In the early 1950s, when Milton Gunzburg, a scriptwriter at MGM, and his brother Julian, a Beverly Hills ophthalmologist, developed a process that would allow moviegoers to watch the dominant entertainment medium of the age in what came to be called “3-D,” they figured Hollywood studios would leap at the chance to use their phenomenal brainchild.
But studios, in general, are notoriously sedentary creatures, and only one person — the remarkable and now largely forgotten screenwriter, director, producer and radio pioneer Arch Oboler — showed enough interest in the Gunzburg’s “Natural Vision” process to actually use the technology in one of his productions. When his 1952 movie, Bwana Devil, was released (a based-on-true-events story about man-eating lions written, produced and directed by Oboler himself), Natural Vision was a huge part of the promotional campaign.
“The World’s First Feature Length Motion Picture in Natural Vision 3-Dimension,” Bwana Devil posters proclaimed. And the movie’s 3-D-tastic tagline? The brilliant, near-poetic promise of A LION in your lap! A LOVER in your arms!
The striking J.R. Eyerman photo above, meanwhile — made 60 years ago this week, during the Nov. 26, 1952, opening night screening of Bwana Devil at Hollywood’s Paramount Theater — has been reproduced so many times and is now so famous in its own right that it’s difficult, all these years later, to appreciate just how strange and enticing the idea of three-dimensional viewing really was.
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