The Bell System Science Series consists of nine television specials made for the AT&T Corporation that were originally broadcast in color between 1956 and 1964. Marcel LaFollette has described them as “specials that combined clever story lines, sophisticated animation, veteran character actors, films of natural phenomena, interviews with scientists, and precise explanation of scientific and technical concepts—all in the pursuit of better public understanding of science.” Geoff Alexander and Rick Prelinger have described the films as “among the best known and remembered educational films ever made, and enthroning Dr. Frank Baxter, professor at the University of Southern California, as something of a legend as the omniscient king of academic science films hosts.”

AT&T and its subsidiary Bell Telephone System had a history of sponsoring broadcasting such as the Bell Telephone Hour, which was a weekly radio program of classical and Broadway music. AT&T’s advertising agency, N. W. Ayer & Son, suggested that they also sponsor “television specials aimed at family audiences”, adding, “Science was a natural topic choice, given the accomplishments and reputation of the company’s research arm, Bell Telephone Laboratories.” They ultimately approached the famed filmmaker Frank Capra, who had numerous nominations and wins for the Academy Award for Best Director in the 1930s and 1940s for films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Capra produced the four films that were broadcast from 1956 to 1958. The second four films were produced with veteran filmmaker Owen Crump in charge; these were broadcast between 1958 and 1962. The final film was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, and was shown on TV in 1964. Each special explored a single subject in detail. The host for the first eight films was Frank C. Baxter, a USC professor of English and television personality who played the role of “Dr. Research” (or “Dr. Linguistics” in The Alphabet Conspiracy). The host for the last film in the series was Walt Disney.

Following their television broadcast, the films were made available free of charge for classroom use. J. B. Gilbert estimated that, by the mid-1960s, the films had been watched by five million schoolchildren and half a million college students; about 1600 copies of the film were ultimately distributed.

About Time (1962)

About Time examines time. The screenplay was written by Richard Hobson, Nancy Pitt, and Leo Salkin. Owen Crump directed, with Phil Monroe directing the animations. The film starred Richard Deacon and Les Tremayne and featured Richard Feynman who was used as a consultant.


Thread of Life (1960)

AT&T and N. W. Ayer were apparently somewhat dissatisfied with the first two Warner films, and unsuccessfully approached Capra about bidding on production of Thread of Life and About Time. Thread of Life is about heredityDNA and how it works. The screenplay was by Rowland Barber, a writer perhaps best known for the 1960 novel The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Owen Crump directed; Robert McKimson directed the animation.



color, mono, fullscreen VHS transfers, 110 minutes. DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!

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