinerama theater in the United States in 30 years…
I remember we got the OK to run Cinerama on weekends for 2 months. But we
sold out those shows so quickly we added two more months.
Cinerama". John Harvey at home in Dayton, Ohio, 1997. Picture: Thomas
Around this time we got a 8 minute VHS demo tape in the mail from a guy who
wanted make a documentary to tell our story and the story of Cinerama. What
was his name John? (David
Strohmaier) He made that documentary and it’s called,
“The Cinerama Adventure”
and it all started with footage he shot at New Neon Movies. In the
beginning, people actually used to FedEx checks to us overnight for tickets;
we got calls from newspapers, radio stations and TV stations, all to talk
with John Harvey, or as actress Debbie Reynolds called him, the Cinerama
Man. I took over the introductions to allow John to focus on the multitude
of details before every performance. I used a slide show as a visual aid to
better explain the uniqueness of this amazing process and to share with the
public the rich history of Cinerama. But after every showing John walked
down to the front of the audience and answered the questions from people who
came from over 45 states, 30 different countries. John how did you find the
energy to do that after running the whole show by yourself? That’s something
I love to do, explain Cinerama. Nothing compared to the glowing comments
from those came and saw it for themselves.
LARRY: Among the celebrities who came were Joe Dante the director of
"Gremlins" and Quentin Tarantino who actually stayed the weekend so he
could see every inch of all the Cinerama films that were playable.
Our 2 month run went on for well over 3 1/2 years but it finally ended there
(in late September of 2012, the Cinerama Dome in LA plans on playing all 7
Cinerama titles). A year later the Neon's owners twined the auditorium and
John's equipment went into storage. Briefly his IB-Technicolor prints of
This Is Cinerama & How The West Were Won were loaned out and
played at the newly renovated Seattle Cinerama theater as part of the
Seattle film festival. Eventually John you developed some health problems,
John would you please share with us a little of what happened to you? I had
a series of strokes.
LARRY: I know you did not have health insurance and your home, property,
equipment and films all had to be sold to pay medical bills. But you made
lots of friends and fans along the way.
In closing, were glad that filmmaker David Strohmaier came along and
documented Cinerama's birth, its technology-changing history and brief
death. (His film Cinerama Adventure is an extra on the Blu-Ray
version of How The West Was Won) But if it were not for true Cinerama
fans and the noble work of film preservationist done around the world to
keep the lamps burning and Cinerama on screen... then folks like John Harvey
would not have been able to share this love of Cinerama with the thousands
of old and new friends. Thank you one and all.
So to connect it all, John Harvey first built 2 Cinerama theaters in his
home, helped others install it in the Bradford museum. He installed and ran
every showing at the New Neon Movies in Dayton, assisted in the Seattle
installation and the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. Basically, John has been
a part of every Cinerama theater in the world in the last 30 years. So thank
you John Harvey.
John Harvey lived the last 15 years of his life at Pinnacle Point Nursing
Home just outside Dayton, Ohio where he got letters and phone calls from
people wanting to talk about the glory days of film. Not digital, but reel
John Harvey is sadly gone but his work to preserve the movies he loved lives
on. This is not…
So sorry to hear about the passing of John! He
was one in a million, people came from all over the world to see his "Neon
Cinerama" revival. There will be a lot of people saddened to hear of his
passing, he was a memorable human being with a lot of heart and a good sense
of humor. I take my hat off to John and bow my head in respect, I think a
little of the Cinerama glow has dimmed but will someday glow even brighter
because of Johns wonderful relentless spirit of excitement regarding the
magic of the "three eyed wonder."
Super Dimension 70
Really sorry to hear it Dave. He was an
extraordinary guy, helped us
install Cinerama in Bradford with Willem Boumeester as we all know in 1991/92, and it was great to pay tribute to him
when he returned to Bradford in 2012.
The red velvet curtains up there will open wide - to their fullest extent -
and greet him warmly.
Chief Projectionst, Pictureville
John gave Cinerama life support 'til Dave
Strohmaier showed up. Sound easy? Turned his "home" into the only Cinerama
theater in the "world", being divorced in the process. John Harvey. A
Champion when Cinerama needed one.
The first time I got to experience Cinerama
was in Dayton
thanks to Larry and John… an unforgettable weekend. thanks for spreading the
Film critic & film historian
Such sad news, it's the loss of a great
gentleman who cannot be replaced. We soldier on.
I was greatly saddened to hear of John
Harvey's passing on May 3rd. On the one memorable occasion that I met John -
over a few days at the now legendary New Neon reunion in
Ohio - he provided everyone with an experience that we shall surely never
forget. He had been a man that I had wanted to meet ever since I saw a UK
documentary about his home 3 strip set up many years ago and I am so very
glad to have done so at Dayton.
To all of those who were close friends and colleagues of John Harvey, I send
It was a great time on the Cinerama junket to
Bradford with John and Larry back in the spring of 2010. I got to know them
both and I remember John was always up for anything and everything.
Cinerama Restoration Producer
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