Journal of e-Media Studies, Special Issue: 6.1 (2022)

Designing Diplomacy: Jack Masey and Multiscreen Cinema at Expo 67

by Brian Real

Before Expo 67: Jack Masey's Formative Years
The 1955 Indian Industries Fair and Cold War Design Rivalries
The 1956 Jeshyn International Fair and the 1959 National Exhibition in Moscow
Expo 67: New Ground for the USIA
The American Cinema Exhibition
The Great Multiscreen Masterpiece as the American Pavilion
The Tested Choice
Renowned Directors: "Kookie" Thoughts or Reasonable Considerations?
The American Independent and Avant-Garde Film Scenes
Richard Lester and William Friedkin
Art Kane and A Time to Play

Throughout the Cold War, the United States Information Agency (USIA) acted as the federal government’s primary mechanism for countering Soviet propaganda and presenting America’s policies and people in a positive light.1 One of the agency’s most successful projects was its design, construction, and operation of the United States Pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, better known as the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair or, more simply, Expo 67. These efforts were overseen by Jack Masey, who the USIA appointed as chief of design for the American presence. Masey would later recall that he wanted the United States to create a building that could rival the iconic status of the Eiffel Tower, which had been a controversial part of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair before eventually being accepted as an architectural triumph and an icon of its home city.2 However, the nearly 250-foot-tall geodesic dome that Masey and the USIA commissioned from R. Buckminster Fuller achieved critical acclaim almost instantly, remaining a symbol of the fair and the city of Montreal itself more than half a century later [Figure 1].

The interior of the dome featured a range of pop art paintings, Hollywood movie props, and other assorted cultural and commercial items that may have led one to believe that the design of the exhibits was entirely frivolous. This was not the case, as Masey’s previous two decades of design experience in the service of countering America’s ideological adversaries had prepared him to create a pavilion that would subtly and indirectly counter messaging from the Soviet Union and other rival nations present at Expo 67. Masey was routinely frustrated by the USIA and other government bureaucracy, so his embrace of pop culture and counterculture was also a rejection of what he perceived as the typical government line and an expression of his sincere enthusiasm for American cultural creativity.3  

Expo 67 included several links to cinema, including an exhibit titled “The American Cinema” that used Hollywood props and images of actors as a display of American culture. However, one of the most overlooked parts of the United States presence at Expo 67 was a three-screen film entitled A Time to Play (1967), by music and fashion photographer Art Kane. The film’s rushed production and low budget compared to other multimedia works at Expo 67 resulted in a final product that was merely competent rather than daring or innovative. As such, the story of A Time to Play’s production is more interesting than the film itself. It shows years of interactions between the USIA and the independent, avant-garde, and Hollywood film communities and defies reductive understandings of American bureaucratic operations. Masey’s serious consideration of directors like William Friedkin, Richard Lester, William Klein, Kenneth Anger, and Francis Thompson had the potential to lead to a cinematic masterpiece, but the story behind this ultimately unsuccessful project also shows the influence of individual bureaucrats in personally shaping federal policy and public perceptions of the United States.


Before Expo 67: Jack Masey’s Formative Years

Masey was born in Brooklyn in 1924 and completed his early artistic education at the New York High School of Music and Art, becoming an accomplished caricature artist in his teens.4 He joined the US Army shortly after graduation in 1942, at the height of World War II, and was placed in a 1,100-person tactical deception unit officially called the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.5 This experimental unit, more commonly known as the Ghost Army, was divided into one battalion and three smaller companies. Masey was one of 379 soldiers attached to the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special, which specialized in visual deception. He and his colleagues were tasked with developing inflatable tanks and artillery guns, which would appear to be real when viewed through long-distance surveillance tools, and creating camouflage displays to convince the enemy that large numbers of troops were hiding in an area. 

The Ghost Army’s operations were ultimately successful. They tricked the Germans into sending their resources away from Allied troops or making other strategically unsound decisions through more than twenty operations.6 The unit was effectively a large-scale artistic project or, as it was referred to in internal communications, a “travelling road show.”7 In their history of the unit, Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles describe the living conditions and the passion of the artists assigned to creating visual deception. They learned to work collaboratively as a group and conducted operations throughout Europe. “While camouflage was their job, art was their love,” the authors explained, noting that “the 603rd served as an incubator in which artists could hone and craft their skills.”8 Masey became personal friends with many of the artists who were specially recruited to the unit. Among them, Art Kane would go on to become a renowned music and fashion photographer, Bill Blass had just started a career in fashion before the war and would become one of the most prominent designers in the world, and Ellsworth Kelly would become an eminent painter, sculptor, and printmaker. 

After the end of hostilities, Masey attended the Yale School of Art and Architecture through financial support from the GI Bill. Building upon his formative wartime experience and formal education, he worked at the Architectural Forum during summer breaks.9 The State Department and its fledgling United States Information Service (USIS), which was the direct predecessor to the USIA, recruited Masey in 1951, the year after he graduated. He was stationed as an exhibits officer in New Delhi, India, where he developed exhibits for use throughout the country. Masey’s work overseeing much of the development of the United States Pavilion at the 1955 Indian Industries Fair would define his general philosophy for larger-scale American exhibitions.


The 1955 Indian Industries Fair and Cold War Design Rivalries

India declared independence in 1947. As for US–India diplomatic relations, with the Cold War underway, the US government had a clear interest in minimizing Soviet and Chinese influence over Asia’s largest democracy.10 Once stationed in the country, Masey found himself collaborating with people who were eager to develop positive diplomatic relations with the United States. Despite his relative lack of experience, Masey quickly developed a significant amount of authority in his diplomatic post, resulting in frequent access to high-ranking Indian government officials. This level of responsibility only increased when one of Masey’s colleagues, the USIS radio officer for India, was falsely accused of being a communist sympathizer during McCarthy-era witch hunts and forced out of government service.11 Rather than replacing this public servant, the USIA appointed Masey as radio officer in addition to his existing role as exhibits officer. Masey’s work overseeing USIA radio broadcasts resulted in collaborations and personal friendships with performers such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.  

Masey’s most significant project during his five-year mission in India was his oversight of the American pavilion at the Indian Industries Fair in 1955, the largest industrial fair to be held in Asia since the end of World War II.12 The fair was also the first major postwar event where the United States, Moscow, and China had a direct physical presence. All of these global powers hoped to build alliances with India while diminishing the potential influence of competing powers. Masey believed that this event defined the rules of engagement for face-to-face meetings between Cold War powers for years to come. He personally guided Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a tour of the pavilion on its opening day, and he did the same for Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin and First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev when they visited as part of a two-month tour of India, Burma, and Pakistan to promote communism.13 Masey recalled that in the end, USIA leadership and officials in other Washington agencies thought he had succeeded in giving audiences in India a positive impression of the United States. However, although Masey was nominally in charge of the event, in his view he had limited control and primarily acted as the coordinator on the ground. He felt that persons at USIA headquarters and other government agencies were allowed to make major decisions that hindered the fair’s success, so he documented these problems in a thirty-page memo to his superiors.14

Masey was frustrated with the physical design of the United States pavilion, recalling that the USIA hired an architect to oversee the design and construction of the building who showed solidarity with India by using local labor and construction methods.15 In the end Masey felt that involving local expertise “was a good idea in theory, but in practice it turned out to be . . . totally unsuited to the tight deadlines required by participating in international fairs.”16 One such issue was that local materials effectively translated to brick, which did not work well for a building that needed to be demolished after the fair and was incompatible with the architect’s desire to have a structure that appeared modern. Masey observed in his memo that “the U.S. pavilion suffered from extraneous clerestory effects and over-elaborate entrance projections which created a bulky, heavy aesthetic effect as contrasted with the light, colorful feeling evidenced in the pre-fabricated treatment used by the Czechs and the Poles.”17 He rather bluntly stated that the Soviet Union pavilion looked like “a hanger for the Graf Zeppelin,” largely due to the unpainted burlap stretched across its frame, while the similarly constructed “Red Chinese building proved most popular in spite of the fact that it was an architectural abortion—or perhaps because it was.”18 The United States spent months creating a building that conformed to sound architectural principles, only to have rival nations ship prefabricated parts to India, assemble them on top of concrete slabs, and prove that “it was those pavilions which were ostentatious and over-designed that appealed to the average fairgoer.”19

Masey also took issue with the recycled nature of the exhibits that the USIA selected for the fair. The agency attempted to find preexisting exhibits or demonstrations that government agencies and private companies had used at major events in the past, and rather than developing exhibits that could connect with the Indian people, “the sole criteria for ‘acceptance’ of a particular exhibit [was] whether or not it would prove ‘objectionable.’”20 Masey reported that after “a decision had been reached as to content, the next task was to incorporate these diverse exhibits into a unified whole, theme and design-wise.”21 This resulted in a disjointed pavilion that did not flow well for visitors. Masey stated a strong preference for developing a theme, even if broad, in the early planning stages of future events and relying primarily on new exhibits designed to capture the attention of specific audiences. 

One theme that did run through several exhibits at the American pavilion was the promotion of the United States government’s Atoms for Peace program.22 Fair attendees were mostly non-experts with little scientific knowledge, so while all of the atomic energy exhibits had high levels of foot traffic, Masey noticed that some audience members seemed disappointed that sections were too technical and had little movement.23 His suggestion for the future was that if an exhibit could not “be made sufficiently interesting and comprehensible to be grasped by the average fairgoer, there is little point in having it at all.”24 Despite these issues, some of the Atoms for Peace exhibits were popular enough to prompt the Soviet Union to quickly try to design and launch its own atomic energy exhibits after the start of the fair. These hastily executed displays proved to be unsuccessful and drew comparatively small audiences. Seeing the effects of this Soviet failure and not wanting the United States to have similar experiences, Masey argued that for future international fairs, the United States “should be second to none in technological displays,” and that not achieving this could make it so United States participation in such events “may do us more harm than good.”25

Likewise, Masey disliked that fairgoers were forced to follow a specific path through the American pavilion, finding that “in contrast to the Gimbels’-basement approach of the Iron-Curtain participants, the United States Pavilion was austere and relatively futuristic in concept.”26 Rival nations focused more on allowing visitors to explore entertaining and accessible exhibits showing supposed national progress at their leisure, prompting Masey to claim that if “Iron Curtain participants were intent on creating the impression on the average fairgoer of a thriving economy abounding in consumer goods, it is believed that their mission was successful.”27 The American pavilion was hindered by messaging centered around policy agendas rather than conceptual accessibility and the interests of specific audiences. In Masey’s view, this was caused by bureaucratic interference and too many people without on-the-ground experience exerting authority over the project.

Masey recalled near the end of his life that “the lessons I learned in India, and I must say, the U.S. government learned as well, would prove to be invaluable and long-lasting.”28 Considering that he was critical of USIA operations, he was somewhat surprised that his superiors received his long memo positively. He would soon be called upon to integrate what he had learned and the framework he developed for engagement with foreign audiences into other USIA projects. 


The 1956 Jeshyn International Fair and the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow

The USIA recalled Masey from India in response to a late decision to have the United States participate in the 1956 Jeshyn International Fair in Kabul, Afghanistan.29 The United States had not intended to participate in what government officials had assumed would be a small event, but this changed when the State Department received intelligence about plans for sizable Russian, Czech, and Chinese pavilions. Afghanistan shares a significant part of its border with the Soviet Union and a small portion with China, and it was seen as a gateway to other bordering states like Pakistan, Iran, and India. As such, the US had strategic concerns about the country falling under the influence of communist nations. Andrew James Wulf, a historian of foreign exhibitions mounted by the US government during the Cold War, sees 1956 as a turning point in how these events operated. The need to quickly develop plans to compete with Russia led to “a severe lack of institutional control at USIA, in part because of the fierce time constraints on delivering the highly complicated pavilions and their contents to people around the world.”30 As such, “designers actually began to make decisions about the content,” meaning that Masey and persons he hired suddenly had far more control than before.31

Masey recalled that he became involved in the Jeshyn International Fair when he “got a call from USIA suggesting, possibly, that we put up a circus tent in Afghanistan. And they asked for my opinion, did I think this was a good idea, or could I come up with something better. My reply was, I think it’s a terrible idea.”32 When he said that he might have a better idea, he was told to get on a plane back to the United States as soon as possible. Masey had continued to read Architectural Forum, which had employed him after the war and through college, and the magazine regularly featured stories on the work of R. Buckminster Fuller.33 About a day after landing, he traveled to New York to meet with “Bucky,” as Fuller preferred to be called, and asked if he could design and oversee the construction of a one-hundred-foot-diameter geodesic dome in six weeks, with this calculation subtracting travel and other logistical issues from the twelve weeks of lead time before the fair’s August opening [Figure 2]. Fuller responded affirmatively, sketching an initial architectural draft on a tablecloth at the restaurant where they met. Some government officials were reluctant to allow Fuller to proceed since his architectural proposals had been mostly theoretical up to that point and he had never actually had the opportunity to build a dome to that scale. Masey was able to use the urgency of the situation as leverage, though, and work soon began in earnest. After prefabrication and a test construction in the United States, the dome was disassembled, shipped to Kabul, and reassembled within forty-eight hours of being unloaded at the fair site. 

The United States pavilion at the Jeshyn International Fair was not only a masterpiece of efficiency, but it also proved to be a hit among visitors to the fair and architectural and design critics.34 Masey had observed how rival nations had succeeded in India by using light, open buildings constructed from prefabricated materials and then helped the United States beat the Soviets and China at their own game less than a year later. The king of Afghanistan was so impressed by the bright, modernist dome that he asked the United States to offer it to him as a gift. However, this was not possible because the USIA had already planned to use the dome for another international fair, which was part of an agreement the agency had quickly reached with Fuller to provide numerous domes for events around the world.

Masey’s understanding of exhibits and his reputation within the USIA only increased over the subsequent years. One of his most significant efforts, still under the Exhibits Division, was acting as chief of design and construction of the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.35 This project, which opened in the summer of that year, was one half of an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to allow each global power to host a major exhibition in the other’s territory that would be open to the public for several months.36 The Soviet National Exhibition had been held in New York City earlier the same year. Masey included a full-scale kitchen as part of the exhibition to show American consumer luxuries to the Soviet people, which became the site of the Kitchen Debate between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon.



Expo 67: New Ground for the USIA

Despite his numerous successes, Masey remained frustrated by much of the USIA’s bureaucracy. In a 2014 interview with the author, Masey argued that the agency “wasn’t set up by media people. It was set up by policy people. They didn’t know what the hell any of these things were. They put everything in the wrong place. Instead of putting the visual media together, they separated them. They didn’t know what they were doing, and it haunted the agency forever.”37 He had been placed in the Exhibits Division, and in his experience, most of the cooperation between different parts of the USIA came from staff who were directly involved in projects rather than mandates from the top-level administration. However, in 1964 the agency offered Masey a project that would allow him to operate with limited bureaucratic input; the USIA would be overseeing the design, construction, and operation of the United States Pavilion at Expo 67, and it wanted Masey to take the lead. 

This would be the first foreign World’s Fair that the United States participated in since 1958, when the State Department had overseen the official American presence in Brussels.38 The United States was also planning a pavilion for the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair, which was an unofficial and unsanctioned event because it broke the Bureau of International Expositions’ rule of World’s Fairs only being allowed to operate for a single season. However, the USIA had no involvement in the New York World’s Fair because it was outside of the agency’s international focus, and the Smith–Mundt Act of 1948 expressly forbade the USIA from operating on US soil due to the risk of the agency potentially propagandizing American people. Expo 67 was officially outside of the United States but close to the border, so it was a rare instance when a USIA project would reach a large number of Americans.

Masey agreed to oversee the official United States presence at Expo 67 on the condition that he would be removed from the Exhibits Division and allowed to form a project-oriented team.39 The USIA agreed, allowing him to report directly to the director of the agency. Masey, having assumed the title of chief of design, recruited several deputies from within the agency and formed partnerships with outside individuals and companies to execute his plans.40 

Fuller and his business partner, Shoji Sadao, agreed to serve as architects for the main structure, which would be Fuller’ largest dome yet.41 Masey selected the firm CambridgeSeven Associates to oversee the interiors, including exhibit designs.42 This organization had been founded by seven young design professionals in 1962, and while the firm was gaining renown that would only grow in the coming years, Masey and the USIA pursued them “for their youthful perspective.”43 They would ultimately create exhibits that “were visually stunning and avoided details, thereby allowing the mobile participant to cycle through even as they were captivated by what they saw.”44 The USIA requested $12 million for the project, which was already less than the approximately $14 million budget for the United States Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, but Congress only agreed to an appropriation of $9.3 million.45 Higher-ranking USIA officials oversaw the distribution of these funds, putting one notable limitation on the autonomy of Masey and his team. 

Masey decided that the theme for the pavilion would be Creative America, which provided a basic framework for the event while also being broad enough to allow for flexibility. Exhibits would include “The American Cinema;” “American Painting Now,” with original pieces by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Ghost Army member Ellsworth Kelly, and many others; and “The American Spirit,” which featured handmade items ranging from Navajo jewelry to saddles to Raggedy Ann dolls.46 However, considering the United States’ recent achievements in the space race, the USIA stretched the concept to allow for scientific creativity, resulting in the “Destination Moon” exhibit with the Mercury space capsule. The various displays spread throughout the dome’s nine stories, accessible via the world’s longest escalator [Figure 3]. CambridgeSeven designed the interior of the pavilion to allow visitors to browse the exhibits freely, but they could always ask for assistance from one of the guides—who were easily identifiable by their uniforms designed by another one of Masey’s Ghost Army colleagues, Bill Blass, at no cost [Figures 4 and 5].47

Meanwhile, even though Masey had frustrations with USIA bureaucracy throughout his career, he believed that the changes that followed John F. Kennedy’s inauguration at least partially improved the situation. Kennedy appointed renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow as the head of the agency in 1961, who Masey recalled as “probably the first director who knew at least something about media.”48 Murrow also recruited George Stevens Jr., son of one of Hollywood’s most renowned directors and an accomplished producer in his own right, to oversee the USIA’s Motion Picture Service. In a minor exaggeration, Masey recalled in his interview with the author that “film was dead” at the USIA before Stevens’s arrival.49 The USIA had produced short, informational documentaries since its founding, but most of these works were not known for their artistic quality, reflecting the worst impressions of government-made films. Stevens successfully sought congressional approval to move away from the lowest-bidder system that the government followed for most contracts and that the USIA had previously followed for films, allowing him to contract with artistic filmmakers who were suitable for specific assignments.50 As a result, the quality of films produced by the agency increased considerably during Stevens’s tenure, which lasted until 1967.

In discussions with the author, Masey repeatedly emphasized that his team was formally independent of the USIA Motion Picture Service.51 However, he personally chose to reach out to Stevens and his staff regularly throughout their work on Expo 67 and showed considerable respect for Stevens’s expertise and willingness to share his Hollywood connections. Put simply, Masey considered Stevens to be an exception to problems he had perceived within the agency and eventually grew to consider him as a personal friend. His team was successful in building on Stevens’s connections to help with the design and execution of the “American Cinema” exhibit. Masey was still hesitant to cede control to Stevens and his unit, though, and ultimately wondered if doing so would have made his attempt to create an immersive, multiscreen film for the pavilion more successful.



The American Cinema Exhibit

Stevens connected Masey with persons at the major film studios who could contribute to “The American Cinema,” but the USIA needed someone on the ground in Hollywood to examine various materials to determine their suitability for the pavilion, negotiate loans, and arrange for shipping.52 This needed to be someone with a strong understanding of film history, especially since another part of the job would be to find clips from classic films to be compiled into reels focused on various themes. Masey and his team eventually connected to an artist, writer, and later screenwriter named James R. Silke. Silke reported to CambridgeSeven cofounder Ivan Chermayeff [Figure 6], who had the role of actively conceptualizing how specific enlarged photographs and other studio materials could fit into the exhibit.

Silke worked with the studios to arrange loans for props that included the chariot from the 1959 version of Ben Hur [Figure 7]; model ships from various period films; a couch that was used in separate films starring Tallulah Bankhead and Marilyn Monroe; Bette Davis’s throne from The Virgin Queen (1955); harps, thrones, and animal deities from Cleopatra (1963); several Victorian lamps from the Shirley Temple vehicle The Little Colonel (1935); and numerous cinematic bathtubs.53 Perhaps the best display of Silke’s playfulness and his contribution to shaping the project was his decision to include a “virility statue.” To quote Silke’s description in an inventory he sent to Chermayeff, “The high camp religious statue of all time, a male virility god with horn, eyes that light up red, muscle bound, sitting cross legged holding a writing snake that winds up through his legs like a giant phallus. This is from The Prodigal [1955], a lousy movie, but who cares.”54 This documentation shows that the selection of this statue and ultimate decision to put it on display [Figure 8] was not an act of Freudian subconscious—instead Silke directly described it as an anatomical metaphor to Chermayeff and Masey. They ultimately approved its display not far from the world’s longest escalator in a pavilion that was meant to show how the Americans measured up against the Soviets.

In her study of the United States Pavilion’s exhibits, Daniela Sheinin argued that “pavilion design and content reflected the influence of Andy Warhol and other artists whose work was transforming gay camp into mass camp in American popular culture.”55 Beyond Warhol and other artists, Sheinin uses the virility god incident as a specific example of Masey, Chermayeff, and others’ deliberate embrace of camp aesthetics in the exhibits. Silke was responsible for directly mentioning camp aesthetics in relation to film, while Alan R. Solomon, who had overseen the American participation in the 1964 Venice Biennale, selected most of the works for “American Painting Now.” As such, one could debate the extent to which Masey himself pursued this style. However, Masey’s attempts to find a director for a multiscreen film project that would be the centerpiece of the pavilion fall in line with Sheinin’s arguments about the cultural aesthetics of Expo 67, as he personally pursued filmmakers who were representative of pop culture, counterculture, mass camp, and gay camp. Despite Masey’s often subversive attitude informing this search, the film produced for this purpose was ultimately quite tame. 



The Great Multiscreen Masterpiece at the American Pavilion

Masey and CambridgeSeven’s Chermayeff wanted a multiscreen film to be one of the main features of the United States Pavilion. Including films that defied traditional screen formats was already a common practice for World’s Fairs and other large-scale exhibitions. Commercial movie theaters required standardized equipment and screen shapes to allow films to be changed out for new titles on a frequent basis. Fairs lasting for several weeks to several months could depend on a stream of new audiences each day, thereby justifying the cost involved in custom screens and venues [Figure 9]. Attempts to include such works in World’s Fairs went back to at least the 1900 Paris Exposition, where inventor Raoul-Grimoin Sanson unveiled Cinéorama, a system of ten synchronized projectors that were meant to show a film that would encircle the viewers.56 Sanson’s exhibit was short-lived due to continued technical issues, but later multiscreen innovations by other inventors would be far more successful.  

The USIA had previous experience in using new and technologically complex film formats to engage foreign audiences. At the 1954 Damascus International Fair, the agency had hosted twice-nightly screenings of the Hollywood production This Is Cinerama, which involved three synchronized prints projected to create a unified picture on a single, deep-curve screen.57 The screenings were so popular that USIA employees joked that the Soviets considered them to be unfair competition. The Soviet Union did not abide this competition from Cinerama for long, however. It developed Kinopanoram in 1958, a nearly identical system used for several films showing various parts of the Soviet Union.58 These works screened in New York City to coincide with the 1959 Soviet National Exhibition but received mostly middling reviews.59 The American National Exhibition in Moscow had greater success with multiscreen works later that year, including a film in Disney’s 360-degree Circarama format and Ray and Charles Eames’s seven-screen Glimpses of the USA (1959).60 In short, expanded cinema had become a front in the Cold War before Expo 67, with other advanced nations also attempting to show their cultural power in this area.  



The Tested Choice

Francis Thompson, Masey’s first choice to create a multiscreen masterpiece, was perhaps the most obvious person for the job. Thompson and his producing and directing partner, Alexander Hammid, were just coming off the success of the three-screen project To Be Alive (1964), which was still playing at the S. C. Johnson Wax Pavilion at the 1964‒1965 New York World’s Fair when Masey began his search.61 An employee of the USIA, John Slocum, met with Thompson on October 10, 1964, to discuss the possibility of him launching a project for the United States Pavilion at Expo 67.62 In a letter recapping the incident, Slocum noted that “in spite of the fact that his film for Johnson’s Wax Company, To Be Alive, seems to be the one genuine hit of the New York World’s Fair, which both the critics and the public like enormously, Mr. Thompson, in his late 50’s, is a quiet and unassuming man.”63 Slocum asked Thompson if he had ever considered “doing an over-all film on the United States for 3-screen projection and his eyes lit up with enthusiasm.”64 Thompson noted that such a project about American people, rather than scenery and landscape, had been on his mind for years. Additionally, Slocum learned during the conversation that Thompson was a personal friend of Fuller and had shot more than fifty hours of black-and-white footage of him and his works for an eventual documentary. 

All of these factors bolstered the idea of Thompson as the ideal candidate. In November 1964, he provided some basic ideas for the three-screen project that lined up with the Creative America theme:

The basic underlying theme of the film would be a human one; it would concern itself primarily with the great surge of creative energy—in both arts and sciences—in America today. The film would reveal the climate of freedom to experiment, to work unhampered, and in a society that nothing is impossible. It would move across a vast panorama of people engaged in pushing back horizons of human knowledge, applying new information to improve the conditions of human living, exploring and communicating new kinds of awareness through the arts.65

Thompson also planned to include persons from the sciences, ranging from NASA employees to non-professional enthusiasts such as amateur astronomers. He was not yet ready to mention specific artists, but instead he tried to convey a general sense of the film, suggesting that he “would focus on the artists themselves in regional American surroundings from which they draw their materials. Architectural works, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Monticello, and various skyscrapers would be ideal subjects,” since “the camera can reveal architecture as it actually appears in its setting, can move around and through its walls and spaces, [and] come in close for texture and detail.”66 Likewise, dance, theater, and other performance arts would be ideal means to convey movement and rhythm.

Thompson also noted that since “vast scale is an important aspect of the American scene, the use of three 70mm cameras, films, and projectors offers a stunning possibility.”67 He discussed how this shift in scale would be a considerable step up from To Be Alive’s three-screen 35mm format. Considering that Masey’s exhibition philosophy involved trying to outdo rival nations in terms of technical and artistic achievement, this undoubtedly fit with his vision of the project. Thompson requested $5,000 and eight weeks to complete a more detailed study of what the film would be, and Masey was able to get this funding request approved in mid-February 1965. Shortly after, Masey provided Thompson with some of Fuller’s plans for the United States Pavilion, bringing Thompson in during the early stages so that he could consider possible modifications he would need to create an ideal screening space.68

The project fell apart in March 1965 when Masey learned that Thompson was considering an offer from a private company to produce a multiscreen work for Expo 67.69 In a phone call with Thompson’s assistant, Masey pointed out that in previous meetings he had “made it unequivocally clear that were he to produce a film for the U.S. Pavilion we would insist that no other Thompson films be shown on the fairgrounds in Montreal.”70 The assistant replied that his employer understood this but “Thompson could not afford to pass up the concrete Canadian offer even though it meant jeopardizing his chances with the U.S. government.”71 Masey arranged a face-to-face meeting with Thompson, where the latter verified that he was close to accepting an offer from Canadian Pacific Railways to produce the film that would eventually become We Are Young (1967).72 Thompson’s primary concern seemed to be that Masey had not been able to convince his superiors to firmly commit money to the project. In his view, it was becoming apparent that the United States government was unlikely to provide a budget that would allow him to operate at his desired production scale, something Canadian Pacific Railways could offer. With just over two years remaining before the opening of Expo 67, Masey and his team needed to restart their search for a filmmaker who could oversee an original technical marvel for the American pavilion. 



Renowned Directors: “Kookie” Thoughts or Reasonable Considerations?

Masey developed several ideas for replacement candidates in the days following Thompson’s withdrawal from the multiscreen project. In a particularly ambitious plan he documented in a memo for his own files on March 15, 1965, Masey considered recruiting five major international filmmakers to each develop an artistically ambitious twenty-minute documentary about their impressions of America.73 Even though each filmmaker would be allowed to work in their own style and without censorship, Masey’s plan was for the five films to be assembled together as a one-hundred-minute work entitled As Others See Us. Masey noted that: 

Naturally, not all footage would be complimentary to the United States. But this does not mean that the net result would be negative. On the contrary, the fact that the United States fears not to reveal its defects would prove a powerful testimonial of the strengths of democracy. Such a project would be unthinkable in the Soviet Union where, of course, no defects are permitted to exist!74

This project would have been fascinating if it had come to fruition, but perhaps the most significant barrier was the list of five filmmakers Masey was considering recruiting: Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini, Grigori Kozintsev, Colin Low, and Akira Kurosawa. This list was followed by the closing line of the memo, “P.S.: Funding for the above project would need to come from private sources.”75 No other documentation exists to suggest that Masey went on to pursue this project in a more serious manner, but it is worth noting that Canadian director Colin Low would go on to collaborate on the multiscreen hit In the Labyrinth (1967), which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and occupied its own custom pavilion at Expo 67.76

Just a few days later, on March 18, 1965, Masey crafted a short note to Stevens. “A kookie thought: What do you think of the idea of getting Stanley Kubrick to do the Great American Documentary for the U.S. Pavilion at Montreal in 1967? Let’s discuss when you have a minute.”77 There is no evidence of conversations about this having gone outside of the agency, and, of course, Kubrick did not make a film for the USIA. 

These ideas may seem naïve and even somewhat comical when taken out of their proper context, but they become far more reasonable when situated alongside Masey’s work thus far and the recent accomplishments of the USIA’s other units. Stevens had been successful in rebuilding the USIA Motion Picture Service, and one of the division’s recently produced films, Nine from Little Rock (Charles Guggenheim, 1964), would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject, just a few weeks after Masey sent Stevens his Kubrick question. In his work overseeing the design of the cinema exhibit for the United States Pavilion at Expo 67, Masey had already been in contact with, and received cooperation from, senior executives at most of the major film studios. Likewise for other parts of the pavilion, Masey’s team was in communication with artists who were at least as well known as Kubrick—Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, and others would all ultimately contribute original works to “American Painting Now.” The idea of an omnibus film with works by several notable directors around a single theme was also not far-fetched, as this had become a highly popular production trend in Europe in recent years.78 Fellini, in fact, participated in several such films throughout his career. As such, in the context of the connections he had made, the eventual success of the American presence at Expo 67, and contemporary film production, Masey was merely testing the waters in regard to how much he could expand the scope and prestige of his great American film.



The American Independent and Avant-Garde Film Scenes

On March 17, 1965, between drafting his international filmmakers memo and his Kubrick letter, Masey wrote a short letter to Chermayeff suggesting that they attend the seventh annual American Film Festival in New York the following month.79 The festival was a major showcase for nontheatrical and independent filmmakers, and a major draw for Masey was that “a good many 16mm films on civil rights subjects will be shown.”80 The author was unable to find any documentation to show that the two men actually attended the event, but in a second letter to Chermayeff the same day, Masey discussed arrangements that were underway for them to work with Eileen Bowser of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to view independent films there.81 Masey listed ten titles, representing directors such as Richard Leacock, David and Albert Maysles, Len Lye, James Blue, and Hilary Harris. It is unclear how Masey developed this initial list, but when instructing Chermayeff to make the final screening arrangements, he suggested that he add any other films he found to be of interest.

Masey considerably expanded his list and the variety of filmmakers being considered for the project when he discovered a photo montage of eighteen American underground filmmakers by Stan VanDerBeek in the April 1965 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.82 In a March 30 memo for his files, Masey created a list of possible films and filmmakers of interest that included almost everyone in the montage—only leaving out Ron Rice, who had passed away the year before.83 Masey sent this to Chermayeff the following day, noting that he had already asked MoMA to make the screening room available for three days rather than just one and asking Chermayeff to reach out to the Filmmakers Cooperative to obtain prints of underground films for review.84 Works by Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Ed Emshwiller, Gregory Markopulos, and Stan VanDerBeek were then added to the screening list.85

Masey and Chermayeff ultimately worked their way through their list of films, or clips thereof in some cases, on April 19 and 26, 1965. Masey jotted down opinions of each film, which usually consisted of just a few words, and had a USIA employee transcribe these at a later date.86 In some cases these assessments were quite blunt. Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (1961) was a “non-objective bore.”87 Willard Van Dyke’s name was misspelled as “Van Dycke” in the screening documentation despite the fact that he was director of film at MoMA, and Masey dismissed his film Rice (1964) as “didactic.” One of Saul Bass’s films was praised for its “stirring title,” but another was apparently “too contrived.” Stan VanDerBeek could have been an inspired choice for Expo 67, considering that Fuller’s domes were the primary inspiration for the semispherical Movie-Drome immersive screening space he was constructing at that time. However, Masey’s two-word commentary on his 1964 film Breathdeath was “absurd symbolism,” apparently removing him from contention. Critiques for films by other directors included “dullsville,” “travelogue,” “mannered,” and “newsreel clips.” Despite these negative remarks about some titles, Masey’s brief reactions showed that he enjoyed some films even if he didn’t think of them as a good fit for his project. He considered Robert Drew’s Primary (1960) to be a “very good TV type documentary.” One of Hilary Harris’s films was a “pleasant vignette” and another was “clever,” but a third was an “educational documentary but tiring.”

Masey showed a surprising level of interest in Kenneth Anger’s camp classic Scorpio Rising (1963). When Anger sent a print to the USIA at the agency’s request, he also enclosed a two-page personal letter to Masey, with the Filmmakers’ Cooperative as the return address. Acknowledging that he knew the USIA had requested the film as part of a search for a director for the Expo 67 project, Anger wrote, “I would view such a presentation as an interesting challenge, should a decision be reached that my film work warrants sponsorship.”88 Anger also “took the liberty” of including a “five-minute excerpt” of Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), about teenagers who built custom hot rods, suggesting that this could be a good fit for Expo 67 if the USIA were interested in sponsoring its completion.89 Although Anger didn’t mention this in his letter, he had previously created a version of his film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair that expanded to three different prints projected as a three-screen triptych for its final sequences.90 Anger would have been a controversial choice, to say the least, but he was eager to work and had experience filming and editing in multiscreen formats.91

In his MoMA screening notes, Masey called Scorpio Rising “ferocious and queer,” but it is not clear if he used the latter term in what was then a more common manner to mean strange or peculiar, or if this was connected to the film’s homosexual themes.92 However, considering that Masey would prominently feature works by Andy Warhol and his fellow Ghost Army alumnus Ellsworth Kelly as part of the United States Pavilion, he had no issue with working with gay artists or elevating their work. Indeed, Masey found the ferocious and queer qualities of Scorpio Rising to be interesting enough that he requested that the print be sent to Washington, DC, for a follow-up screening.93 This presents fascinating possibilities for what could have been, but the author found no documentation to suggest that Masey or the USIA considered him to be a contender for the commission after the encore screening.

Beyond Scorpio Rising, the follow-up screening in Washington included encores of Louis Clyde Stoumen’s 1965 documentary Images of Love and two films by William Klein, along with his French Fashion Show (1962), which had not been part of the MoMA screenings.94 Klein, an American-born photographer and filmmaker living and working in France, was clearly the frontrunner at this point. Masey had considered his French-funded biographical documentary Cassius Clay (1964) to be a “superb biographic narrative” and Broadway by Light (1958), his first film and an experimental look at New York city scenery, a “highly original short.”95 Masey later reached out to Klein’s agent to begin negotiations but learned that he would be unavailable, having received French funding to write and direct a feature film.96 Klein would go on to complete Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, his first fiction feature and a critique of the Paris fashion scene, in 1966. His follow-up, Mr. Freedom (1969), was an absurdist superhero comedy that mocked and condemned what Klein saw as American Cold War–era imperialism. The fact that Klein was almost commissioned to make a film for the purposes of American cultural diplomacy thus seems particularly ironic. 



Richard Lester and William Friedkin

Masey continued to consider other directors throughout the search process, often arranging for additional private screenings of films made for the USIA Motion Picture Service and keeping abreast of news in the trade presses. At around the same time that he reached out to Klein with a serious offer, Masey was also considering another significant director who already had a strong film production career and one who would go on to make two of the most popular films of the early 1970s. 

Masey had seen positive press surrounding Richard Lester’s 1965 Palme d’Or–winning, nonsensical sex comedy The Knack . . . and How to Get It and worked with Lester’s agent at the William Morris Agency, Harry J. Ufland, to arrange for a screening.97 Lester was an American who had gained considerable success working in London since the early 1950s, and his greatest hit to date was A Hard Day’s Night (1964), starring The Beatles. Masey apparently appreciated Lester’s aesthetic enough to reach out to him on August 6, 1965, almost immediately after Klein was out of the running, but quickly received a rejection as Lester was committed to several feature films in the coming years. He had just finished production on his second film with The Beatles, Help! (1965), and his adaptation of the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) would follow the next year.

Masey then shifted to his next choice, William Friedkin, who he had learned about through Ufland.98 Prior to directing The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), Friedkin was a little-known filmmaker who had mainly created documentaries for public television out of Chicago. His most notable work at the time was The People versus Paul Crump (1962), a documentary about an African American man on death row. The success of this film allowed Friedkin to make several documentaries for producer David Wolper in the coming years and helped him find occasional television work, such as directing an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Masey reached a tentative agreement with Friedkin in October 1965 to start work on the multiscreen project, although bureaucratic delays prevented this from being formalized.99  

Friedkin developed a proposal built on the Creative America idea that was somewhat similar to what Thompson had drafted before, focusing on various artists but dropping the inclusion of science.100 Possible subjects included African American choreographer Donald McKayle, Argentine Jewish composer Lalo Schifrin, poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril, and, once again, Stanley Kubrick. Friedkin planned to expand his film beyond artists to also document the craft of various artisans, recalling a New England shipbuilder he had once seen at work. He also hoped to cover a large part of the nation, beyond just New York, Los Angeles, and other well-known cities. However, this plan also fell through when Friedkin left the project in early April 1966.101 The USIA took too long to provide him with a proper contract, despite Masey repeatedly prodding the agency employees from another division in charge of this, preventing filming from moving forward. After months of frustration, Friedkin chose to accept an offer to direct his first feature film, the Sonny and Cher vehicle Good Times (1966).  



Art Kane and A Time to Play

Masey’s team had begun negotiations with Thompson in October 1964. That was more than two and a half years before the April 27, 1967, opening of Expo 67, which should have provided ample lead time for planning and production. Despite Masey, Chermayeff, and others putting a considerable amount of time and effort into the project, they found themselves without a director, script, crew, or plan a year before the opening. 

Masey needed to rush to find a reliable replacement. He reached out to a friend from his days in the Ghost Army, renowned music and fashion photographer Art Kane, to make his first film.102 This seemed, at the time, to be an inspired choice. The film had to be primarily visual, since any reliance on dialogue would limit its accessibility to the many visitors who did not speak English. Thus, relying on a photographer whose pop culture sensibilities meshed with the rest of the pavilion should have resulted in the Great American Documentary that Masey wanted. Additionally, Masey had viewed five films from nontheatrical production company VPI Films Inc. in August 1965, before he had fully settled on Friedkin. At the time Masey wrote to the president of the company to say that “while all 5 films were competently executed, I am afraid none of them had the character or lightness of touch which we want for our film at the United States Pavilion in Montreal.”103 He did think enough of VPI’s work, though, to contract with the company to provide Kane with a crew and production services, including the development and operation of a three-camera rig, thus removing many of the potential complications that come with hiring a first-time filmmaker.

Kane pitched two ideas for his films in an April 14, 1966, letter to Masey.104 The first was a film adaptation of a poetic section of the bible, Ecclesiastes 3, which he summarized as “seasons and times for every purpose.” Kane noted that this was both his and John F. Kennedy’s favorite bible passage and he had been considering creating a still photography project around the concept. He envisioned the film as a “great visual psalm, revealing the strength of America through its contrasts and through its constant ever-growing life-and-death process.”105 In explaining how he would translate “a time to be born, and a time to die” into visual form, Kane asked Masey to “just imagine the possibilities of filming birth and death: every conceivable kind of birth, from the budding of a spring flower in Manchester, Vermont, to the emergence of a newborn baby in San Francisco, and all the other births one can encounter throughout the land.”106 Over the course of almost three pages, Kane continued to link specific portions of Ecclesiastes 3 to plans for somewhat arbitrary images from different parts of the country. 

Kane’s second idea was far less developed. His proposed film would simply be entitled The Americans, and he wanted to include persons from various ethnic backgrounds “but so intimately revealed, so closely observed in their identity as individual ethnic and religious groups, that one could swear at first that he was observing people of another land.”107 Kane’s list of different nationalities to be represented seemed random and incomplete, ending with “etc., etc.,” and he went on to explain that he would also like to include “priests and rabbis—Holy Rollers, Ku Klux Klan leaders—a kaleidoscope of good and evil—and all colors that, when totally blended, come out American.”108

Under different circumstances Kane probably would have been allowed to pursue one of these projects, or something equally ambitious, and he had enough talent as a visual artist that he could have created an impactful and enduring film. However, Kane and VPI were not fully under contract to the USIA until June 1966, and considering that VPI had to build and test the multiple-camera system, shooting could not begin until August. Likewise, the budget was still relatively limited for a technically complex project, as one major area where Masey’s autonomy was restrained was financial matters. These factors contributed to the decision to shift to a more straightforward concept, which was a film of children participating in various playground games [Figure 10]. 

It is not clear who initially suggested the children’s games idea, but the National Archives holds two rather different proposals by Kane for the film.109 Both convey the same basic structure: sections of the film would show children playing jump rope, hopscotch, tug-of-war, hide-and-seek, and other common games. The earlier draft of Kane’s proposal, however, included his intent to “incorporate the frequent use of stock newsreel footage (involving scenes of war, religious and racial turbulence, etc.) to contrast the folly of mature man as opposed to the peaceful, simple beautiful world of children.”110

For follow-the-leader, Kane wanted to use the game to illustrate “the importance of choosing the right leader. What we would contrast is the horrendous record of leader selection that has been part of modern history. Scenes of Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, etc. etc. would be appropriate.”111 Meanwhile, tag would depict “chance, capture, confusion and running away from danger so like the racial and student riots that have been occurring so frequently.”112 Jumping rope “would contrast to sorrows of man and man’s inhumanity to man. Visually jumping rope relates to the calisthenics of fascist youth groups and this might be incorporated.”113 Kane had similar ideas for every game, but in the end, none of the historical footage and associated contrasts were included in the film [Figure 11-12]. 

The second version of the proposal was distributed to various persons in the USIA as part of the approval process necessary before offering Kane the contract. The more jarring ideas are absent from this draft. The author was not able to find evidence of what led to these changes, but it was likely that the film had to be more viable and less controversial to USIA leadership. Kane still retained some plans to convey sociopolitical messages, asserting that the “cast of children would in fact consist of an obvious mixture of all the colored, religious, and ethnic groups that make up America’s children,” which would “reveal to us their natural sense of brotherhood, cooperation, love of life, and sheer vitality, as well as their conflicts.”114 In execution Kane included a few children of color among a mostly white cast, resulting in a film that was more inclusive and integrated than the contemporary norm but fell far short of his intended symbolic message about racial harmony and strife. Kane noted that the “entire production can be filmed on location, here in New York, for under $200,000,” a statement that reflects his awareness of time and budgetary issues.115 This document referred to the film as Games and in some internal USIA documentation it was Children’s Games, but the final title became A Time to Play, borrowing part of a verse from Ecclesiastes 3. The final product is simply twenty minutes of children playing, and it is difficult for viewers to find a grand political statement.

The production faced numerous issues. VPI had created a budget estimate of about $210,000, but this grew as the result of almost $30,000 in overruns.116 Part of these costs were due to filming running into late autumn and early winter, forcing the production to move from New York to California. In an interview with the author near the end of his life, Masey recalled that Kane grew less confident in his ability to complete the film as production progressed and considered exiting the project.117 Masey also expressed regret at having put that much pressure on Kane and noted that if he had to do the same project again, he might have yielded more authority to Stevens and, rather than conducting a lengthy search, allowed him to suggest a shortlist of directors.118 Speaking of the final product, Masey said, “I would say that it was a C if you were to rate it, probably a C+.”119 Considering the numerous and time-consuming production complications, though, the fact that it was completed at all was an accomplishment.

The USIA had been negotiating with Polaroid throughout A Time to Play’s production to sponsor the film. The agency managed to close this contract near the end of production in January 1967, with Polaroid agreeing to cover VPI’s original cost estimate but no overruns. In a memo about the negotiations, a USIA employee noted that Polaroid executive vice president Stanford Calderwood “did not praise the film and said he thought $200,000 for it was excessive. Nevertheless, Polaroid is willing to pick up this tab and I think this action speaks louder than his words.”120 Enough hype had built up around the American presence at Expo 67 that Polaroid was willing to spend a considerable amount of money to have the company name attached to even a middling part of it. 

Just a few days after the conclusion of the Polaroid agreement, Masey sent a note to Stevens sharing information he had obtained about the Department of Commerce’s current negotiations with Thompson to produce a multiscreen film for the 1968 San Antonio World’s Fair. The American presence was overseen by government offices other than the USIA because of its presence on United States soil. Masey reported that the “amount presently being discussed with Thompson for production of this film is . . . $800,000!”121 He concluded his note by stating that the “loud crash you just heard was that of the impoverished Montreal design staff fainting dead away from envy,” but did not mention his previous negotiations with Thompson for Expo 67.122 That another government agency was able to pursue Thompson with a larger budget after the USIA had lost him largely due to production cost limitations must have caused Masey some frustration.

In a fall 1967 Film Quarterly article on the multiscreen phenomenon at Expo 67, Judith Shatnoff raved about the complex technical requirements of the films at various pavilions. However, when discussing A Time to Play, she noted that “one solution is to keep it simple, and at Expo the three-screen film at the beautiful bubble USA Pavilion was simple.”123 Shatnoff did not only mean that the end result was simple in the pejorative sense, but also that the subject was “familiar and nothing particular was said about it or about the pretty, racially mixed children at play. One game just followed another with individual screens often used to show different children enjoying the same activity.”124 Although she included some positive notes about Kane’s photography, Shatnoff thought the music was overwrought and the work as a whole did little to take advantage of its multiscreen format. The film was intended as a government-run public diplomacy effort rather than a corporate pavilion, despite Polaroid attaching its name to the project after production was mostly complete, but Shatnoff was left with “the impression that A Time to Play should be advertising something, perhaps milk. It had that glossy commercial quality. There were more interesting explorations of multi-screen to be seen at Expo—for instance, We Are Young.”125

The comparison between A Time to Play and Hammid and Thompson’s We Are Young (1967) is particularly interesting, as the directors had been Masey and the USIA’s first choice for the United States Pavilion’s multiscreen experience. Shatnoff’s exuberant reaction to the film also included praise of its six-screen format that comprised over three thousand square feet of images, and she expressed amazement at the technical specifications of the projectors.126 Likewise, with its cast of 450 young Canadians and the tight editing that allowed Hammid and Thompson to reduce one hundred thousand feet of footage to a twenty-two-minute film, “We Are Young! was speed, exuberance, vitality.”127 However, We Are Young was far from the only technological film marvel at Expo 67. Shatnoff mentioned brief details of several works, but she seemed particularly impressed by In the Labyrinth (1967), which occupied its own five-story custom pavilion designed to accommodate its thirty-eight-foot-tall wall and floor screens.128

In their introduction to the 2014 edited volume Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67, Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault argue that visitors to the fair “experienced more displays of photographic, cinematic, and telematic technology than in any previous world exhibition.”129 Beyond typical multiscreen displays, visitors saw “screen experiments using circular platforms and rotating theatres, water screens, and single-film frames expanded to include over fifteen split images simultaneously.”130 As such, A Time to Play not only suffered from its fairly pedestrian content, but its three-screen composition was no longer innovative by the new standards set by Expo 67. 




Considering the USIA’s core mission, perhaps the greatest test of the pavilion’s success was how it compared to the Moscow Pavilion, only a short distance away. A two-minute Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) report from about ten days after Expo 67’s opening provides a clear summary.131 The reporter noted that the “Russians seem determined to show the visitor as much as possible. One of the officials told me, ‘Everyone knows what America can do. We have to show what we can do.’ And it’s all here, from Atomic Icebreakers to Power Stations.” Beyond energy demonstrations and model ships, the pavilion attempted to overwhelm visitors with a “plush” restaurant and daily stage shows by performers from various satellite countries. By comparison, the reporter argued that the “most impressive part of the American approach is the pavilion building itself. Inside, secure in their industrial achievements and efficiency, the Americans seem to say, ‘you know what we can do. This is just for fun.’ So there’s cowboys, Indians, rag dolls, movie stars, Elvis Presley’s guitar, Debbie Reynolds’ bed, vinyl skirted hostesses, and the longest escalator in the world.” The report quickly cut to a large photograph of William Hart behind a film prop saddle on a horse statue at the mention of “cowboys,” while “movie stars” led to a brief shot of “The American Cinema’s” side-by-side photographs of Gregory Peck and Alan Ladd. The reporter noted that “the one really serious note is an impressive display of space achievements,” but that overall the American pavilion represented “a fresh, lighthearted approach,” while the Moscow pavilion was “ponderous and overbearing.” Put another way, the contrast between the American and Soviet pavilions was an inversion of what had happened at the 1955 Indian Industries Fair. 

General reactions to A Time to Play ranged from slightly positive to somewhat negative, but for the most part, contemporary reviews of the United States Pavilion or the film scene at Expo 67 either mentioned the film only in passing or failed to mention it at all. This was a surprising conclusion for something that Masey had planned to be the Great American Documentary and Chermayeff had called “vital to the success of the U.S. pavilion.”132 When placed in the context of their expectations and those of the public, even a competent film that did not innovate or stand out next to the other multiscreen works at the fair should have been considered a public failure. However, the American presence at Expo 67 and Masey’s work overseeing the pavilion were ultimately considered a resounding success. Fuller’s dome was regarded as an architectural marvel that remains the symbol of Expo 67. Masey had followed what he had once called the “Gimbels’ basement approach” to pavilion planning, which avoided forcing visitors to follow predetermined pathways in favor of allowing them to browse and choose what they wanted to see. Masey and Chermayeff had planned for a multiscreen film to be the centerpiece of the pavilion, but they simultaneously created a space that worked best without a clear center. Even if visitors failed to be impressed by A Time to Play, they were more impressed by the other exhibits that they were able to explore at their leisure. 

Brian Real, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky. He holds a PhD in Information Studies and an MLS from the University of Maryland. His primary research areas are the historical impact of federal policy on film preservation and the modern social impact of public libraries. Dr. Real has published research articles in The Moving Image, Journal of Archival OrganizationPublic Library QuarterlyLibrary QuarterlyInformation Technology and Libraries, and Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television. Dr. Real is also a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ (AMIA) Advocacy Committee of the Board and oversees the organization’s Annual Salary and Demographics Survey of the Field.

Designing Diplomacy: Jack Masey and Multiscreen Cinema at Expo 67 © 2022 by Brian Real is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The Journal of e-Media Studies is published by the Dartmouth Library.