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.


Gateways to the Mind (1958)

Gateways to the Mind is about what the five senses are and how they work. It was produced and directed by Owen Crump. The screenplay was by Henry F. Greenberg, a television screenwriter who was active in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to Dr. Baxter, it starred Wilder Penfield and Hadley Cantrell, with actor Karl Swenson playing the role of a cameraman (the program was set on a soundstage in a mock “behind-the-scenes” format). Chuck Jones directed the animation, which was designed by Maurice Noble. In 1966, Jones won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for directing The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965).

The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

The Alphabet Conspiracy examines language and its history. The screenplay was written by Leo Salkin and Richard Hobson. Salkin had worked for UPA (the firm that produced animations for Our Mr. Sun) both as an animator and as the writer for numerous cartoon shorts. The screenplay uses characters from Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland. It was directed by Robert B. Sinclair, who had worked on numerous films and television programs. The cast included Cheryl Callaway as Judy, Stanley Adams as the theatrical agent, and Hans Conried as the Mad HatterDaws Butler (uncredited) voiced several characters. The animated sequences were directed by Friz Freleng, who subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for directing The Pink Phink (1964).


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

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