Allow me to take you back in time to the following press release issued by Gov. Clement's office on December 1, 1956 announcing the premier of a film series entitled, See The Harvest...
With the release this month of a film series titled See The Harvest, Tennessee embarks on a unique venture in state government, Governor Frank Clement said today.
See The Harvest is a series of four fifteen minute films which will be shown on television stations across the state during December. The films depict the progress made in the major fields of state government during the past three and a half years.
"This is what you might call a mid-term report to the people of Tennessee," Governor Clement told newsmen at his news conference today.
The first of the series will be seen December 2, and shows progress in highway construction and traffic safety. The second film depicts developments in Education and Mental Health; the third, scheduled the third week of December, takes up the departments of Public Health, Public Welfare, Corrections, Agriculture and Conservation. The final film will reveal developments in the Tennessee National Guard, industrial expansion, the Employment Security Department, and state finances.
Ten of the state's thirteen television stations have agreed to carry the series during December. The films are in color and will be available to schools, PTA groups, civic and luncheon clubs across the state upon request. The Governor said he hopes a showing can be scheduled for the 1957 General Assembly.
See The Harvest is a Division of Information project written and produced by Howard Anderson, and photographed by three veteran state cameramen, Paul Moore and Wallace Danley of the Conservation Department, and D.S. McCormac of the Agriculture Department.
The idea of reporting the progress of this administration in such an unusual fashion was first discussed by Governor Clement in September. The series was then produced in a record two months at a cost of only $158 a film minute. Had the state contracted for the entire project with a film company the cost would have run between $500 and $1000 a film minute, Clement said.
Maytag Productions, Kansas City, edited the series. The Calvin Company, also of Kansas City, did the necessary laboratory work, and Bradley Studios of Nashville contracted to record the narration.
See The Harvest uses a novel narration technique. The viewer sees the progress the State government has made through the eyes of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, played by Grant Turner, veteran WSM announcer. He is conducted on his movie tour by a typical Tennessee youngster, Tom Carter, who is acted by Richard Beauchamp, a senior at West High School, Nashville.
Lost to time and distant memory, See the Harvest resides at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in its original 16mm format. Due to its age and somewhat brittle condition, archivists have taken measures to preserve See the Harvest for posterity, carefully storing the original film in a secure, temperature-controlled vault. Archivists have also preserved the documents created by government officials involved in the film's production, giving researchers a glimpse into the inner workings of state government at this important time in Tennessee's history.
Gov. Clement knew that television could convey his administration's mid-term message to a broad audience far more effectively than any speech he might deliver. As indicated in the governor's press release, nearly every television station within the state of Tennessee aired See the Harvest during the month of December in 1956. In addition, documents within the Frank Goad Clement Papers at TSLA reveal that Gov. Clement's administration issued a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies within state government urging all state employees to view See the Harvest at Tennessee's War Memorial Building during a scheduled viewing on December 12, 1956. These aggressive publicity efforts ensured that citizens and state employees alike knew about Gov. Clement's accomplishments.
Gov. Clement's surrogates throughout each state agency also wrote letters of praise for the film production. In a letter dated December 7, 1956, Commissioner Donald M. McSween of Tennessee's Department of Employment Security wrote, "Having seen all four films in the natural color in which they were photographed, I can attest to their high quality and effectiveness. In fact, it constitutes one of the best jobs of its sort I have ever seen and we understand is without parallel in any of the other states." Other commissioners wrote similar letters expressing pride in the film's production quality achieved at a significant cost savings.
While See the Harvest received almost universal praise within state government, at least one official expressed concern about a scene in the film depicting a young boy "chained to a tree and scratching the ground" -- a scene meant to dramatically illustrate the state of child welfare in Tennessee and to communicate Gov. Clement's efforts to improve conditions in areas of education and mental health. Tennessee's Commissioner of Mental Health C. J. Ruilmann, M.D., responded to this concern in a December 27, 1956 letter. He stated, "I made some subsequent inquiries and found that the members of the group to whom I talked considered that particular scene to be excellent, hard-hitting photography and that they felt as I do that the scene should be left in. We agree that it is rather forceful but it does tell a story."
Using this storytelling technique to deliver a "mid-term report" to the citizens of Tennessee and to state employees made perfect sense to government officials at the time, although by today's standards one might view the acting as amateurish and the information delivery method as a bit contrived. Still, See the Harvest spoke to not only how the Clement administration viewed television as a powerful communication medium, but it also spoke to how Tennesseans remembered their first governor. Within the state, many decades after his death, Sevier still captured the imagination of politicians and citizens alike. Bringing Sevier back to life in this creative way gave Tennesseans yet another way to embrace their very own frontier legend, Revolutionary War patriot, and "first hero."
Record Group 137 - Tennessee Department of Conservation, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Frank Goad Clement Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.