Thursday, June 28, 2012

Short Film: One Got Fat: Bicycle Safety (USA, 1963)

Another fun film found on that fabulous repository of filmic flotsam, the Internet Archives, a website full of surprising finds like this one. A children's safety film that was still shown in schools well into the 70s – we, in any event, are sure we saw it as a prepubescent. And like the best of such school films, One Got Fat: Bicycle Safety is one surreal film – can you think of a better way to communicate bicycle safety than to put monkey masks onto a bunch of kids and then show what might happen if your ride carelessly for as little as ten blocks? Like some surreally childish version of a body-count film, they get eliminated one after the other for doing unsafe maneuvers on their bikes: if making a turn without hand signaling wasn't enough, on the way to having their picnic at the nearby park, the monkey kids face steamrollers, manholes and more. (Of course, not all fall to the wayside, there is a Final Boy – the one that got fat.)
One Got Fat: Bicycle Safety is narrated by Edward Everett Horton Jr. (18 March 1886 – 29 September 1970), seen here to the left, an extremely prolific character actor who started his career in the silents; among his numerous films prior to becoming a television staple are Lonely Wives (1931 / full film), Alice in Wonderland (1933 / trailer), The Gay Divorcee (1934 / trailer), The Devil Is a Woman (1935 / first 10 minutes), Lost Horizon (1937 / boring trailer), The Body Disappears (1941 / trailer), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944 / trailer) and Lady on a Train (1945). When he died at the age of 83, Edward Everett Horton Jr. was survived by his "long-time companion", fellow character actor Gavin Gordon (of The Bat [1959 / trailer / full film], Chicago Confidential [1957 / trailer], I Killed That Man [1941 / full film], Bride of Frankenstein [1935 / trailer], and Mystery of the Wax Museum [1933 / trailer], among others), who died 13 years later on 7 April 1983.
One Got Fat: Bicycle Safety was written and directed by Dale Jennings, a man of greater presence than his slight entry at imdb – which says that he made but this one film – would indicate. A little detective work on the net casts some light upon the man: search for the production company of the film, "Interlude Films", with "Dale Jennings" and you come up with a "William Dale Jennings" who, as you can see by the business card to the left, ran Interlude Films. (The jpg of the business card was taken from We here at A Wasted Life think it safe to assume that the two Dales are one and the same – indeed, in the rather lengthy entry on "William Dale Jennings" at Wikipedia, it is mentioned that Jennings would call himself by his middle name, Dale, so as to differentiate himself from his father, his namesake. Likewise, the entry itself, which never even mentions his involvement with Interlude Films or filmmaking, is headed simply "Dale Jennings". Whatever his name, Jennings was far more of an interesting figure than the "William Dale Jennings" in imdb – which points out that his novel, The Cowboys, became the John Wayne film, The Cowboys (1972 / trailer), which was made into a one-year TV series in 1974 entitled The Cowboys – would imply.
William Dale Jennings, who died in La Mirada, CA, on 11 May 2000, was born on 21 October 1917 in Amarillo, Texas, and raised in Denver, Colorado. (The photo of him to the left was also taken from After graduating from high school, he left for Southern California, where he joined the Lester Horton dance troupe and, eventually, founded his own theater company, Theatre Caravan, for which he wrote and produced around 60 plays. In 1942 he joined the US Army and, prior to his honorable discharge in 1946, was awarded a World War II Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and a Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one bronze star.
Somewhere before the war and in LA, he married one of the actresses from his troupe; after the war and back in LA, they divorced – it was, to tell the truth, a lavender marriage: in November, 1950, he became one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society, one of the first homosexual rights organizations in the United States.
Two years later, in 1952, Jennings pulled a George Michael: he got arrested for allegedly soliciting a police officer in a public toilet in MacArthur Park (then known as Westlake Park). Instead of just ducking and covering or slinking away as well as he could, Jennings fought back: he got a lawyer and became one of the first men to contest such charges. The ten-day trial, beginning on June 23, 1952, ended with an 11 to 1 vote for acquittal – the court case, the outcome and the publicity are now viewed as an early but important event in the gay liberation movement in that it helped inspire others to fight similar cases and, in this sense, was an early step in the eventual decriminalization of "crimes against nature".
Of importance to all people no matter what their preference is Jennings role in the freedom of speech. Following his acquittal for using the rest room at MacArthur Park, Jennings was instrumental in the creation of One Magazine which, to quote Wikipedia, "was the only publication that openly spoke positively of homosexuality and fought for equal legal and social status for homosexuals." Although anything but a sex magazine, in 1954 an entire mailing was confiscated by the LA Postmaster as being obscene; this led to another court case that ended as part of a landmark 1958 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roth vs. United States that "redefined the Constitutional test for determining what constitutes obscene material unprotected by the First Amendment". Thanks to One Magazine, in other words, your Granddaddy could subscribe to Playboy and your Daddy to Hustler and, further along the way, we can get Eros Comix in the mail.
Thank you, Mr Jennings, for fighting back; thank you, for playing a role in making the type of stuff we like to read legal to send in the mail; and thank you for this truly weird educational film, One Got Fat: Bicycle Safety.

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