Sid Davis, Cautionary Kid-Film Producer

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Sid Davis was an actor and stand-in for John Wayne during the 1940s and '50s who went on to make some well-known films for children about the dangers of drugs, drinking and running with scissors. He died October 16 in Palm Desert at age 90.


Journalist Ed Bradley is not the only remarkable American we're remembering today. Filmmaker Sid Davis, who made educational movies back in the '50s, has also died. He made more than 180 of these often sensational and cautionary short movies. He died from lung cancer.

NPR's Steve Proffitt has more on Sid Davis and the films he created, many of which are still etched into the minds of people who went to school 50 years ago.

STEVE PROFFITT: The teacher would draw the blinds, turn down the lights, and fire up the 16-mm projector. It was always ominous music and a storyline that warned of many dangers.

(Soundbite of movie “The Terrible Truth”)

Unidentified Woman: I guess I knew about reefer - that's marijuana - ever since junior high. Some of the boys smoke them, the ones who couldn't get along, who were afraid of everything. You know, the ones with no backbone.

PROFFITT: In the 1951 short The Terrible Truth, a young woman tries marijuana and ends up hooked on heroine. The film was typical of the movies of Sid Davis, always depicting otherwise nice kids who strayed somehow and then got into trouble.

Sid Davis had come to Hollywood from Chicago after World War II and first found work as an extra, stand-in and stunt double. He said he was inspired to make his movies after he had difficulty getting his 5-year-old daughter to understand his warnings about avoiding strangers. That theme, the danger of strangers, played out again and again in his films.

(Soundbite of movie “Boys Beware”)

Unidentified Man #1: The decision is always yours, and your whole future may depend on making the right one. So no matter where you meet a stranger, be careful if they are too friendly.

PROFFITT: This is a film called Boys Beware from 1961.

(Soundbite of movie “Boys Beware”)

Unidentified Man #1: One never knows when a homosexual is about. He may appear normal and it may be too late when you discover he is mentally ill. So keep with your group and don't go off alone with strangers, unless you have the permission of your parent or teacher.

PROFFITT: While such films seem quaint at best in today's world, during the 1950s and '60s they were widely screened in schools. Many Sid Davis films were distributed by Encyclopedia Britannica. They ran the gamut of adolescent dangers, from failure to exercise care when crossing the street to the pitfalls of drinking and driving.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man #2: Those beach party beers were a contributing factor in your accident. If you hadn't had them, you might have hit the break pedal a second or two earlier. Those skid marks on the asphalt would've stopped on the right side, not the wrong side of that young woman and her daughter.

PROFFITT: Many of the actors in the films were friends and family of Sid Davis, and he was indeed the Roger Corman of educational films. Many were made with budgets under $1,000. But for anyone who sat through them in a darkened classroom, Sid Davis' movies remain vivid reminders of a simpler but maybe scarier time.

Steve Proffitt, NPR News.

(Soundbite of Sid Davis film)

Unidentified Man #3: In the middle of the 20th century in the United States of America, hundreds and hundreds of teenage boys and girls are becoming hopeless dope addicts every year. It's fantastic. It's unbelievable and it's terrible, but it's true.

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