Calvin Company

Calvin Company

The Calvin Company Incorporated. 1105 East 15th Street, Kansas City 6, Missouri

This page is created based on 2004 Yahoo discussion group messages send by Plogg and John Barrick. Texts are edited here into article form. The end of the article is the material collected in Oct. 15, 2004. The source of it can be found only partial.

The Calvin Company was a Kansas City, Missouri-based educational and industrial film production company that for nearly half a century was the largest and most successful film producer of its type in the United States.

ActiveFounded in 1931. Defunct in October 31, 1982.
FoundersForrest Calvin, Betty Calvin, Lloyd Thompson, and Larry Sherwood
He worked at Calvin during 1960’s for about eight or nine years doing industrial animation, titles, and backgrounds

Calvin Productions in Prelinger Archives

Prelinger Archives [3] is the ”largest privately held collection of 20th-century American advertising, educational, industrial and amateur films”, which they collect and catalogue ”for the use of scholars, researchers, producers and interested members of the general public.” They possess 45,000 completed films, 30,000 cans or rolls of unedited footage and 250 hours of amateur films. 60 percent of the completed films are public domain. They claim to have an extensive database identifying or describing, to varying degrees, the contents of everything in the archive, as well as tons of paper records and inventory sheets not yet entered into the database.

One of their largest hauls came from Calvin Productions (which ceased operations in 1981). The Calvin stuff is almost exclusively on 16mm film. There’s 1,710 titles in preprint form, 200 release films and over 7 million feet of outtakes, ”overs”, and unedited footage. They write: ”The Calvin Company, first organized in 1931 in Kansas City, Missouri, was throughout its life a technical innovator and creative force within the non-theatrical film industry.”

In Heavy Metal interview (June/July/August, 1981) [6], Corben says he worked for Calvin for ”8 or 9 years” (from about 1962 until sometime shortly after he began working for Warren in 1970) doing ”industrial animation, titles and backgrounds.” In his Infinity (#5, 1973) interview with Jan Strnad, he says ”Technically, I was in the animation department, but that meant you could be doing various kinds of art — titles, graphs, charts, maps, and so on. It was industrial-type animation, rather than cartoon-type.” In an article on Corben in AIRBRUSH ACTION (June, 1993), Corben said it was animation ”but not Disney. It was more like the cutaway of a diesel engine.” And in the HEAVY METAL interview, he says that he would do ”cutaways of Caterpillar tractors and how they work.” (Prelinger lists some of Calvin’s bigger clients, one of which was ”Caterpillar Tractor”.)

From Caterpillar to NeverWhere

According to the article by Bruce Jones in the ”NeverWhere” book (published by Ariel/Ballantine in February, 1978), Corben started working on the ”NeverWhere” film as a personal project in his spare time and after-hours at Calvin. They saw what he was doing and lent some technical assistance.

Says Corben: ”Most of the work we were doing at Calvin was so dull it would put you to sleep. Naturally, all the directors there saw themselves on a Hollywood set, filming the Bible. I guess they saw a kindred spirit in this poor young artist trying to do an animated film by himself. They pulled whatever strings they could to see that it got produced, using the excuse of calling it a workshop project or whatever. I had recorded the sound on homemade equipment after all the animation was completed and the live action finished. The directors saw it, were impressed and said ’Let’s do something with it.’ They started editing it with the track I’d done and we ran an interlock, saw it was awful and began redubbing with new voices. In the end, I think Calvin spent more money on it than they wanted to.”

There’s no telling how much of Calvin’s material in Prelinger’s possession contains work by Corben — at least not until it’s all catalogued and entered into the database. Even then, the work may remain anonymous or unidentifiable, unless records were kept by Calvin of who contributed what to which films and the records still exist and are held by Prelinger. Corben himself may have forgotten by now, or may not even recognize much of his own work on those films (unless he, too, kept such a record, which seems unlikely). Ultimately, the material might not be interesting, even to die-hard Corben fans, should anyone make a serious inquiry to Prelinger and do a diligent search. But thanks to Prelinger’s determination to acquire, catalogue and preserve this obscure and ephemeral material, it exists and is available nonetheless.

That said, it’s not impossible that Prelinger might have unused material from the ”NeverWhere” film — or even complete prints! In the INFINITY interview, Strnad asked Corben how one could acquire a print of ”NeverWhere”, to which Corben responded, ”He’d have to buy it from Calvin. They still have all the printing material. It’s $100, 16mm, color, sound.” [1]

2″ reel to reel quad format

Besides Prelinger, probably the best bet for finding any of it would be in the archives of the client companies the work was done for (and that’s a long shot). One has to keep in mind that Corben’s work for Calvin was all done before modern video equipment was invented and it’s very doubtful that much of it was transferred to the newer formats as they became available. So if any of exists on video tape, it’s more than likely the OLD quad format which was a 2” reel to reel format that is for all intents and purposes non-existent today (the last of those decks being retired in the early to mid ’80s). As far as the work being unrecognizable as Corben’s, I’d say that that’s likely a fair assessment. Industrial work at that time was BORING and all about CLEAR and SIMPLE illustration of the issue at hand. With Corben the time span is now 35 to 40 years. It’s highly unlikely that any credits other than a director (and possibly a writer) were kept on these gems.

John Barrick was working with an animator is Kansas City as Calvin was winding down. The building showed no signs of Corben having ever worked there – it was a pretty dreary place. He has seen a number of Richard’s film’s screened, but never any of his industrial work. [2]

Prelinger Archives

Prelinger Archives has created an online repository containing thousands of its digitized materials

Prelinger Archives (founded 1982), the largest privately held collection of 20th-century American advertising, educational, industrial and amateur films (and possibly the largest such collection in existence), is an unparalleled historical and cultural resource. It collects ”ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial) films; historical and actuality footage; documentary films; and amateur films/home movies. Its holdings constitute a vast resource of imagery documenting both familiar and obscure aspects of twentieth-century North American culture and society: its life, leisure, history, industry, technology and landscape. The archives focuses primarily on collecting, cataloging and documenting films not held in other repositories, and attempts to preserve a broad cross-section of ephemeral film for the use of scholars, researchers, producers and interested members of the general public. 

Since its organization in 1983, Prelinger Archives has served a wide spectrum of patrons, including scholars, researchers, media producers, artists and members of the general public. It has furnished moving image material to thousands of film, television, multimedia and other productions. Income from stock footage licensing has sustained the archives, facilitated its rapid growth, subsidized access for noncommercial users and permitted the rescue of important collections that would otherwise never have been saved. Though Prelinger Archives is one of a dwindling number of historical moving image collections that remain under independent ownership, it is currently represented for stock footage sales by Archive Films and The Image Bank, subsidiaries of Getty Images. 

The archives holds some 45,000 completed films; an estimated 30,000 cans or rolls of unedited footage; and approximately 250 hours of amateur film. The total can count exceeds 125,000. A considerable amount of post-1935 footage is in color. Of the completed films, it is estimated that 24,000 titles represent sponsored films; 20,000 educational films; and 1,000 newsreels, entertainment and television films. Approximately 60% of the completed films are in the public domain. The collection continues to grow rapidly. 

Videotape masters (approx. 600 hours) or viewing copies exist for approximately 5,000 films and units of unedited footage in the collection. Master tapes are generally Betacam SP, 1” and D2; viewing copies generally 3/4” and VHS. Almost all viewing and research is done with videotape copies; an Elmo film-to-tape transfer unit is used in house to transfer 16mm positive film to videotape. 

With few exceptions, Prelinger Archives has avoided collecting productions that originate on videotape or videotape transfers from film for which no film element is held. Our priority is to collect endangered ephemeral film material, and the issues raised by collecting videotape (format obsolescence, the necessity for recopying and for retaining equipment capable of playing back obsolete formats) would severely stretch our capabilities. 

Coverage begins in 1903 and extends into the 1980s. Preprint materials (original film elements or printing elements used in the manufacture of copies for projection) are held on some 18,000 (approximately 40%) of the completed film titles in the collection. This is a significant issue as far as ephemeral films are concerned. Given the extremely large number produced and the specialized nature of many titles, it is highly unlikely that funding will ever be available to preserve a broad cross-section of the genre. The existence of high-quality preprint materials, therefore, increases the chance that the film will survive over time, and makes possible the production of higher-quality copies in the future. 

Content and Significance 

Ephemeral films were generally produced to fulfill specific objectives at specific times, and most often were not considered to be of value afterwards. In retrospect, they provide unparalleled evidence of the visual appearance and ambiance of their time, and function as rich, evocative, and often entertaining documentation of the American past. 

Included in the collection are films produced by and for many hundreds of important U.S. corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. The collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral film between 1927 and 1987, and is arguably the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly-preserved genres. Tracing the history of public policy, popular culture, corporate culture, commercial speech and sociopolitical discourse through much of the century, the collection contains films representing a broad spectrum of points of view and achieves great depth in many important subject areas. 

The collection is an important primary research and teaching resource for scholars and researchers in many fields, including American studies, history, political science, business and labor history, media and communications, art history, cinema studies, cultural theory, gender studies, material culture, anthropology, and ethnography. 

Frequently offering more than just evidence, ephemeral films document past persuasions and anxieties. They show us not only how we were, but how we were supposed to be. Most of the films in Prelinger Archives were produced to promote products, corporations or ideas; to educate, convince or to propagandize. Consequently, the points of view they represent are often as interesting as the images they include, and many of the seemingly antiquated perspectives they espouse may in fact foretell our future as much as they recall our past. 

Industry statistician and ephemeral film historian Thomas W. Hope estimates that almost 400,000 ephemeral films were produced between 1917 and the late 1970s. Although ephemeral films constitute the numerically dominant genre in American film production, archives have focused very little attention on preserving these often historically and culturally important works, and many important titles appear no longer to survive. Few repositories focus their collecting efforts in this area, and the dissolution of many production companies has resulted in the disposal of their materials. 

Cataloging and Database 

Prelinger Archives maintains a database of film and videotape materials in its collection that presently totals over 36,800 filmographic records. The database includes physical inventory information, filmographic data, shelf location, and, for many films, extensive visual and textual description. The database is maintained in FileMaker Pro and is structured so as to permit export into different database formats when and if this may be desired. Each identifiable ”cut” (completed) film is represented by a distinct record, which lists all film or videotape elements associated with that title in the ”Holdings” field. Unedited or raw footage, outtakes, amateur films and other materials not characterizable as ”cut” films is represented by a record for every can or container. If all moving image materials currently held in Prelinger Archives were fully accessioned and cataloged, we estimate the database would contain approximately 75,000 records. 

In addition, paper records, inventory sheets and finding aids exist or have been prepared for approximately 5,000 additional items. As of yet, this information has not, for the most part, been incorporated into the database. 

Information in the database is derived from inspection of physical elements, content analysis, third-party sources such as catalogs and reference books, and material found in trade publications. An effort is made to authority check database information on a regular basis and to maintain high editorial standards. While certain records are densely detailed and editorially sound, others are little more than simple physical inventory records. However, inventory and cataloging work is continually in process and constitutes a major part of the day-to-day activity around the collection. 

Collections Summary 

This summary describes distinct motion picture collections acquired as such by Prelinger Archives. It also describes additional film materials by genre or subject matter when such materials either were not acquired as part of a distinct collection, or in cases where description by genre may be more meaningful than description by collection. 

Many items in the archives were acquired individually or extracted from miscellaneous accumulations of film, and are not described as part of the collections below. 

Item counts and statistics represent best estimates and are designed to err on the side of conservatism, but are naturally subject to revision and inventory. 

Calvin Productions

Calvin Productions / Calvin Laboratories (ca. 1935-1981, approx. 1,800 titles, 3,500 boxes and 500 cans, 99.9% 16mm, mostly color and black-and-white reversal, the remainder 35mm and 9.5mm; representing approx. 25,000 distinct film rolls; original elements, printing elements, approx. 200 release prints, outtakes and overs). Approximately 1,710 titles are held in preprint form, totaling approximately 1,026,000 feet. We hold release prints on approximately 200 titles, totaling approximately 120,000 feet. Finally, we hold between 7 and 10 million feet of outtakes, “overs” and other unedited footage; 75% of this material is color reversal, 25% black-and-white reversal, a trace amount being negative and print. 

The Calvin Company, first organized in 1931 in Kansas City, Missouri, was throughout its life a technical innovator and creative force within the nontheatrical film industry. Calvin was an early developer of 16mm release printing and sound-on-film technology, and a prolific producer until it ceased operations in the early 1980s. 

The Calvin collection, which is made up almost exclusively of preprint material and outtakes, contains both its own productions and film elements held on behalf of laboratory clients. The majority of the cut films are sponsored productions; others are educational films. Many of these titles appear to possess great historical or cultural significance, if their titles and sponsors are any judge, but few have been seen. Sponsors include Southwestern Bell Telephone, Caterpillar Tractor, D-X Sunray Oil Company, the University of Oklahoma, Westinghouse, the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints, and numerous nonprofit, educational and community organizations throughout the Midwest and Southwest. The coverage of mid-America is excellent and wide-ranging. There are approximately 200 early 16mm industrial and sponsored films (1931-1940); many old Calvin in-house productions shot in around Kansas City, showing street scenes, local landmarks and activities; and numerous films from small production companies in the lower Midwest, mountain states and Southwest. The outtake collection is primarily drawn from in-house productions, and contains a vast array of imagery. In sum, this collection will take a great deal of time to catalogue, but promises to contain a great deal of fascinating material. 

We hold a number of early films directed by Robert Altman when he was a staff director at Calvin, made in the early 1950s before his first feature The Delinquents. These titles include The Magic Bond (produced for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 1956) and The Sound of Bells (produced for B.F. Goodrich Co., early 1950s). 

Also held is a selection of the Calvin Workshop films, produced by and for attendees of the annual Calvin Workshops, held to orient, educate and improve the work of nontheatrical filmmakers. Often intentionally amusing, these films document the culture and consciousness of this industry, about which little has been written. 

Almost all the Calvin material is stored in an offsite storage facility. Cut films for which we have preprint (except for approx. 600 uninventoried titles) are included in our database, but at this time they are not accessible by specific location.


Copyright © 2019 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink! Created: Jan. 13, 2019. Last updated: January 12, 2019 at 22:12 pm
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