Today’s guest blogger is Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
The Navy film How to Succeed with Brunettes teaches male officers how to behave like gentlemen, but what were the military’s expectations for the many female recruits? Once again, staff in NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab and Special Media’s Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Branch were able to find the answer in the large accession of films received from the Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC).
In 1970, the Army began using a series of three training films produced for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). These films, released as the Military Etiquette and Grooming series, had a very specific goal. The Film Treatment for the series (found in the production files received from DVIC) notes that:
The Womens’ [sic] Army Corps is composed of young women who come to the service from every walk of life. They represent every geographic region as well as all social, economic and educational backgrounds. In this broad cross section of young America there are many who have had little, or no guidance in the important subjects of grooming…grace…manners…and social behaviour [sic].
It is the purpose of this film series, therefore, to provide this much needed guidance…and to motivate viewers in a variety of self improvement areas. One principal point of emphasis which will be made in all the films will be the repeated insistence on femininity both in appearance and manner…the point will be made that there is no conflict between functioning efficiently as a military servicewoman and in maintaining one’s feminine identity at all times. [ellipses in original]
The Pleasure of Your Company (1970), the third film in the series, has several parallels with How to Succeed with Brunettes, including an exploration of dating etiquette. The WACs watching the film would find answers to many pressing questions, including . . .
- If I go out on a dinner date, who orders? (Hint: It’s not the lady!)
- How should I introduce my date to the Chaplain and his wife? (Hint: Gentlemen are always presented to ladies!
- Which fork should I use first?!? (Um, you get the picture.)
The film also contains a fashion montage demonstrating the wild styles that were acceptable for WACs to wear when off duty. While much of this looks very silly to us today, even the WAC officers responsible for reviewing the film noticed some problems. After reading the script, one of the reviewers referred to the montage, commenting, “This sounds and looks really faddish. Won’t it date the film?” The answer, of course, is an emphatic YES.
After the films were shot and edited, they were again reviewed by personnel from the Office of the Director of the WAC. The civilian clothes featured were criticized as “extreme styles” and the reviewers wondered why “Mod styles” weren’t used instead. The reviewers also questioned the casting of the films. Though shooting occurred at Fort McClellan in Alabama, professional actresses were hired to play the main roles. The reviewers worried that “In some scenes [the actresses] overact and their exaggerated actions cause the training message to be lost because they detract from the dialogue.” It is unclear whether any changes were ever made in response to these critiques.
The Pleasure of Your Company, like How to Succeed with Brunettes, stands as an artifact of an American military and society that were to undergo sweeping changes over the following decade. By the end of the 1970s, the WAC would be integrated into the rest of the Army and society would be on its way to treating women much differently in the workplace. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how far we have come until we take a look back at the films of the past.
Researchers can access production files for these and other films, video and audio productions in the Motion Picture Research Room at NARA’s Archives II facility in College Park, MD. Production files for the DVIC series are organized by their local identification number. So, to access the production file for The Pleasure of Your Company, researchers would submit a pull slip with the Local Identification number for this film, 330-DVIC-28977.
Production files can be great sources of information concerning a film’s production and distribution. Researchers can find information regarding rights, scripts, production stills, cast and crew information, how and why a film was created and how it will be used, as well as critiques. While we don’t have production files for all of the films we hold, fortunately we have fairly extensive production files for the DVIC films and other military holdings.Coming Soon! Stay tuned to Media Matters and NARA’s YouTube page to learn about acceptable hairstyles and how walking like a man can affect your military career in Look Like a Winner and Mind Your Military Manners, the other films in the Military Etiquette and Grooming series!