Smell-O-Vision: Who Remembers It? History Of The April Fools' Prank We Can't Forget

By | March 31, 2020

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Circa 1959: American film producer Mike Todd Jr (left), Swiss inventor Hans Laube, and the 'Smell-O-Vision' machine, which produced smells in synchronization with action in a film. It was used for the 1960 film 'The Scent of Mystery.' (Photo by Hulton Arc

Smell-O-Vision was a way to add smell to television -- so said the BBC in a 1965 April Fool's Day report. The broadcaster pranked television audiences in England by claiming that they’d perfected Smell-O-Vision -- and as ridiculous as this sounds there’s actually precedent for visuals and smells bombarding viewers at the same time. Like 3-D and Percepto! before it, Smell-O-Vision was a short lived concept that never took off in theaters or at home, and it remains one of the strangest theatrical concepts that’s ever been dreamed up.

Before Smell-O-Vision theaters took matters into their own hands

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source: cabinet magazine

In the early 20th century independent theater owners did whatever they could to turn a profit, while you might think that two for one tickets or an increase in marketing would make for a bigger box office, many proprietors tried off the wall schemes to wow audiences. In 1906 Samuel Roxy Rothafel of the Family Theatre in Forest City, Pennsylvania, wafted the scent of rose oil throughout the audience during a newsreel about the Rose Bowl Game. In the 1920s a large amount of perfume was used during a showing of The Broadway Melody and either it was a hit or parallel thinking struck at theaters across the country as theater owners attempted to give off the odors that were being displayed on screen. As fun as that sounds, the smell delivery system wasn’t great and more often than not the scents were muddled by the time they got to the audience.