I took this photograph of a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air on display at the Festival Italia in Wakefield, Massachusetts, yesterday. You can see the distinctive roofline of the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library reflected in the hood. I wish I had taken more photographs of this beautiful automobile, but I was feeling conflicted about it. My mother owned a red and white Chevy Bel Air, bought used in 1960, and that’s always been my idea of the ultimate cool car. Seeing this Bel Air reminded me of ours, but the differences between the models just made this one look not quite right to me.
I did a little research on the 1955 Bel Air when I came home last night — in other words, I Googled it. It was called “The Hot One” and its sales brochure suggested “Try this on for sighs.” Apparently young people loved it because “this car’s so perky it always looks like it’s going to a party!” And it was a powerful car: the Turbo-Fire V8 engine “put a heaping hoodful of fun under your foot — 162 h.p.!” I don’t know anything about engines and couldn’t tell you the horsepower of my current car, but who wouldn’t want a heaping hoodful of fun under his or her foot? But best of all, it was motoramic! I don’t actually know what that means, but it sounds so modern! 1950s modern, that is.
It’s amazing how little sales resistance I have even to advertising that’s over fifty years old.
On the Air is a 1937 educational film about radio broadcasting from the Jam Handy Organization. It opens with a studio radio performance by celebrated violinist David Rubinoff and his orchestra, all dressed in formal attire, showing the musicians but also some of the production details — hand signals from the booth, and adjustments of various dials and knobs. And then we’re off on a technical explanation of sound waves, radio signals, amplification and transmission, showing how the sound from the studio is makes it way into the living rooms and automobiles of America.
This ten minute black-and-white film was made for the Chevrolet Division, General Motors Corporation, and is one of several Jam Handy productions from the Prelinger Archives available through the Internet Archive.
Caught Mapping — I’ve always loved maps, so I was happy to run across this short educational film from 1940 on the Internet Archive. It’s about how road maps were kept updated. Information was gathered by pairs of men driving around the country in specially-equipped cars, making measurements and taking notes. Back at the office, cartographers used the notes to update the maps by drawing on clear overlays placed over the previous edition of the map. The overlay was photographed with a huge camera onto a glass plate, which was used to create a printing plate to print the overlay onto the map. Quite an ingenious process, actually.
As the narrator says, “Yes, it’s swell teamwork on the part of everyone that gets speedy, accurate information for modern roadmaps!”
This film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, known for its stylish and imaginative training and promotional films produced for the armed forces, the automotive industry and other industrial clients. Caught Mapping was sponsored by Chevrolet, and not surprisingly there are lots of great shots of modern, reliable automobiles handling all sorts of road conditions, and running smoothly enough to allow the passenger to be taking legible notes. There are also a few shots near the beginning of the motoring public consulting road maps. I particularly like the two young women wearing their glamorous hats, one of which looks like a big feather was shot straight through it.
The film runs a little less than ten minutes and is an interesting and informative look at the ways street maps were maintained in the days before GIS, GPS, satellite imagery, Google Maps and Google Earth! I wonder if fifty years from now, people will be looking back at the primitive processes Google is using to gather the imagery for Streetview, which is not unlike the road warriors driving around to personally check every inch of road.
Caught Mapping — View the video on the Internet Archive site, with more information and different video formats to download.
Back of the Mike (1938) shows a young boy listening to the latest episode in an adventure radio program. Old Pete Belden and his niece Betty are driving the Flying B payroll across the desert when they are attacked by bandits, complete with cowboy hats and bandanas!
At first we see the story as if it were a movie, and we see the scenes that the boy is seeing in his mind. Then the view switches, and we’re in the radio studio, where we see the actors reading from their scripts and the sound effects men producing the sounds of horse hooves, cars, doors, fire, gunshots and more. The film keeps switching, showing us the boy in his bedroom, the Western scenes in his head, and the smooth operation of the radio study producing this fantasy.
This film is a great look at how radio dramas were made. I’ve seen other behind-the-scenes looks at old time radio studios in action, but I thought this one was particularly effective, contrasting the drama produced by the imagination of the listener with what’s really happening in the studio.
Back of the Mike was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, a Detroit-based company run by Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy. Jam Handy produced hundreds of short educational and industrial films. This is one of many in the Prelinger Archives available through the Internet Archive site.