OFF TO THE FAIR
Gary (center) in his Arlington
Hat poses with friend (left) and brother (right) before a
trip to the Fair.
I was completely enchanted by the New York
World's Fair; even today it conjures up hundreds of happy memories
One remembrance still sending a "thrill
shiver" up my spine is of the Tower of Light. Actually,
two shivers; one for the building itself and another for the
show inside. During the day the Tower of Light was interesting
enough to look at, its muted aluminum prisms catching, if not
exactly glistening in, the sunlight. However at night this strange
and eye-catching building truly came into its own turning into
a wonderland of color, images and light! With the bright white
"tower" of light emanating from the center of the building
the hundreds of panels of the prisms were transformed into an
ever-changing mosaic of moving color lit by hundreds of special
multi-color spotlights. Even the best of pictures cannot do justice
to the effect these waves of light had; each panel sometimes
having its own color (or two) only to have another color fade
in to replace it; and then another and another.
And the different experiences to be had
simply by changing one's point of view! The "prisms"
were all equilateral triangles, so that if you were to look at
the light show on one set of panels you could see a whole different
show and display of lights just by looking at the panels that
were angled 60 degrees from the first set. For me this was a
most magical show, one that never ceased to enchant me. Now imagine
expanding that view to include the "rotating lights"
of the GE building and the multi-colored fountains of the Pool
of Industry during the 9 P.M. fireworks display overhead! The
IBM egg, the white Bell building and the Traveler's red umbrella
in the background. Wow!
And then there was the show inside. I don't
remember much of the 1964 version having only gone on it once.
But I adored the 1965 version, which was quite different from
the '64 show in content, at least. First, a few things I do remember
about the '64 version: It was called "The Enjoyment of Electricity"
and starred "Uncle Ben" Franklin, Sam the Eagle and
a young man and woman who appeared only on film. Ben and Sam
took the couple on a tour of the benefits of electricity. The
sets were amazing. There were a lot of bright songs, but no Reddy
Kilowatt -- at least as a co-star of the show. And at least the
one time I rode on the show (the first month of the Fair), there
were no seats and everyone stood. I was this little kid and remember
being very annoyed that I could not see the whole show!
And then came the '65 version, "Holiday With Light," which jettisoned the 1964 script, all of
the 1964 songs and the filmed man and woman; keeping Sam
the Eagle (who became a totally mute observer) and most of the
sets (many only slightly revamped). Additions included
Reddy Kilowatt as co-star and a new script, concept and songs
that made for a very bright, fun and fast-moving show using various
holidays to demonstrate the benefits of electricity.
of Light show always began for me with
the gently sloping moving ramp ride up to the second floor of
the building where we would wait outside for the doors to open
to let us onto the "ring" that took us through the
show. This front entrance way to the building was done in clear
glass panels and silver support columns and above it you could
see the intense light shooting up and lighting the prisms that
lined the inner courtyard. It made a very intense white light
that complimented the wonderful light show that happened on all
the outer panes. Curtains covered the glass on the inside of
the entrance way. The doors that opened had curtains on a track
that pulled back. Once through the doors you stepped directly
onto the "ring" that carried the audience through the
I would often try to get as close to the
front as I could because if I listened very intently I could
hear snippets of the introductory scene of the show through the
glass and curtain entrance way. This heightened my anticipation
and I can remember my heart quickening even before the doors
opened for me ... um, I mean ... opened for the entire audience
(even though I was just a kid who had to pay and wait in line
like everyone else, it was my Fair - even if nobody else
was aware of that fact).
Before describing the show, a bit about
its layout. "Holiday
With Light" was set up much the
same as the more famous "Carousel of Progress," Walt
Disney's presentation for General Electric at the Fair. The audience
rode on a huge ring, or turntable, that had in its first chamber
a short introduction, then rotated clockwise stopping in several
consecutive chambers to tell its story, with a final short scene
from which the audience disembarked.
The scenes in both shows segued with a
theme song. GE had "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,"
while Tower of Light's was "Holiday With Light."
LISTEN to "Holiday With
One difference between GE and Tower of Light:
GE's show had fixed seat theater seating and everything happened
behind a proscenium with the audience riding on a turntable that
moved on the outside of the building facing the center of the
ring. The Tower of
Light's turntable went through the
middle of the building with the show taking place on both
sides of the ring, and also overhead; hence the presence
of swivel seats. For the 1965 version there were probably 40
to 50 seats in each section of the turntable.
And while both GE and Tower of Light shows
were basically extolling the virtues of electricity as the key
to progress, the shows couldn't have been more different. The
qualities and features of the classic "Carousel of Progress"
can still be seen, of course, at Walt Disney World and are well
known. But "Holiday
With Light" was an all out musical
revue and was one of the brightest, in many senses, and most
"pop" oriented of the Fair's shows. And that's what
I loved about it!
As the attendants opened the glass doors
and curtains to let us into the show, I would scramble to a seat
-- it made no difference where as the seating allowed everything
to be easily seen. The bright theme song, "Holiday With
Light," would be playing as we entered. In short order
the attendants would close the curtains and doors, the music
would die down and our attention was directed toward the inner
part of the ring which was curtained off as well. After a short
bit of banter these curtains opened to reveal "Uncle Ben"
Franklin and Reddy Kilowatt standing in front of another curtain
and otherwise very plainly appointed set. At some point in this
intro, however, the curtains behind them pulled back to show
us the huge Xenon lights that created the "tower" of
light that shot up from the center of the building every evening
-- a hint of what we were about to experience.
The two main characters, "Uncle Ben"
Franklin and Reddy Kilowatt were definitely "pop art"
creations and set the style for the rest of the show's design
which was fanciful, bright and, at times, extremely stylized
and cartoon-ish. Uncle Ben was made of molded plastic and fiberglass
with a body and head of frosted white and made to look like two
light bulbs. The eyes and mouth lit up and the interiors of the
head and body were lit as well. Ben's coat and hat were made
of see-through blue plastic, with plaster feet, wire-rimmed glasses
and with gold, blue and red tape trimming on the coat and hat.
A close-up of Ben, now
a part of Gary's personal collection
Reddy Kilowatt was done as a three dimensional
figure made of those famous red bolts of electricity. The figure's
face was somewhat rounded and, if I remember correctly, did move
an eyebrow or two and had a mouth and eyes that lit up. Ben,
like Reddy, "talked" by means of three sets of lights
that would blink on and off in various combinations, as programmed,
to make it look as if the mouth was moving. And the characters
did move, albeit only slightly, such as raising or lowering an
arm or turning the head right to left (no audio-animatronics
Ben and Reddy appeared in every scene.
Reddy did plenty of singing whereas Ben didn't sing at all. Reddy
was joined by a "chorus" of very festooned "birds"
called the "Kilowatt Birds" which always appeared in
a large group and sang most of the "big" numbers. The
birds did not have any individual movement but were on pipes
or some contraption and would lean forward or backward "en
masse" on occasion and were quite bright, possibly with
lights woven through their bodies.
But on to the show. As the intro scene
ended with Reddy welcoming us to join him and Ben the "Holiday
With Light" theme song played, the chamber went dark
and the turntable started moving us into the second chamber which
was already totally dark as we entered. From the darkness, Ben
spoke about how nothing existed without power. Then, magically,
the whole room exploded with sights, lights and action. The one
set piece I remember best from this scene is the hot air balloon
that Ben and Reddy were in. It looked like - what else - a light
bulb with a bright canopy over the bulb and lights around all
the edges, with a bright gold or brass colored balloon bucket
for Ben and Reddy to stand in.
And action there was! And dozens of angled
prisms (lit from above and behind), and a lit-from-inside globe,
and ribbons of moving light representing electricity. It seemed
as if every part of the the chamber was moving or had some lighting
effect making something seem to move. Some film or slides were
a part of it as well. This scene was a Musical Intro to
the rest of the show with the characters singing about the seven
holidays we were about to see. It was all so eye-filling and
the music was so upbeat and catchy that the couple of minutes
spent in this chamber flashed by. The scene ended with a big
burst of light leaving the chamber in complete darkness, thus
preparing the scene for the next group to ride in on the turntable.
We then moved into the third chamber which
was the New Year's Eve Scene. On the outer ring stage
was Ben (a small version, as I recall, perhaps in the hot air
balloon) only briefly seen and wondering where Reddy was. Attention
shifted to the area above the divider to the next chamber where
Reddy, in a hard hat and on a pole, was fixing the power lines.
Reddy went right into a song about power, with assistance from
the Kilowatt Birds. As they sang the chamber came alive with
tall spiraling and slightly conical motors and turbines. Very
large copper wire sculptures lit up as well. With great fanfare
the scene shifted to the inner ring where Uncle Ben was dressed
as Father Time with a fake white beard and a scythe in hand and
Reddy as "Baby New Year." I don't remember if Reddy
was in a diaper, but he did wear a sash. The scene was done in
a very bright, almost pinkish-red with lots of bright Happy
New Year decorations, signs and, of course, lights.
This, incidentally, is the Ben I was tremendously
fortunate to have given to me by the exhibitor at the end of
the Fair [see the Legacies
section of nywf64.com]. My Ben did come with the beard, which
I keep separately, but the scythe is only evidenced by the hole
in Ben's left hand through which it was wired. And he did, as
with most of the Bens in the show, move his head right and left.
There were Bens that moved their arms or slightly turned, but
my Ben wasn't required to do more than turn his head and talk.
Gary's Ben: a gift to
him from the Tower of Light at the close of the Fair
This second part of the scene was calmer,
though bright, with less action and a lot of music and song.
The creators did make sure that there was some light effect or
movement in every scene.The mirror ball effect was used
in this part of the show. I remember this chamber was the one
where there was sufficiently little going on action-wise
that I got to look at the building itself. While the inside of
the ring usually had floor to ceiling sets or cycloramas or curtains,
the sets on the outside portion of the ring would incorporate
the building itself so that the inner sides of the angled "prism"
panels could be seen and were often painted or used themselves
for lighting effects. The occasional use of the outer contours
of the building for the show itself was a good design choice
that added to the interest in the show.
In the fourth chamber the first sight was
of Ben next to a large old wood radio and he either was standing
on a porch or was in a chair. Reddy was there, as well, and explained
to Ben about Labor Day and, of course, the importance
of electricity. In this first part of the scene some films or
slides were briefly used demonstrating some of the electrical
production methods. Reddy then directed attention to the outer
ring where machines and turbines with stylized transmission towers
and wires galore put on a grand show as Reddy and the Kilowatt
Birds sang about the benefits of, yes, electricity!
(Well, it WAS an industrial exhibit and in many ways the electric
companies were patting themselves on the back. But it was truly
done with entertainment as the primary goal. Years ago, I read
an article by Alfred Stern, creator of the Tower of Light show in
which he discussed his desire to entertain first and slip the
"plugs" in without interfering with the fun. Much of
the philosophy was evident in this scene. We got a small snippet
about "magneto-hydro-dynamics" and then this
huge scene with a hundred moving parts and a bright song!)
The fifth chamber started with a scene
left over from the previous year that had nothing to do with
holidays. But even though it didn't exactly fit, it was most
enjoyable. It is the Farm Scene with Ben sitting on the
porch of a somewhat Victorian-type house muttering about some
farm chores that need doing. Above the house was a stylized and
bright sun with clouds and a backdrop of a farm field setting.
Reddy picked right up on Ben's comments pointing out that modern
farms were benefiting from electricity, leading to a fun song
where the farm animals and Reddy sang about all the great things
happening on the farm because of progress. The animals were stylized
and cartoon-ish but not bright and mod-ish like Ben, Reddy and
the Kilowatt Birds. They were more like 3-D versions of cartoon
characters and involved such fun scenes as a cow in a "beauty
parlor" setting and hens batting their eyes as they watched
an incubator from their coop. Also pigs dressed up in straw hats,
if I recall correctly.
At the end of the farm song, the scene
shifted to a house setting on the other side of the ring. Here
Reddy and the Kilowatt Birds sang of all the wonderful appliances
electricity afforded mother on Mother's Day. As in the
General Electric "Carousel of Progress," when each
appliance was sung about, the lights went up on that item and
it opened its door or "showed itself off" in some fashion.
The Mother's Day Scene was rather straight-forward and
not as fun as the Farm Scene. But the constant movement
of attention from one thing to the next made it go along quickly
And then on to the sixth chamber! During
the first part of the scene Reddy sang a song about Father's
Day. It was done on a stage setting a'la Radio City Music
Hall with multiple arches and latticed lights above and around
the stage and with Ben accompanying Reddy on the piano. (In the
1964 version I remember Ben did a piano solo on the same set.)
There was little physical action to this scene except for a couple
of "double-takes" by Ben during the song -- one of
the many clever touches by the designers to "humanize"
these figures. Attention shifted to the outer ring where Reddy
and the Kilowatt Birds sang a "Happy Birthday"
song to everyone. Once again the scene was very bright and ornamental
and filled with lighting effects. No spinning turbines here,
but lots of shifting and movement between various members of
In the seventh chamber the audience was
treated to a most spectacular fake fireworks display. This was
the Fourth of July Scene which started with Ben and Reddy
on a bandstand located on the inside of the turntable. Reddy
made a short speech introducing Ben who then "stepped forward"
and gave a short, patriotic speech (all attempts to plug electricity
were dropped here). Once done speaking Ben said "Happy Birthday,
America" and the rest of the scene was given over to a light
and fireworks display that used lights, fiber optics, slides,
film, music and who knows what else to absolutely dazzle the
audience. At times it seemed as if the entire chamber was filled
with fireworks. All that was missing was the smell of burnt gunpowder!
In the many times I saw the show I only once took my gaze away
from the effects that covered the ceiling and the outer rim to
look at Ben and Reddy. It was a tremendous addition to the scene
to find them not "turned off" and and awaiting the
next sequence but, rather, still actively part of the scene,
watching the show and Ben gesturing (even though all eyes were
and should have been on the fireworks display). The scene ended
with a huge burst of fireworks and color that left me (at least)
always almost breathless.
In the eighth and final chamber was a Christmas
Scene unlike any other I'd ever seen before. Above us towered
the outside ring. Reddy and Ben, dressed in Santa and elf accessories,
were in a sleigh with beautifully stylized reindeer. And throughout
the huge chamber was a forest of enormous, long finial-type Christmas
ornaments, some of which either had slides or actual scenes in
their centers. And we were treated to another explosion of lights
laced all through the chamber! Add to this a burst of rousing
holiday music as the audience rode in and you've got a perfect
ending to a great show.
It's not so much that anything happened
in this last scene (there were no songs or production numbers).
But the setting was gorgeous. It was a short scene with Ben and
Reddy thanking the audience and then playing us out with the
"Holiday With Light" theme song. The audience
exited down a ramp that went from the right side of the outer
ring and curved to the left underneath the chamber taking one
to the exhibits on the ground floor. I loved this final scene
so much -- it was a truly magical visual display done up to literally
"knock one's visual socks off." I would often
stand about three quarters of the way down the ramp and, totally
entranced, look at it as long as possible before I had to go.
At times the attendants, perhaps sensing my inner thrill, would
let me stay and watch the scene again as the next audience rode
in on the turntable.
The remainder of the building consisted
of first floor exhibits on the benefits of electricity. These
exhibits were always just a blur to me as I was always too excited
by the main show. None of these "grownup" exhibits
held any interest for me anyway. I would race through them stopping
only to look at through the viewing glass at the huge searchlights
that made the "tower" of light. You didn't see all
of them because they were at different levels, most of them being
at ground level. The lights directed all their intensity straight
up so it was possible to look at them without being blinded.
There were about twelve of them and were put on these pedestals
of varying height -- each pedestal looked like a modernistic
candle holder. The ground beneath them was done in white stone.
It was strictly a "stop -- 'Oooh, look at that! Wow!"
-- move on" deal.
The only other thing I remember about the
ground floor displays is that you could fill out a card with
a question about the show or electricity and the exhibit would
send you an answer. Well what I wanted every time I went was
to get a letter a few days or weeks later from the Tower of Light.
But, there always seemed to be an attendant next to the box you
were to put your questions in. If I didn't act fast enough the
attendant would take my question and answer it right there and
thwart my purpose in writing it in the first place! So it stared
to become a game: how does little Gary get the question into
the box and get out of the building without the attendant grabbing
and answering it? I only hit about 30 percent!
Would little Gary
get his letter from the Tower of Light?
If there wasn't too long a wait and my
folks were agreeable, I would go through the ride again! But
I also had to get to GE and Bell and IBM and Pepsi and Johnson's
Wax and the Searching Eye at Kodak and ... oh, don't get me started!