From the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, Coronet Instructional Media, that formidable factory of classroom educational films, taught America’s schoolchildren how to study, how to land a job, how to perform their societal and filial duties, how to bathe. Certain generations no doubt retain vivid memories, fond or otherwise, of such 16-millimeter standbys as Good Eating Habits, Joan Avoids a Cold, Are You Popular? and Communism. In 1949, Coronet came up with a short subject rather closer to the eternal interests of the teenager: Dating: Do’s and Don’ts. This twelve-minute film, directed Gilbert Altschul with the assistance of Reuben Hill, Research Professor of Family Life at the University of North Carolina, navigates the garden of forking paths formed by all the choices, from ideally gentleman-like to potentially disastrous, that confront young Woody on his very first date.
Who, for instance, should Woody ask to join him at Central High’s Hi-Teen Carnival? “Whose company would you enjoy?” asks the voice-of-midcentury-authority narrator.” “Well, one thing you can consider is looks. Woody thought of Janice, and how good-looking she was. He really had to rate to date somebody like her.” Still: “It’s too bad Janice always acts so superior and bored. She’d make a fellow feel awkward and inferior.” Perhaps the more grounded Betty? “And yet, it just doesn’t seem as if she’d be much fun. What about Anne? She knows how to have a good time.” Even 64 years on, I daresay fellows would still do well to cleave to the Annes of the world. But given how far the pendulum of sexual politics has swung since Coronet’s heyday, other pieces of of Dating: Do’s and Don’ts advice seems more quaint than current. For a more modern perspective, see also How to Be a “Mr. Good-Date,” a Looney Tunes parody starring Bugs Bunny as the hopeful suitor Reggie Gerandevu and Elmer Fudd as the protective homeowner of whom he runs afoul.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.