The Jerry Fairbanks studio was responsible for a number of wonderful films throughout the 1930s and into the 1960s. While the studio is most remembered for their Paramount short subjects consisting of the “Popular Science” and “Unusual Occupations” novelty newsreels and their “Speaking Of Animals” comedies, they were also responsible for a number of terrific industrial films that employed all kinds of showmanship techniques. One of the studio’s best industrial examples is a 1948 production entitled The Inside Story of Modern Gasoline; a live action and animated 16mm Kodachrome film that was sponsored and distributed by the Public Relations Department of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week Steve Stanchfield takes a break from his weekly column to visit Los Angeles to dig through a few new archives. Filling in is our resident expert on industrial/educational/commercial films, Jonathan Boschen. Today, a look at Jerry Fairbanks – and one of his most intriguing films.
– Jerry Beck
Though it was certainly not the first industrial film produced by the studio, it was produced at a time when Mr. Fairbanks was taking on an ambitious interest in the production of sponsored motion pictures. Most recently in 1946 Fairbanks formed Jerry Fairbanks Inc., the commercial division of his company Scientific Films Inc. to produce non-theatrical films for a variety of clients. To advertise this interest the studio produced and released in 1946 a rather fascinating self promotional film entitled Old Chinese Proverb that showcased the studio’s capabilities following World War II. “Inside Story of Modern Gasoline” being one of the studio’s early industrials was a beautifully polished production which not only featured nicely shot 16mm footage, but also extremely clever and fun cartoon animation. As a result, it is well remembered today by many for the show stealing animated molecules who narrate the film and discuss the benefactors of Red and White Crown Gasoline and how it is made from Crude Oil.
The Inside Story of Modern Gasoline was one of two non-theatrical documentary films produced by Jerry Fairbanks Inc. that were commissioned by Standard Oil Indiana. The film along with it’s twin production Gasoline’s Amazing Molecules (currently missing as of June 2015) were produced to exploit the benefits of Standard’s Red Crown and White Crown gasoline brands, both of which apparently received a rebranding overhaul in 1947. The Inside Story of Modern Gasoline was made exclusively for internal showings to educate employees and franchise owners about the brands, while it’s nearly identical sister film Gasoline’s Amazing Molecules was prepared for public exhibition in communities that had a Standard Oil of Indiana gas station. The differences between the two films seem to only be with the opening credits and and how the narrator speaks to viewers, as both films have the exact same running time. The films were distributed in 16mm prints by the Public Relations Department of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana solely to Standard Oil Indiana gasoline station owners who would then exhibit Inside Story to their employees, and book public exhibitions of Gasoline’s Amazing Molecules at local community club meetings (i.e. Rotary Club), factories, and schools. To accompany public exhibitions, souvenir booklets featuring the film’s animated molecules discussing gasoline were handed out to viewers.
Both films were well received by viewers and also by various different industry trade magazines such as Business Screen Magazine and the Chemical News Parade. The reviews praised the use of the animated cartoon molecules to discuss gasoline, and also the use of color in the cartoon and Technical animation to depict certain molecules pertaining to crude oil. As stated by the reviews, the animation was a ‘joint creation’ of oil research scientist and also the animators of the Jerry Fairbanks studio to ensure that the film would be effective and educational to audiences. In addition, the magazines also applauded the films for successfully breaking down and making it easy for viewers not familiar with Gasoline to understand the various different technical aspects regarding it.
Unfortunately one detail which is absent from the reviews and from both films are credits indicating who was responsible for working on the films. As a matter of fact, Jerry Fairbanks himself is technically not even credited on either films as the company name, Jerry Fairbanks Inc., is credited. However from watching the studio’s promotional piece “Old Chinese Proverb” and viewing several of the Fairbanks’ Paramount short subjects of the same time one can piece together who may have worked on the Standard Oil Indiana films.
The musical score to the Standard Oil Indiana productions, which is an entertaining composition of it’s own, was composed by Edward Paul. Paul was the musical director at Fairbanks’ studio and was responsible for nearly all of the studios films. His Fairbanks scores tended to be well animated and frequently incorporated classical music, folk tunes, and other public domain material along with his own original work to enhance the films. One specific example of how Paul’s score brings out the details in The Inside Story of Modern Gasoline is the segment in which when the various different animated relatives of the Gasoline Molecule introduce themselves, as different original musical cues are used to emphasize their appearances, shapes, and characteristics. Other animated scenes throughout the film make use of variations of well known tunes such as Ding Dong Bell Puss Fell In The Well, Turkey In The Straw, and Mary Had A Little Lamb to emphasize certain details.
The Narration and voices in the film were contributed by a variety of different people. The narration, or more appropriately carbon-atom’s voice, was done by Ken Carpenter. Carpenter frequently narrated many of Fairbanks’ Paramount shorts and also narrated various industrial films made by Jerry Fairbanks. In addition he also did narration work for other studios such as the Jam Handy Organization and contributed his talents to a variety of different popular radio programs of the era. In terms of who voiced the other molecules it’s not quite known at the moment who did them, however it has been suggested that Stan Freberg may have contributed these assets to the the film. (Around this time, Freberg was providing his vocal talents to the studio’s highly popular Speaking Of Animals comedies.)
Aside from the music and narration is when the credits start to get a little iffy. However, one individual who certainly had a role in the production of both Standard Oil Indiana films is Lou Lilly, who is credited along with Jerry Fairbanks in the film’s original copyright catalogue entry. It’s not specifically known what Lilly was responsible for, but it is very well possible that he was the producer and/or director of the film and possibly in charge of directing the animation. Four years earlier (1944), Lilly joined Fairbanks’ studio as an ‘animated cartoon expert’ to work as a production manager on several of the Speaking Of Animals comedies. Prior to joining, Lilly worked in the story department of Leon Schlesinger Productions Inc. and also worked for (Columbia Pictures) Screen Gems Inc., as an animation director. Lilly’s resume certainly does support the theory of possibly being the animation director. One other individual who may have worked on the animation was a lady named Anna Osborne. Around 1947 and 1948 Osborne was the head animator at the studio and was often credited on the Speaking of Animals entries for animating and executing Fairbanks’ patented Duoplane animation process (a special animation process, which made live action animals in films talk).
So here is the entertaining, and still educational The Inside Story Of Modern Gasoline. This particular print comes from the courtesy of Rick Prelinger and Prelinger Archives, which is available for downloading.
(After viewing the film, one must wonder why the studio never pursued an interest in the production of theatrical cartoons. They certainly could have pulled it off with their animation department and Edward Paul’s musical scores…)
In addition, here is a video production I produced exploring the history of Inside Story of Modern Gasoline.
(A Special Thank you to Jerry Beck, Don Yowp, and Rick Prelinger for assistance with the research to this article and also to my video project pertaining to “The Inside Story of Modern Gasoline”.)