A Short Vision: An Animated Nuclear Cautionary Tale in 1956

Posted by Grey Saturday, July 2, 2011

On May 27th, 1956, Americans witnesses a most dreadful nuclear apocalypse... in The Ed Sullivan Show.

The iconic long-running (1948 to 1971) TV variety show, "The Ed Sullivan Show", was a staple example of family entertainment, being the epitome of the rise of the television phenomenon, with the family ritual of gathering around the television set to watch the show becoming a cultural signature across America in the 1960s.

Just so that you can comprehend our surprise on learning the little-known fact that in 1956, young viewers were scarred to shit after viewing a short animation film aired on the show. Right beside the evening's line-up of performance from "Kate Smith; Marion Marlowe, Senor Wences, ventriloquist; comedian Dick Shawn; English singer David Whitfield; winners of the Harvest Moon dance contest and the Hasleves, acrobat." A short animation film depicting the then-timely subject of the horrors of an actual nuclear war, "A Short Vision", written by English writers Joan and Peter Foldes, was not mentioned in any TV listings on that day.

Courtesy of CONELRAD Adjacent, here's a transcript of the introduction before the animation aired by Ed:

Just last week you read about the H-bomb being dropped. Now two great English writers, two very imaginative writers — I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated — but two English writers, Joan and Peter Foldes, wrote a thing which they called ‘A Short Vision’ in which they wondered what might happen to the animal population of the world if an H-bomb were dropped. It’s produced by George K. Arthur and I’d like you to see it. It is grim, but I think we can all stand it to realize that in war there is no winner.

Thanks to the British Film Institute who have released the short animation in their pristine color print, feast yourself on the unrelenting apocalyptic visuals of "A Short Vision" right after the jump.



As noted by CONELRAD Adjacent, "after the film concludes, Sullivan is standing on the stage looking knowingly at his deadly silent audience. There is then some nervous laughter as he smiles and says “See” while nodding his head (as if to say, “I told you so”). And then, without missing a beat, the host shifts back to MC mode:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is this brilliant young English singer. We brought him over, two years ago, David Whitfield, because of his recording of ‘Cara Mia.’ Now he’s going to sing a song from MY FAIR LADY. David Whitfield, let’s have a very big hand for David.

Whitfield then comes out and starts singing “On the Street Where You Live.”"


And here's the fallout of the most unusual broadcast:

The day after A SHORT VISION was shown on The Ed Sullivan Show to what was reported as a 37.2 in the ratings, the New York World-Telegram and Sun ran on its second page the blaring headline “Shock Wave From A-Bomb Film Rocks Nation’s TV Audience.” And if the headline wasn’t enough, just below it was a gruesome three-panel graphic from the face melting sequence. The article was written by Carol Taylor in classic tabloid style and it is so entertaining (if not entirely accurate) that it is worth presenting here in its entirety. When reading the text pay attention to how Sullivan misrepresents to the reporter how he tried to protect the “youngsters.”

A detailed account of the quirky episode can be found at CONELRAD Adjacent.

Source: CONELRAD Adjacent via iO9

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