The road to Bert the Turtle's film DUCK AND COVER being chosen to join CITIZEN KANE, GONE WITH THE WIND and other landmark motion pictures in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry was a long one. Here then is a detailed chronology of Bert's triumphant, albeit slow, march into history...
LATE 1940's: Archer Productions, Inc. is created by former Disney animator Lars E. Calonius in New York City. The company, which is a vehicle to market the young artist's work to various advertising agencies, is provided its name by Leo M. Langlois, an advertising executive and Calonius's brother-in-law. Calonius is Archer's official founder and first president.
1950 [ APPROX. ]: Archer moves into its first floor offices at 35 W. 53rd Street in Manhattan.
MAY 31, 1950: Preliminary contact with the Department of Defense's Pictorial Branch is undertaken to try to obtain government contract work for Archer by its Director of Production, Thomas C. Craven, a former Universal Pictures producer.
AUGUST 1950-APRIL 1951: Atomic air raid "cover" drills are instituted in the school systems of cities deemed to be likely target areas for the Soviet Union.
FEBRUARY 1951: Archer's commercial production business has grown dramatically since its inception. At the urging of Archer's Thomas C. Craven, Leo Langlois leaves his position as Executive Producer of Television at the Manhattan advertising agency of Cecil & Presbrey and joins Archer as Executive Producer and Vice President.
MARCH 28, 1951: Dallas Halverstadt, Special Assistant to the Assistant to the President of the United States, Dr. John Steelman, announces in a letter to Dr. Steelman that arrangements have been completed with private sector film industry companies to produce and distribute nine official Federal Civil Defense motion pictures. One of the main companies that is part of this arrangement is Castle Films which was purchased by United World Films, Inc. (itself a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, Inc.) in 1947. Castle will be the main distributor for the civil defense film series.
APRIL 1951 [ APPROX. ]: Leo Langlois is contacted by James M. Franey, President of United World Films, Inc. Franey suggests that Archer bid on working on some of the civil defense films in the government series that his company's subsidiary, Castle, will be distributing.
APRIL 1951 [ APPROX. ]: Archer is chosen by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to produce two of the nine civil defense motion pictures. One of the two films has the government chosen working title of "Civil Defense for Schools." This title will ultimately become DUCK AND COVER. The other film concerns civil defense in urban centers and will eventually be called OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT.
APRIL 1951 [ APPROX. ]: Leo Langlois recruits his friend and former colleague from the Campbell-Ewald ad agency, Ray J. Mauer, to write the scripts for CIVIL DEFENSE FOR SCHOOLS and OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT. Mauer obtains permission from Campbell-Ewald management to write the scripts.
MAY 21-22, 1951: Leo Langlois and Ray Mauer travel to Washington, DC to attend a two day conference with representatives of the National Education Administration (NEA); school teachers from around the country; and representatives of the FCDA. The meeting takes place at NEA headquarters. The purpose of the conference is to receive input from the assembled parties for Archer's script on the subject of "civil defense for schools." At some point during the two days, assistant headmistress of the Potomac School of McLean, Virginia Miss Helen Seth-Smith states: "We have duck and cover drills in our school." The suggestion provides focus for the remainder of the conference and becomes the theme of the film as well as for ancillary "tie-ins" to the film.
MAY 1951: Anthony Rizzo, a producer-director from the ABC television affiliate in Chicago is hired as a director for Archer by Leo Langlois based on a reference provided by Bill Ballenger, a suspense book writer who worked with Rizzo in Chicago on a weekly dramatic show that Ballenger wrote scripts for. Ballenger had also worked with Langlois on a separate project.
MAY 1951: Leo Langlois is elected to the board of Archer.
MAY-OCTOBER 1951: Pre-production on DUCK AND COVER gets underway. Drafts of the script are written by Ray Mauer. Mauer incorporates the names of his children (Paul, Patty and Tony) for characters in the film (although his children do not act in the film). At some point during the process Mauer suggests that animation be used for the character Bert the Turtle. Lars Calonius begins producing sketches of the character. Sketches and scripts are reviewed in Washington and are met, for the most part, with enthusiastic approval.
OCTOBER 1951: Leo Langlois is elected president of Archer after Lars Calonius decides he no longer wants to deal with the administrative aggravations of running one of the busiest production companies on the east coast. Calonius becomes Art Director for Archer.
As the company's new president Langlois secures a commitment of Wall Street financing in the amount of $350,000 for Archer's anticipated expansion into network television series programming. Donald S. Stralem, senior partner with Hallgarten & Co., and leader of the investment partnership, suggests that Archer find a permanent production studio to reduce overhead (Archer had been renting soundstage space from Fox Movietone News). Archer eventually purchases a former Moose Lodge at 41-01 Broadway in Long Island City. Archer spends over $25,000 converting the property to become a state-of-the-art production facility. The Manhattan office is maintained as a sales office.
NOVEMBER 1951: DUCK AND COVER, a live action-animated short subject film is shot primarily at PS 152 in Astoria Queens as well as in surrounding areas. Teachers and students are used as "actors." One of Leo Langlois's children, Leo "Hitch" Langlois III plays the character of "Tony," the boy who dives off his bicycle to "duck and cover" after the flash of the Bomb. Ray Mauer has a cameo as the civil defense warden who helps "Tony" up out of the gutter. Anthony Rizzo directs the film. Cameraman Drummond Drury uses a single 35mm Mitchell silent camera for the shoot.
Character actor, dancer and brother-in-law to drummer Buddy Rich, Carl Ritchey, is employed to provide the voice of Bert the Turtle. Character actor and frequent Archer "voice" contractor Robert Middleton provides narration for the film. The commercial jingle songwriting team of Carr & Corday write Bert the Turtle's theme song with guidance by Leo Langlois. Jazz musician Dave Lambert arranges and records the song for the film.
NOVEMBER 28, 1951: An FCDA newsletter, FOR YOUR INFORMATION, which is published for civil defense workers and volunteers, reports "A 16-page picture booklet for children titled 'Duck and Cover' will be shipped from FCDA headquarters "before December 1." The newsletter also reports "a 10-minute 16mm film titled 'Duck and Cover' from which the booklet has been adapted, is in production by Archer Productions, Inc., New York City, in cooperation with FCDA and the National Education Association. It is expected to be ready about the first of the year. You will be notified when it has been placed in distribution." The newsletter also advises readers of "a radio transcription of 14 minutes, 25 seconds, based on the film. Regional, State, and Territorial CD directors will find a script enclosed. Recordings of this material will be shipped from Hollywood on December 10, in accordance with Advisory Bulletin No. 65. Each record will have 'Bert the Turtle' – a children's program, on one side with 10 spot announcements on 'This is Civil Defense' on the other."
DECEMBER 1951 [ APPROX. ]: OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT, the other civil defense film assigned to Archer by the FCDA, is directed by Anthony Rizzo.
DECEMBER 1, 1951: Bert to make his bow. The Herald Tribune Bureau headline blares: "U.S. Putting Out 3,000,000 Leaflets in which 'Bert' Says: 'Duck and Cover.'" The first paragraph continues: "A new cartoon character, 'Bert the Turtle,' will make his bow next week to American school children, but he will have a grim purpose—teaching them how to 'duck and cover' in the event of an atomic bombing. The FCDA is distributing to states and territories 3,000,000 copies of a 16 page illustrated booklet entitled 'Bert the Turtle Says Duck and Cover.'"
DECEMBER 15, 1951: Thomas P. Headen, chief of the Civil Defense Administration Publication Division states to the International News Service (INS) that Bert the Turtle has cost the American taxpayer less than $20,000 and that most of this money has gone to the Government Printing Office to produce three million copies of the 16-page DUCK AND COVER booklets. Headen further states: "If there should be any criticism on this point, it should be remembered that this is the best way we have found for bringing the lessons of civil defense to 40,000,000 youngsters between the ages of 5 and 8 in the nation's metropolitan centers."
DECEMBER 18, 1951: The FCDA and NEA holds an "acceptance screening" of DUCK AND COVER in Washington, DC. An effusive letter is issued to Leo Langlois on the same date by Acting Administrator of the FCDA, J.J. Wadsworth, authorizing Archer to use the phrase "An Official U.S. Civil Defense Film" in conjunction with the promotion of the motion picture. The letter also states "We consider that you have done an outstanding job in translating into film the principles of self preservation which the school children of America must learn."
JANUARY 1952 [ APPROX. ]: Ray Mauer leaves his position at Campbell-Ewald to join Archer as its primary copy writer. Mauer also helps promote DUCK AND COVER by appearing on several radio and television programs to discuss the film.
JANUARY 7, 1952: DUCK AND COVER and OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT are shown publicly for the first time at the debut of the Alert America civil defense convoy in Washington, DC. The premiere of the two films coincides with the opening of Washington's Civil Defense Week as proclaimed by the District Commissioners. The Alert America show, which continues through January 12, will be open from 1 to 10PM during the week and from 9AM to 10PM on Saturday.
JANUARY 17, 1952: Millard Caldwell, Administrator of the FCDA, issues a letter to Leo Langlois congratulating him on his "very fine film production DUCK AND COVER." The letter also notes that the film was "so well received at the Alert America Convoy Exhibit here in Washington last week that it was shown continuously during the entire week." No mention is made in the letter of the public reaction to OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT.
On the same day Caldwell issues a separate letter to Langlois authorizing use of the term "An Official U.S. Civil Defense Film" in conjunction with OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT. The letter is noteworthy for its muted appreciation of the film as compared to the more enthusiastic letter issued for DUCK AND COVER.
JANUARY 24, 1952: DUCK AND COVER is shown to school officials and the press at a preview theater at 729 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Following the screening John C. Cocks, Board of Education representative on New York City's civil defense staff speaks on the importance of the film's "mental hygiene approach, its underlying qualities of cheerfulness and optimism."
On the same day, the New York Post features the headline "Pupils to See ‘Bert Turtle' Duck A-Bomb" on page 3 of the paper.
FEBRUARY 6, 1952: Newspapers across the country report on the famous Farrow "Family Plan" for civil defense. The publicity stunt, most likely the handiwork of Archer publicity man Milt Mohr, features a Farrow family pose surrounding a giant cardboard sign of Bert the Turtle. Standing to the left of Bert is none other than a 7-year-old Maria de Lourdes Farrow (aka Mia Farrow).
FEBRUARY 7, 1952: Milt Mohr issues his four-page "DUCK AND COVER: Introducing Bert the Turtle" pressbook to accompany prints of the film. The release provides the credits for the film as well as a synopsis and the "firsts" associated with the film: "It is the first motion picture using the atomic bomb as the subject to be slanted toward children; the first film to receive the stamp of approval from the National Education Association; the first to receive endorsements from both New York State and Federal Civil Defense Administrations and, above all, the first film about the atomic bomb in which no atomic explosion is seen."
FEBRUARY 23, 1952: DUCK AND COVER is broadcast on television for the first time. It is aired at 6PM on channel 2, WCBS TV, in New York City. Many newspaper television listings classify the film as a "documentary."
MARCH 6, 1952: DUCK AND COVER is shown for the first time in a New York City classroom to 32 6th graders at P.S. 33 at W. 27th St. The March 7th edition of the New York Herald Tribune trumpets the film's positive reaction with the headline "10-Min. ‘Duck and Cover' a Hit at Class Premiere; Every School to See It." Among the students who see the film are Betty Ann Stackhouse and Marine Yull. The Herald Tribune quotes the student consensus of the film as being "very instructive," "not too frightening for children," "interesting and funny in spots" and "not too babyish" or "too grown up."
APRIL 13, 1952: In the category of "Children's (out-of-school listening)" the FCDA's Audio-Visual Division is issued an award "in recognition of outstanding educational value and distinguished radio production" for BERT THE TURTLE, the radio version of DUCK AND COVER which had no Archer involvement. The award is presented by the Institute for Education by Radio-Television, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
MAY 1, 1952: Forrest E. Corson, chief of public information for the Nassau County (NY) Civil Defense responds to criticisms leveled by the Levittown Education Association (LEA) that DUCK AND COVER presents "terrifying concepts" to young children. The LEA reported previously that it had received numerous complaints from parents claiming that their children had suffered "traumatic effects including nightmares, fear of bright lights, and had verbally expressed fear of imminent A-bomb raids." In his defense of the movie Corson states "It is unfortunate that the critics of ‘Duck and Cover,' in their misapprehension over the psychological effect of the film on school children, are unwittingly following the Communist party line laid down in their official publications. It is the Communist policy to deride Civil Defense wherever possible, to question and ridicule its necessity, and to ‘abhor' the effect of ‘air raid drills on tender impressionable young minds.' (Quotes are from the Daily Worker). I am sure that all thinking parents want their children to be prepared for catastrophe. It is exactly what Civil Defense is trying to do."
MAY 2, 1952: "A Parade Entry with a Moral." In tribute to Bert the Turtle's civil defense message, eleven students from Rock Island, Washington don Bert costumes and "waddle" behind civil defense banners in a school parade. The May 8, 1952 Wenatchee Washington Journal described the event thusly: "Marching behind banners with a civil defense theme, proclaiming ‘We do as Bert the Turtle says, ‘When alerted, duck and cover.' The 60 pupils followed Bert's advice at the sound of a hand siren. Eleven boys and girls dressed as turtles were Bert in person, waddling along somewhat handicapped by their burlap-and-wire hardshells. They wore distinguishing hard hats and small black bow ties."
MAY 1952 [ APPROX. ]: Actor Raymond Massey pulls out of Archer's first major bid for television series programming, AMERICAN ALMANAC which was in pre-production for CBS. Massey prefers instead to tour with his popular Broadway show JOHN BROWN'S BODY. Expensive sets had been built and scripts had been written for the historical anthology program. Other casting had also been done, but the series had been "pitched" with Massey as the star. Wall Street investors quickly revoke their commitment of money to Archer. Archer rapidly begins drowning in debt. A primary problem is the cost of film development and Archer's inability to pay processing labs for their prints.
JUNE 12, 1952: DUCK AND COVER loses the "Oscar" in the category of "Best Civil Defense Film" at the fifth annual Cleveland Film Festival, a festival devoted to excellence in instructional films. DUCK AND COVER is bested by the British motion picture WAKING POINT produced by British Information Services. The other nominees were MODERN MINUTE MEN (Produced by The Ohio Bell Telephone Co.), SURVIVAL UNDER ATOMIC ATTACK (Produced by the FCDA – Castle Films), RED CROSS REPORT (Produced by National American Red Cross), TARGET U.S.A. (Produced by Cornell Film Co.) and A VOICE SHALL BE HEARD (Produced by General Electric Co.). The competition screenings were held in the El Rancho Room of the Hotel Carter. Chairman of this category was Mrs. Elizabeth Alexander, Cleveland Civil Defense.
JUNE 1952 [ APPROX. ]: Lars Calonius leaves Archer to start his own company "Lars Calonius Productions, Inc."
JULY 1952: Archer is dissolved with studio and facilities sold to a private group to satisfy debts to creditors. The private group also assumes the lease to the Manhattan sales office. The government purchases back rights to DUCK AND COVER and OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT for $13,000. Leo Langlois lays off the remaining Archer staff, but he himself remains on until January 1953 as an independent producer.
NOVEMBER 17, 1952: Members of the Committee for the Study of War Tensions in Children brand DUCK AND COVER as an "actual disservice" to children at a special screening of the film held for psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, educators and parents at the New Lincoln School at 31 W. 110th St. Present at the panel discussion following the screening are panel leader, Dr. Peter Neubauer, psychiatrist and director of the Council Child Development Center; Dr. Kenneth Clark, psychologist, Northside Center for Child Development; Cornelia Goldsmith, chief of day care and foster homes division, Department of Health; and Dr. Exie Welsch, psychiatrist, secretary of the American Orthopsychiatric Association. Dr. Stella Chess, psychiatrist, Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital is chairman of the meeting. Most speakers agree with the Committee's assessment of DUCK AND COVER as a motion picture with "serious limitations" that is more apt to "promote anxiety and tension in children" than to help them in self preservation against the atomic bomb.
JULY 1959: The revised version of the Office of Civil Defense and Mobilization motion picture catalog ("Motion Pictures on Civil Defense" Revised July 1959. MP-2-6) includes DUCK AND COVER (among quite a few other films including one titled CONELRAD) in its list of "obsolete" films. The entry in the catalog reads: "Continuous modifications in non-military defense planning is necessary to keep abreast of advances in weapons technology. Because of these changing plans, much of the information provided in the following films is no longer accurate."
MARCH 1982: Thirty years later Bert the Turtle and the phrase "Duck and Cover" are resurrected for a new generation via the documentary THE ATOMIC CAFE directed by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty and Pierce Rafferty. Bert is back to stay in the post-ironic age.
JUNE 23, 1995: Lars Calonius, the man who animated Bert the Turtle and founded Archer Productions, Inc. passes away in a suburb of Los Angeles.
AUGUST 6, 1999: THE IRON GIANT, an animated film that features a scene in homage to DUCK AND COVER, is released.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: The terrorist attacks on the United States lead to Homeland Security and an era of panic that prompt legions of headline writers to invoke the phrase "Duck and Cover" almost daily. Remember "Duct and Cover"?
2002: CONELRAD begins researching the history of DUCK AND COVER and over the next two years conducts interviews with key film participants and accumulates hundreds of archival documents.
APRIL 17, 2003: Leo Langlois, Executive Producer of DUCK AND COVER and OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT and former President of Archer Productions, Inc. passes away in Conroe, Texas.
FEBRUARY 12, 2004: Anthony Rizzo, director of DUCK AND COVER and OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT passes away in Los Angeles.
MARCH 1, 2004: CONELRAD launches a campaign to have DUCK AND COVER inducted into the Library of Congress's National Registry of Film for historic preservation.
DECEMBER 28, 2004: DUCK AND COVER is among 25 historically significant films selected by the Library of Congress's National Registry of Film for permanent preservation. CONELRAD would like to thank its readers and others for lobbying the Library of Congress to bestow this final honor on Archer Production, Inc.'s Cold War masterpiece. Bert lives!