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History of the Villa's Screen

The stage and part of the mural beside it, shown here in 1949, have been hidden from view since the installation of the 96-foot Cinerama screen in 1961.
Photo from the Salt Lake Tribune, 20 December 1949

The Villa's original screen was 26 feet wide and 20 feet high and was described at the time as "one of the largest in the Rocky mountain states."*  It was used for less than four years, yet remained on its wooden frame at the back of the stage for an additional 45 years.  The screen was removed in 1998 in an effort to clean up the backstage area of the theater.

In 1953, a wider screen was installed for the CinemaScope presentation of The Robe.  This screen was probably installed towards the front of the stage and had only a slight curve to it.  Howard Pearson, News Theater Editor for the Deseret News, referred to the CinemaScope screens at the Villa and the Lyric as "so large a viewer has to turn his head to see from end to end."  He also said, "Looking at the wide, curved screens, viewers have the impression they are part of the picture."  (See Deseret News, 1 October 1953.)

A very exaggerated drawing of a CinemaScope screen, from the opening day ad for The Robe in 1953.  The ad was designed to make CinemaScope look like Cinerama, but the CinemaScope screen only had a modest curve to it.
Deseret News, 1 October 1953

In July 1958, the CinemaScope screen was replaced with a 54-foot wide TODD-AO screen, which was said to be "the largest indoor screen in the Mountain West" (Deseret News, 1 August 1958).  It was only used from August 1958 to July 1961.

BIGGEST INDOOR SCREEN IN UTAH! - Diagram shows difference between regular Cinerama screen and super-size screen to be unveiled for "South Pacific" premier Thursday. New TODD-AO screen is curved from the axis 7 feet, while Cinerama screens have 38-inch curve.
Deseret News, 28 July 1958, B1

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The use of the term "Cinerama" in this diagram and text is a mistake.  They actually meant "CinemaScope."

In September 1960, the Villa showed Windjammer in Cinemiracle, a process similar to Cinerama.  According to the Deseret News review, a "new 100-foot curved screen" was installed for the performance.  A 100-foot screen would not have fit on the stage, so it was probably a temporary screen installed in front of the stage.  The Villa closed for one week for the installation of Cinemiracle and one day (21 December 1960) for its removal.

The Villa's screen today.
Photo by Grant Smith

On 5 July 1961, the Villa closed for 16 days for the installation of Cinerama.  A new screen was built in front of the stage, reducing the theater's capacity by at least 300 seats.  The installation was permanent and included a new set of red drapes that covered the Cinerama screen, parting in the middle.  The original stage, screen, and draperies remained intact, but hidden from view.

The Cinerama screen had an arc of 146 degrees and was made of hundreds of vertical strips, each angled so that light from the projector was reflected towards the back of the theater.  This prevented light from one side of the curved from washing out the image on the side opposite.

Originally the red curtains would close on the Cinerama screen between showings.  When the Villa first started showing slides on the screen, the projectionists would actually close and reopen the curtains just before starting the movie.  Nowadays, the curtains only move now when a new movie starts playing with a different aspect ratio.

Next:  Advantages and Drawbacks of Deeply Curved Screens