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