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CONELRAD Legacy Project | DUCK AND COVER National Film Registry Campaign [2004]
CONELRAD Legacy Project: DUCK AND COVER National Film Registry Campaign 2004

It seems that every time the Department of Homeland Security's Threat Level changes colors, legions of not-so-clever newspaper headline writers seize the opportunity to trot out another variation of the phrase DUCK AND COVER. One prominent example of this journalistic laziness followed the infamous government endorsement of duct tape and plastic sheeting as a means of preparedness for chemical and biological attack. Never mind that this advisory was quickly retracted by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the headline "DUCT AND COVER" appeared for weeks afterward.

Oh no Bert! Now there's a new danger...Just how did the term "Duck and Cover" become universal shorthand for the paranoid excesses of the Cold War and for every geo-political panic attack since? How did the image of a pith-helmet-wearing cartoon turtle named Bert become as lasting a symbol of this dark era as the yellow and black fallout shelter signs that still adorn many buildings around the United States?

Nearly everyone with even the slightest sense of irony appreciates the inherent camp value of Bert and his titular mantra to terrified or just plain confused 1950's school children. But few if any know anything at all about the origin of this turtle and how he became so infamous. The film (there was also a record album and government pamphlet) DUCK AND COVER is, after all, the CITIZEN KANE of American civil defense motion pictures. Clips from this movie are used almost every time a news piece is produced on the 1950's or the Cold War. The film itself has also been slapped on numerous cheap-o VHS and DVD video compilations with little regard for its true legacy. It struck CONELRAD as odd that so little is known about the origins of a work that has had such a reverberating impact on the culture. Indeed, in an age where film scholars study Tom Cruise movies, the lack of basic information on DUCK AND COVER seemed like a gross historical omission—one that cried out for correction.

Lars Calonius - Bert's 'father'
During the last year CONELRAD has thoroughly researched the production history of DUCK AND COVER and has discovered a fascinating story of how Madison Avenue was used by the government to "sell" survival to an anxious population. Indeed, Archer Productions, Inc., the company chosen by the Federal Civil Defense Administration to produce DUCK AND COVER (as well OUR CITIES MUST FIGHT) was a powerhouse advertising production agency that—at its peak—held 70% of all New York City based broadcast media accounts.

Archer's president, Leo M. Langlois, who also executive produced DUCK AND COVER, employed the full resources of his agency to ensure that this first civil defense film created especially for children would never be forgotten. Whether by using former Walt Disney artist Lars Calonius (who worked on FANTASIA among many other Disney classics) or by hiring Corday and Carr (the jingle team without peer who had previously written "See the USA in Your Chevrolet") to co-write (with Langlois himself) Bert's theme song, Langlois pulled out all the stops. Archer's publicity man, Milt Mohr, made certain that the finished film was known to all throughout the land. One particular stroke of PR genius was arranging a special screening for the Farrow family of Beverly Hills, CA. The image of the famous show business family (including a 7-year-old Mia) standing next to a giant cardboard cut-outFarrow family atomic attack test drill, LA Examiner, February 1952 of Bert the Turtle in their living room appeared in every major newspaper in the country.

CONELRAD has reviewed all the key government and press documents pertaining to DUCK AND COVER and has interviewed many of the key participants involved with the film itself including Leo M. Langlois, Ray J. Mauer and Lars Calonius's widow, Jean. This research has yielded a wealth of material that will help provide the full context and history of one of the most famous movies ever produced.

The DUCK AND COVER story will be presented in its entirety soon, but in the meantime, CONELRAD's Bill Geerhart is on record as having filed the official nomination for this remarkable film for inclusion in the 2004 Library of Congress National Film Registry. Each year the Librarian of Congress chooses 25 films for recognition and permanent preservation. The criteria for inclusion in this prestigious registry is that the film must be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and it must be at least ten years old. If DUCK AND COVER is chosen it will join such motion pictures as CITIZEN KANE, GONE WITH THE WIND and the Zapruder film on the official climate-controlled shelf of history. And, really, isn't this just where Bert the Turtle belongs?

Archer Productions, Inc. [ 1951 ]
DIRECTOR: Anthony Rizzo
ART DIRECTOR: Lars Calonius

Note: If you would like to supplement Bill Geerhart's official nomination for DUCK AND COVER, please follow these instructions.

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