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7.14.11: The Needle Goes to Hollywood

Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

Had lunch today with Albert Fisher who, as a young man (he turned 21 during the fair) was put in charge of TV and movies for Century 21. An amazing responsibility for such a youth, but TV was the high-tech innovation of that era, and just as you might ask a teenager to help you with a computer, the mass media age had its youthful enthusiasts.

Fisher's responsibilities including squiring around celebrity visitors to the fair, which included famous media types, like legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, and a list of celebs including Elvis, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, John Glenn, Dana Andrews, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and many others. Fisher had with him a scrapbook with photographs, and also took color home movies of all of it. He also continued in the TV, radio and film business, and had a similar job at the New York World's fair of 1964-5.

Fisher became good pals with Elvis during the King's visit to the fair to film the movie It Happened at the World's Fair. Fisher and Elvis even went on a couple of double dates together. One, says Fisher, was to a Seattle theater to seen the newly released Elvis film, Kid Galahad. To avoid the crowds, Elvis and his entourage were snuck into the theater after the movie started and sat in the back three rows. Elvis, says Fisher, had not seen any of the movie before, so it was a premiere viewing for him too. They had to sneak out before it ended to avoid a mob scene.

I asked Fisher what Elvis thought of the Space Needle, and he said that he was impressed with his height. But that romantic scene in the film where Elvis woos his date at the Eye of the Needle restaurant? It was all shot in a studio in Hollywood. Fisher, in fact, was invited to come down as a technical advisor on that part of the film, and that's where we was as the fair itself was winding down.

The movie studio didn't reconstruct the entire restaurant for the scene they needed. They got enough Needle tables, china, silverware, menus and other things to built an authentic wedge of the Eye of the Needle dining room, enough to look very realistic on camera. For the view outside, a set designer had photographed a 360-degree view of Seattle from the Needle. Then, it was repainted in color on a rotating screen that turned outside the windows of the fake dining room to make it look as if the restaurant was rotating. Fisher said to his knowledge, Elvis never dined at the top of the Needle in real life.

It's funny to think of that Hollywood trickery. In the movie, the diners are stationary while the scenery revolves. At the real Needle, the scenery stays put while the diners rotate. The effect on the viewer is the same. Just another lesson in the Theory of Relativity, courtesy of a fair devoted to science.

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