Stanley K Hunter

The showing on channel 4 of CENTENNIAL SUMMER made me think about other international exhibitions featured in feature films (some available on video). CENTENNIAL SUMMER centres on the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition and was a Lerner-Lowe musical (1946) with music by Jerome Kern, Otto Preminger directed this version of Albert Ernest Idell's novel. It stars Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde who plays the hard-pressed commissioner for the French Pavilion.

The film starts with the opening ceremony when the father of the central family grumbles about President U S Grant mumbling his speach and walks out in disgust. In their first visit the family travel in bathchairs pushed by the attendants and we see inside the troubled French Pavilion. The triumphal gala opening of the pavilion forms an important part of the plot.

Jeanne Crain also stars in STATE FAIR the Rodgers and Hammerstein II musical. The 20th Century Fox film (1945) also features Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes and Vivian Blaine. This time the central family from Iowa spends a week in a caravan home at the Iowa State Fair & Exposition. We see the judging for the Pickle & Mincemeat entries and also the Swine Pavilion. The parents carry off the prizes while the son and daughter meet their putative spouses. The son falls for a band singer on the Midway. The Midway is rather well handled here and there is a thrilling roller-coaster ride.

While the Fair theme song "Our State Fair is a Great State Fair", is catchy, the real hits were "It Might as Well be Spring" and "Its a Grand Night for Singing". (The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection Video, 96 mins).

The story was from Philip D Strong's novel and first appeared as a film starring Will Rodgers (Fox Films) in 1933. The sons romance was with a trapeze artist. The film was remade by 20th Century Fox in 1962. This time it starred Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, Alice Faye and Janet Gayner. A showgirl is the object of the sons romance. This was probably the least successful, even the story was moved to urban Dallas Texas.

Vincente Minnelli's 1944 MGM musical MEET ME IN ST LOUIS stars Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien and Tom Drake. The story comes from Mrs Sally Benson's "The Kensington Stories" which appeared in the "New Yorker". It is set around the lovely period house at 5135 Kensington Avenue. The Smith family of St Louis receive the terrible news that papa is being promoted to New York City. As a result they will all miss the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.

Martin & Blain's hits include "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". The contemporary classic "Meet me in St Louis" (Andrew B Sterling & Kerry Mills) is probably the theme song of all exhibition enthusiasts. "The Trolly" is featured when a party take the electric street-car "Special to Fair Grounds" to view the site, six months before the exposition opens.

The film gives a really good build-up of the excitement which must have grown during the approach of the opening. Papa realises that as a result of the exposition, St Louis will increase in importance. The Worlds Fair is only viewed at the close of the story when the family express their delight at finding that St Louis is going to be the centre of the universe for a few months. ("MGM Musicals" Video 110 mins).

The film should not be confused with MEET ME AT THE FAIR (1952) which stars Dan Dailey and "Tad" Bayliss. Also set in 1904 it is the story of a crooked medicine-show operator and an orphanage scam with a happy ending. It is based on Gene Markey's novel "Good Companions" with script by Irving Wallace.

One film which features a modern exhibition was Elvis Presley's IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLDS FAIR (MGM) in 1962. It was produced in Metrocolor and Panavision (64 mins) and again I have not come across a video. The film involves two crop spraying pilots and is dismissed as a routine vehicle for The King. The fair was Century '21 Exposition, staged in Seattle, in 1962

The Paris Exposition of 1889 is the centre of the Gainsborough thriller SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950), written by Anthony Thorne. I think that the total disappearance of Jean Simmon's brother David Tomlinson is one of the best mysteries shown on the screen. It is all in aid of saving the exposition, but nothing is revealed until the end, with the help of Dirk Bogarde and Honor Blackman.

The building of the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 Universal Exposition was well covered in the 1989 C4-TV documentary film MR EIFFEL'S TOWER, a "Designs Classic", marking the centenary of the exposition. A home movie of the 1937 Paris International Exposition appeared in BBC-2's "Cine Memo" series.

Michael Crichton's THE (FIRST) GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (United Artists 1978) starring Sean Connery, Donald Southerland and Lesley-Ann Down, gives a splendid recreation of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham. Connery plays a villain visiting the luckless Wayne Sleep during one of the regular firework displays at Crystal Palace, after the 2nd June Horticultural Fete in 1855. The film is noted for its accurate mid-Victorian period recreation and its Crystal Palace shots could almost be contemporary.

The YEAR TO REMEMBER series of video documentaries cover the 1938 Empire Exhibition, Scotland and the South Bank at the 1951 Festival of britain. The material is from the Pathe News Library. Bill Tonkin has made a superb private compiliation incorporating the Empire Exhibition 1938 and Pathe shots of FDR opening the New York's World Fair on 30th April 1939, the Festival of Britain and Expo '58 at Brussels. (note Group member Barry Norman did the work Bill got the credit, Editor). This brought back happy memories. There is a bonus of film of Glasgow's monorail, the Bennie Railplane (Valentines postcards retail around #35 each). Four 1938 Valentines postcards (X122-125) form a sequence cut from the Gaumont- British newsreel of the King and Queens visit to the Clachan. Rushes from this film were shown the same day in the Exhibition Cinema.

The cinema equipment had been lent by Gaumont-British. When the building was sold, the new owner found that he had acquired the equipment as well. It opened as the New Empire Cinema in Lochgilphead, Argyll. It was later converted to the Empire Snooker Club. A friend picked up a brand new leaflet for me, now advertising it as the "EGH" the Empire Guest House. Although completely refurbished inside it still has a nice 'Thirties look. The motif of the guest house is the red chequered Lion Rampant designed for the exhibition.

The Scottish Film Library holds some archive and amateur film of the 1938 Empire Exhibition including a documentary on Glasgow, SECOND CITY, which includes newsreel footage. I have received permission to reprint the various catalogue entries and hope that our Editor will publish this consolidated list. A proportion is on 7.5 amateur stock. Apparently the cost of conversion is very high.

There is quite a good scene of the Festival of Britain in PRICK UP YOUR EARS, John Lahr's biography of Joe Orton (Civilhand Zench/Goldwyn 1986). We see night outdoor dancing on the South Bank. After the Skylon is dimmed we get a fireworks display. The film starred Gary Oldman and Vanessa Redgrave, (Virgin Video).

A more lighthearted view of an exhibition is Jacques Tati's TRAFFIC, (Corona 1971). Although packed with visual gags on the motor car, the story tells of Tati's doomed attempt to transport an extraordinary exhibit to a major motor show in Amsterdam. Tati's PR lady is Maria Kimberley. The exhibit arrives as the exhibition is being dismantled, but all is not lost, (Channel 5 Video).

Television has shown documentaries on a number of exhibitions. At one of our meetings, we saw a feature on the Queen's "Dolls House" which was displayed at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

In May 1988, BBC Scotland screened THE EMPIRE EXHIBITION - FIFTY YEARS ON to coincide with the opening of the Glasgow Garden Festival and we also saw that at a group meeting. A pictorial 32 page booklet was published by BBC Mainstream (#2.95) and includes some favourite items from my own collection of souvenirs as seen in the TV film, some of which was recorded in my home. The film which featured Magnus Magnusson, was reshown on the anniversary of the closing of the Empire Exhibition with some of the comparisons with the Garden Festival removed to make it an half-hour film.

The Glasgow Garden Festival was well recorded on TV, with the BBC establishing a major pavilion to broadcast daily (as in 1938). A display of my Empire Exhibition souvenirs was featured at the Festival and featured on a BBC Radio Scotland broadcast interview.

To be concluded in our next newsletter.


© Exhibition Study Group 1992