Dr Frank Baxter & Bell Labs Films
July 3, 2011 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Frank C. Baxter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He played Dr. Research in the Bell Labs Science Series, beginning in 1956 with Our Mr. Sun.

The first four films in the series were produced by Frank Capra. The ninth film in the series, The Restless Sea, is an anomaly because Dr. Baxter is replaced by Walt Disney.

Hard to obtain before transferred to video and now DVD, the Bell Labs films starring Dr. Baxter are probably the most influential documentaries seen by Americans now living.

Dr. Baxter shows up in some unexpected places. His first film credit is The Mole People. Craig Baldwin used part of The Unchained Goddess in his collage film, Mockup On Mu. Even fifty years later, Dr. Baxter can still kick Glen Beck's ass.

Oddly enough, then only previously I could find.
posted by warbaby (18 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Not TV's Frank, then?
posted by maryr at 10:46 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our Mr. Sun?

The Unchained Goddess?

This guy was a full-bore, nature-worshiping Pagan.
posted by jamjam at 11:06 AM on July 3, 2011

You say that like its a bad thing
posted by wheelieman at 11:12 AM on July 3, 2011

Those were astounding. I remember seeing them when I was a kid. Back in the 1970's, they all came out on laserdisc, and I bought the one about weather, which was the one I remembered best.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:14 AM on July 3, 2011

"...you can be reached by dialing your Bellboy phone number"

"This assumes anyone wants to talk to you."
posted by The Whelk at 11:28 AM on July 3, 2011

posted by The Whelk at 11:28 AM on July 3, 2011

Oh man, I remember 'Hemo the Magnificent', primarily because the first half ended with the showing of a beating human heart during open-heart surgery. We were then dismissed to lunch, where, prominently on my tray, was an enormous broiled whole tomato.

I didn't eat very much that day.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also there is a very strange elemental wrongness to seeing 50s-era shorts in full crisp DVD prints. It's an odd feeling.
posted by The Whelk at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2011

Our Mr. Sun was about the only "educational film" that we found interesting back then.
posted by tomswift at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2011

Wow, it's really Nostalgia Day on MetaFilter. I remember these too - they were one of the high points of elementary school, especially The Unchained Goddess. Do they still show these in school?
posted by Quietgal at 12:24 PM on July 3, 2011

These were very cool. I remember Hemo best, but I think we saw all of them. Really an improvement over those black and white school films that had bad sound and were so boring.
posted by mermayd at 12:32 PM on July 3, 2011

In all seriousness, Dr Frank's "two words" that describe blood and the circulatory system were my introduction to the wonder and scope of evolution. Dinosaurs were cool and all, but the first time I saw Hemo the Magnificent, I walked around for days thinking "OMG! I'm coral reef!"
posted by SPrintF at 12:36 PM on July 3, 2011


You youngsters with your Youtubes and your disco may laugh, but as a child I visited the Bell Phone pavilion at Disneyland and used an actual "videophone" to chat with someone at the 1964 New York World's Fair. After 30 seconds of "I'm in California!" "I'm in New York!", we had nothing left to chat about.

I saw the flaw in Facebook 50 years ago.
posted by SPrintF at 12:44 PM on July 3, 2011

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED those movies in grade school.
posted by hwestiii at 3:29 PM on July 3, 2011

Seconding the love.

Also in the '60s, AT&T's Bell Labs also sent a live science demo ("magic show") out on tour to elementary schools, at least around the Northeast. Their annual visit was a high point of the school year for young proto-nerds. And I wish I could find more information about it.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 4:27 PM on July 3, 2011

It tickles me that other people remember Hemo's "sea water" as well. (Or was it salt water? I only had a chance to rewatch half of the clip). I can't believe how much that short has stuck with me... it's the only one I had seen. I will be watching the rest (after I finish cooking for picnics and watching fireworks for the 4th.)
posted by maryr at 9:26 PM on July 3, 2011

My son comes home to tell me of the Pixar movies he's seen in school. I fucking weep for our loss. The most non educational film I remember seeing in school was Chariots of the Gods? While it may not be considered science, it was mind opening for it's value of a non standard point of view
posted by Redhush at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2011

most influential documentaries:
The films are seldom used in schools today, mainly because of their old-fashioned (and undeniably hilarious, in an ironic way) combination of science, pro-capitalist propaganda, and blatant religious moralizing. Several even begin with a recitation of Scripture.

Considering all of the wonderful applied science that came out of Bell Labs (where everybody who was anybody wanted to work), it's a shame that such claptrap was associated with them. But, then, it was very much an "establishment" establishment. Complete with all the dinosaur crap still sucking us down by the feet.
posted by Twang at 6:43 PM on July 4, 2011

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