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This week, part two of our history of Dr. Seuss’s service in Frank Capra’s Army Signal Corps unit during World War II. 

Last week we told you about Theodor Geisel’s work on the Private Snafu cartoon series, but his war-time service consisted of more than writing verse for delightful animated training films. One of Geisel’s most significant assignments was writing Your Job in Germany, an orientation film for United States Army personnel who would occupy Germany after the war was over. The project was assigned to Geisel in early 1944, over a year before the German surrender (also known as VE Day, May 8, 1945).

In Your Job in Germany, Theodor Geisel (himself a German-American) created a film that advised soldiers to remain suspicious of the German people. The film portrays warfare as part of the national culture of Germany and is a fascinating document of how the U.S. military planned to handle the occupation.

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The message of Your Job in Germany is anything but subtle. According to the film, Army personnel should be on guard at all times because all Germans are a “potential source of trouble”. Youth in particular are singled out as the nation’s next big threat. The job in Germany is to prevent “Chapter 4”, or the next war. As the narrator intones, “The German people are not our friends.”

In fact, in one of the harshest passages of Geisel’s script, viewers are advised that even Germans who appear to regret their nation’s actions during World War II should not be taken seriously:

“They cannot come back into the civilized fold just by sticking out their hand and saying ‘sorry’. Sorry? Not sorry they caused the war; they’re only sorry they lost it. That is the hand that heiled Hitler; that is the hand that dropped the bombs on defenseless Rotterdam, Brussels, Belgrade. Don’t clasp that hand. It’s not the kind of a hand you can clasp in friendship.”

Your Job in Germany uses every tool in the filmmaking kit to pound this lesson home. In order to establish warfare as an overall pattern and culture of the German people, a jarring contrast is made between Germany at peace and Germany at war. The build-up to war features quick cuts, tense music, and an insistent narrator, while Germany at peace is represented with a wistful tone, images of the countryside, folk dancing, dirndls and lederhosen. Viewers are advised not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

The non-fraternization policy introduced by Your Job in Germany was not without detractors. Geisel said himself that that was the one part of the film he did not support. The sheer impracticality of the idea led officials to ease restrictions and then completely eliminate the regulations within months of the end of the war.

Seuss1

This letter, justifying the cost of an estimate for animation work, is from the production file for Your Job in Germany.

Perhaps the best stories of Geisel’s war-time service come from Geisel himself, as told to his biographers Judith and Neil Morgan in Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel (1995).

After making his most significant contributions to the war effort while safely stationed at “Fort Fox” in California, Geisel was placed closer to the action when he was sent to Europe to screen Your Job in Germany for the approval of top generals. Traveling around France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in November of 1944 (six months before Germany’s official surrender), Geisel received a front-row seat to the vast destruction of the war, while bombings and artillery could still be heard from the front lines.

The situation got dicey when Geisel visited Bastogne, Belgium in December. The surprise German offensive that became known as the Battle of the Bulge erupted and Geisel was trapped ten miles behind enemy lines. It was three days before Geisel and his military police escort were rescued by the British.

Theodor Geisel’s final major assignment, in the summer of 1945, was to create a film that would impress upon postwar soldiers the danger of another world war. For his story, Geisel used a concept he found in a science article in the New York Times: the idea that a single glass of water contains enough energy to obliterate half of the planet.

Geisel spent three months drafting the script and storyboard for the film, only to have it ordered destroyed when officials immediately deemed it a danger to national security. Geisel would not have known at the time, but his own story was too similar to the reality of the atomic bomb that was used on Japan. (Interestingly, a similar story is told about the Private Snafu short “Going Home”, which was never released the troops. You can view it here.)

Even though Geisel’s biography reported that all records were destroyed, I had hoped there would be some shred of evidence at the National Archives—perhaps just a memo assigning the film to Theodor Geisel, or a mention of the project being cancelled. I asked archivist Patrick Osborn to look around, and despite his best efforts, he could turn nothing up. His conclusion was that it was likely we were searching for a needle in a haystack, but without the needle. (If anyone out there is inclined to take on a mission that is nearly assured to result in failure, please let me know if you find anything!)

Theodor Geisel completed his Army service January 27, 1946, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It would not, however, be the last he would see of his projects for the Army. Warner Brothers’ version of Your Job in Germany was released in 1946 as Hitler Lives and won that year’s Academy Award for best documentary short. The following year, Geisel adapted Your Job in Japan for RKO into a feature-length documentary, Design for Death, that won the 1947 Academy Award.

As we all know, Theodor Geisel did not stay in the business of making films in Hollywood for long. Over the next decade, using his penname Dr. Seuss, he would establish himself as one of the most important authors of children’s books in America.



This week in Universal News, fashionable ladies demonstrate the latest gadgets at the National Wine and Liquor Show in Chicago, including cocktail mittens and a portable keg tap that makes beach picnics a breeze. The soundtrack for this reel no longer exists, but you can read the script below to get a sense of how audiences of the time would have experienced it.

From the release sheet:

NEW BAR GADGETS EXHIBITED: Chicago, Illinois-Mechanical aids to new habits of drinking are demonstrated by pretty misses in costumes especially designed for the cocktail hour. The scene at the end of the clip shows a woman wearing a dress with the names of different liquors, or literally a cocktail dress.

From the production file:

Click through to read the narration script, a press release from the hotel that held the event, and a mounting order sheet for this week’s newsreel.

You may view the complete newsreel, including stories about an elephant race in Ohio, Austrian soldiers dragging artillery up a snowy mountain, war in Cuba, bad weather in the Midwest, and tryouts for the Seils-Sterling Circus,  here.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.



The theme this week is Geological Surveys.

Landscape

Local Identifier: 57-PS-431A, Photograph of the Grand Canyon Looking East from the Foot of Toroweap, Photograph by John K. Hillers (Powell Survey)

Portrait

Local Identifier: 57-HS-188, “Old Faithful in eruption, Yellowstone, 1872”, Photograph by William H. Jackson (Hayden Survey)

Portrait

Local Identifier: 57-HS-82, “The lower falls of Yellowstone, 1871”, Photograph by William H. Jackson (Hayden Survey)

Landscape

Local Identifier: 77-KN-137, “Shoshone Falls, Idaho, ca. 1868”, Photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan (King Survey)

57-GH-PRIND-477

Local Identifier: 57-GH-PRIND-477, Photograph of Dock in Dawson City, Yukon, June 13, 1906, Geologist L.M. Prindle

57-GH-WOOLL-1-19A

Local Identifier: 57-GH-WOOLL-1-19A, “Party at camp about 3 miles below Green River, Wyoming, July 13, 1922”, Photograph by Hydraulic Engineer Ralf R. Woolley (Taken during the USGS survey of the Green River from July through September, 1922)

57-GH-LEE-2295

Local Identifier: 57-GH-LEE-2295, “Washington, D.C., View of Great Falls of Potomac River from Virginia side, April 1922”, Photograph by Geologist Willis T. Lee

 



With the 110th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’s birth, we are reminded of his enormous impact on children’s literature. Less remembered, however, was his time spent serving in the US Army’s Information and Education Division. During World War II, Theodor Seuss Geisel inspired thousands of soldiers and honed his storytelling skills. And, before there were cats wearing hats, turtles named Yertle, and Wockets in pockets, there was Private Snafu.

Private Snafu in Rumors (Local Identifier: 111-M-930)

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of young Americans flocked to join the war effort. While the support was generally welcomed, Army officials were faced with a problem. How could they turn masses of ordinary teenagers into trained soldiers?

One possibility was training films. Training films were used during World War I, but became even more popular during World War II. Career soldiers, however, found the films unhelpful, and young recruits found them boring. Desperate for a solution, the Army turned to Hollywood.

Under the supervision of Oscar-winning director Frank Capra It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it with You (1938) – the Army commissioned a newsreel specifically for military personnel. The Army-Navy Screen Magazine (ANSM) was a biweekly production that featured a variety of short segments including propaganda, entertainment, and training films.

In order keep soldiers’ attention, Capra recruited talented men such as Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny and Private Snafu), Chuck Jones, and Theodor Geisel to create humorous, sometimes raunchy, cartoons. This team of creative minds partnered with Warner Brothers studios to create the character, Private Snafu. An example a full length ANSM newsreel can be seen below, Private Snafu’s “The Home Front” can be seen at 11:23.

Local Identifier: 111- ANSM-15

Private Snafu was intended to relate to the non-career soldier. In most of the cartoons, Snafu (an acronym for Situation Normal All Fouled Up) learns a valuable lesson when he disobeys basic army protocol. For example, in the cartoon, “Censored” (111-M-1076), Snafu sends a letter to his girlfriend back home describing an upcoming attack on a Japanese Island.  When Snafu’s girlfriend gets the letter, she talks to her mom, who continues to pass along the message. The information eventually gets back to the Japanese and the army’s operation is thwarted.  Snafu wakes up from this nightmare with the realization that he should be more careful about what he writes in his personal letters.

Some of the cartoons, such as “Going Home” (111-M-1085), clearly have Seussian influences. Others are more reminiscent of Chuck Jones and Warner Brothers. Bugs Bunny even makes a cameo in “Gas” and “Three Brothers.” While Geisel was more involved in some episodes than others, his overall influence on the cartoons was invaluable.

Censored (Local Identifier: 111-M-1076)

As you may realize, Snafu tends to be more provocative than a typical cartoon, especially by 1943 standards. Geisel and his team believed that scantily dressed women, mild foul language, and sexual innuendoes would help keep soldier’s attention. Because the Snafu series was only intended for Army personnel, producers could avoid traditional censorship.

Additionally, the cartoons often have negative depictions of the Japanese. While it is hard to condone the racist images from a modern perspective, the cartoons attempted to unite soldiers against a common enemy in order to instill basic army knowledge. While modern scholars can debate whether the means justified the ends, most accounts show that the Snafu cartoons were well-received at the time.

Going Home (Local Identifier: 111-M-1085)

Between 1943 and 1946, there were a total of 28 Snafu cartoons. They would be the last black and white cartoons produced by Warner Brothers Studios. During this time, Geisel also developed a life long friendship with Chuck Jones. Jones would later go on to produce the classic adaptation of Geisel’s book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

It is likely that Geisel’s experience with the Snafu cartoons influenced his career. Throughout these cartoons, Geisel began to use limited vocabulary and rhyme. Nine years later, he would write The Cat in the Hat using just 236 words. It is one of the best selling books of all time with over 11 million copies sold.

As we look back on the legacy of Dr. Seuss, we should not merely think of his whimsical rhymes and children’s books, but also on the men he influenced during his military career. He will certainly not be forgotten any time soon.

A playlist of more Private Snafu cartoons and Army-Navy Screen Magazines can be seen here.

 



This week in Universal News, New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras. Be sure to look closely at 0:40 to catch a glimpse of a Beatles fan surrounded by a gaggle of clowns.

From the release sheet:

THE ANNUAL NEW ORLEANS STORY: The charming, old City of New Orleans, forever young in spirit, whoops it up for Mardi Gras…the annual celebration that precedes the austere days of Lent. Tourists and townspeople let inhibitions fall where they may as they eat, drink, and dance in the streets and at famous jazz joints like Pete’s Place. “Let us be gay,” and for Pete’s sake who can blame them.

MardiGrasKing

One of the 19 kings of Mardi Gras, surrounded by revelers.

You may view the complete newsreel, including stories about the failure of a NASA test rocket, the visit of Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands to Curacao, a collection of locks in Holland, and the Flamingo Stakes in Florida, here.

 

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.

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