Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Remembering Dr. Frank Baxter




As a child of the 1950's, I aspired to be the greatest of heroes . . . a scientist.



They, after all, were the ones always called in at the last moment to save the earth from the gigantic radiation-mutated insects that, according to the popular sci-fi movies of the day, were - more or less- a constant menace. 


They got to work in laboratories and  work with Tesla Coils and develop ray guns and other neat stuff.  And sometimes, they even got the girl.


So my heroes on television were quite often `scientists'.   Or at least people who played scientists.  Truman Bradley, of Science Fiction Theatre, or George Nader of The Man and the Challenge, or Marshall Thompson in just about every creature-feature of the 1950s.



But the best of the white-coated breed, in my estimation was Dr. Frank Baxter  . . . or  Dr. Research as he was better known.



If you are of a baby-boomer, you probably remember this series of  slightly wacky - yet highly entertaining  - `educational films' that became a staple in schoolrooms around the nation.  Most of them were produced by Hollywood icon Frank Capra.



Frank C. Baxter (left) and Eddie Albert from Our Mr. Sun

Frank C. Baxter (left) and Eddie Albert from Our Mr. Sun



Originally, these entries in the Bell Telephone Science Series were telecast on CBS during the 1950's in prime time.     Utilizing recognizable Hollywood talent and combining live action and animation, these were not the staid, boring, science films people were accustomed to.


For an inquisitive child of the 1950's, Dr. Research made science fun!



These films fell out of favor by the early 1980's, partially due to some overt biblical references in some of the films, and partially due to 20 years of scientific progress.   



Remarkably, a good deal of the basic science holds up today, 50 years later.



There were a total of 9 of these films made, with the first 8 featuring the affable Dr. Frank Baxter, while the 9th was hosted by Walt Disney.



Our Mr. Sun (1956) is probably the best remembered of the series, and you can watch it at the link below.  I've also included links to two other,  The Alphabet Conspiracy and Gateways to the Mind.



Dr. Baxter, who was not a scientist, but rather an English Professor - passed away in 1982 at the age of 85.    But for a generation, he was the epitome of the trusted man of science.  



When viewed today, I'm sure some of these films come off hokey.   Perhaps.   This was the 1950's after all.



Personally, I find them charming and nostalgic.   I hope to find the rest of the series some day. 



I hope you'll enjoy these treasures as much as I have.







Our Mr. Sun - Frank Capra Productions
From the description in Rick Prelinger's Field Guide to Sponsored Films: Popular scientific film directed by Frank Capra that launched the Bell System Science series. Combining animation and live action, Our Mr. Sun uses a scientist-writer team to present information about the sun and its importance to humankind. NOTE: Produced in Technicolor, the film was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes; some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through...

Downloads: 5,643
Average rating: 3.5 stars (2 reviews)



Alphabet Conspiracy - Frank Capra Productions
Part of the Bell Science series. The story of the science of language and linguistics centered around plot to destroy the alphabet and all language. Features Dr. Frank Baxter and the brilliant Hans Conried.
Downloads: 3,759
Average rating: 4.5 stars (2 reviews)



Gateways to the Mind
The story of what science has learned about the human senses and how they function. Includes documentary sequences.
Downloads: 4,421
Average rating: 5.0 stars (3 reviews)


Ron said...

Dr. Baxter spoke at our graduation from San Jose State College in 1962, June 15th to be exact. I wish I had the text of his speech that afternoon.

FLA_MEDIC said...


I'm glad I'm not alone remembering the man. He was a huge influence on my early life.

There's a great remembrance of the man at:


fletcherquark said...

I was watching Frontline the other night, "Heat". They mentioned The Unchained Goddess and Dr. Frank Baxter. That sparked my interest as I had over the years thought about the Bell Science Series and wondered about them. Once I had Baxter's name in hand it was off to Google. Many thanks for the links to downloadable programs. And thanks to others sharing their memory of these grand old films.