Transcript: Christopher Innes on the Impact of Staging Theatre | Apr 15, 2001

A slate with two Doric columns reads "Christopher Innes. 'Broadway to Main Street: A not-so-literary research.'"

[applause]

Christopher Innes stands behind a wooden lectern and addresses an unseen audience. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short gray hair. He's wearing glasses, a gray suit, white shirt, and yellow tie.

He says WHAT THIS PROJECT OF MINE
SHOWS, ABOVE ALL, I SUPPOSE,
IS IN ANY KIND OF RESEARCH,
FIRSTLY THERE IS NO
SUBSTITUTE FOR LOOKING AT
ACTUAL EVIDENCE, EXPLORING
PRIMARY MATERIAL.
NOW, THE THEATRE, OF COURSE,
THAT MEANS NOT JUST WRITTEN
DOCUMENTS, LIKE FOR
LITERATURE, BUT WHAT
LIBRARIANS WOULD
DISMISSIVELY CALL EPHEMERA.
SECONDLY, NEVER
FOCUS TOO NARROWLY.
ALWAYS STAY OPEN TO
THE WIDER PICTURE, THE
UNEXPECTED PATHS, THE
AVENUES THAT MIGHT SEEM TO
HAVE NO RELATION TO
WHAT YOU ARE WORKING ON.
AND THIRDLY, ALWAYS REMEMBER
THAT LITERATURE, OR EVEN
SUCH AN EPHEMERAL ART AS
THEATRE, IS AN INTEGRAL,
SOMETIMES EVEN A PIVOTAL
PART OF SOCIETY.
IN FACT, THIS IS VERY
MUCH A CASE IN POINT.
I'VE HAD A LONG INTEREST
IN NORMAN BEL GEDDES.
WHEN I WAS FIRST WRITING
ABOUT EDWARD GORDON CRAIG,
AND LET ME PUT IN A LITTLE
PLUG FOR MY OWN BOOK ON THE
SUBJECT, AND I STARTED THIS
SOME YEARS AGO, I NOTED
THAT BEL GEDDES HAS
CORRESPONDED WITH CRAIG, AND
INVITED HIM TO PARTICIPATE IN
THE 1933 CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR.
SO SEARCHING FOR EVIDENCE OF
CRAIG'S INFLUENCE, I LOOKED
AT BEL GEDDES THEATRE WORK,
AND INDEED FOUND SOMETHING
THAT FITTED.
THIS IS BEL GEDDES
DIVINE
COMEDY,
A PROJECT THAT
PREOCCUPIED HIM ALMOST
ALL OF HIS WORKING LIFE.

A black and white picture pops up. It shows a blurry image of a huge staircase surrounded by tall constructions, and what appear to be statues.

Christopher continues THIS, IN FACT, IS A MODEL OF
THE THEATRE WITH LIGHTING
SET UP TO REPRESENT
A VISION OF HELL.
HIS ORIGINAL CAPTION READS,
"FROM OUT THE SHADOW COMES
SILENT, SOBBING BODIES.
THEIR HEADS ON THEIR BREASTS
STUMBLING, TUMBLING IN
THEIR BLINDNESS TO THE
EDGE OF THE SHADOW."
BEL GEDDES, AS YOU CAN SEE
FROM THIS, ENVISAGED A HUGE
THEATRE SEATING
7,000 SPECTATORS.
THE STAGE WAS 165 FEET LONG
BY 135 FEET WIDE, RISING
AROUND THAT CENTRAL PIT
TO FOUR CLIFF-LIKE PEAKS.
YOU CAN SEE TWO
OF THEM THERE.
THEY ARE ALMOST 100 FEET
HIGH, IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY
BUILT TO SCALE.
AND HIS
DIVINE COMEDY
ENVISAGED OVER 500 SINGERS
AND ACTORS.
HE WROTE ELABORATE SCRIPTS
FOR THE INFERNO, FROM THE
PARADISO SECTIONS OF
DANTE, WITH BEAT-BY-BEAT
NOTES FOR THE SPOKEN WORDS,
THE LIGHTING, THE MUSIC,
THE POSITION OF THE
PRINCIPALS, THE CHORUS
MOVEMENTS AND SO ON.
HE DESIGNED FANTASTIC
COSTUMES AND MASKS.
HE COMPOSED CONTINUOUS
ABSTRACT MUSIC.
HE COMPLETED FULL
ARCHITECTURAL PLANS FOR
THE THEATRE.
BUT WHILE THIS IS POSSIBLY
THE MOST WIDELY KNOWN NEVER
PERFORMED THEATRE PIECE
EVER, AND COMPLETELY
CRAIGIAN IN CONCEPT AS WELL
AS IN ASSERTING THE ROLE OF
THE DIRECTOR AS THE
CREATIVE ARTIST, BEL GEDDES'
ACTUAL WORK WAS
EXTREMELY DIFFERENT.
COULD WE HAVE THE NEXT
ONE, PLEASE, JOHN?
TAKE BEL GEDDES' TWO MOST
FAMOUS PRODUCTIONS, FIRSTLY
REINHARDT'S
THE MIRACLE
IN
NEW YORK IN 1924...

A blurry black and white picture shows columns and statues in a large building.

Christopher continues WHERE
BEL GEDDES TRANSFORMED, AS
YOU CAN SEE, THE CENTURY
THEATRE INTO A MEDIEVAL
CATHEDRAL, WITH THE
AUDITORIUM BECOMING A NAVE,
AND THE AUDIENCE AS A
CONGREGATION ON
WOODEN BENCHES.
SO THIS IS ACTUALLY PART OF
THE NAVE OF THE THEATRE.
THEN, THE NEXT ONE,
DEAD END IN 1935.

A black and white picture shows dozens of people standing outside a building patched up with wooden planks as if under construction.

Christopher continues THIS, AS YOU CAN SEE, IS
EXTREME REALISM, METICULOUS
IN EVERY DETAIL.
VERY, VERY DIFFERENT
FROM ANYTHING THAT CRAIG
PRODUCED, SO BEL GEDDES
BECAME LITTLE MORE THAN A
FOOTNOTE IN MY CRAIG BOOK.
HOWEVER, THAT BRIEF BIT OF
RESEARCH DID MAKE ME AWARE
THAT BEL GEDDES HAD BEEN A
MAJOR PRESENCE IN AMERICAN
THEATRE OF THE 1920s AND
1930s, SO I INCLUDED HIM IN
A LATER PROJECT, MY BOOK ON
"20th CENTURY BRITISH AND
AMERICAN THEATRE, A CRITICAL
GUIDE TO ARCHIVES," WHICH
WAS AN ATTEMPT TO TRACK
DOWN AND EVALUATE THE
DOCUMENTATION OF ALMOST
ALL IMPORTANT DIRECTORS,
DESIGNERS, PLAYWRIGHTS AND
SO ON, IN THE CENTURY.
NOW, THERE IS A PUBLISHED
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE NORMAN
BEL GEDDES THEATRE
COLLECTION IN AUSTIN, TEXAS.
AND IT'S AVAILABLE, IT'S
FULLY ANNOTATED, AND IT
GIVES THE CONTENT OF NO FEWER
THAN 160 BOXES OF MATERIAL.
AND I COULD JUST
HAVE GONE WITH THAT.
BUT A CRITICAL GUIDE ASSUMES
THAT YOU ACTUALLY LOOK AT THE
MATERIAL IN ORDER
TO EVALUATE IT.
AND WHEN I GOT TO TEXAS,
WHAT I DISCOVERED WAS EVEN
THOUGH BEL GEDDES HAD DONE
ENOUGH IN THE THEATRE TO
OCCUPY SEVERAL FULL CAREERS
BY EVERYONE ELSE, HE'D
ACTUALLY DONE A LOT MORE.
HE'D NOT ONLY PRODUCED AND
DESIGNED AND DIRECTED UP TO
FOUR BROADWAY SHOWS A YEAR,
PLUS CABARET PERFORMANCES,
FILMS FOR D.W. GRIFFITHS, AND
A CONTINUAL STREAM OF PLANS
FOR UNREALIZED THEATRE
BUILDINGS, THERE WERE OVER
THREE TIMES THE NUMBER OF
BOXES RELATING TO OTHER WORK.
CARS, FRIDGES,
STOVES, HOUSES.
NOW, ONLY A BRIEF, VERY
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ALL
THIS INDUSTRIAL MATERIAL
MADE ITS WAY INTO MY ENTRY
FOR BEL GEDDES IN
THE CRITICAL GUIDE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Christopher Innes. York University. 'Broadway to Main Street.'"

Christopher continues BEING FOCUSSED MAINLY ON
THEATRE, I DIDN'T THINK VERY
MUCH ABOUT IT AT ALL AT
FIRST, UNTIL A COUPLE OF
MONTHS LATER, STILL WORKING
ON THE GUIDE, I WAS IN
NEW YORK LOOKING AT THE
JOSEPH URBAN COLLECTION
IN COLUMBIA.
NOW, AGAIN, THERE'S A BOOK
PUBLISHED ON URBAN, AND THIS
CERTAINLY INCLUDED SOME
OF THE ARCHITECTURE HE
DESIGNED, BUT OVER
THREE-QUARTERS OF THE TEXT,
AND MORE THAN HALF OF THE
ILLUSTRATIONS ARE DEVOTED
TO HIS THEATRICAL WORK,
WHICH HAD LED ME TO THINK
HE WAS PRIMARILY A STAGE
PERSON WHO'D MADE HIS
REPUTATION WITH LAVISH
OPERA PRODUCTIONS LIKE
THIS ONE FOR THE MET.

A colourful painting shows a Renaissance style palace with golden columns and carpets, filled with light.

Christopher continues BUT ONCE MORE, I DISCOVERED
A MASSIVE MATERIAL RELATING
TO INDUSTRIAL AND
COMMERCIAL PROJECTS.
WOMEN'S FASHIONS,
FURNITURE, INTERIOR DECOR,
ARCHITECTURE.
AND SUDDENLY, THINGS FELL INTO
PLACE, CONNECTIONS EMERGED.
BEL GEDDES' VERY FIRST WORK
IN NEW YORK HAD BEEN AS A
STAGEHAND FOR A PAGEANT
THAT URBAN MOUNTED WHICH
INVOLVED COMPLETELY
REBUILDING THE LEWISOHN
STADIUM, FOR EXAMPLE.
AND THEY'D WORKED TOGETHER
ON THE 1933 WORLD'S FAIR.
THE PARTS BEGAN TO
MAKE A LARGER WHOLE.
JUST HOW MUCH LARGER ONLY
BECAME GRADUALLY CLEAR AS
I CAME ACROSS LETTERS,
INTERVIEWS, AND SO ON, THAT
SHOWED BOTH OF THEM
HAD AN OVERALL VISION.
ALMOST EVERYTHING THAT EACH
OF THEM DID WAS PART OF A
CAMPAIGN TO REDESIGN THE WAY
EVERYONE IN AMERICA LIVED
THEIR LIVES.
AND INDEED, TO DEFINE
A UNIQUELY MODERN AND
SPECIFICALLY
AMERICAN SOCIETY.
AS URBAN PUT IT IN HIS
1929 BOOK ON THEATRES, THE
STAGE, "IS A PLACE IN WHICH
TO EXPERIENCE A HEIGHTENED
SENSE OF LIFE.
ITS FUNCTION WAS TO
ESTABLISH A RELATION
BETWEEN MAN'S LIFE
AND HIS ENVIRONMENT."
AND IN URBAN'S VIEW, THIS
ENVIRONMENT HAD TO BE
SPECIFICALLY AMERICAN
BECAUSE AMERICA WAS THE
ONLY COUNTRY HE BELIEVED
CAPABLE OF FORMING A NEW
CULTURE FOR THE MODERN AGE.
A 1919 ENTRY IN HIS WIFE'S
DIARY RECORDS HIS VIEW THAT
AMERICA, TO HIM, THE NEW AND
TRULY GREAT HAD YET TO FIND
ITS OWN STYLE.
AND WHILE THERE MUST BE AN
ABSOLUTE BREAK WITH THE
PAST, EUROPEAN IMPORTS,
ARTISTIC IMPORTS LIKE
CUBISM, EXPRESSIONISM,
WOULDN'T FIT.
A COMPLETELY INDIGENOUS
STYLE HAD TO BE FOUND IF
AMERICA WAS TO
EXPRESS ITSELF.
AND URBAN, FOLLOWED BY BEL
GEDDES, CONSCIOUSLY SET OUT
TO CREATE IT, AS IN THESE
SCENES FOR ANOTHER OPERA
FOR THE MET.

Now two black and white pictures flash by. The first shows a staging depicting a steam engine factory with a huge clock. The second shows dozens of people on a stage with huge American flags and a replica of the statue of Liberty in the background.

Christopher continues MORE THAN THAT, BEING
FIRST AND FOREMOST THEATRE
PEOPLE, URBAN AND BEL
GEDDES EACH CARRIED AN
INTRINSIC THEATRICALITY
OVER INTO THEIR WORK
OUTSIDE THE STAGE.
TO SHOW WHAT I MEAN, LET'S
LOOK AT TWO PARTICULARLY
GOOD EXAMPLES.
FIRSTLY, URBAN AND FASHION.
URBAN HAD COME TO BOSTON TO
HEAD UP THE OPERA THERE IN 1911.
AND ALMOST AT ONCE, A
LEADING BOSTON SOCIALITE,
WHOSE NAME WAS
Mrs. JACK GARDENER,
CAME TO HIM AND SAID, CAN I
HAVE YOUR COSTUME DESIGNS
FOR LA BOHEME TO MAKE
MYSELF EVENING DRESSES FROM?
THEN, A BISCUIT MANUFACTURER
WAS SO IMPRESSED BY URBAN'S
PRODUCTION OF HANSEL AND
GRETEL, THAT HE COMMISSIONED
URBAN TO CREATE
HIM A THEME PARK.

A black and white picture shows a stone and concrete castle.

Christopher continues THIS IS AN EARLY PROTOTYPE
FOR DISNEY LAND.
YOU MAY SEE CERTAIN
SIMILARITIES TO CINDERELLA'S...
SORRY, SNOW WHITE'S
CASTLE IN HOLLYWOOD.
URBAN'S FIRST BROADWAY
PRODUCTION HAD, IN FACT,
ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION
OF FLORENZ ZIEGFELD.
AND ON BEING TAKEN BY
ZIEGFELD TO SEE THE 1914
EDITION OF THE FOLLIES,
URBAN REMARKED, "ADVERTISING
POSTERS, THE BEST OF THEIR
KIND IN AMERICA TODAY,
PERHAPS, BUT HOW MUCH
MORE CAN BE DONE?"
AND FROM THEN ON, IN
ADDITION TO BROADWAY SHOWS
AND OPERAS FOR THE MET, ALL
THE WAY THROUGH THE '20s,
HE PRODUCED EVERY ANNUAL
EDITION OF THE ZIEGFELD
FOLLIES, AS WELL AS
PROVIDING COSTUMES AND
SCENERY FOR A SERIES OF
SPECTACULAR MUSICALS
MOUNTED BY KLAW AND
ERLANGER, ONE OF THE
COMMERCIAL FIRMS THAT
DOMINATED THE NEW YORK THEATRE.
AND INDEED, URBAN TURNED THE
REVIEW INTO A HIGH QUALITY
LIFESTYLE ADVERTISEMENT,
WITH A WIT IN THE NEW YORK
MORNING TELEGRAPH
EVEN
BEING MOVED TO POETRY.
THE URBAN SETS
WITH BEAUTY BLOOM.

A colourful drawing shows a luxurious carpeted hallway with a staircase.

Christopher continues IF ART COLLECTORS CHANCE
TO SEE THAT BACKDROP TO A
BREAKFAST ROOM, THEY'LL
START A RAID ON K AND E.
AND COMPARING KLAW AND
ERLANGER TO A DEPARTMENT
STORE ISN'T
MERELY FACETIOUS.
URBAN'S FOLLIES WITH SCENES
LIKE THIS IDEALIZED DECOR
FOR A 5th AVENUE APARTMENT,
CAME TO BE REVIEWED IN
TRADE JOURNALS LIKE
ART AND DECORATION.
WHILE A TYPICAL COMMENT IN
THE NEW YORK SUN
LABELLED
ONE A GORGEOUS FASHION SHOW.
AND THEY HAD A VERY
TRACEABLE IMPACT.
IN 1920, A PIECE IN THE
CINCINNATI COMMERCIAL
TRIBUNE EXPLICITLY
REFERRING TO URBAN WAS
HEADLINED "SPRING STYLES
COPIED FROM HIGH ART SOURCES."
AND AS THE BUFFALO NEWS
REPORTED WITH EVIDENT PRIDE,
THE NEW FASHIONS FOR 1924
AND 1925 WERE AMERICAN, NOT
AS USUAL, IMPORTED FROM
PARIS, WITH GREAT MASSES OF
WOMEN APPEARING IN MYRIADS
OF COLOURS, THE MOST
POPULAR BEING URBAN BLUE.

A picture shows a garden in tones of blue, under a blue sky.

Christopher continues THAT'S NOT ACTUALLY A
VERY GOOD REPRODUCTION.
THE BLUE IS MUCH, MUCH MORE
INTENSE THAN THAT, BUT IT
DOESN'T COME OUT
ON THIS FORM.
BUT IT WAS A DISTINCTIVE
COLOUR THAT HE USED IN MANY
STAGE SETS.
AND INDEED, URBAN WAS
DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR
SOME OF THE MATERIALS IN
THESE DRESSES, HAVING
DESIGNED THE POPULAR FRANCO
PRINTS, MANUFACTURED BY
FRANCO SILK MILLS THAT WERE
MADE UP INTO WOMEN'S SKIRTS
AND BLOUSES, AS WELL AS
BEING USED IN HANDBAGS AND
SHOES OR, AS HERE,
IN UPHOLSTERY.

A picture shows a flowery blue comfort chair.

Christopher continues URBAN'S INFLUENCE ON FASHION
WAS SO WIDE THAT HE BECAME
IMMEDIATELY IDENTIFIED
WITH THE AMERICAN STYLE.
SO THE MORE SOBER-MINDED
MINNEAPOLIS JOURNAL
COMMENTED IN A RATHER SOUR,
BACK-HANDED COMPLIMENT,
"THOSE OF US WHO HAVE
RESENTED THE FACT THAT
FASHION HAS BEEN AS FULL OF
COLOUR AS A JOSEPH URBAN
STAGE SET, MAY LOOK WITH
SATISFACTION UPON THE NEW
MODES JUST ARRIVED FROM
PARIS FOR THE 1926 SEASON,
WHICH BY CONTRAST, PROMOTED A
VOGUE OF BLACK, GREY AND NAVY."
EQUALLY, IT WAS THROUGH
THE FOLLIES THAT URBAN
LITERALLY BEGAN TO RESHAPE
THE WAY AMERICANS LIVED.
UNDER URBAN'S SOPHISTICATED
HAND, THE ANNUAL ZIEGFELD
SHOWS WHICH HAD BEEN RAUNCHY
GIRLS AND BARE LEGS AND SO
ON UP TO THEN, BECAME
HIGHLY FASHIONABLE.
THEY BECAME ATTENDED BY
BELMONTS, VANDERBILTS,
HEARSTS, CONDE NASTS,
HUTTONS, GUGGENHEIMS, THE
WHOLE SOCIAL REGISTER.
AND IMPRESSED, THESE PEOPLE
HIRED URBAN TO DESIGN
FIRSTLY COSTUMES AND
SETTINGS FOR CHARITY BALLS,
THAT WERE THE RAGE IN THOSE
DAYS, AND VERY LAVISH.
AND SEVERAL OF THEM
COMMISSIONED HIM TO BUILD
HOUSES FOR THEM, AT THE NEW
SEASIDE PLAYGROUND FOR THE
SUPER RICH... PALM
BEACH, FLORIDA.
OKAY.
AMONG THEM WAS MARJORIE POST
WHO PERSONALLY CONTROLLED
THE CEREAL BUSINESS OF THE
U.S., AND THIS WAS THE
HOUSE HE BUILT FOR HER.

A black and white picture shows a large seaside villa.

Christopher continues MAR-A-LAGO, NOW, I MIGHT
SAY, OWNED BY DONALD TRUMP.
IN SHARP CONTRAST TO
THE NEO CLASSICAL PSEUDO
RENAISSANCE TURN OF THE
CENTURY RHODE ISLAND
PALACES OF THE AMERICAN
ELITE, URBAN MADE A
CONSCIOUS ATTEMPT TO CREATE
A SPECIFICALLY AMERICAN
STYLE OF GRAND
ARCHITECTURE, DRAWING ON
LOCAL THEMES AND MATERIALS.
IN THIS CASE, A FLORIDA
IMAGE BASED ON THE HISTORY
OF THE SPANISH COLONISTS,
THE FIRST EUROPEANS TO
ARRIVE IN THE AREA,
COMBINED WITH THE MOORISH
BACKGROUND OF
THEIR HOMELAND.
THE TOWER, WITH ITS
BALCONIES JUTTING OUT ON
ALL FOUR SIDES OF THE TOP
AND ITS IRREGULAR ROOF,
HAS, I THINK, THE
FEEL OF LA MANCHA.
AND THOSE... SORRY, CAN YOU
KEEP THAT A MOMENT, THOSE
ARCHED CHIMNEYS, THAT'S WHAT
THEY ARE, SPIRES RISING UP,
DERIVED FROM THE BELL ARCHES
ON SPANISH MISSION CHURCHES.
ALL THIS IS THEATRE
CARRIED OVER DIRECTLY
INTO ARCHITECTURE.
HE INCORPORATED SCULPTURES
OF PARROTS BECAUSE PARROTS
WERE INDIGENOUS TO THE FLORIDA
CLIMATE, SEMITROPICAL.

A close-up shot shows stone parrots protruding from the curved walls of the building.

Christopher continues BUT PARROTS HAD ALSO BEEN A
TRADEMARK OF URBAN'S FOLLIES.
AND THE SAME STYLE MARKED
URBAN'S MOST AMBITIOUS AND
MOST SOCIALLY INFLUENTIAL
PALM BEACH CONSTRUCTION,
THE BATH AND TENNIS CLUB.

Another black and white picture shows actors in large gowns moving about a stage set as a colonial town.

Christopher continues AGAIN, THERE'S AN OVERALL
IMPRESSION OF FLORIDA AND
FLORIDA HISTORY IN THE
DESIGN, WHICH IS TOPPED,
NOT ONLY BY SPANISH BELL
TOWERS, BUT ALSO BY A
CENTRAL PEAKED FACADE
CARRYING ACTUAL BELLS.
IT WAS LITERALLY A STAGE SET
FOR THE LIVES OF THE RICH
AND FAMOUS.
AND THIS, IN FACT, IS A
SKETCH BY JOSEPH URBAN,
GIVING AN IMPRESSION OF ONE
OF THE CHARITY BALLS HE
STAGE MANAGED AT THE PALM
BEACH BATH AND TENNIS CLUB.
AND IN FACT, URBAN ENDED UP
SETTING THE WHOLE STYLE OF
PALM BEACH, INCLUDING I
MIGHT SAY, A SHOPPING
CENTRE SURROUNDING AND
ANCHORED BY A CINEMA, WHICH
COUNTS AS THE FIRST
SHOPPING MALL EVER IN THE U.S.
THE SECOND EXAMPLE I WANT
TO TAKE IS BEL GEDDES.
BEL GEDDES' FUTURAMA, A
WORD COINED BY BEL GEDDES
HIMSELF WHICH HAS BECOME SO
MUCH A CLICHÉ FOR SCI-FI
AND THE FUTURE, THAT IT
APPEARS, OF COURSE, AS THE
TITLE OF A CURRENT
TV CARTOON SHOW.
THIS WAS THE BUILDING AND
EXHIBIT HE DESIGNED FOR
GENERAL MOTORS AT THE 1939
NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR.

A black and white design shows a building with curvy walls and no windows.

Christopher continues THE SIMPLICITY OF THAT
SLEEK, CURVING SHAPE,
SWEEPING UPWARDS LIKE
A MONUMENTAL TRANSPORT
MACHINE ON POINT OF LIFT
OFF, FORMED A CONCRETE
EXPRESSION OF WHAT BEL
GEDDES LABELLED FUTURAMA.
INSIDE THAT WAS A HUGE SCALE
MODEL LANDSCAPE ON THREE
DIFFERENT LEVELS FEATURING
A MOTORWAY CROSSING THE
STATES FROM ONE SIDE TO THE
OTHER AND ENDING IN CALIFORNIA.
THAT IS YOU CAN SEE A CUT-OUT
SKETCH OF THE INTERIOR OF
THE GENERAL MOTORS BUILDING...

A black and white sketch shows the cut-out, containing several buildings and gardens connected by paths.

Christopher continues AND SPECTATORS
ENTERED UP THAT WINDING
RAMP, WENT INTO THE
AMPHITHEATRE THERE, SAT ON
SEATS MOUNTING ON A MOVING
BELT, AND THEY WERE MOVED
THROUGH A BRIEF SECTION OF
DARKNESS ONTO THE LOWEST
LEVEL, D, UNDERNEATH THERE,
AND THEN ROSE FROM LEVEL TO
LEVEL AS THE BELT MOVED ALONG.
THEY LOOKED DOWN OVER THE
LANDSCAPE, SIMULATING AN
AIRPLANE FLIGHT.
A VOICE IN THEIR EAR,
RECORDED VOICE, ANNOUNCED
THE YEAR IS 1960, AND THEY
ARE LIVING IN THE FUTURE,
AND POINTS THEIR ATTENTION
TO THE MOTORWAY BELOW,
WHICH THE CONVEYOR BELT
SWINGS TOWARDS AND FOLLOWS
FOR THE REST OF THE RIDE.
THEY DESCEND, SUPPOSEDLY,
TO LOOK AT LARGER SCALE
FEATURES OF INTEREST.
THEY FLY OVER TOWNS,
VILLAGES, MOUNTAIN RESORT,
OBSERVATORY, INDUSTRIAL
PARKS, HYDROPONIC FARMS, A
HYDROELECTRIC DAM COMPLETE
WITH SLUICEWAYS, CANAL
SYSTEMS AND APPARENTLY
RUNNING WATER.
WHAT THEY SAW WAS A WHOLE
WORLD REALIZED IN MINUTE DETAIL.
AND EVEN THE NOTIONAL
PASSENGER COMPARTMENT
YOU CAN SEE HERE WAS
PART OF THE ILLUSION.

A black and white picture shows the silhouette of a woman wearing a hat with a transparent visor resembling a helmet.

Christopher continues SHE'S WEARING THE MOST
WONDERFUL HAT, WHICH IS WHAT
THAT KIND OF CIRCULAR THING IS,
BUT SHE'S PEERING DOWN ON
THE CITY OF THE FUTURE OF
THE LARGEST SCALE SECTION
OF IT THROUGH THE
AIRPLANE WINDOW.
AS THE PASSENGERS MOVE PAST
THIS CHANGING SCENE FROM
AFTERNOON SUNLIGHT THROUGH
THE NIGHT TO THE DAWN OF A
NEW MORNING, THE CONVEYOR
BELT, AS I SAID, SWITCHES
FROM LEVEL TO LEVEL, EACH
LEVEL BEING BUILT OVER THE
APART SKY OF THE ONE
BENEATH, WITH THE
TRANSITIONS DISGUISED BY
CLOUDS, OR BY APPARENTLY
RISING OVER A
MOUNTAIN RANGE.
TOWARDS THE END THEY SEE
THIS CITY OF THE FUTURE
FIRST IN THE DISTANCE,
AND THEN IN A CLOSE-UP,
JUST SIX CITY BLOCKS.
AND THESE SIX CITY
BLOCKS ARE COMPLETE WITH
MINIATURIZED MODEL PEOPLE
ON MOVING WALKWAYS, GAZING
AT SHOP WINDOWS IN HIGHLY
MODERNISTIC DEPARTMENT STORES.
CARS STREAM BY ON
THE STREETS BELOW.
AND, FINALLY, AS THE
SPECTATORS LEAVE THEIR
CHAIRS THEY EXIT INTO
A FULL-SCALE STREET
INTERSECTION OF THE 1960's
CITY THAT THEY HAD JUST
BEEN WATCHING FROM ABOVE.
WALKING OUT, THEY,
THEMSELVES, CONCEPTUALLY
BECAME THE CROWDS ON THE
ELEVATED SIDEWALKS PEERING
INTO THE SHOP WINDOWS
WHICH CONTAINED OTHER GM
DISPLAYS, FOR EXAMPLE THE
FUTURISTIC FRIGIDAIRE
EXHIBIT ALSO DESIGNED BY
BEL GEDDES, AND EVEN FILLED
WITH BEL GEDDES
KITCHEN APPLIANCES.

A black and white picture shows a large room with several home appliances on display.

Christopher continues THIS WAS, IN FACT, DRAMA
OF A VERY HIGH LEVEL.
IT WAS DISCUSSED IN THE
JOURNALS OF ARCHITECTS, IT
WAS DISCUSSED BY TOWN
PLANNERS, IT WAS ALSO
REVIEWED BY
THEATRE CRITICS.
ONE OF THESE WAS JOHN
MASON BROWN, THE DOYEN OF
THE NEW YORK POST
WHO
DECLARED THE ILLUSION OF
REALITY IN THIS STUPENDOUS
PANORAMIC MODEL WAS NO LESS
BREATHTAKING IN ITS DETAILS
THAN WAS THE BACKGROUND FOR
DEAD END.
HE, IN FACT, WAS LITERALLY
CARRIED AWAY BY FUTURAMA.
AS HE SAID, "THERE TRULY A
NEW DAY DAWNS AND THE WORLD
OF TOMORROW COMES TO LIFE.
THERE, AN ARTIST'S LOGIC IS
THRILLINGLY IMPOSED ON THE
CHAOS OF OUR POORLY
ORDERED UNIVERSE."
AND INDEED, STRAIGHT
THEATRICAL TECHNIQUES WENT
INTO REALIZING FUTURAMA.
GAUZES CREATED AN
IMPRESSION OF DISTANCE.
THIN WISPS OF CLOUD,
ACTUALLY ESPECIALLY
MANUFACTURED CHEMICAL
VAPOURS, CAST MOVING
SHADOWS ON THE LANDSCAPE AS
THEY DRIFTED ACROSS THE VIEW.
STAGE LIGHTING, NINE
DIFFERENT COLOURS AND TINTS
OF FILTERS SIMULATED
DIFFERENT TIMES OF DAY, AND
AT NIGHT, LINES OF
FLUORESCENT PIGMENT
ACTIVATED BY ULTRAVIOLET
RADIATION PRODUCED THE
EFFECT OF MOVING HEADLIGHTS
ALONG THE HIGHWAY.
IN ADDITION, OF COURSE, WAS
THE COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED
EXPANSE OF THE MODEL WHICH
COVERED, WAIT FOR IT,
35,780 SQUARE FEET.
AND LOOKED CONVINCINGLY LIKE
HUNDREDS OF SQUARE MILES.
AND THAT MUST HAVE BEEN
PARTICULARLY STRIKING GIVEN
THE SMALL AREA OF
THE ACTUAL BUILDING.
TO CRAM SO MUCH IN WOULD
HAVE LOOKED IMPOSSIBLE.
IT SEEMED NO WAY OF
FITTING IN JUST SO MUCH
COUNTRYSIDE, AND CERTAINLY
NO WAY OF PUTTING IN A RIDE
THAT EXTENDED OVER
ONE-THIRD OF A MILE.
IT WAS AN ALMOST
MAGICAL EXPERIENCE.
IT WAS A TANGIBLE TOKEN
OF FUTURE SCIENCE.
AND REMEMBER THAT ALTHOUGH
MOTORWAYS ARE NOW VERY MUCH
PART OF OUR LANDSCAPE, IN
1939, NOT ONE SPECIALLY
DESIGNATED SUPER HIGHWAY
WITH CLOVERLEAVES AND SO ON,
HAD YET BEEN CONSTRUCTED.
IN FACT, ROBERT MOSES, THE
NEW YORK CONSTRUCTION CZAR
WHO BUILT ALL THE
EXPRESSWAYS THROUGH THE
CITY, WAS DIRECTLY
INFLUENCED BY BEL GEDDES
AND BEL GEDDES'
CONCEPTS IN FUTURAMA.
FUTURAMA IS BY FAR THE MOST
POPULAR EXHIBIT AT THE
NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR.
IT WAS VISITED BY OVER A
MILLION PEOPLE, AS WELL AS
BEING SENT ON A TOUR AROUND THE
STATES OVER THE NEXT 6 YEARS
AND BEING MADE INTO A FILM
THAT WAS WIDELY DISTRIBUTED.
IT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARILY
EFFECTIVE ADVERTISEMENT FOR
THE MODERN, STREAMLINED
LIFESTYLE THAT BEL GEDDES
WAS PROMOTING.
NOW, THESE, OF COURSE, WERE
BY NO MEANS THE ONLY AREAS
IN WHICH URBAN AND BEL
GEDDES HAD AN IMPACT.
URBAN SET THE DECOR FOR
HOTELS ALL OVER THE STATES.
HE DESIGNED APARTMENTS FOR
MODERN LIVING WHICH WERE
WIDELY PUBLICIZED, AND
COPIED, PLUS A WHOLE RANGE
OF BEDS, CHAIRS, TABLES,
DESKS, AND SO ON, AND HE
CHANGED THE AMBIANCE OF
SHOPPING BY DESIGNING
STORES LIKE BEDELL'S
ON 34th STREET.

A black and white picture shows a building façade with black stone and an intricate grille.

Christopher continues THIS IS THE FRONT FACADE,
AND NOTICE THERE'S NO NAME.
INSTEAD, THE STRUCTURE
ITSELF DISPLAYS THE FUNCTION.
ON THAT GRILL, THOUGH IT'S
HARD TO SEE, ARE THE FIGURES
OF WOMEN'S FASHIONS THROUGH
THE AGES, AND THE STORE, IN
FACT, SOLD WOMEN'S CLOTHING.
WALKING THROUGH THE TWO
STOREY CIRCULAR LOBBY
FORMED BY THAT GRILL,
CUSTOMERS FOUND THEMSELVES
IN A VESTIBULE OCCUPYING
OVER A THIRD OF THE GROUND
FLOOR AREA, AND ENCLOSED
BY ARCADES OF PLATE GLASS
SHOWCASES JUST LIKE THE
WINDOW DISPLAYS FACING OUT
INTO THE STREETS WITH GLASS
BACKS SO THEY COULD ALSO BE
VIEWED FROM INSIDE.

A picture shows the inside of the store, with an Egyptian style pillar and draped walls.

Christopher continues NOW, APART FROM THE PILLAR
THAT LOOKS AS THOUGH IT
COMES FROM KARNAK, THAT'S
REALLY A VERY FAMILIAR
SIGHT IN SHOPS TODAY, BUT
IT WAS COMPLETELY UNIQUE
WHEN URBAN BUILT IT.
HE ALSO DESIGNED A NEW
THEATRE FOR ZIEGFELD, PLUS
A WHOLE RANGE OF CINEMAS
WHERE ALL THE MARION DAVIES
FILMS WERE SHOWN, AND HE
HAD DIRECTED AND DESIGNED
ALL THE MARION DAVIES
FILMS IN ADDITION.
HE RENOVATED THE CENTRAL
PARK CASINO SO SUCCESSFULLY
THAT IT CAME TO BE KNOWN
AS MAYOR JIMMY WALKER'S
VERSAILLES, AND DID A WHOLE
SERIES OF NIGHT CLUBS.
HE BUILT THE INTERNATIONAL
MAGAZINE BUILDING IN NEW YORK.
HE DID THE WHOLE COLOUR
SCHEME FOR THE 1933 CHICAGO
WORLD'S FAIR, WHICH AS YOU
CAN SEE WAS BRIGHT AND
SPARKLING, AND SO ON.

Two colourful designs pop up showing futuristic buildings.

Christopher continues AS FOR BEL GEDDES, WHO WAS
IN CHARGE OF LIGHTING FOR
THE 1933 WORLD'S FAIR,
URBAN... SORRY, HE WORKED
IN ALMOST PRECISELY THE
SAME AREAS AS URBAN.
AS WELL AS DESIGNING A HUGE
MULTIPLEX ENTERTAINMENT
CENTRE IN FLORIDA CALLED
COPA CITY, AND THE RESORT
TOWN OF BOCA RATON,
FLORIDA, BEL GEDDES ALSO
DID A COMPLETE CITY PLAN
FOR TOLEDO, OHIO, WHICH WAS
TAKEN AS A MODEL FOR NEW
YORK AND ROCHESTER, AND A
FACTORY COMPLEX FOR
TOLEDO'S SCALE WHICH
INFLUENCED FLANK LLOYD
WRIGHT, TOGETHER WITH THE
STYLING OF THE MACHINES
THAT THE FACTORY PRODUCED.
WHERE URBAN DEALT WITH THE
ELITE, BEL GEDDES PLANNED
MODULAR HOUSES FOR THE SUBURBS,
AND MIDDLE CLASS HOMES.
HE EVEN DESIGNED THE CASING
FOR IBM ELECTRIC TYPEWRITERS.
BUT HIS MAJOR IMPACT WAS ON
CARS AND KITCHENS, WHERE HE
INTRODUCED THE
MODERN LOOK OF TODAY.
TO SHOW WHAT I MEAN, HERE ARE
TWO BEFORE AND AFTER PICTURES.

A picture shows an early 20th Century car.

Christopher continues THIS IS A 1932 PACKARD, A
STANDARD MACHINE OF THE TIME.
CONTRAST THAT WITH THIS...

Another picture shows a similar car with sleeker lines.

Christopher continues WHICH IS BEL GEDDES' 1933
MODEL OF THE CHRYSLER AIR
FLOW, ACTUALLY INTRODUCED
TO THE MARKET IN 1934, AND
THE MODEL HIGHLIGHTS THE
INTEGRAL BODY SHAPE, THE
AERODYNAMIC GROOVES.
IT'S A VERY, VERY, DIFFERENT
CONCEPT TO THE PACKARD.
BEL GEDDES CONTINUED TO
DESIGN FOR CHRYSLER UP
UNTIL 1941.
HE ALSO WORKED FOR GENERAL
MOTORS, SUPPLYING MODELS FOR
THE 1939 BUICK SERIES,
FORTY, AND HE DESIGNED THE
FRASER NATIONAL CARS
THROUGH THE EARLY 1940s.
PERHAPS MORE INFLUENTIAL
EVEN THAN THAT, HE DESIGNED
THE FIRST MODERN TYPE OF
REFRIGERATORS FOR GENERAL
ELECTRIC, AND STOVES FOR
THE STANDARD GAS EQUIPMENT
COMPANY WHICH WERE
REVOLUTIONARY.
PATENTED IN 1933, THEY
REMAINED THE STANDARD UP
UNTIL THE '70s, AND WITH
VERY MINOR MODIFICATIONS,
THE SAME SHAPE AND
STRUCTURE STILL SURVIVES IN
OUR KITCHENS TODAY.

A picture shows a device that resembles a metallic chest of drawers.

Christopher continues THIS IS, AGAIN, BEFORE AND
AFTER, THE MAGIC CHEF GAS
STOVE DESIGNED BY THE NEW
YORK SCHOOL OF FINE AND
APPLIED ARTS IN 1929, AND
THE MARKET LEADER AT THE TIME.
CONTRAST THAT WITH BEL
GEDDES' SKETCHES FOR THE
COMPLETE LINE OF
S.G.E. STOVES IN 1931.

Sketches pop up that resemble modern day stoves.

Christopher continues THEY WERE PRODUCED IN 1932.
THESE ROUNDED CORNERS AND
FLAT ENAMEL SIDES THAT YOU
SEE THERE ONLY BECAME
POSSIBLE BECAUSE BEL GEDDES
INVENTED A COMPLETELY NEW
KIND OF CONSTRUCTION.
NO SCREWS, THE THIN ALUMINUM
SHEETS WOULD CRACK, RIGHT?
SO INSTEAD HE DEVELOPED A
SYSTEM OF HOOKS CLIPS THAT
ATTACH THOSE TO A CENTRAL
FRAME, WHICH BECAME A
STANDARD FORM OF CONSTRUCTION
FOR THE WHOLE INDUSTRY.
BENDS IN THE METAL SHEETS
THAT SORT OF SLOTTED INTO
ONE ANOTHER.
HE ALSO STREAMLINED THE
PRODUCTION PROCESS.
SEG HAD BEEN MANUFACTURING
UP 'TIL THEN ABOUT A
HUNDRED COMPLETELY
DIFFERENT TYPES OF STOVE.
EACH WITH ITS DIFFERENT
SIZES OF BROILERS AND OVENS.
BEL GEDDES TURNED THAT ALL
INTO STANDARD MODULES, EACH
OF WHICH WERE
INTERCHANGEABLE.
YOU KNOW THERE WERE THREE
SIZES OF BROILER, FIVE SIZES
OF UTILITY DRAWER, A SINGLE
OVEN, AND SO ON, WHICH
COULD BE PUT TOGETHER
IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
THE RESULT WAS LITERALLY A
COOKING MACHINE, AND IT WAS
ADVERTISED AS SUCH.
IN ALL, HE DESIGNED FOR SEG,
PHILCO, FRIGIDAIRE, GE,
ELECTROLUX, EVERY KIND OF
HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCE FROM
STOVES AND FRIDGES TO
VACUUM CLEANERS AND RADIOS.
HE WAS ALSO THE FIRST TO
DESIGN A WHITE KITCHEN WHICH
MANY OF US HAVE IN OUR
HOUSES, RIGHT, IF WE'RE LUCKY.
AND OF COURSE THE WHITENESS
SYMBOLIZED REPRESENTED A
CLEAN, HIGH-TECH
COOKING CENTRE.
IF STREAMLINING STILL
REMAINS A MAJOR CONCEPT
TODAY, NOT ONLY AS A STYLE,
BUT ALSO FOR REASONS OF
EFFICIENCY AND ECOLOGY,
IT'S BECAUSE OF BEL GEDDES.
IT'S ALSO DUE TO HIM THAT
DURING THE '30s THE WORDS
STREAMLINE
AND
MODERN,
PREVIOUSLY RESERVED FOR
CERTAIN KINDS OF
INDUSTRIAL PRODUCT OR FOR
ARCHITECTURE, WERE BEING
COMMONLY USED BY AMERICANS
TO DESCRIBE THEIR OWN
CONTEMPORARY LIFESTYLE.
JOSEPH URBAN WAS ONE OF THE
MAIN PEOPLE, I SUPPOSE YOU
COULD SAY, WHO DEFINED THE
VIBRANT, ELEGANT '20s, AND
AT FIRST GLANCE, HIS
CONCEPT OF MODERNITY,
RICHLY COLOURS, PARTLY ART
DECO, LOOKS A LONG WAY FROM
BEL GEDDES' STREAMLINED
SIMPLICITY.
BUT IN MY BOOK I ARGUE THERE'S
A NATURAL PROGRESSION.
AND INDEED, JOSEPH URBAN WAS
ALSO DESIGNING BUILDINGS
LIKE THIS, WHICH SOME OF
YOU MAY KNOW, THE NEW SCHOOL
FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH ON
12th STREET WHICH OPENED ON 1930.

A black and white sketch shows the façade of the New School, with continuous windows within a black frame.

Christopher continues NOW, THAT MAY SEEM A
STRIKING CONTRAST TO
MAR-A-LAGO, HOWEVER, URBAN
BELIEVED THE DIFFERENT
LIFESTYLES REQUIRED
APPROPRIATE SETTINGS,
TROPICAL VERSUS INDUSTRIAL.
WHERE ONE HARKED BACK TO
THE COLONIAL HERITAGE, THE
OTHER ANTICIPATED A
HIGH-TECH FUTURE.
AND THIS IS THE AUDITORIUM
INSIDE THE NEW SCHOOL FOR
SOCIAL RESEARCH.

A picture shows an auditorium with a proscenium-style stage and a ribbed domed ceiling.

Christopher continues AN AMAZINGLY
MODERNISTIC CONCEPT.
BUT BOTH THAT AND MAR-A-LAGO
WERE EQUAL EXPRESSION FOR
URBAN OF AMERICAN CULTURE.
INDEED, THE STREAMLINING
IN THAT AUDITORIUM CLEARLY
DEMONSTRATES THE DEGREE TO
WHICH URBAN AND BEL GEDDES
DEVELOPED A SHARED VISION,
WHICH BETWEEN THEM THEY
PROMOTED INTO EVERY ASPECT
OF AMERICAN LIVING.
AND THE WAY THIS CARRIES
THROUGH TO TODAY CAN, I
THINK, BE SHOWN BY A MOVIE
THEATRE THAT URBAN DESIGNED
FOR WESTCHESTER IN 1931.
I'M SORRY THE PICTURE
ISN'T THAT CLEAR.

A blurry black and white picture shows a model of a building.

Christopher continues IT HAS PLAIN BLACK AND WHITE
WALLS, FLAT ROOVES, THE
GLASS IS OPAQUE
ULTRA MARINE.
THE RECTANGULAR WHITE FACADE
THERE IS ACTUALLY ALUMINUM
SQUARES OVER THE DOORS,
AND IT ALL MADE AN
UNCOMPROMISING STATEMENT
OF THE MODERN AGE.
ON TOP OF THAT GLEAMING
METAL, DEEP ALUMINUM SHEET
METAL WITH THEIR EDGES
OUTLINED BY RED NEON LIGHTS
SPELL OUT THE NAME OF THE
THEATRE, SIMPLY CAMERA.
IT WOULD STILL, I THINK, LOOK
HIGHLY CONTEMPORARY TODAY.
IN SHORT, URBAN AND BEL
GEDDES DO MORE THAN ANYONE
ELSE TO CREATE WHAT COULD
BE CALLED THE GOLDEN AGE OF
AMERICAN CULTURE, WHEN
EVERYTHING CAME TOGETHER IN
A COHERENT AND IDENTIFIABLE
20th CENTURY AMERICAN LIFESTYLE.
AND IT COULD BE TRULY SAID
THAT DURING THE 1920s AND ON
INTO THE 1940s, IT WAS MORE
THAN LIKELY FOR SOMEONE IN
NEW YORK, CHICAGO, OR
FLORIDA, TO GO THROUGH
THEIR LIVES SURROUNDED BY
THINGS URBAN AND BEL GEDDES
HAD CREATED, AND IN
DECOR INSPIRED BY THEM.
TO SHOW WHAT I MEAN, LET'S
TAKE A GLANCE AT THE AVERAGE
DAY OF THE ORDINARY
AMERICAN OF THE TIME.
HE OR SHE, CALL THEM JOE AND
JOSEPHINE, AS A SLIGHTLY
LATER DESIGNER NAMED THE
STANDARD AMERICAN COUPLE,
MIGHT WELL HAVE WOKEN UP
LOOKING AT CURTAINS AND
WALLPAPER WITH URBAN'S
PATTERNS ON THEM, AND IN A
BED DESIGNED BY HIM, OR
BY BEL GEDDES, WHO ALSO
CREATED THE STYLING OF THE
RADIOS THAT OVER HALF THE
AMERICAN POPULATION TURNED
ON EVERY MORNING TO LISTEN
TO THEIR NEWS.
JOSEPHINE WOULD MORE THAN
LIKELY THEN HAD TAKE
BREAKFAST FROM HER
REFRIGERATOR, COOK IT ON A
STOVE OR IN A TOASTER, AND
EAT IT SITTING AT A CHAIR,
AT A TABLE, IN A TYPE OF
KITCHEN, THE UBIQUITOUS
WHITE KITCHEN, ALL OF WHICH
BEL GEDDES WOULD HAVE DESIGNED.
WAVING GOOD-BYE TO HIS
JOSEPHINE, WHO STOOD IN THE
DOORWAY OF HER SUBURBAN
HOME, INSPIRED OR PERHAPS
EVEN PLANNED BY BEL GEDDES,
AS HE DROVE OFF IN A
CADILLAC STYLE BY, SAY,
URBAN, OR A CHRYSLER OR
BUICK MANUFACTURED TO
BEL GEDDES DESIGNS.
THE COMMUTING JOE COULD
WELL HAVE DRIVEN ALONG A
MOTORWAY CONSTRUCTED
ACCORDING TO BEL GEDDES
IDEAS, AND WHEN HE REACHED
HIS NEW YORK OFFICE, IT,
TOO, MIGHT HAVE BEEN
DESIGNED BY EITHER URBAN
OR BEL GEDDES.
THERE, JOSEPHINE, HIS
SECRETARY, SAT AT THE LATEST
IBM ELECTRIC TYPEWRITER
DESIGNED BY BEL GEDDES,
QUITE POSSIBLY SITTING IN A
CHAIR, AND AT A WORKSTATION
OF HIS DESIGN, TOO.
WHILE ANY JOE HIGHER UP THE
OFFICE SCALE MIGHT HAVE A
DESK BY URBAN TO SUIT
HIS MANAGERIAL STATUS.
WHEN JOSEPHINE SNACKED, THE
ODDS WERE SHE PICKED HER
COOKIES OUT OF A
PACKAGE BY URBAN.
WHEN JOE WENT FOR A COKE,
THE DISPENSING MACHINE HE
GOT IT FROM HAD BEEN
DESIGNED BY BEL GEDDES.
JOSEPHINE AT LEISURE MIGHT
FIND HER GAZE BEING DRAWN TO
A 5th AVENUE SHOP WINDOW
DISPLAY BY URBAN OR BEL GEDDES,
THEN WALK INTO THE STORE WHICH
ONE OF THEM HAD DECORATED.
THERE, SHE MIGHT BUY
PRODUCTS THAT THEY'VE ALSO
DESIGNED, OR JOE AND
JOSEPHINE MIGHT DROP INTO
MOMA, THE METROPOLITAN
MUSEUM, OR A 5th AVENUE
GALLERY RUN BY URBAN
HIMSELF, AS WELL AS OTHER
EXHIBITIONS ALL OVER THE
COUNTRY WHERE THEIR WORK IS
ON DISPLAY.
AFTERWARDS, DRESSED OF
COURSE IN FASHIONABLE
CLOTHES, INSPIRED BY URBAN,
MADE PERHAPS OF SILK WITH
HIS PATTERNS ON IT,
JOSEPHINE MIGHT GO OUT WITH
JOE TO EAT IN ONE OF THE
RESTAURANTS URBAN HAD
DESIGNED, THEN ON TO SEE
ONE OF THE POPULAR SHOWS OR
FILMS BY URBAN OR BEL
GEDDES IN A BROADWAY THEATRE
DESIGNED OR BUILT BY THEM,
WINDING UP IN A NIGHTCLUB OR
A DANCE HALL, DESIGNED
BY THEM, AS WELL.
TO BE ENTERTAINED BY ONE
OF THEIR CABARETS, WHERE
JOSEPHINE, IN PARTICULAR,
MIGHT FIND HERSELF IMPRESSED
BY THEIR COSTUMES
AND SCENERY.
JOE AND JOSEPHINE'S WEALTHY
COUSINS WOULD ALMOST
CERTAINLY HAVE ATTENDED A
BALL WITH DECOR BY URBAN.
INDEED, THEY MIGHT WELL HAVE
STAYED IN ONE OF THE HOTELS
HE DECORATED.
WHEN THE AVERAGE JOSEPHINE
GLANCED THROUGH A GLOSSY
MAGAZINE, IT WAS LIKELY THE
LAYOUT, AND ALL THE LAYOUT
OF THE ADS WAS BY BEL
GEDDES, AND JOE MAY HAVE
STUDIED AT THE NEW SCHOOL
IN NEW YORK, OR PLAYED
TENNIS OR SWUM IN A
CLUB DESIGNED BY URBAN.
THEN, IF JOE HAPPENED TO BE
A TAMMANY HALL POLITICIAN,
OR ONE OF THE NEW YORK
SMART SET, UNDOUBTEDLY HIS
FAVOURITE MEETING PLACE IS
THE CENTRAL PARK CASINO
THAT URBAN HAD RENOVATED.
AT THE OTHER END OF SOCIAL
SCALE, WORKING JOES COULD BE
EMPLOYED AT A FACTORY, IN
AN INDUSTRIAL PARK THAT
BEL GEDDES HAD DESIGNED,
TURNING OUT OBJECT DESIGNED
BY BEL GEDDES.
THEN JOES EVERYWHERE MIGHT
TAKE THEIR KIDS TO PLAY AT
THE FANTASY THEME PARK BY
URBAN, OR TO SEE A LITTLE
LATER ON, THE RINGLING
BROTHERS BARNUM AND BAILEY
COMBINED CIRCUS, WHERE THE BIG
TOP, THE PARADE, THE COSTUMES,
AND EVEN SOME OF THE ACTS HAD
BEEN DESIGNED BY BEL GEDDES.
WHAT MADE BEL GEDDES
STREAMLINED CARS AND
WHITENESS OF HIS
KITCHENS SO EFFECTIVE?
I THINK IT'S A QUINTESSENTIALLY
DRAMATIC QUALITY IN THAT
SWEEPING SHAPE, THAT
HYGIENIC-LOOKING COLOUR.
LOOKING FROM ONE TO THE
OTHER, THE TECHNIQUES THEY
USED IN THEIR COMMERCIAL WORK
CAME DIRECTLY FROM THE STAGE.
EVERYTHING, THE LUSH DECOR
URBAN CREATED FOR PEOPLE'S
APARTMENTS, OR BEL GEDDES'
STRIPPED DOWN SUBURBAN HOMES IS
IN ITSELF
INTRINSICALLY THEATRICAL.
THE AURA OF BROADWAY HAD,
INDEED, BEEN BROUGHT
TO MAIN STREET.
IT WAS THIS, I THINK, THAT
GAVE THEIR PARTICULAR IMAGE
OF MODERNITY SUCH
IMAGINATIVE APPEAL, AND
IMMEDIATELY SUGGESTED WHY
THE AMERICAN MODEL HAS, IN
FACT, BECOME SO WIDELY
ADOPTED AS A MODERN
LIFESTYLE BY
PEOPLE ELSEWHERE.
THINKING ABOUT THAT, I WAS
STRUCK BY HOW UNIQUE BEL GEDDES
AND URBAN HAD
TURNED OUT TO BE.
DESIGNERS LIKE LOEWY, DREYFUSS,
TEAGUE HAD FOLLOWED ON
COPYING THE STYLE THEY
HAD SET AND PROMOTING IT
WAY INTO THE '70s, OR
IN LOEWY'S CASE, RIGHT UP
TO THE
LAST DECADE.
BUT ALTHOUGH CONTEMPORARY
LIFE SEEMS TO MOVE EVER
FASTER, THERE DOESN'T
REALLY SEEM TO BE ANY
ADVANCE IN THE
DEFINITION OF MODERNISM.
EVEN TODAY, BEL GEDDES
CONCEPT OF MODERNITY HAS
STRONG, IMAGINATIVE POWER,
AND CONTINUES TO BE PART OF
HOME LIFE, AS WELL AS
ENCAPSULATING THE GOLDEN AGE
OF POST-WAR AMERICA.
ONE PARTICULARLY VIVID
EXAMPLE OF THIS IS A
HOUSEWIFE'S APRON FROM
SPAIN WHICH I BOUGHT IN
MADRID JUST LAST YEAR.

A colour picture shows a red apron with a black and white picture on it. The picture shows a woman in an elegant black dress opening the door of a 1950's white fridge.

Christopher continues THE SLOGAN READS, IF YOU CAN
READ IT, YOU TOO CAN BE A STAR.
AND THE IMAGE IS AN
ADVERTISEMENT FOR PHILCO
FROM THE '50s.
OF COURSE, THERE'S AN
ELEMENT OF TONGUE IN CHEEK
KITSCH IN REPRODUCING IT.
BUT THE STYLING OF THE
FRIDGES BY BEL GEDDES, AND
THERE'S A STRONG SENSE OF
NOSTALGIA, AS WELL AS THE
SUGGESTION THAT THIS APRON
EPITOMIZES THE ELEGANCE OF
TODAY'S HIGH-TECH KITCHEN.
IT FORMS A TANGIBLE, IF
EQUIVOCAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT
OF THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF
AMERICAN CULTURE THAT URBAN
AND BEL GEDDES
HELPED TO CREATE.
THE IMPACT THEY HAD ON EVERY
ASPECT OF AMERICAN LIFE IS
REALLY HARD TO GRASP.
IT'S SIMPLY ASTOUNDING.
THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF
BEL GEDDES' CONTRIBUTIONS.
THE FIRST MODERN
VACUUM CLEANER.
OR, NEXT ONE, THE
PROTOTYPE FOR THE WALKMAN.

A picture shows the torso of a man in a suit carrying a sleek black device in his pocket.

Christopher continues THAT'S 1946.
YOU CAN SEE, OF COURSE, THE
MILITARIZATION BROUGHT BY
THE WAR.
OR THE UBIQUITOUS
COKE DISPENSER.

A colour picture shows a publicity poster with a red beverage dispenser and the title "Lyon Model 1400."

Christopher continues COLOUR, LOGO AND
SHAPE BY BEL GEDDES.
OR TAKE THIS EXAMPLE OF
URBAN'S WORK, THE IMAGE OF
MANHATTAN SOPHISTICATION,
THE PARK AVENUE RESTAURANT
DESIGNED BY URBAN, AND THE
HOT PLACE TO BE IN 1931.

A picture shows the inside of the restaurant, with large mirrors and crystal appliqués.

Christopher continues BUT, YOU KNOW, I REALLY DIDN'T
HAVE ANY IDEA OF THE SHEER
EXTENT OF THEIR INFLUENCE
WHEN I'D FIRST CAME ACROSS THE
DOCUMENTS THEY LEFT BEHIND...
STUMBLED ACROSS IT, RATHER.
SEARCHING THROUGH PAPERS
IN ARCHIVES IS USUALLY A
REALLY DRY AND DUSTY
OCCUPATION, AS WE ALL KNOW,
BUT THIS TIME, IT WAS
A REAL EYE OPENER.
THERE WERE LETTERS AFTER
LETTERS IN IDIOSYNCRATIC
HANDWRITING, AND
OLD-FASHIONED TYPEWRITER
CARBONS WHICH SET OUT THE
DETAILS OF THEIR VISION,
OR DESCRIBED THEIR
DEALINGS WITH W.R. HEARST,
ROBERT MOSES, FRANK
LLOYD WRIGHT, COCA-COLA,
CADILLAC, CHRYSLER, STANDARD
GAS, GENERAL ELECTRIC, EVEN NBC.
PEOPLE I'D HEARD OF,
WELL KNOWN FIRMS.
YOU KNOW, THERE WERE
ARCHITECTURAL PLANS,
BLUEPRINTS, THERE WERE DESIGN
SKETCHES, SCALE MODELS,
THERE WERE PHOTOS SHOWING
THINGS THAT WERE SO
FAMILIAR I'D NEVER
BOTHERED EVEN TO WONDER WHERE
THEY CAME FROM, YOU KNOW?
IT ACTUALLY MAY BE MY
NAIVETÉ, BUT IT HAD NEVER
STRUCK ME THAT THE
SHAPE AND THE LOOK OF A CAR
OR REFRIGERATOR MIGHT
HAVE BEEN CREATED BY AN
INDIVIDUAL PERSON.
BUT HERE THEY WERE, YEAH?
THERE WERE ELEVATIONS,
DESIGN DRAWINGS, ENDLESS
PHOTOS OF THEIR WORK WHICH
ALL PRESENTED, IN FACT,
SNAPSHOTS OF THE WORLD
I STILL SAW AROUND ME.
SOME OF THOSE BUILDINGS I
WALK PAST THE NEW SCHOOL
FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH.
OTHERS HAVE BEEN DEMOLISHED,
THOUGH, IN FACT, THE
INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE
BUILDING WHICH WAS
DESIGNATED AS A LISTED
BUILDING IN 1988 IS NOW
ABOUT TO BE COMPLETED.
URBAN BUILT THE FIRST SIX
STOREYS OF WHAT WAS GOING TO
BE A 30-STOREY SKYSCRAPER.
THE DEPRESSION INTERVENED,
SO HE ONLY BUILT THE FIRST
SIX STOREYS.
NOW, LORD NORMAN FOSTER IS
GOING TO ADD ON SOMETHING
UNDOUBTEDLY QUITE DIFFERENT
ONTO THAT BUILDING.
BUT IN ANY CASE, EVEN IF
THE ACTUAL THINGS, THE
APPLIANCES AND SO ON THAT
BEL GEDDES' DESIGNS WERE NO
LONGER BEING MANUFACTURED,
THEIR CLONES OR THEIR
DESCENDANTS WERE CLEARLY ON
DISPLAY IN MY LOCAL STORE,
OR IN MY OWN
KITCHEN IN MY HOME.
AND, YOU KNOW, THERE WAS
JUST SO MUCH OF IT, BOXES,
AND BOXES AND BOXES, FOLDER
AFTER FOLDER OF MATERIAL.
I'D GONE LOOKING FOR
INFORMATION ON THEATRE,
AND I DISCOVERED
A WHOLE WORLD.
AND IT WAS THE
WORLD WE LIVE IN.
THANK YOU.

[applause]

Classical music plays as the end credits roll.

Comments and queries, email: bigideas@tvo.org

Telephone: (416) 484-2746.

Big Ideas, TVONTARIO, Box 200, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4T 2T1.

Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Associate Producer, Mike Miner.

Sound, Rod Chicorli.

Executive Producer, Doug Grant.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Christopher Innes on the Impact of Staging Theatre