In 1954, Betty and Johnny Marsh embarked on a dream tour through Switzerland and France. The result was the spectacular travelogue Cinerama Holiday, the highest-grossing box office hit of 1955. Today, Betty Marsh York was kind enough to give Flicker Alley a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Cinerama Holiday. In Part 2 of a two-part installment, Betty describes French high-fashion, her frustrations on set, and the wonder of seeing a Europe still recovering from World War II.
Although chosen to represent the typical American couple, Betty and Johnny Marsh considered themselves anything but!
We never thought we were typical. We were typical in that we were melting-pot type people from [varied] European backgrounds. We had not traveled before and had lived always in the Midwest. That was the part that was typical.
Upon meeting Beatrice and Fred Troller for the first time, Betty noted that she and Johnny weren’t the only atypical “typical” couple. From her 1954 diary . . .
We met our Swiss counterparts and are sure that if we aren’t typical, neither are they.
They are perfectly charming. She looks a good deal like Ingrid Bergman with fresh, outdoors-ish type beauty and a wonderfully rich voice. He looks like Cornel Wilde as he looked when he played Chopin [in A Song to Remember], only slightly smaller with more delicate features.
Betty notes that today, Beatrice Troller still has that same striking beauty and voice.
Much of Cinerama Holiday’s filming hinged on the weather, creating an ambiguous schedule that proved frustrating for Betty at times.
Switzerland was wonderful and there was nothing disappointing about it. Switzerland was easy for us because we took ski lessons up on the bunny slopes while they filmed the skiers.
When we got to Paris, the crew did all the interior shots they could do but they kept us hanging every day [unsure if we were needed for filming or not]. Once we knew we weren’t going to be needed that day, we would just go off sightseeing in the city.
Betty and Johnny were able to sneak away for a few weekends and explore Europe not captured by the Cinerama cameras.
Johnny surprised us by saying “Betty, we’re going to London for this weekend.” And then when Easter weekend came up, he said “We’re going to go to Rome.” Neither of us had been out of the country, but we went and we had a fabulous time and we fell in love with Rome and Romans.
When I got to Rome, I knew my soul was Italian. I just knew that. Everything about the place was sunny and warm and people were smiling and the food was fabulous.
Enough news about the Cinerama couple had travelled back home for the Marshes to be recognized by a fellow Missourian in Rome. A native of Italy, the University of Missouri-Kansas City professor prepared the couple for the culture shock of their first Italian opera. From Betty’s 1954 travel diary . . .
One evening we were sitting on the roman street, the Via Veneto, which was the equivalent of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. We were sipping our drinks and watching beautiful Italian men and women walk by and were surprised to recognize a professor from Kansas City University and surprised to find that she had read all about us and knew who we were although we had never met her in person.
We told her of our plans of attending the opera that night and she told us what to expect from the audience if they didn’t like the performance. Sure enough, it was just as she said. The people, whenever displeased with a performance or performer, would shout, hiss and boo. Everything but throw tomatoes . . . I felt very happy that I was not on the stage facing this crowd.
Their hometown acquaintance could not prepare Betty for everything she would see at the opera, however. In the theater, she was surpised to encounter screen legend Ingrid Bergman! The actress was “very lovely and friendly” to the American couple.
Despite the breathtaking scenes of Paris captured in Cinerama Holiday, Betty notes that the Europe she and Johnny visited was still recovering from the ravages of World War II.
When we went to London, half the city was bombed out, the ruins were everywhere. There hadn’t been money for rebuilding in London.
In ’54, Paris was still gray and bleak. Everyone was poor. The people in Paris seemed so down and dejected. They hadn’t gotten over the war.
But one thing I did notice – Most store windows had no mannequins, but I had never seen more beautiful displays of merchandise. They just knew how to put things together. It was overwhelming to me. The windows that didn’t have mannequins had their clothes tacked against the back of the window, but they were filled out with paper so they had the feeling of having a body inside. Not having money was not going to deter them from having a sense of style. The shop owners did not let anything keep them from exhibiting that sense of style in the displays.
That trademark Parisian sense of style is most notably on display in the Jacques Fath couturier scene in Cinerama Holiday. Considered a dominant influence on postwar haute couture, Fath sadly passed away in November 1954.
Jacques Fath was on par with Christian Dior at the time. They were the top 2 designers in France. We were invited to a dinner party at his home. There must have been 12 people there. Well, they served caviar. And when I think now that I could have had all that caviar, but I didn’t even try it! The scenes where the models are wearing the Fath fashions, it’s called floor modeling. They were timeless fashions.
And that glorious gown Betty wears to the opera later in the film?
The dress that I wore in the opera scene is a Fath model that was just perfect for me, and I loved it, and no, they did not give it to me.
As for daily wear, the difference between American and French color palettes left the biggest impression on Betty.
Johnny noticed that a white shirt is “practically extinct” in Paris, even on what appears to be a well-dressed businessman. And we spotted practically no bright colors on women at all, only blacks and grays and browns.
[In my diary, I wrote,] “Clothes in general do resemble our fashions.” It didn’t occur to me that it’s that our clothes resemble their fashions!
That’s not to say Betty didn’t get noticed for her American sense of style . . .
It finally got warm enough to go to the swimming pools in the Seine River. I was wearing a beautiful one-piece bathing suit by Rosemary Reid, peach and shirred up the front to make me look like I had an hourglass figure. I was trying to get a tan, lying upside down on a towel, and then I heard one male American voice say to another male American voice, “She must be American because she’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit.”
And it was true! All the other woman were wearing 2-piece suits!
Some of their wildest adventures took place when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Johnny and I were on the train to San Moritz. We were all by ourselves, no crew. The train stopped while we were in the dining car and we had left everything, our passports and everything, in our cabin. Then the train seemed to start to go in another direction. Johnny said “We’ve got to jump!” Johnny knew more how to do things like that more than I did, so he kept running so he didn’t fall [when jumping from the moving train car]. I just jumped and went splat.
It turned out the train was just pulling off on a siding and was going to back up and another engine was going to hook up with us. It was all for naught.
While the train jump may have been for naught, Betty and Johnny Marsh’s travels have made a lasting contribution to film history. Audiences today continue to jump aboard the Cinerama Holiday adventure. Flicker Alley would like to thank Ms. Marsh York for taking the time to share her memories with us. To learn more about the Marshes’ experience as two tourists in Paris filming Cinerama Holiday, read Part 1 of our interview with Betty Marsh York. For more behind-the-scenes tidbits, check out the special features on the Cinerama Holiday Blu-ray/DVD Combo!