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Human Beginnings (1950)

7 Jul

After the phenomenal success of Human Growth (1947), a sex education film for 7th grade children, my man Lester F. Beck heard enough feedback from parents and teachers that there ought to be a film for even younger children. He wrote Human Beginnings (watch it online here) especially for children in kindergarten and first grade. Eddie Albert produced this film, too, and although the E.C. Brown Trust wasn’t involved in this edition, they sponsored later different editions titled Human and Animal Beginnings

Human Beginnings has all of Beck’s signature elements: a mixed gender classroom, a warm and competent teacher who guides the students through productive discussion (and who speaks directly to the camera to encourage the students watching the film to do the same), lots of visual aids, and a white nuclear family calmly discussing human reproduction as part of a normal evening together. His goal was to demonstrate how “sex talk” could take place with kids of all ages in the classroom and family room without drama or embarrassment.

babies

In Lester Beck’s progressive world, both boys and girls like to play with dolls.

In this film, the students make pictures about what they think a baby looks like when it is still inside the mother. As the children share their artwork with the rest of the class, it is clear that the children have different attitudes and feelings about babies and their own parents.

egg

“The baby starts as an egg.”

pocket

“The baby is in the mother’s pocket.”

belly

“This mother is having triplets.”

The second half of the film shows Tommy and his parents as they get ready for the birth of a new baby. Thanks to his parents giving him plenty of information ahead of time and involving him as much as possible, Tommy easily accepts his new sister and eagerly helps with her care.

book

The best resource for sex information turns out to be Lester Beck’s own book, “Human Growth”!

canal

Visual aid within the visual aid.

 

breast

Breastfeeding the new baby.

Human Beginnings was critiqued for not offering enough details about how babies actually get inside the mama, and one professional association actually warned against showing the film to its intended audience. Lester Beck himself downplayed the sex education uses of the film in a 1950 New York Times article: “The film is designed as a clinical instrument for use by classroom teachers to uncover both the thoughts and feelings of children toward their parents and their brothers and sisters–particularly their younger brothers and sisters.”

lee

Poor Lee says that “some mothers don’t want their babies,” so he drew a mother without a head or arms.”

 

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Human Growth (1947)

29 May

beck

As part of my lifelong effort/obsession to promote the work of Lester F. Beck, I just nominated the venerable Human Growth (1947) for the National Film Registry. Here’s my pitch (vote early and often!):

 Human Growth (1947) is an educational film of great cultural and historic significance, although now mostly forgotten, with only a handful of prints left in existence.  Human Growth was the first sex education film shown widely in schools in the United States. At its peak of popularity in the 1950s, there were over 1,000 prints in circulation. “Life” magazine did a glowing five-page feature story on the film in 1948. Favorable reviews were also in “Time,” “Better Homes & Gardens,” and other popular magazines.

human_growth

The film was sponsored by the E.C. Brown Trust, a social hygiene organization affiliated with the University of Oregon (UO), and based in Portland, Oregon. The Trust hired a UO psychology professor, Dr. Lester F. Beck, to script the film and lead the production. Beck was a nationally recognized expert in audiovisual education and had already made several educational films of his own. Eddie Albert Productions produced the film, and Sy Wexler shot the film. Wexler, who worked as a cameraman in the Signal Corps for Frank Capra on the “Why We Fight” series, went on to make hundreds of educational films through the 1970s.

 Human Growth is neither campy nor threatening, unlike many of the more well-known sex education films that came out in the 1950s-1960s.  Human Growth approaches its sensitive subject in a calm, facts-based manner. It demonstrates how families and classrooms can discuss sex openly and without embarrassment. Boys and girls are not segregated, and there is no moralizing. The film also models good pedagogical methods and exemplified how it should be used in actual classrooms. In the film, junior high students watch a film called “Human Growth” and the teacher leads them in discussion before and after the film. “Every single aspect of a film being made must have an educational purpose ultimately related to the classroom so that the film will aid the teacher, but never substitute for him,” Dr. Beck wrote in a 1964 article.

The film won every national and international award for documentary film, including the Golden Eagle Award from the Committee on International Non-theatrical Events (CINE). Thousands of schools from all over the United States and 20 countries worldwide adopted the film, with widespread approval from parents and teachers.

According to the scholar Robert Eberwein, “Although not the first sex education film shown to students in public schools in the United States, [Human Growth] has a legitimate claim as being the most important of its kind since it received national attention and would become one of the most widely viewed sex education films for children ever made”(“Sex Ed: Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire,” Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999).

 Human Growth went through five subsequent editions to keep pace with current teenagers, most recently in 1998. The first edition from 1947, however, is exceptionally rare, and the film itself has fallen into obscurity. The E.C. Brown Trust, while still in existence as a non-profit foundation, no longer has any of the many films it sponsored. I only recently discovered the master elements in a UO Libraries off-site storage facility. The E.C. Brown Trust funded the cost of a new internegative and digital transfer of the film, and it can be viewed online here:  http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/2012/04/03/human-growth-1947/

Nearly 70 years after  Human Growth was seen by so many children, sex education in schools is perhaps more controversial than ever, and abstinence-only education is the unfortunate norm for many young people in the United States.  Human Growth holds an important place in both the history of sex education and educational film. Its widespread acceptance and acclaim is a testament to its sensible approach and sound educational methods.  Human Growth serves as concrete proof that sex education can be an ordinary part of the school day.

Breakdown (1951) revisited

20 May

This just in: a low-res, greenish transfer of BREAKDOWN, a 1951 gem from the National Film Board of Canada [watch it here]. A nice woman in British Columbia whose mother appeared in the film contacted me to order a DVD copy after the NFB referred her to me(!) since they apparently don’t have a copy. This despite their otherwise amazing preservation efforts.

US Expansion: Oregon Country (1977)

14 Jun
Director
Producer  Coronet Instructional Films
Contributors Content consultant: Earl Pomeroy (University of Oregon)

Classroom consultant: Stephen F. Handran (North Eugene Highschool)

Length  13 min
B&W/Color  Color
UO Library Catalog description:   Describes the Lewis and Clark expedition, travel on the Oregon trail, and early pioneer life in Oregon
Call # Mb52 1977
Genre  Instructional
Rare  YES
Online  NO
Copyright status  Copyrighted
Physical condition  Fair
Oregon-related  YES

Notes:

We have the first edition of this film, which was made in 1956.  I screened this film with the eye to compare it to the first edition and see what alterations were made in the production of the second.

 

The film begins with Oregon coastline where “the great forests of the NorthWest meet the Pacific Ocean,” which is different from the first edition.  But it quickly transitions to 1840’s and pioneers on the Oregon Trail.  Like first edition, it transitions to the beginning of 19th century when Oregon was disputed land. New images and footage of nature/wildlife and reenactments of pioneers are introduced within the narrative.  Original footage from the first edition is included.  The script is altered, yet very similar.

 

The film continues on the same trajectory as the first edition with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and trading in the Oregon country.  I noticed that this film detailed the pioneers and their hardships and so humanized them more than the first edition’s rendering.

 

I was also surprised to find that there was even less mention of Native Americans and their history in the second edition, made in 1977, than the first edition which was made in 1956.

US Expansion: Oregon Country (1956)

14 Jun
Director
Producer  Coronet Instructional Films
Contributors  Educational Collaborator: Earl Pomeroy (Professor of History at the University of Oregon)
Length  15 min
B&W/Color  Black&White
UO Library Catalog description:   Describes pioneer life in Oregon and discusses the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the influence of fur traders and missionaries on the development of the Oregon Territory, and the conflicting claims of Russia, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States to lands in the Pacific Northwest
Call # Mb52
Genre  Instructional
Rare  YES
Online  NO
Copyright status  Copyrighted
Physical condition  Good
Oregon-related  YES

Notes:

On our catalog’s website it is listed as being in color but that it was also issued in black and white. The copy we have in our archive is in Black & White.

We also have the second edition of this film, made in 1977 in our archives.  I screened this film firstly for content as to be able to compare the two and see what alterations were made in the later production.

The film begins in the early 1840’s on the Oregon Trail with pioneers traveling from Missouri to the “Oregon country” and its majestic and plush natural resources.  The film then transitions to the early 19th century when Oregon country was disputed land (does not include history of Native Americans) and continues into the Lewis and Clark Expedition commissioned by Jefferson. Details trading history, specifically fur trade, in the Oregon country.

Switches back to the Oregon Trail, the arduous jouney, and how the trail passed through “Indian Country”… the film demonstrates, via narrator and reenactments that for the most part they met in peace and friendliness and that some served as guides further into the west.

Details how in1846 Oregon Territory, under United States jurisdiction was declared and ends with pioneers building the community and helping in expansion of the United states from the Rockies to the Pacific.

Human and Animal Beginnings, 2nd Ed. (1980)

14 Jun
Director
Producer  E.C. Brown Foundation/Wexler Films (Los Angeles)
Contributors  Made possible with grant from The Foundation for Medical Education of the Los Angeles County Medical Association
Length  15 min
B&W/Color  Color
UO Library Catalog description:   Uses the reproduction of small animals to introduce children to human reproduction. Emphasizes the role of families in caring for the newborn. For elementary grades
Call # Mb278
Genre  Instructional
Rare  YES
Online  NO
Copyright status  Copyrighted
Physical condition  Good
Oregon-related  YES

Notes:

The E.C. Brown Foundation gave a private financial boost for family life and sex education in Oregon starting in the 1930’s.  The three-fold purpose of the then trust and now foundation were 1) the social hygiene on behalf of the youth of Oregon, 2) a reverence for the married state, and 3) the prevention of sexual abuse especially venereal disease.

The first edition of this film, which we have online, was created by Lester F. Beck, an Associate Professor of Psychology as well as a Secretary Treasurer at the University of Oregon.  He also wrote the script for the E.C. Brown Trust film Human Growth, which we have here in our archives as well. At the university, he created the film, Adaptive Behavior of Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel, which is a film undergoing much research and analysis by our amazing Elizabeth Peterson.

Our library’s catalog does not list who directed this edition.  Even in screening the author of this film is not credited on film.

 

Human Growth (1947)

12 Jun

Human Growth (20 min., sound, color) is credited as the first sex education film for junior high school students shown in U.S. public schools. In the 1940s, the Oregon-based E.C. Brown Trust was seeking ways to fulfill its mission and spend its endowment, and this film was the result. Dr. Lester F. Beck wrote the script and supervised the production. The Trust hired Eddie Albert Productions to produce the film, and Sy Wexler directed. Known as “the Oregon film,” it was widely acclaimed, and won numerous awards. At its peak of popularity, there were nearly 2,000 prints in circulation. Now it is extremely rare, although it is now available online on the University of Oregon Libraries website.

We’ve come to expect our vintage sex ed films to be campy and hilarious, but Human Growth takes a calm and sensible approach to this controversial topic. It exemplifies the progressive values of Lester Beck and the E.C. Brown Trust, demonstrating how parents and teachers can talk to kids about human reproduction and puberty without embarrassment or giggliness, or by using “the love life of a worm,” as Beck said. The Oregonian newspaper summed it up this way: “No birds, no bees, no moralizing.”

 

 

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