Iconic Photo: Watching Bwana Devil in 3D at the Paramount Theater

This iconic photograph by LIFE magazine photojournalist J. R. Eyerman turned 60 this past week. Shot at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood in 1952, the image shows the opening-night screening of the first ever full-length, color 3D movie, titled Bwana Devil.

Two interesting facts regarding the image: (1) Polaroid played a role in what the moviegoers were watching and what they were wearing, and (2) the people in the photo didn’t actually enjoy the film.

Here’s what LIFE magazine said about the Paramount audience at the time:

These megalopic creatures are the first paying audience for the latest cinematic novelty, Natural Vision. This process gets a three-dimensional effect by using two projectors with Polaroid filters and giving the spectators Polaroid spectacles to wear. The movie at the premiere, called Bwana Devil, did achieve some striking three-dimensional sequences. But members of the audience reported that the glasses were uncomfortable, the film itself — dealing with two scholarly looking lions who ate up quantities of humans in Africa — was dull, and it was generally agreed that the audience itself looked more startling than anything on the screen.

The December 15, 1952 LIFE magazine issue in which this quote appeared dedicated a full page to the photograph above. It would soon go on to become an iconic image in American culture and the defining image of Eyerman’s career.

Life at the Movies: When 3-D Was New [LIFE via Boing Boing]

Image credit: Photograph by J. R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine

  • jdm8

    Content is king. If it’s really polarized, then using anaglyphs since then for projection is a horribly cheap way out.

  • folsombob

    Look at the way the audience is dressed. I grew up in a movie theatre in the 50s, and remember when a “night out” — to a movie or dinner — was special. Not much seems special any more, which is, perhaps, why I enjoy black and white photos of another time and country.

  • Jesse

    I do agree to an extent, but it also seems as though a night out to a movie was largely reserved for the wealthy.
    Thumbs up none the less.

  • folsombob

    Ha, ha. I can assure you we were not wealthy, but lower middle class. In those days, people — including people “without” — took a certain pride in looking nice, and being clean. Somehow, when my generation started experiencing abundance beyond that of our parents, we decided being grubby was cool; this has evolved to women paying $100+ for old, faded, and torn jeans and feeling they are stylish.

    Nevertheless, I still admire the old film b&w prints. :-)

  • John Snape

    And sadly, even after 60 years, well past the original 28 from the Constitution, this image is STILL copyrighted and NOT in the public domain. We SHOULD be having content from 1984 just now entering public domain.

  • arlene hockenbrouch

    they weren’t watching bwana devil. the other picture is of people laughing even though there is nothing funny in that movie. They are part of a group that fetishizes masks and they used those galsses because they were there. the show they were watching was about a nine year old girl.