Kind of, anyhow. It was just around Christmas 1946, and Edwin Land’s company—coming down from a huge boom in war work, and shrinking from over 1200 employees to about 250—had spent nearly three years secretly working on a new project. Land was essentially betting the farm on this new thing, with confidence but no guarantee that it would take off. The new product, for now code-named SX-70, would be revealed to the world the following February, in New York. But on this December night in Cambridge, Land invited a bunch of employees to a private screening at the University Square Theater (now the multiplex Harvard Square Theater) in Cambridge. And he showed them a couple of minutes of a movie called The Horn Blows at Midnight, starring Jack Benny and Alexis Smith.

Benny plays a horn player turned angel sent down to Earth to sound the final trumpets, finishing off the wobegone planet and its irritating inhabitants. (Given this cheery  premise for a comedy, it’s probably no wonder that the movie was a big flop, and that Benny spent the next three decades deploying it as a punch line.)

Here’s the scene Land showed his staff. Watch through about 13:00.

At the University Square, the clip ended, the lights came up, and Land asked his staff:”Did you get it? That’s SX-70!” Some did, some didn’t. Two months later, nearly everyone in America did, courtesy of Life magazine.

3 Responses to How Jack Benny Invented Instant Photography

  1. Bill Warriner says:

    Hard to imagine Land sitting through that movie. Stanislavski must have been rolling over in his grave.

    • Saidi says:

      I think I agree with you, Kim. The white borders look weird on this rkgacbound but it doesn’t bother me if I only have one photo in a post. When it’s multiples, I find it distracting. Yesterday’s post is a good example of that, I think.

  2. Wawan says:

    They had a bunch of Polaroid 600 for $5 each at the Goodwill off of McLoughlin about a week ago. I need to go back myself and get a close up one. Pro Photo is now silnelg the film too. Go get one! :-)

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