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.
Many thanks to the kind people of the 'Walt Disney Archives' for assisting me with my research.
Photo scale model: Atomium VZW