Dec 7, 1909 – Mar 19, 1987 - 77 years old
Radio writer and producer, Screenwriter, Playwright, Novelist,
Film and TV director and Producer
1951 Arch Oboler directing Bwana Devil standing in front of the Natural Vision camera
1952 KLAC-TV Arch Oboler being interviewed with
Natural Vision rig used for Bwana Devil 3-D film
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 4
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 11 with Robert Stack
and Barbara Britton
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 10
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 5
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 13 with Robert Stack
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 9
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 8
1951 Bwana Devil shoot 6
1951 1951 Bwana Devil shoot 12 with
Barbara Britton and Nigel Bruce
1953 Bwana Devil autographed Lobby Card 102 with autographed specs by Arch Oboler
1951 Bwana Devil still 7
1983_03_16 Arch Oboler at home by Susan Pinsky_3
1983_03_16 Arch Oboler in his home viewing new 3-D comic book Battle for a 3-D World by Susan Pinsky
1983_03_16 Ray Zone, David Starkman and Arch Oboler at Arch's home in Studio City, CA by Susan Pinsky_4
1983_03_16 Arch Oboler at home in Studio City, CA
by Susan Pinsky_6
1983_03_16 Arch Oboler at home by Susan Pinsky_2
1952 Bwana Devil promotional shot
1952 America Cinematographer Cover - August (colorized)
Joseph Biroc A.S.C. photographs first Hollywood stereofilm in color with Natural Vision camera
1952 America Cinematographer - August (colorized)
The Natural Vision 3-D camera comprises an arrangement of two 35mm Mitchell cameras, which record through precision parallax-corrected optics on two separate films, supplying left and right images. Cameraman Joseph Biroc (right) views scene through one of dual cameras while operator Lothrop Worth (left) observes it through central viewfinder. Simultaneous viewing of scene is afforded by second camera.
1952 America Cinematographer - (colorized)
The Natural Vision 3-D camera on stage. Surrounding it are some of the men involved in its development: Seated (from left) are Dr. Julian Gunzburg, eye specialist and technical director; Friend Baker, designer and engineer; and Milton Gunzburg, president of Natural Vision Corp. Operator Lothrop Worth stands next to camera.
2004 Robert Stack at the Academy Theater
by David Starkman
1958 article about TV future - Daily News Jun 27 1958 with more items added in
1945 Arch Oboler with MGM Art Dept, Malcolm Brown on Bewitched-Colorized
1945 Arch Oboler - Colorized
Arch Oboler and Boris Karloff-Colorized
"3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures"
The following is an interview by Ray Zone of Arch Oboler from his book "3-D Filmmakers":
In the 1940s, Arch Oboler was a prolific writer of radio plays and was most famous for his blood-curdling horror stories on the radio program Lights Out. After migrating to Hollywood in the 1940s, Oboler wrote and directed a number of TV shows and feature films. Oboler wrote and directed the feature film Five (1951), a post-atomic war thriller filmed in and around Oboler's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home. It was Oboler's Bwana Devil (1952), an African adventure story filmed with the dual-camera Natural Vision 3-D system, that opened the floodgates for a boom of 3-D film production in Hollywood in 1953.
After Bwana Devil, Oboler wrote and directed The Twonky (1953), a bizarre little film starring Hans Conreid, in which a television possessed by a being from the future takes over Conreid's life. Oboler never gave up on 3-D movies and produced The Bubble (1966) AKA Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth, using Robert Bernier's single-strip alternating-frame 3-D system called Space Vision.
Oboler's last 3-D movie was Domo Arigato (1974), a travelogue of Japan, which was also shot with Space Vision. He passed away in 1987.
The following interview took place in the spring of 1983 at Oboler's home in Studio City, just as a new wave of single-strip 3-D films like Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D, Jaws 3-D, and Metalstorm 3-D were being released.
Q: Why do you think 3-D is coming back?
Three-D is coming back basically because of the eagerness for something called the dollar in Hollywood. I don't think that most of it has come back for love of an art form or because of their concern about the eyeballs of the audience. I think it's come back purely for the dollar.
Q: Why would there be great public interest at this time in 3-D?
Well, you know, in life unless one is born with defects, the average person with two eyes sees in three dimensions from early infancy. Even then one scans and looks at side objects. Three-dimension is really the natural form. Once a person has been exposed to three dimensions no matter how badly done, unless their eyeballs are torn out of their sockets by very bad three-dimensional techniques, they want it again and again.
Q: How far does your own interest in 3-D go back?
Well, it goes back very far. My father bought me one of the early Bell & Howell cameras in Chicago. At the time, as soon as I learned that motion pictures started out in three dimensions, great experimenters, including the sainted Edison, had tried to introduce the financiers of the time, who were putting up the money for the nickelodeons in three dimensions. From that time on I was very much interested in 3-D.
It wasn't until I met a man named Robert Bernier, a Colonel in the United States Army, that I really felt that I met 3-D in the fullest. Colonel Bernier was on the Eisenhower staff during World War II. Bernier was assigned to work on three-dimensional maps for reconnaissance, and he had a very good notion on how to get three-dimension without the defects of the two-camera system.
I'll parenthesize to say that, as you well know, in their eagerness to get 3-D on board, many of the entrepreneurs in town had reverted to the two-camera system. I originated printing it on one film in Hollywood with a picture called The Bubble (1966). Although we shot it on one film, the exciting part to the theater was that it was projected on one film. One strip of film, unlike Bwana Devil (1952), my first 3-D picture, where we had to do it with interlocked projectors for the left and right eye,
So that's when I really got interested with Bernier. I had made a 3-D picture, as I said, but that was to my mind pseudo-three-dimension, because it was, again, the entrepreneurs. A very fine camera technician by the name of Friend Baker had the idea for the two-camera system. It was not original with him, but he had done a very fine job of putting it together on an aluminum block. He tried to interest a man by the name of Gunzberg, who was a small-time Hollywood writer who had a brother who was an ophthalmologist. But he thought so little of 3-D, he wouldn't put a nickel into the system.
Finally, Gunzberg came to me, and I broke up the kiddie's piggy bank, and I got the money together and put it into a practical use. But that to me was not the answer, I repeat. The Gunzbergs tried to make everything very mystic with their "Natural Vision" name and covering the cameras with canvas so no one could look inside to this mysterious thing that they had wrought.
As time went by, the inventor, Friend Baker, was shoved into the background. The people who originally talked to him suddenly became the inventors. Nevertheless, I knew at once, with a slight knowledge of optics, that it had to be done better. What I did was I took fifty thousand dollars of the loot that I had gotten out of Bwana Devil. At that time, fifty thousand would be like spending half a million now. And I went all over the world. I investigated the 3-D inventors. I got to know them all. And they were all con men. Except ten. Out of a hundred, I'll say ninety were absolute confidence men. As with all fields of science, as you know, the confidence men enter into the beginnings of an endeavor.
Out of the ten that I felt were legitimate, Bernier really had the only system worth considering. I can read blueprints, and I saw at once that he had a good system. It took about fifteen years from the time he first talked to me to build his system. He started as usual. All inventors will say, "It will cost a dollar and a half or so to get this lens made." It ended up costing me personally, and I don't make no bones about it, six hundred thousand dollars. Which is an awful lot of money for a writer, as you well know. You have to write an awful lot of words to earn that much money. After taxes.
The system that Bernier came up with, Space Vision, to my mind is still the best system. It still makes the most sense. All the others have proven themselves to be secondary. I don't know any of them that have put out a picture practically, sensibly, controllably, so that the director, rather than guessing at what's going to happen, can set dials and know what's going to happen, as you can with Space Vision.
My own feeling, however, about three-dimension is that its future, as we know it now, is limited. Because in the distance there is the look of the laser. Holography has got to come. It's got to happen. I know that there are seemingly insurmountable problems before it can happen. But, again, in the history of inventions there are always three steps—the original concept, the implementation from the concept, and the practical use.
From the time that Zworykin came up with the cathode tube, and this is with some other nods to people who worked on the cathode tube, from that date to the time the television tube became a practical thing was at least forty years. It was at least forty years from the time that RCA first poured millions into the development of TV.
As we all know, there are institutions that are pouring money into holography here and abroad. So the breakthrough is bound to happen. After making Bwana Devil, I used to go around and talk about three dimensions. I would say, "Until there is a new basic principle, we've got to use something that gives the left eye one image and the right eye one optically and mixes them in your visual brain center. There has to be a new principle, and, ladies and gentlemen, that is not on the horizon." Well, it was on the horizon all the time. And we know it's here. If we weren't going out into space. And if we weren't concerned about fission and fusion, it would be here already.
Holography will wipe out optical three-dimension as we know it today, completely. I'm sure that you have seen holographic results. Even stills. It's very exciting, fantastic.
For my own prophesy (and I can only say, immodestly, that my ancestry traces back to a prophet who stood on a temple wall and made certain pronouncements) I'll simply say, "Let me stand on this mythical wall and make a pronouncement. We will have in our living rooms a pinpoint of light coming through the ceiling that will send our messages into the room, our dramas, our musicals, our lectures. We will have a little control by our side and we will adjust them. And we can adjust them to Lilliputian images or to fantastically huge images of goddesses. We'll have a twenty-foot goddess in our room. And we'll walk all around her and see her in every dimension." That will be the future of three-dimension as we know it, out of holography.
It will happen, if the world stays together. I say, within twenty years. I have kept talking, I haven't listened.
Q: No that's great. You've anticipated a lot of what I would have asked. I just recently found out about a film you made called The Twonky (1951), about an alien that infiltrates a television. Was that some kind of analogy for what was happening with movies and TV in the early fifties?
I've never seen a print of The Twonky. It was lost in a fire back in Chicago. Not the Chicago fire, because the cow had died by then.
When I was very young, before there was television, I wrote a story called "Try Television," which was my own idea in terms of what would happen with pictures in the home. It was amazing when I think about it. I don't even have a copy of it.
But I remembered I just put elements that I already knew about together. I was all of fourteen, I think. TV was quite obviously going to happen.
As to The Twonky, I read a very good science fiction story by a chap named Kuttner, who I believe committed suicide. That's the fate of all good science fiction writers. Are you listening, Mr. Spielberg? In any event, Mr. Kuttner wrote a story about an alien who came out of space and looked around for something that was akin to his own composition, and, even though he was quite an evil set of circuits, he felt akin to a television set, got into it, and took over a household. So that's what I made in The Twonky.
Unfortunately, it was so far ahead of television's impact that the theaters didn't know what the devil I was getting at. They didn't know what I was talking about, it was alien to them. So what? A square thing that gave pictures? "Yeah, we know about television," they said. "It's never going to be that important in the house. And anyway, it can't take over." They should know how it's taken over.
It was done with a very fine actor named Hans Conreid, who portrayed the professor at a small-time college in an ordinary household who found himself with this monster taking over. Hans was doing radio, the big thing at the time. And Hans, although he was crazy about the opportunity of making this motion picture, didn't tell me that at the close of each day's shooting, he would go out and do his radio chores. And he had perhaps perhaps five or six accounts that he was doing.
So he would arrive at the set in the morning bleary-eyed, knowing nothing of what was in the script. If it had been done by someone like Jack Benny, with tongue in cheek, it might have gotten somewhere. Or else if it was done fifteen years later, it would have done even better, Hans Conreid notwithstanding. That was The Twonky.
You know what's strange about being ahead of your time? I did a play for Broadway called Night of the Auk. It had a fantastic cast with Claude Rains and Christopher Plummer, almost an unknown then. It was the story of the first space group that had gone to the moon who were coming back to a space station as atomic war breaks out on earth. The first thing that was blown up was the space station, and they had no place to land. And the earth was a cataclysm.
The critics said it was "too science fiction." Interesting, but science fiction. Well, a year and a day later, the Russians sent up the first Sputnik. I missed that one by a year and a day. Theater critics know nothing about science. They said it was too mechanical. It wasn't mechanical at all. And, curiously, I wrote it in blank verse. The only way I thought I could approach it. But that was a matter of timing. As you well know, these things are a matter of timing. Life itself is a matter of timing. You're there at the right time with the right thing, as I was with Bwana Devil. I just happened to be there when the theaters needed different product.
I've got a much better picture, in terms of photography and three-dimension, sitting right here. It's never been shown. It's infinitely better than Bwana Devil. It's perfect for three dimensions. So much so that the people at the brain trust for Hughes, before he died, said, "It is the ultimate in optical three dimensions. It can't get any better." I got the report. Still have it. They thought it was the ultimate in three-dimension.
Q: Was this also to be shot in Space Vision?
Yes. It would be shot correctly.
Q: Three-D is only as good as the person directing the controls.
It's so easy to become an expert. Bernier was the man. I would figure the shot. He would say "No." Then we would argue about it. Sometimes I won. Mostly, I lost.
When Bernier died, with him died the censorship of what you should or should not do in 3-D. I learned about how to handle a frame, what cuts off and what doesn't, from Bernier.
I spent a year with Space Vision before I made a picture. The first shot I wanted for The Bubble was a B-17 flying out into space. I quickly discovered that even in the miniature it didn't work because there is the psychology of three-dimensional viewing. The mind will refuse to accept that which it thinks is impossible. To put it simply, the audience would accept a wing coming out, but they would not accept an airplane.
And I ran tests with questionnaires. And a certain number, we in the know, would accept it. Well, the best one of all was this: it was Valentine's Day, and I made a Valentine with a boy and girl kissing. I zoomed it out into space and they didn't see it. Because they didn't understand how their heads could be cut off.
The projectionist saw it all right. Bernier saw it. I saw it. But the rest of the people didn't see it.
The future of 3-D, unfortunately, at the present time, is in the hands of people who don't particularly care. That's why I'm looking forward to the future of holography, which can be any size. There is no frame line with holography.
Good filmmaking starts with the written word. I've written a script called "The Borgia Emerald" that is the ultimate in three dimensions. It uses all the safeguards, all the expertise I've learned over the years. And it's written for the Space Vision camera.
I sold out Space Vision to EMI, but I have the right to use the lens. The funny part of it is that if I wrote a horror story (and you're talking to the guy who was known on radio for horror), I could out gore them! I could play you records that would cause you to stop eating for a week. If I did that for motion pictures, I could get any money I want. Unfortunately, I don't want to do that with three-dimension.
I've gone way beyond that.
So I wrote a story that is the ultimate in 3-D, and I can't get the money to make it. Maybe I will. I don't know. I thought I would have gotten the money just like that.
When Bwana Devil opened, I had to buy the silver screens. Or I had to seduce the theater owner into putting three hundred dollars into it. When I did Bwana Devil, I walked into the State Theater in New York, right on the main drag, and there were lines for blocks. I walked into the theater on opening day. When they started the film, there was no 3-D whatsoever. In the crowded theater, I walked straight down the aisle up to the screen, put my hand out, and the screen was wet!
They had just wet the screen with aluminum paint. And it was the wrong kind of aluminum paint. I went upstairs to see the manager and asked him. "What the hell are you doing?"
I finally got him to change the screen, but not for a couple of days. Meanwhile, the critics in New York didn't see the film in three-dimension. And they were very kind. They imagined they saw 3-D. It's an old story.
In terms of 3-D, until there is some artistic level of choice of stories in the studios, we may have the same reaction to the present 3-D excitement that we had back in the Bwana Devil days. The audience will become surfeited with gore, with bad stories. The only hope for 3-D is that someone will come alone with taste and understanding and do a good story without regard for the extremes of 3-D, using it in terms of the story itself. It's so easy to get so seduced by the wonders of going into space that you forget about the story.
And again--how shall I put it nicely-there are so few good movies in two dimensions that maybe I'm reaching for the impossible when I say let's have one in three dimensions.
A good friend of mine, Frank Lloyd Wright, had all the trouble in his life architecturally that the world of 3-D has. But he always stuck to the precept that you had to start not with the concept of doing something madly, offbeat, but doing something that was right for the purpose for which you were doing it -- a house, a museum. We talked about 3-D, because I was just starting with it shortly before he died, and I talked to him about the need for story, story, story.
It didn't come off the first go-round. I doubt that it will come off on the second go-round. But I sure wish it will come off on the third! I hope the viewing audience will have patience enough. From what I've seen up to this point it's kind of terrifying.
- - by Interview by Ray Zone in his 2005 book 3-D Filmmakers - Conversation with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures, Scarecrow Press, Inc.
1987 Arch Oboler obituary
The South Bend Tribune, OH Mar 22 1987
Arch Oboler and his Frank Lloyd Wright house "EAGLEFEATHERS" in Malibu (1940-1944)
32436 W Mulholland Hwy, Malibu, CA
1941 "Eaglefeather" Frank Lloyd Wright designed house
for Arch Oboler 3
1941 "Eaglefeather" Frank Lloyd Wright designed house
for Arch Oboler 2
Arch Oboler worked in Hollywood, creating 3-D movies and writing novels and screenplays. Like many in the "industry," Oboler experienced sharply divergent periods of financial surplus and shortage. Flush with cash in 1940, Oboler had Frank Lloyd Wright design a house surrounded by a large compound--what he called Eaglefeather--composed of film-processing studios, stables, and a paddock. A gatehouse stood at the entrance of the complex. Due to lack of money, very little was actually built; the gatehouse, where the Obolers lived from about 1941-1955, and a small retreat for Eleanor Oboler were finished by 1941. A Taliesin Associate, Kenn Lockhart, oversaw the construction of the early, 1940-1944 work.
Only partially built; In 1944, Oboler had the gatehouse enlarged. At this time, Oboler wanted to build a theatre, and, for that purpose, had a long uncoarsed ashlar retaining wall built to the west of the gatehouse. The theatre project was abandoned due to a shortage of funds, with only the long wall actually erected.
Also part of this theatre project, a pond was also envisioned in 1944, although a pool was actually installed. In 1955, the couple had Wright design another small house on the 120-acre property, where the couple lived until the land was sold and sub-divided shortly after Arch Oboler's death in 1987.
UPDATED: OBOLER COMPLEX RAVAGED BY WOOLSEY FIRE
Photos by Stan Ecklund
UPDATE 2/1/19: The owners of the Oboler Complex in Malibu are among the homeowners suing Southern California Edison Co., blaming the utility for their property losses from the Woolsey Fire. A news report states they "spent millions of dollars restoring a $20 million residential property that included a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright just three weeks before the fire, the suit says. The blaze completely destroyed the home and all of the improvements, the plaintiffs say."
The Conservancy has received further confirmation of the devastating effect of the Woolsey Fire on the Arch Oboler Complex in the mountains above Malibu, California. Conservancy member Stan Ecklund has shared photos taken from the road after the area became accessible. The photos show that, while much of the desert rubble stone masonry remains, the wood and metal superstructures of the complex's buildings have been decimated.
The ravaged area is clearly visible in aerial images. The Oboler Complex is among more than 1,600 structures affected by the fire, which covered nearly 100,000 acres. Tragically, three people died as a result of the fire.
The structures of the Oboler Complex were to be part of a larger estate designed by Wright for entertainer Arch Oboler and his wife Eleanor. Wright's original design for the Obolers' house, known as Eaglefeather, dramatically cantilevered from a ridge on the estate. Changes in Oboler's financial situation caused the design for the main house to be abandoned. Instead, the building containing the Gate House and Stable (1940) was expanded to accommodate a home for the Obolers. In 1941 a second Wright-designed building was constructed on the property, a retreat for Eleanor Oboler. This delightful structure distilled the original concept of Eaglefeather, cantilevering from a desert rubble stone base and providing a panoramic view in three directions.