America the Beautiful - 1958 Brussels World's Fair

Disney’s “America the Beautiful” was the second film to appear in Walt Disney’s “Circarama”, the amazing “movies-in-the-round” system which presented a complete circle of cinema-spectacle projected on a continuous 360 degrees screen. 

The presentation took audiences on a tour through the United States of America. “America the Beautiful” debuted in the American pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (Belgium, Europe) and it was the first Disney attraction to open outside a Disney theme park.

The film, “America the Beautiful” was created at the request of Howard S. Cullman, U.S. Commissioner General in charge of the American exhibit at the Brussels Fair, and was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund.

Commissioner Cullman once stated that the presentation made “possible the showing of America’s scenic beauties and institutions on an unprecedented scale and in the most dramatic presentation yet conceived, for people of the world who will visit our U.S. Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.”

The presentation was shaped as an eighteen-minute spectacle, to be presented at the Fair in day long continuous schedules (23 screenings), in its specially constructed round theater designing by Edward D. Stone. The facade of the theater had a white ceramic grille, a kind of screening then typical of Stone’s work.

The Circarama Theater can be seen on the right.

William C. Ralke, a Los Angeles audio-visual equipment expert, installed the Circarama apparatus.

After the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, the Circarama theater was demolished. The film was returned to Disneyland, where it opened under “Bell Telephone” Sponsorship, in 1960. The presentation also traveled for approximately nine years under the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency.

Walt Disney and André Vanneste (named a Disney Legend in 1997 at the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Disneyland Paris) visited the Brussels Fair in July 1958.

Didier Vanneste, son of André, recalled:

"Walt wanted to visit the exposition like a regular tourist. My father got him into the exposition, but the journalists recognized Walt even though he was incognito wearing a hat and sunglasses. Walt was well known in Belgium. There, he was considered the number one friend of all children."

According to information of the Disney Archives, Walt Disney traveled to Brussels from Berlin on Wednesday July 2, 1958, staying at the Palace Hotel. The archives indicate that he went to Zermatt (for the filming of “Third Man on the Mountain” - movie inspired the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland Park) on July 6, via Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux, Switzerland.  So Walt must have visited the Fair between July 2 and July 6, 1958.

Today, the above-mentioned “Palace Hotel” still exists! It is now called “Hotel Crowne Plaza Brussels – Le Palace” and it can be found at the Place Rogier, Brussels, Belgium.

 

The American pavilion of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair anno March 2012.

The "Palace Hotel" Brussels anno August 2013.

Photo scale model:

Atomium VZW.

Many thanks to the kind people of the 'Walt Disney Archives' for assisting me with my research.

Shared Knowledge

Submitted by Karen Ralke Beckner on December 7, 2012 - 19:31 #

My dad was William C. Ralke who installed the exhibit at the Brussels World Fair. I flew to Brussels on a chartered Swiss Air plane with my Dad, Mom (Emma Ralke), sister (Nancy Ralke Vaughn) and myself plus all the equipment for the installation plus a handful of other people. I was in the 7th grade at the time and my sister was in the 5th grade. I remember staying at the Palace hotel mentioned in the website and we were gone approx 2 1/2 months... It was an amazing experience and I'm happy to see my Dad is given credit for the installation. He also installed the Circarama theater at Disneyland, the Seattle World's Fair and others.

Submitted by kibbe fitzpatrick on November 6, 2011 - 23:46 #

I was a guide in the American pavilion at the Brussels' World's Fair. It was a great honor and an unforgettable experience. All the states were represented. I think my state, New York, had the most guides, six. It is too bad we never had a reunion in later years. I am sure, if we all got together, we would agree it was a great moment in all our lives.

Comments

Submitted by Denise prader on June 13, 2014 - 17:39 #

1958 Brussels World Fair, the best year of my youth!

Submitted by Fred A. Kahn on February 21, 2013 - 07:15 #

René Liskens, I do remember well. I was the spokesman of the guides in an interview with "Le Soir" published in its first page.

Just now, on February 5, 2013. I was reunited and met one of the guides of the US Pavilion, Frieda now Jaffe, then Frieda Weissblatt who was on team A. Also have been in contact with Butterworth, Schooler, Jacoba Van Schaick, and my roommate then John Yancey. I remember most other guides, including the one you mentioned as well as Kibbe Fitzpatrick. He even was pictured with Brigitte Bardot in the booklet the guides published "Jeunexponent".

I worked for part of the assignment as a US State Department staff, handling the VIPs who visited the pavilion. Among there was many notables, including actor Orseon Welles, actresses Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Susan Strassberg, President of the USSR Vorochilov and his minion Anasatas Mikoyan; Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady; president Herbert Hoover, Cardinal Benjamin of Spain, Princess Beatrice then of Holland who later became queen and is going to abdicate soon.

I am now 80 years old.

Submitted by Mary Jo Aagerstoun on November 23, 2012 - 15:39 #

Greetings to Kibbe and Rene...I don't remember either of you, but I agree with Kibbe that it would be very sweet...and significant... if the guides who are still living could have a reunion. I wonder how that could be accomplished. I think at this point some researcher may be interested in hearing our stories and recording them. The '58 world's fair and the US participation in it came at a very important period in world history. I believe it was the first time countries of Eastern Europe that were part of the USSR and its empire were visible in the West. It is so interesting that the Atomium was the centerpiece as well. "Atoms for Peace." Irony of ironies now that European countries in the wake of Fukushima are moving to less dangerous forms of generating electrical power. I changed the spelling of my name a bit since Brussels: At the time I spelled it Ageton. I hope other guides are listening in and will respond. If you want to get in touch with me I am on facebook (with the new spelling).

Submitted by Fred A. Kahn on November 16, 2012 - 06:09 #

I also worked as a guide at the US pavilion!

I remember the other guides (like mister Fitzpatrick, who took care of the VIP’s visiting the pavilion). Actually, I’m still in touch with many of them! Recently (September 30, 2012), The Washington Post published a picture of me in my guides uniform, 54 years ago.

Submitted by Anonymous on October 15, 2012 - 17:00 #

Hi Teri,

I was 11 years old when I went to see Circarama in Calcutta (1961).

Did your grandfather, mister Ole Hanson, came to India as well?

I would appreciate it, if you could find this out. Thanks.

Biplab Ghosh.
Bangalore, India.

Submitted by Anonymous on September 24, 2012 - 20:47 #

Hello Kibbe,

I hope you will read my message, written one year after yours. We certainly knew each other in that fabulous year, the nicest during my youth. I worked for the US commission in charge of the US participation.

I don't remember your face but have remembrance of your family name. I was friends with two other guides : David Mortensen (Utah) and Denise Prader, a Swiss girl. I also knew Arthur Boatin from N.Y. No news from a long time.

Meilleurs souvenir.

René Liskens (Belgian, 76 y.o.)

Submitted by Teri Hanson on April 12, 2012 - 02:32 #

My grandfather Ole Hanson took the Circarama around the world including the Brussels World Fair. Sometimes my grandmother would go too. Her name was Pauline Hanson. My dad is Steve Hanson.

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