The Big, Wide Story Of Stereophonic Sound

For a subject that’s integral to the success of motion pictures, precious little has been written about sound. I’m not referring to the dawn of the talkie era but later developments that came in conjunction with widescreen, Cinerama, and 3-D in the early 1950s, in a feverish attempt to lure people away from their new television sets and back into movie theaters. (And let’s not forget the pioneering efforts of Walt Disney with his introduction of Fantasound in 1940 for the roadshow engagements of Fantasia.)

Longtime UCLA Film and Television Archive preservationist Bob Gitt has made a great study of sound and performed compelling demonstrations over the years…but now Robert Furmanek, of the 3-D Archive, has compiled a fascinating article about the history, introduction and promotion of Stereophonic sound in the 1950s.

Using articles and ads from trade magazines of the period, Bob helps bring this era to life with all its technological advances and attendant ballyhoo. Even if you don’t understand the scientific aspects of the story I think you’ll enjoy the “big picture” he paints, along with the wonderfully evocative advertisements.

5000 Fingers of Dr. T Poster

5000 Fingers of Dr. T Poster

The drum-beating was so loud during this period that Cole Porter even wrote a satirical song about the audio craze for his 1955 Broadway musical Silk Stockings, introduced by Don Ameche and Hildegarde Neff—and later reprised in the 1957 movie by Fred Astaire and Janis Paige. Porter added additional lyrics (and sanitized others) for the MGM movie but this original stanza will give you a sampling:

If Zanuck’s latest picture were the good old-fashioned kind
There’d be no one in front to look at Marilyn’s behind
If you want to hear applauding hands resound
You’ve got to have glorious technicolor,
Breath-taking Cinemascope and
Stereophonic sound.

To read Bob Furmanek’s informative column, click HERE.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024