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Literature and Medicine 28, no. 2 (Fall 2009) 278332

2010 by The Johns Hopkins University Press
Choosing to Live: Cancer
Education, Movies, and the
Conversion Narrative in
America, 19211960
David Cantor
When, in 1921, the American Society for the Control of Cancer
(ASCC) released its frst cancer education movie, it chose a form that
would dominate cancer education movies until the 1950s: the conver-
sion narrative. In general, the narratives issuing from this choice dra-
matized the ways in which people were persuaded to accept ASCC/
advice regarding cancer and the penalties for those who failed
to convert. Crudely put, those who converted to the ASCC/ACSs vi-
sion of cancer survived their diseases; those who did not tended to
die. The former chose to live, as the title of one 1940 flm put it; the
latter chose a different ending.
Conversion narratives dominated the ASCC/ACSs cinematic
output from the 1920s to the late 1940s, and in two senses of the
term. The vast majority of its flms included a conversion story, and
conversion provided the central narrative structure of those movies in
which it appeared. This hegemony, however, did not survive the 1940s.
Both forms of domination came to be challenged late in that decade,
as television began to change the context in which these flms were
viewed, and as the cancer organization began to increase the number
of educational flms it produced and to broaden the range of subjects
covered by its movies beyond its earlier focus on persuading people
to seek early detection and treatment. Part of the aim of this paper
is to explain the changing role of the conversion narrative within the
ASCC/ACSs cinematic output.
A second aim of this article is to explore the role of movies, and
the conversion narratives embedded in them, as tools for managing
public responses to cancer. Movies were of particular interest to the
279 David Cantor
ASCC/ACS because the organization argued that visual media had a
unique power to shape public attitudes and beliefs, a power, as this
essay will show, that textual and aural media were said to lack. To
the ASCC/ACS, this power made flm an unrivalled technology for
persuading people to seek early detection and treatment, but it also
made the organization quite cautious about movies. In its view, mo-
tion pictures could have quite unanticipated consequences. Even the
best educational flms could create in the public an excessive fear of
the disease or its treatments that might undermine public education
efforts by dissuading people from going to the doctor. The problem was
particularly acute in the case of cancer, for the ASCC/ACS believed
that the disease itself inspired a particular phobiacancerophobia
that froze people into inaction and so damaged the organizations
efforts to promote programs of early detection and treatment. Putting
cancer and movies together was thus fraught with diffculty. While
movies had the potential to calm the fears that prompted people to
delay seeking approved medical help, they also had the potential to
exacerbate these fears and to thereby weaken the educational goals
they were supposed to promote. It was quite unclear to the ASCC/
ACS which way a particular flm would work.
The conversion narrative emerged as one method of managing this
problem, but, as I shall argue, a highly problematic one. The ASCC/
ACSs hope was that, by offering a reassuring salvation story about
the curability of cancer, the conversion narrative would help to calm
the fears generated by the movie, the disease, or the combination of
both, and so remove a barrier to peoples willingness to go to their
physicians. The problem, however, was that the conversion narratives
ability to calm these fears often seemed quite limited. The ASCC/ACS
worried that its effectiveness as a tool of management was constantly
threatened by the very problems the narrative was intended to control.
The organization thus found itself constantly struggling to ensure that
the conversion narrative did its work: persuading people to seek early
detection and treatment. The conversion narratives power was con-
tingent, and a fnal aim of this paper is to highlight this contingency
and to show how the ASCC/ACS sought to ensure that this one form
of narrative served the purpose it intended.
Education and the Movie
The ASCC/ACS was interested in movies, and the conversion
narratives embedded in them, as part of a broader program aimed
at reforming public attitudes and behaviors toward cancer. From its
creation in 1913, the Society argued that for cancer control to suc-
ceed, Americans had to be persuaded to abandon past practices and
to seek qualifed medical assistance at the frst sign of what might be
cancer, and from the late 1910s, it worked to persuade Americans to
go for regular medical checkups, even if they felt well.
In its view,
treatment was most likely to work either before the tumor arose, if
a precancerous condition could be identifed, or in the early stages
of the disease itself, while the tumor was still a local, circumscribed
entity, before it spread to other parts of the body and the possibility
of successful treatment began to fade (See fgure 1). This meant that
patients had to see competent physicians, ideally, before the onset of
the disease proper or very early in its development and to undergo
treatment the moment the disease or its possibility was identifed.
To this end, the Society sought to persuade people to go for regular
medical checkups and to train them to identify what the ASCC/ACS
called the danger signals or early warning signs of the disease. As
one article in its newsletter put it, our chief hope of overcoming this
enemy of the human race must lie in the fact that people everywhere
will learn to recognize the danger signals of the early stages, and seek
advice and treatment while there is yet time.
The problem, the ASCC/ACS argued, was that patients often
arrived in the doctors offce long after the best opportunities for
successful treatment were gone.
The early signs of cancer could be
subtle and easily missed, and pain or debility often occurred too late
in the course of the disease to prompt people to see their physicians
before the disease spread and became incurable. But even if cancer
was suspected, the ASCC/ACS claimed that patients still delayed.
Many were frightened by the disease or its treatments (mainly surgery
and radiation). Others were unduly pessimistic about the possibility
of a cure or ignorant of the warning signs of the disease. Still others
were swayed by the advice of quacks, purveyors of patent medicines,
or friends and family, all of whom tended to dissuade people from
seeking appropriate help. Even regular physicians were a problem. Too
often they were ignorant of the disease and its treatment; too often
they were pessimistic about the possibility of successful treatment; too
often they displayed a disturbing lack of urgency when confronted with
cancer. If your doctor advises delay, see another doctor,
lanternslide cautioned the public in 1919, implicitly acknowledging that
the skills and knowledge of practitioners dealing with cancer could
vary considerably. If your doctor isnt sure, see another doctor.
281 David Cantor
Figure 1. A sequence of animated frames from Reward of Courage (1921) that trace
the growth and development of cancer, and how its curability diminishes with
time. (Access this issue at
cine/ to view full color graphics).
In its efforts to combat the factors that promoted delay, the
ASCC/ACS sought to educate people about the early warning signs of
the disease and to persuade them to seek advice and treatment while
there was time. It also sought to warn the public of the dangers of
quackery, of ineffective and hazardous home remedies, of the advice
of friends and family, of the media, and of ignorant physicians, all of
which could encourage people to delay seeking appropriate help. Yet,
as its educational program took off in the 1920s and 1930s, the ASCC
became alarmed about suggestions that its own educational efforts were
adding to the problem. Critics argued that instead of persuading people
to seek early detection and treatment, the ASCCs educational program
was in fact promoting cancerophobia and, consequently, encouraging
delay by frightening people into inaction.
The organization seemed
caught between a rock and a hard place. It believed that efforts to
promote early detection and treatment would fail without public edu-
cation. Yet it was also forced to defend itself against accusations that
its own efforts at education exacerbated existing fears of the disease
and dissuaded people from seeking care.
The ASCC sometimes seemed unsure how to respond to such
criticism. At times, it sought to shift the burden of responsibility for
seeking care onto the patient: what one physician called the laymans
[sic] responsibility in the control of cancer.
In this view, the ASCCs
responsibility was to get the message of early detection and treat-
ment out; the publics responsibility was to act on this message. But
this division of labor was undermined by the ASCCs admission that
certain members of the public seemed particularly vulnerable to fears
of cancer: over-emotional, uncontrolled, or uninformed individuals,
who presented an unreasoning and illogical phobia.
Virtually any
educational program was likely to unduly alarm these people. They
were overwhelmed by their fears, almost incapable of taking responsi-
bility for seeking care. [A]ction springs from the emotions, especially
fear, asserted Mary R. Lakeman, the supervisor of adult education in
the Massachusetts Department of Health, writing in 1933 about cancer
education in her state. However, she noted,
If stimulated to a high degree in certain ill-adjusted or hypersensi-
tive individuals fear leadsnot to actionbut to a phobia which
leaves its victim not only in a state of inaction but of inability even
to face an unpleasant situation. In attempting to reach the general
public we must give due consideration to those wide differences in
temperament which make the sudden realization of an unwelcome
fact a knock-out blow to a highly sensitive person, while the same
fact leaves a less impressionable being untouched.
The problem, as one physician put it, was to seek to transmit accurate
information without unduly alarming the public.
But sometimes the
ASCC acknowledged that any informationno matter how accurate
alarmed the public and, consequently, undermined peoples willingness
to seek appropriate care.
283 David Cantor
Despite such admissions, the ASCC generally tended not to
emphasize concerns that its educational efforts might induce cancero-
phobia. Instead, it responded to criticisms of the effectiveness of its
educational efforts by telling optimistic stories (ironically, conversion
narratives of sorts) in which better public education rids the world of
ignorance and fear and persuades people to seek early detection and
treatment. Such stories were sometimes backed up with evidence that
showed greater public discussion of cancer, more people seeking early
detection and treatment, and improved chances of survival for those
who did seek early treatment. Each such step in public education,
the ASCC noted in the 1930s,
. . . buries deeper the rapidly disappearing spectre of cancer pho-
bia and serves as a guarantee that the efforts to encourage a more
enlightened public attitude towards cancer control are bearing fruit.
Knowledge of the success which has attended these pioneer advances
should spur others to the utilization of the motion picture, the press,
magazines and the stage as vehicles for expression. The period of
free speech on cancer control has only just begun.
In these discussions, there was little if any mention of those who
might be harmed by such free speech. By implication, the public
good that resulted from better education outweighed any harm done
to those sensitive individuals who were excessively vulnerable to can-
cerophobia. Instead, as the quotation above suggests, the ASCC saw
the success of public education as a stimulus to adopt a variety of
means of communication: newspapers, magazines, posters, circulars,
pamphlets, exhibits, lantern slides, lectures, and movies. Movies thus
came to cancer as part of a complex array of different methods of
public education that ranged from private, face-to-face talks (as between
doctor and patient) to technologies of mass communication (such as
newspapers, posters, and magazines, and newer ones such as radio).

The ASCCs frst radio broadcast was in 1921, the same year it also
released its frst motion picture, both part of the frst national cancer
weekan intense effort at fund-raising and education.

The Work of the Movie
In turning to motion pictures, the ASCC hoped to build on a
growing interest in the movie as a technology of social and personal
transformation. In 1910, Thomas A. Edison forecast that flm would
. . . wipe out narrow-minded prejudices which are founded on ig-
norance . . . create a feeling of sympathy and a desire to help the
down-trodden people of the earth, and . . . give new ideals to be fol-
Edisons comments must be seen in the context of efforts by
flmmakers to fend off public criticism that movies and movie theaters
had become recruiting stations for vice by emphasizing the educative
possibilities of the medium.
His enthusiasm for movies was widely
shared. Film was often portrayed as a medium that would revolution-
ize society, and from the 1910s, public health advocates and physicians
added their voices to the chorus. Impressed by cinemas hold over
mass audiences, they released numerous flms on the health hazards
of alcoholism, water and food contamination, tuberculosis, venereal
disease, and other topics.
The ASCCs interest in movies echoed
this enthusiasm. As the organization noted of its frst flm, Reward of
Courage (1921), The value of this kind of visual instruction can not
be over estimated.
The phrase visual instruction is notable. In the early twentieth
century, visual instruction and visual education movements sought
to introduce visual materialincluding illustrations, photographs, post-
ers, exhibits, stereographs, lanternslides, and especially moviesinto
schools and other sites of education. Although many advocates of visual
instruction feared what they perceived as the anaesthetizing and corrupt-
ing effects of movies, they also saw visual technologies, appropriately
used, as valuable ways of inspiring and informing students through
a combination of visual pleasure and learning. More memorable and
engaging than words, moving images could communicate information,
vast amounts of information, more speedily and effectively than print
and would help to modernize the masses to meet the challenges of a
visually-oriented world.
Many physicians jumped on the bandwagon, turning this idea
to their own purposes. We are living in an age of visualization, de-
clared the president of the newly formed Society for Cinematographic
Instruction in Medicine and Surgery, James Edlin, in 1922. The oral
age is giving way more and more to a period in which a vast number
of things must be visualized to become mental possessions. The com-
plexity of modern medicine demands the extension of our avenues of
learning into the infnite possibilities of visualization.
Visual media,
to Edlin and many other advocates of movies, had a unique power
to instruct, something that the written and spoken word seemed to
lack. The focus of Edlins article was the instruction of physicians,
285 David Cantor
but as the quotation about Reward of Courage above suggests, similar
sentiments were also applied to public education. In the ASCCs view,
public attitudes and behaviors concerning cancer could be transformed
by enabling people to visualize the disease, its treatments, and the
outcomes of both.
The Conversion Narrative
If the ASCC saw movies as transforming attitudes and behaviors
by means of their visual impact, it also saw flm as transformative in
another way: through telling stories. The cancer organization wanted
its public education flms to tell tales that showed the routes by which
people facing the possibility of cancer got to the doctor, the obstacles
that hindered them from reaching this goal, and the events that helped
them take the right path as defned by the ASCC/ACS.
Its frst flm, Reward of Courage, illustrates the sorts of narratives
that the ASCCs flms employed. A two-reel movie, the story revolves
around the efforts of nefarious quack Maurice Maxwell (played as an
untrustworthy dandy by an unidentifed actor), who offers a worth-
less treatment for cancer to Anna Flint, wife of factory owner Mar-
shall Flint. Anna has recently discovered a lump on her breast, and
Maxwell exploits her anxiety to persuade her to hand over $200 for
his treatment. To compound his villainy, he has already tried to cap-
ture the affections of Annas daughter, who is engaged to Marshalls
effcient factory superintendent, Eugene (Gene) Barnes, and he also
tries to persuade Annas husband to hand over the names of work-
ers who have been diagnosed with cancer in a clinic that Marshall
has established in his factory. Marshall is taken in by Maxwell, but
then receives a telegram which reveals Maxwells shady background.
In a dramatic scene, Marshall races from his offce to his home by
automobile and bursts in on the quack, who has Annas $200 check
in his hand. Marshall confronts Maxwell, has him arrested, and in the
process, saves his wifes life and his daughters happiness. The movie
ends six years after the rescue scene, when Mrs. Flint has recovered
from cancer after an operation, her daughter has married Gene, and
they are all celebrating the birth of a new baby, Anna and Marshalls
Reward of Courage set the tone for other movies. From
the 1920s to the 1950s, the typical cancer movie was a melodrama in
which the identifcation of cancer, or what may be cancer, leads to
a crisis, which is typically resolved by one of the central characters
choosing to follow the advice of the cancer organization and to seek
help from a qualifed physician after facing a number of opportunities
to deviate from this path.
Take, for example, a 1925 ASCC movie, A Fortunate Accident.
this flm, Mrs. Brown-Jones, a woman of wealth and social position
in an unnamed small town, is involved in an automobile collision
with a coal truck outside the offces of Dr. Strong, a young, well-
trained physician who has recently arrived in town with his mother,
hoping to establish himself in practice, only to fnd that establishing
a practice is not an easy thing to do. Strong examines Brown-Jones
and fnds that she is not seriously injured, but while she is briefy
unconscious, he discovers what he thinks may be an early breast
cancer. Mrs. Brown-Jones is indignant, believing that this implies a
hereditary taint. She dismisses Strong and seeks a second opinion of
the lump in her breast from an eminent surgeon. He confrms Strongs
diagnosis, recommends an immediate operation, and refers Brown-Jones
to what he calls a capable physician in her hometown. This physi-
cian turns out to be Dr. Strong. Mrs. Brown-Jones accepts the referral
and reengages Strong, who arranges for the operation that saves her
life. The automobile accident is thus fortunate for Mrs. Brown-Jones,
whose cancer is detected early enough to be treated successfully; for
Dr. Strong, who is now able to establish himself in practice; and for
the crusade against cancer, which gains an infuential supporter in the
person of Mrs. Brown-Jones. An ASCC synopsis of the movie concludes:
Mrs. Brown-Jones is thus converted to the modern doctrine of cancer
control, and becomes a center of intelligent and useful information in
regard to cancer within her large sphere of social and philanthropic
The key word here is converted. As the term suggests,
this movie is a conversion narrative, telling the tale of how an ignorant
woman is persuaded to seek early treatment and eventually becomes
a missionary for the cancer crusade. It is the story of a transition
from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from tradition
to modernity, from impending death to life. And it is a story of how
male medical authority trumps class and womens knowledge (in the
guise of a society lady)all through the intervention of circumstance
and a knowledgeable physician.
Similar conversions are evident in many other movies of the
1920s through the 1950s. In the ASCC/ACSs view, their purpose was
to reassure the public about the value of early detection and treat-
ment by showing the results of following the organizations recom-
mendations. Their language echoed that of religious conversion, with
287 David Cantor
individuals being saved, choosing to live, and coming to accept
the doctrine of cancer control. But these were not religious conver-
sion stories. They may have drawn on the language and structure of
the religious conversion narrative, but the organization turned them
into something else: medical conversion narratives. The orthodoxy
they sought to promote was early detection and treatment. The devils
they sought to exorcise were quackery, ignorance, fear, and a lack of
deference to medical authority. The gods they sought to install were
the doctors offce, the hospital, and later, the laboratory.
The Elements of Conversion
The ASCC/ACS was not the frst medical organization to employ
the language of conversion. As Nancy Tomes notes, evangelical con-
version had long provided a way of talking about how people were
persuaded of the truth of the germ theory of disease; of bolstering
the emergent authority of a new experimental, laboratory-based medi-
cal science; and of promoting health reform based on these ideas and
Much as religious converts were expected to change not
only what they believed but also how they lived, so converts to the
germ theory were expected to change not only what they thought
about the body and illness, but also what they did to maintain health
and to prevent and treat disease. The conversion narrative became a
way for aspiring germ theory church members to recount the story
of their own conversions, to provide model routes to conversion that
others could follow, to warn about the problems they might encounter
along the way, and to caution about dire consequences for those who
failed to convert.
The conversion narrative thus served double-duty:
as a way of reforming the public and of elevating the status of the
organizations and individuals who employed it.
This double-duty was precisely what the ASCC/ACS hoped the
conversion narrative would perform in the case of cancer. The cancer
organization was a small, fnancially vulnerable organization when it
started, founded by a small group of men (primarily surgeons and
gynecologists) who worried that their message about cancer went
unheard by most Americans and who hoped that their campaign
against the disease would encourage public support for them and
their organization. This support, they projected, would be built upon a
transformation in public understanding of cancer that would encourage
people both to seek timely help from a recognized physician and to
help the organization with time and money through volunteer work
and donations. Indeed, the conversion narratives of the 1920s to the
1940s often linked the two: turning people into volunteers was often
a consequence of their becoming patients. Recall Mrs. Brown-Jones
in A Fortunate Accident, who was not only converted to the medical
doctrine of cancer, but was also persuaded to organize for the ASCC.
Mrs. Brown-Jones was followed by Mary Brown in Choose to Live
(1940) and Mary Bronson in Time Is Life (1946), both of whom were
persuaded to go to their physicians and to volunteer for the ASCC/
ACS after worrying that they might have cancer.
Early is a key word here. Like the movies themselves, the
founders of the ASCC saw cancer as a dramaturgical event. It began
secretly and silently, and by the time that most people noticed it, it
was too late to do anything (See fgure 1). Without conversion to the
doctrine of early detection and treatment, the disease would almost
inevitably progress to a tragic end. For this reason, cancer conversion
narratives stressed the need for speedy conversion. In most movies
featuring conversion narratives released between the 1920s and the
1960s, conversions were sudden, dramatic, onetime affairs. The conver-
sion might come during the course of a scientifc lecture on cancer
(Choose to Live) [See fgure 2], in the course of a consultation with a
physician (A Fortunate Accident), on viewing a scientifc book (Reward
of Courage) [See fgure 3], or in the course of a conversation with the
narrator (Man Alive, 1952). In each of these cases, the conversion was
sudden, dramatic, and generally complete in a moment, but in some
flms (Man Alive), post-conversion anxieties tempted patients away from
a medically-approved course (See fgure 4). This mode of conversion
might be usefully contrasted to the sorts of conversions that Anne
Hunsaker Hawkins identifes in the cancer pathographies that emerged
after World War II.
Where Hawkinss conversions are structured by the
uncertain, sometimes slow, backwards-forwards progress of the disease
and its treatments, conversions, as portrayed in the cancer movies, are
structured around the urgency of getting people to see their physicians
as soon as possible. Dramatic, sudden, complete conversions served to
highlight the need for quick action to defeat the disease.
Cinematic conversions not only set out the need for quick action,
they also provided indications of the sorts of changes that the ASCC/
ACS expected from its audiences. The frst change was epistemologi-
cal. Conversion accounts involved characters moving from ignorance
to knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, transforming the ways
in which they acquired knowledge. No movie ever suggested that the
289 David Cantor
public could acquire suffcient knowledge to determine what constituted
cancer. Instead, they encouraged the audience to turn to sources of
knowledge sanctioned by the Cancer Society, including physicians and
ASCC/ACS educational media such as pamphlets, posters, and mov-
ies. At the same time, as I shall show, they set limits on the capacity
of lay people to diagnose the disease and discouraged them from
seeking information from alternative sources such as quacks, gossips,
or purveyors of patent medicines (This Great Peril, 1929; Man Alive).
Conversion stories thus aimed to establish medical and, especially from
the 1940s, pathological knowledge as the arbiter of what was cancer
and to channel the public to physicians and pathologists approved
by the ASCC/ACS.
The second component of cinematic conversion was behavioral.
Characters were not only persuaded of the benefts of the medical
model of dealing with cancer, they acted in response to the persuasion.
Those who survived their cancers chose to monitor their own bodies
for signs of the disease and to go to physicians for regular checkups
or if they detected anything suspicious. They avoided quacks (Reward
of Courage, This Great Peril, Man Alive), they heeded the advice of fam-
ily and friends only when it accorded with that of the ASCC/ACS
(Man Alive), and sometimes they began working for the ASCC/ACS
(A Fortunate Accident, Choose to Live, Time Is Life). Those who did not
follow such a route tended to die (Time and Two Women, 1957; You
Are the Switchman, 1946).
Figure 2. Mary Browns conversion moment (Choose to Live, 1940). Mary (left) is
persuaded to go to her physician when she attends a lecture by a physician (right)
at her womens club. Note the posters behind the physician, which were used by
the ASCC and the Public Health Service as part of cancer education campaigns
in the 1940s.
The third component of cinematic conversion was emotional. In
most movies, the identifcation of what might be cancer generated
considerable fear, stress, and anxiety, and one of the consequences
of a decision to see a physician was emotional relief. Conversion
involved emotion, not only knowledge and behavior. In early cancer
movies, the emotional conversion was heightened by the melodramatic
tradition derived from the nineteenth-century stage; in later movies,
it had more in common with the emergent tradition of the womans
But whatever the genre, the narrative trajectory moved from
fear or anxiety to relief, a transition that was important to the ASCC/
ACS because it regarded fear and anxiety as major causes of delay
in seeking appropriate help. In one movie, relief comes at the frst
consultation with a doctor, before any diagnosis is confrmed (Choose
to Live). But in most movies, relief comes much later, either when the
doctor announces that a person does not have the disease (Man Alive;
Inside Magoo, 1960; Time Is Life) or following a successful operation
(Reward of Courage; You, Time, and Cancer, 1948). In most cases, this
relief is dramatic, one-time, and sudden, like the epistemological and
behavioral elements of conversion. However, as I shall discuss later,
from the 1950s onward, a number of movies began to imagine not
only a sudden conversion, but one also organized around the need to
continually manage fear. In such stories, conversions might be dramatic,
but they were always at risk of being undermined as patients met new
challenges along what was often a diffcult therapeutic pathway.
A Role for Religion?
Two other characteristics of the conversion narrative should be
noted, both of which relate to the audiences that the ASCC/ACS hoped
to reach. The frst characteristic concerns the role of religion in these
stories. The ASCC/ACSs cinematic conversions were, as Ive hinted
before, secular conversions: they focused on saving lives rather than
souls, on this world rather than the next, and organized religion had
little or no role to play. The absence of organized religion is worth
comment because churches were often important in getting the mes-
sage of early detection and treatment to the public because cancer
movies were routinely shown to church groups and because campaigns
against other diseases did not necessarily exclude organized religion
from their educational flms. On the contrary, in other campaigns,
priests and pastors sometimes became keys to conversion.
Part of
291 David Cantor
the reason the clergy did not have this role in the ASCC/ACSs flms,
I suggest, had to do with the fact that the organization targeted its
movies at white audiences.
The point I make here about the racial composition of the in-
tended audience is suggested by comparing ASCC/ACS movies with
the fve flms Edgar G. Ulmer made for the National Tuberculosis As-
sociation between 1938 and 1941. The aim of these tuberculosis flms
was very similar to that of the cancer movies: They urged people
to learn the early warning signs of the disease, to go for regular
checkups from a recognized physician, to avoid quacks, and to seek
early, medically sanctioned treatment the moment the disease was
identifedand often they used conversion accounts to teach these
lessons. Thus, the conversions portrayed in tuberculosis movies were
similar to those found in cancer movies in that they focused on secular
salvation. However, they differed from cancer movies in the role they
gave to religion in facilitating this form of conversion. Ulmers movies
can be divided into two groups: one group which, like cancer movies,
gave no role to religion and another group which gave to religion a
signifcant role in promoting a medical conversion.
What divides these two groups is the race of the intended
audience. Ulmers flms targeted African Americans (Let My People
Live, 1938), Mexican Americans (Cloud in the Sky, 1939), white children
(Goodbye Mr. Germ, 1940), white adults (They Do Come Back, 1940), and
Native Americans (Another to Conquer, 1941). Ulmers movies aimed at
non-white audiences tended to give a different place to organized or
traditional religion than those aimed at white adults or children. For
example, in Let My People Live, it is a black pastor who persuades
Mary to seek help from a recognized physician when she suspects she
might have tuberculosis, and in Cloud in the Sky, it is a Catholic padre
who persuades Consuelo to seek medical attention after she suspects
she might have the disease. In the other movie aimed at non-whites,
Another to Conquer, the story is more complicated. The flm progresses
as a fght between traditional faith and contemporary medicine, which
contemporary medicine eventually wins, and is incorporated into a
Native American vision of Indians as fghters against disease. The
key fgure here is Slow-Talker, grandfather to Nema and Don, whose
parents have died from TB. Slow-Talker is converted to white, scientifc
ways of seeing tuberculosis when a physician persuades him that his
own TB is the cause of Nema and Dons parents deaths. Slow-Talker, a
respected fgure in the tribe, becomes a convert to science and isolates
himself in a sanatorium, providing an example to his people.
By contrast, in Ulmers movies aimed at white adults and chil-
dren, organized religion plays little or no part, nor is there much
reference to traditional cultures. The proselytizer is not a pastor, padre,
or someone like Slow-Talker, who represents traditional beliefs. Instead,
he is a scientist or physician. Thus, in Goodbye, Mr. Germ, a scientist
seeks to persuade his children of modern scientifc understandings of
TB by telling them a story about an invention that allows Tee Bee
the germ to talk with him about tuberculosis and efforts to combat
it. In They Do Come Back, Roy Adams and Julie Clarke are converted
by physicians and medical educators to the National Tuberculosis
Associations way of seeing TB after both contract the disease.
is the frst to be diagnosed and is sent to a sanatorium for bed rest,
as is Julie after being diagnosed with early tuberculosis, though she
avoids the pneumothorax that Roy undergoes when bed rest alone
does not work for his advanced case of the disease. Roys and Julies
conversions come during their treatment in the sanatorium, where they
begin to plan a new future for themselves based on scientifc principles
that promote rehabilitation and prevent recurrence.
The absence of organized religion in these movies is a puzzle.
The tuberculosis campaign, like the campaign against cancer, relied
on churches to get its message across to white audiences, showed
its movies to church groups, and probably found receptive audi-
ences inasmuch as church groups were both concerned about cancer
and interested in educational movies as a moral counterweight to
sensationalist commercial ones.
Yet the movies released by the TB
organization for white audiences generally did not portray a role for
organized religion in the conversion of people to the medical view of
the disease, just as the flms released by the cancer organization for
white audiences gave no role to religion. Perhaps both organizations
believed that black and Hispanic audiences would more readily turn to
medically sanctioned ideas if the suggestion came from a churchman,
albeit a fctional one; pastors and priests were, after all, proselytizers
to their communities for many organizations and causes. Perhaps they
believed that white audiences would be more persuaded by scientists
and physicians alone and did not need the intercession of the church.
Or perhaps they feared invoking organized religion because they saw
denominational divides as more important to white than to black or
Hispanic audiences and feared that a proselytizer from one denomination
might work against efforts to persuade members of another denomina-
tion of their intent. Whatever the reason, the content of Ulmers flms
aimed at white audiences did not include representatives of churches
293 David Cantor
or church groups, nor did the content of the movies produced by the
cancer organization. It is not possible to say whether the ASCC/ACS
would have given a greater role to the churches had it sought to
make flms for Hispanic, black, or Native American audiences, since
it did not do this until much later than the Tuberculosis Association,
after the period covered by this essay.
Converting Women
The second characteristic of the conversion narrative that should
be noted concerns the differences between conversion narratives aimed
at women and those aimed at men. A growing historical scholarship
has shown that the ASCC/ACS focused most of its educational efforts
on women.
Movies were no exception. The organization argued that
more women died of cancer than men and consequently targeted most
of its movies at women. As with the broader educational efforts of
which it was a part, the ASCC/ACS provided different educational
messages to women and men. Many movies, for example, urged
women to abandon the false modesty that Leslie Reagan suggests was
portrayed as a distinguishing mark of womens resistance to early
detection and treatment and to seek immediate care from a qualifed
physician. False modesty was never a reason why, in the educational
movie, men failed to go to their physicians.
Most womens cancer movies were melodramas, which, especially
from the 1930s, drew on the conventions of the commercial womans
In the womans educational movie, the story was told from
the perspective of the central female character, albeit a perspective
often voiced by a male narrator who described the turbulent inner
emotional world of the woman afficted with cancer or a fear of the
disease. It invited female audiences to identify with the dilemmas of
the central character caught between her fears of cancer and its treat-
ment, her hopes of a cure, and her obligations to her family. Like the
medical melodrama, the subgenre of the womans flm identifed by
Mary Ann Doane, such flms tended also to include scenes in which
a traumatized or disturbed female character tells her story to a sym-
pathetic male doctor, scenes that sometimes generated the moment of
conversion. Thus, in Choose to Live, Mary Brown gains emotional relief
from telling her physician about the lump on her breast, and Mrs.
Brown-Jones in A Fortunate Accident agrees to return to Dr. Strong
after seeking a second opinion from another physician.
Cancer education movies aimed at women tended to confate male
and medical authority.
As we have seen in A Fortunate Accident, it is
the unnamed eminent male surgeon who converts Mrs. Brown-Jones to
the modern doctrine of cancer control. And the theme of medical/male
authority over women is reiterated in other movies. In This Great Peril,
a young physician persuades his former fance to save her mother
by encouraging the latter to abandon a quack sanitorium and to go
to a recognized physician. The fgure of the mother in this movie, as
in Reward of Courage, represents gullibility, ignorance, tradition, and
outmoded belief. In both flms, it is the mother who stands in the way
of progress, who endangers herself through her credulity and lack of
knowledge, and who seeks to interfere with her daughters marriage
By the 1940s, this older fgure of the ignorant mother had
disappeared from cancer education movies, but women facing the pos-
sibility of cancer still tended to be characterized as uninformed, and
they and their families were saved only by putting their trust in men
and medicine (Choose to Live).
Time Is Life provides a good example of a womens cancer movie.

The flm opens in the dead of night with Mary Bronson unable to
sleep for fear that she might have cancer. Perhaps she doesnt have
cancer, perhaps she does, and what will happen if she does have
it?all are questions asked either in her own voice or in the voice
of the male narrator, Neil OBrien. Unable to cope and increasingly
agitated, Mary resolves to do something about the disease, though
she is apparently uncertain what to do. Then, one day while walking
on the street, she stops in front of the local offce of the Womens
Field Army of the ACS (a volunteer organization established in 1937),
where a sign broadcasts the optimistic message that Many Cancers
Are Being Cured Today because they are treated in the early stages.
As she looks through the window, the narratorperhaps the voice of
Marys own thoughts, perhaps the voice of the audience, perhaps the
voice of the ACSurges her to Go on in. Dont be frightened. Dont
go away. At frst, she walks away. However, her conversion moment
comes soon after, when she returns to the ACS offce, tells her fears
to the female ACS volunteer, and goes to her family physician, Dr.
Addison. In this case, there are several proselytizers, and not all are
men. But, the result is the same as in other movies aimed at women:
a confation of male and medical authority. Mary is persuaded by the
female volunteer to go to her male physician.
As in many womens educational flms, the conversion in Time Is
Life is not only about Marys decision to see her physician, but also
295 David Cantor
about the relief that follows from her decision to seek help. Conver-
sion is as much an emotional event as a behavioral and intellectual
one. The flm traces a transition from fear to relief, frst in the reas-
suring atmosphere of the ACS offce, then in Dr. Addisons offce, and
even in the operating room where surgeons perform a biopsy. In the
course of Marys journey from street to operating table, the audience
learns what cancer is not (a hereditary or contagious disease), the
early warning signs of the disease, the major forms of treatment used
to treat cancer (surgery, x-rays, and radium), the vast research effort
against the disease, and the nature of the one-step operation. Mary
agrees that if the pathologist fnds cancer, the surgeons will operate
immediately, without waking her up. We watch Mary as she lies un-
conscious on the operating table, partially obscured by white sheets,
surrounded by surgeons and nurses waiting for the pathologists report.
While we wait to learn her fate, OBrien tells us about how cancer is
diagnosed by the pathologist, and we watch the pathologist examine
her biopsy. Then the tension is resolved, and Marys decision to go
for a consultation is vindicated: She does not have cancer. Her fear of
the disease has turned out to be phantom. Mary returns to the ACS
offce and becomes a volunteer, helping other women overcome their
fears and seek medical care among other things.
The plotline of this movie, like many womens cancer education
movies, carries the story from the female characters perspective: it
asks the viewer to empathize with her fear of cancer, its treatment,
and its consequences for her family; it opens the possibility that
she might transgress medically sanctioned codes of behavior; and it
explores the consequences of her actionsthe emotional relief that
follows from her acceptance of medical advice. This story, like many
other conversion narratives, allows Mary to reach the bottom of an
emotional abyss before she begins to rise, post-conversion, above the
valley of the shadow of suffering and death. In its focus on Marys
decision to volunteer, Time Is Life portrays a world like the Womens
Field Army of the ACS, in which networks of women helped each
other to overcome their fears of disease and channeled thousands of
other women to their physicians. In this movie, cancer and cancero-
phobia are defeated by a combination of womens mutual self-help
and male medical expertise.
Converting Men
Although most movies were aimed at women, some plot elements
of some flms were aimed specifcally at and showed the conversions
of men. Indeed, in the frst ASCC movie, Reward of Courage, it is
Marshall Flint, husband, father, and employer, who is converted to
the medical approach to cancer, and it is he who saves his wife from
cancer and his daughter from marrying the quack Maurice Maxwell.
Unlike the conversions of women in later flms, it is not the personal
threat of cancer that prompts his conversion, but the information pro-
vided by Dr. Dale (the physician in the clinic Marshall has installed
in his factory) [See fgure 3], combined with his wifes subsequent
diagnosis of breast cancer and the revelations of Maxwells deception.
Flint had previously been convinced of the value of the clinic when
Gene Barnes, his factory superintendent, showed him statistics which
demonstrated that the clinic was reducing time lost on account of
sickness and ensuring that the workers in his company did not lose
wages. To the ASCC, businessmen like Flint were converted by hopes
of proft and industrial effciency, by the authority of science, by the
danger that cancer posed to their families, and by the prospect of
being taken in by fraud.
Like most movies of the 1920s and 1930s, Reward of Courage was
a melodrama, but it drew on a tradition different from that of the
womans flm discussed above. Its roots lay in earlier theatrical and
movie melodramas that played on the audiences familiarity with stock
(medical) heroes and villains (quacks) and stock themes, including the
vulnerable endangered, thwarted love, the race to the rescue, and the
ultimate triumph of good over evil. The flms narrative worked to
heighten the audiences sense of agitation from observing the callous,
money-grabbing quack exploit a vulnerable woman, and it sought to
create further tension with Marshalls (largely off-screen) race to res-
cue his wife from Maxwell. With its echoes of earlier melodramatic
traditions that focused on action, incident, and jeopardy, this movie
sought to associate medical conversion with the relief that came with
Maxwells demise and Annas rescue.
But Reward of Courage was an exception. It was the only movie in
the 1920s and 1930s that portrayed the conversion of men to the idea
of early detection and treatment. All other movies during this period
portrayed the conversion of women; men remained cinematographically
unconverted until the 1940s, when a small number of movies began
to portray male conversion. Some of the later male conversions, such
297 David Cantor
as those in You Are the Switchman and You, Time, and Cancer, were
embedded in dramas and melodramas that drew on very different
dramatic and melodramatic traditions than did Reward of Courage.
There was none of the accident, incident, and jeopardy of the 1921
movie, nor were later flms focused on the personal fears of cancer
or its treatment, as was common in earlier womens movies. Instead,
the male melodramas of the 1940s focused on the threat that cancer
posed to the mans family. Viewed through a sentimental lens, they
emphasized his responsibility as a bread-winner and the tragedy of
widowed wives and fatherless children.
If the ASCC/ACS continued to target melodramas at men, it
was also increasingly ambivalent about the use of this genre for this
audience. Given its association with the womens flm, it was not clear
to the Society that the conversion narrative would work for men if it
was embedded in this genre. So the organization began to search for
alternatives. One alternative was to incorporate the conversion narra-
tive into a detective/mystery genre. Thus, Enemy X (1942) concerns the
mystery of an unknown assailant who is murdering people in New
York City (and marking each victim with an X on the forehead) and
the efforts of the police and a rich piano-playing sleuth named Keith
Prescott, played by William Harrigan, to track down the killer. The
Figure 3. Marshall Flints conversion (Reward of Courage, 1921). Dr. Dale (right)
shows Marshall Flint (left) and Gene Barnes (center) a book describing the nature
of cancer, which constitutes one of a series of conversion moments for Marshall.
The animated sequence in Figure 1 follows this scene. Note the reverse text next
to the sprockets: this image was taken from an original nitrate print.
police inform Prescott that the mysterious killer is cancer, but then
audience members are surprised to learn that the detective story itself
is a flm (also called Enemy X) within the flm they are watching.
A voice calls cut, and the actors (all men) take a break, step out
of role, and chat with the movies medical advisor, Dr. Crandall. It
is the flm within the flm and the conversation with the consulting
physician that convince the actors of the curability of cancer and of
the need for regular checkups. As the actor William Harrigan, playing
himself, comments to Dr. Crandall, the flm within the flm gave him
a jolt, and he hopes it will do the same for the audience. Harrigan
had previously played in a number of other detective/gangster flms,
including G-Men (1935) and Federal Bullets (1937).
Another alternative to the melodrama was cartoon animation.
Starting in the 1950s, the ACS developed a series of cartoons for male
audiences (Traitor Within, 1946; Man Alive; Inside Magoo), some of which
employed conversion stories (Man Alive, Inside Magoo). The organiza-
tion seems to have seen cartoons, and especially humorous cartoons,
as particularly effective ways of reaching men and of addressing the
fears that men might have about the disease and its treatment. Indeed,
in the 1950s, cartoons and humor were almost exclusively targeted at
men. With the exception of some television spots, movies aimed at
women did not use cartoon animation until the 1960s, nor did they
use humor to dampen fears of the disease.
The message in all of these flms targeting men is much the same
as the message aimed at womenearly detection and treatment save
lives. They encouraged men to learn the early warning signs of the
disease, to go for regular checkups, and to avoid quacks, the dubious
advice of friends, and home remedies.
But there are some noticeable
differences between these and the cinematic conversions aimed at
women. In many of these flms, the proselytizer is not a physician or
scientist but a wife. As Leslie Reagan notes, urging men to listen to the
health advice of their wives underlined the gendered nature of health
education and the expectation that women should teach the lessons
of public education and ensure public health.
An ACS advertisement
captured the tone: A Nagging Wife May Save Your Life.
An example of the proselytizing wife can be seen in You Are the
Switchman, the story of John Dole (father of Bob and Jane and husband
to Mary), who has a sore on his lip. In fact, the flm is not one story
but two. In the frst story, John delays seeking help for this sore, dis-
missing it until it grows too big to ignore. Eventually, Mary has had
enough and persuades her husband to see Dr. Benjamin. Unfortunately,
299 David Cantor
John has waited too long, and this story ends with a widowed Mary, a
single, working mom, looking after their children alone. In the second
story, Mary is also the proselytizer. She has found an ACS leafet on
the early warning signs of cancer in a local drug store and brings it
home to John, who acts immediately on the information and goes to
Dr. Benjamin. (He also persuades Mary to go for a checkup.) In this
story, John survives, Mary does not have to go to work, and the fam-
ily stays together, the children warm, snug, secure, and happy about
the whole thing, as the narrator puts it.
The point about listening to wives is driven home by the car-
toon Man Alive.
In this flm Ed Parmalee has a stomach pain and
delays seeking medical attention out of fear that the problem might
be cancer. His wife, Marion, repeatedly suggests that he go to see his
physician, but he refuses to listen to her and eventually explodes in
anger before repenting and agreeing to go. But Eds repentance and
conversion have as much to do with the male narrator of the flm as
with Marion. This narratorperhaps Eds conscience, perhaps the voice
of the audience, perhaps the voice of the ACSfunctions similarly to
Neil OBrien, the narrator in Time Is Life, in that he urges Ed to seek
help, much as OBrien had urged Mary Bronson to seek help. The
difference in Man Alive is that Ed answers back. The narrator tells Ed
that his anger toward his wife is unreasonable, and when Ed shame-
facedly agrees, the narrator persuades him to go to the doctor. The
message of the flm is thus quite confused in regard to Marion: On
the one hand, it suggests that Ed should have listened to his wife;
on the other, it suggests that only a man-to-man talk can persuade a
man to listen to his wife.
Man Alive is unique among movies of the 1950s in the attention
it gives to the psychology of delay (and to the psychology of not
listening to wives). The narrator divides Eds responses to Marions
suggestions into four categoriesdenial, sarcasm, icy disdain, and un-
reasoning angerwhich he describes as the consequences of excessive
fear of the disease. Part of the aim of this movie is to help Ed, and
viewers recognize these responses in themselves and thereby combat
their inclination to delay by cultivating a healthy, self-controlled fear
of the disease that balances fear and reassurance: As the narrator tells
Ed: It is foolish to worry day and night about cancer, but its just as
foolish not to worry about it at all. Be on guard. Dont let fear make
a mess of your life again. But, use your good common sense. This
self-controlled fear is the key to conversion. In the 1930s, the ASCC
had worried about the impact of its message on over emotional and
uncontrolled individuals; in Man Alive, the ACS sought to provide
such individuals with a means of maintaining emotional equilibrium
by psychologizing their fear in something of the same way fear among
servicemen had been psychologized during World War II. Mary Lakeman
had argued in 1933 that action sprang from fear; Man Alive suggested
that it also sprang from self-knowledge and self-control.
Man Alive is also notable for the importance it gave to a me-
chanical analogy to the process of conversion,
an analogy that was
rarely if ever used in movies for women. In the movie, the narrator
tries to persuade Ed to see a physician by drawing an analogy be-
tween his body and a car engine: just as a car engine gives warning
signs of impending problems, he claims, so does the body in regard
to cancer. Indeed, the narrator reminds Ed that he had earlier ignored
the warning signs that his car engine needed attention just as he is
now ignoring the warning signs of what might be cancer; the risk
is that he may suffer the same fate as his car. Ed had compounded
his car problems by going to a dodgy car mechanic, hoping to save
money, only to fnd that the mechanic ruined the engine and cost
him more than if he had gone to a recognized car mechanic in the
frst place. Ed seems doomed to repeat these mistakes in the case of
cancer. After agreeing to see a physician, his resolve fails [See fgure
4], and he turns to a quack, who looks suspiciously like the dodgy
car mechanic who had ruined his car engine.
In this movie, cancer and car trouble, quacks and dodgy car
mechanics are threats to Eds life, his wallet, and his enjoyment of
postwar, suburban consumer car culture, all beautifully evoked. These
threats are only averted by Eds decision to see a doctor. The story
ends with him and Marion enjoying a movie at a drive-in theater.
The Problems of the Movie
So far Ive argued that the ASCC/ACS used movies both to trans-
form public attitudes and behaviors concerning cancer and to transform
its own status. But this alacrity introduced a problem: Movies, and the
conversion accounts embedded in them, could be blunt instruments
for getting the ASCC/ACSs message across. Able to tell the same
story repeatedly to audiences across the country but often unable to
respond to the needs of different audiences, they were monological.
Time and again they told their conversion stories, unchanged except
for scratches and broken sprockets, repeating the same involved tale
301 David Cantor
to whomever would watch. No small wonder, then, that the movies
often had a relatively short life span. Audiences might fnd them
persuasive the frst time they watched, but they could soon tire of
the show, and boredom or inattention could set in with subsequent
viewings, which could weaken the flms capacity to persuade people
to see a physician. For this reason, the ASCC/ACS felt compelled to
introduce new movies on a regular basis and to retire old ones, so
that the senses were not dulled.
Paradoxically, if movies could undermine the power of the con-
version narrative to do its work by inducing boredom and inattention,
Figure 4. Man Alive (1952). After agreeing to go to his physician, Ed Parmalee be-
gins to doubt his decision, and he physically shrinks as he becomes more fearful of
what the doctor might fnd. Here he has shriveled to a size smaller than a white
picket fence; dwarfed by the telegraph poles and tall buildings that lean over him.
Man Alive was one of the frst cancer education movies to highlight post-conversion
anxieties. In this image Ed is on his way to see his physician, but as his fears
grow, he is about to be tempted to see a quack: His route to the doctor is ap-
parently blocked by the structure in front of him. Note the urban backdrop: Ed is
passing into a seedy part of town where the quack has set up shop. By contrast,
Eds regular physician has a manicured, middle-class suburban offce.
they could also undermine it by exciting too much, or the wrong sort
of, emotion. In the view of the ASCC/ACS, flm had such a powerful
emotional impact that it could easily intensify existing public fears
about cancer and its treatments, and thereby counteract the work the
ASCC/ACS intended it to do, prompting people to delay rather than
to seek immediate and appropriate help. In some cases, as Ive men-
tioned, the Society sought to counteract such fears by introducing an
element of reassurance into its flmsthe promise of a cure or the relief
from fear and anxiety. But reassurance was also a problem because
it could easily turn into complacency, and complacency into delay. It
was quite impossible to predict which way an audience would turn,
so the ASCC/ACS sometimes felt uncertain which way to proceed.
The problem was exacerbated by the visual component of the
movies. The ASCC/ACS was enthusiastic about visual media as a way
of transforming social attitudes and behaviors. Yet, if it saw visual
images as a powerful means of educating the public to identify the
possibility of cancer, it also worried that some images might have the
opposite effect. In its view, some visual images were too evocative or
too sensitive to show because they might distract or dissuade people
from seeking help by exaggerating the cancerophobia that physicians
already detected in the public. For this reason, it rarely showed the
disease itself,
nor did it show details of therapy (surgery, radiotherapy),
their post-operative consequences, or even the danger signals that it
argued should prompt a person to go to his or her physician. Thus, if
the ASCC/ACS rhapsodized about the possibility of visual instruction,
it also sought to limit the role of images in its campaigns.
The point can be illustrated by the place of the danger signal
in its poster campaigns.
Given its enthusiasm for visual instruc-
tion, one might have expected the organization to illustrate the early
warning signs of cancer, so as to provide the public with visual clues
that might send them to the doctor. In fact, it tended to avoid this
strategy. Instead of using visual images of the early warning signs,
posters tended to describe them in words.
This is not to say that
graphic images of the early warning signs were entirely absent from
publicity aimed at the public. Occasionally, especially from the 1940s,
images of some of the warning signs of cancer found their way into
ASCC/ACS posters, pamphlets, and exhibits.
But in general, the
organization was wary of using such images, tending instead to rely
on vivid phrases such as Danger Signals, irregular bleeding, or a
wart that does not heal to conjure up mental images whose visual
representation might be too disturbing.
The ASCC/ACS seems to
have believed that such phrases and the mental images they evoked
303 David Cantor
were less likely to scare potential patients than visual images of the
warning signs themselves.
In movies, a similar reticence about explicit images can be dis-
cerned. Very few of the movies from the 1920s and 1930s that have
survived show the early warning signs. These signs were generally
either spoken by the narrator or listed as captions or as text within
the flm.
This began to change in the 1940s and 1950s, when, for
example, movies began to show early surface cancers.
some warning signs, such as bodily discharges, were never shown
in public education flms, except as animation which was sometimes
used, like words, to avoid the emotional impact of live-action im-
ages. Animation could show aspects of cancer and its treatment that
would have been diffcult to show in live action using the bodies of
real patients.
If visual images could serve to infate fears about cancer and
its treatment, they were also problematic in another way: They could
encourage people to overestimate their knowledge of the disease.
Thus while the ASCC/ACS argued that people should learn the early
warning signs of the disease, they also worried that people might not
recognize the limits of their own knowledge and engage in their own
diagnoses. So they sought to set limits on lay knowledge, in flm,
for example, by showing visuallyoften by means of animation, or
of cine-microphotographywhat ordinary people could not see: the
inside of the body as revealed by surgery or the world of the cell as
revealed by the microscope. In the context of efforts to defne cancer
as a surgeons and pathologists disease, these visual images of the
inside of the body and of the cell stressed the impossibility of iden-
tifying cancer based on the visual signs that might drive a person to
see a physician.
The message was that people might be taught to
identify the early warning signs of cancer, but that these clues did
not necessarily signify cancer. Only a physician or pathologist could
determine the diagnosis. Consequently, if the ASCC/ACS came to see
movies as a means of transforming public attitudes and behaviors and
if it sought to limit the sorts of visual images employed to promote
that transformation, it also used visual images to impose boundaries
around the publics understanding of the disease.
Addressing the Problems
Some of the problems of managing audiences were addressed at
the production stage. When the ASCC/ACS commissioned a movie,
it routinely negotiated with flm companies about cinematic content.
From the start, it agreed that public education messages should be
wrapped in a dramatic narrative, which, until the 1950s, was generally
a conversion narrative embedded in a melodrama or, later, in cartoon
or detective stories. It also routinely sought to cut scenes that seemed
to risk undermining the message of the movie. From the 1920s to
the 1940s, it cut hospital, surgical, post-operative, and rehabilitation
scenes, and there was no portrayal of the scars or pain that an op-
eration could leave nor, as Ive mentioned, any visual representations
of the danger signals.
In the organizations view, all these could
undermine efforts to encourage people to seek medical care as soon
as possible. It was only in the 1940s that this began to change, when
the ASCC/ACS introduced hospital and surgical scenes and shots of
cancers into its movies, joined in the late 1950s by scenes depicting
post-operative rehabilitation, scars, and pain.
These changes were in
part the result of pressure from critics who thought the ASCC/ACS
undermined its own message by ignoring issues that people were fully
aware of, from outside organizations which began to promote cancer
education in areas such as rehabilitation,
and from the organizations
increasing tendency to test its flms on audiences prior to release. To
its surprise, audiences sometimes responded positively to scenes which
the ACS thought would turn them off.
The conversion narrative must be seen within this context: It
provided an important method by which the ASCC/ACS sought
to manage viewers responses. The conversion narrative provided a
reassuring ending to the story that calmed potential fears generated
by the subject, its visual representation, or the flms melodramatic
excesses. Whether it succeeded in such an aim is unknown. Indeed,
the ASCC/ACS worried that the effectiveness of conversion narratives
might be undermined by the visual elements they were supposed to
counteract. Nevertheless, this sense of reassurancea balance to the
fear that might be generated by a movieseems to have been very
important to the ASCC/ACS, and helped to counter criticisms that its
education programs intensifed cancerophobia.
But modifcations at the production stage of the movie could
only go so far. They did little to address the inability of individual
movies to tailor their messages to different audiences. For this reason,
the ASCC/ACS also sought to control the conditions under which
movies were exhibited. The organization typically required an expert
to be present at each screening who might present a lecture, answer
questions from the audience, and address any unwanted reactions to
305 David Cantor
the flm.
In addition, it hoped that the family physician would help
to address any issue raised by the flm: in its imagination, family
physicians were trusted advisors, albeit often ignorant of the latest
advances in cancer and ill-equipped to deal with patients anxieties
about the disease and its treatment. Thus, the organization prepared
talking-points for family physicians that addressed likely concerns that
patients might raise after a screening and a blizzard of instructional
leafets, newspaper and magazine articles, and radio and, later, television
reports that might accompany the show. The movie might have been
monologic, unresponsive to such individual concerns, but it was part
of a broad array of methods of communication that ASCC/ACS hoped
would allow it to manage audience responses to its message.
This is not to say that the efforts of the ASCC/ACS to control
the conditions under which movies were exhibited replaced efforts to
modify their production. On the contrary, they often went hand in hand.
The point can be illustrated by the problems that the ASCC/ACS had
in getting experts to attend its flm shows. Too often, experts either
were not available or were not very adept at public speaking, and in
the 1950s, the ACS began to make movies that could be shown either
without an expert or with an expert who could not communicate ef-
fectively. An example of the frst type of flm was A Question in Time
(1949), which, according to its publicity, was intended to be shown in
situations where a medical expert could not be present. The flm itself
would answer questions that a flm audience might commonly ask a
medical speaker. An example of the second type of flm was The Doctor
Speaks His Mind (1948). Released the year before A Question in Time,
this movie was designed to pave the way for a medical speaker, but
its publicity claimed that it was intended to be particularly effective
where the doctor was not an accomplished public speaker.
The introduction of television in the late 1940s and 1950s chal-
lenged all these efforts to manage audience responses. Whereas flm
screenings were public events, television was often (though by no
means exclusively) viewed in the home, and the mechanisms that
sought to control audience responses in the public setting were not
always possible in the home. To add to these diffculties, the organi-
zation increasingly felt itself losing control of visual media to other
organizations. From the 1920s to the 1930s, the ASCC had been more
or less the sole provider of educational movies, but it was joined in
the 1940s by the United States Public Health Service.
In the 1950s,
this near monopoly was undermined by the emergence of commer-
cial television and by other agencies producing educational movies,
including movies on cancer. In some ways the business leaders, led
by Mary Lasker, who took over the ASCC in 1944 and renamed it
the American Cancer Society, welcomed the proliferation of organiza-
tions creating educational movies. In these flms, they saw evidence
of the ASCCs success in breaking the taboos around cancer that had
discouraged public discussion of the subject in earlier years.
But the
flms also magnifed the problem of managing the public responses
to the disease.
Like the movies, the organization regarded television as a new
and powerful medium that could transform peoples behaviors. But
it also worried that television could undermine the message of can-
cer control by exacerbating fears of the disease, providing erroneous
information, and dissuading people from seeking early detection and
treatment. While television companies were generally responsive to
ACS concerns, the Society no longer had complete control over the
production of visual educational messages about cancer, nor was it
able to control the conditions under which they were viewed. On
the production side, the ACS responded by trying to infuence how
individual television programs portrayed cancer and its treatment. It
offered lists of ACS-approved scientifc advisors to television companies,
and it sought to persuade them to broadcast ACS movies
and to
cooperate with the ACS in producing a variety of cancer programs.

Beginning about 1949, the ACS produced a series of television spots,
short thirty-second to two-minute flms designed to ft easily into tight
television schedules. Many were designed to accompany programs such
as music, weather, sports, or news shows.
Many also served double-
duty by raising funds and encouraging people to see their doctors. As
the slogan in one series of spots from the 1950s put it, Fight cancer
with a check-up and a check.
As television audiences grew, the ACS devoted increasing ef-
forts to promoting its messages via the new medium, much as it
had with radio in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1956, for example, the
ACS reported that its divisions encouraged more that 16,000 cancer
radio programs fve minutes or more in length and 1,599 television
Despite such efforts, the ACS felt it was a diffcult thing
to persuade the television companies to show its flm programs. Some
were too long for television or dealt with subjects that made televi-
sion programmers uneasy, and the organization also had to compete
with many other good causes.
The organization came to worry
that television companies might stray from its message about cancer
or not present it at all.
307 David Cantor
To compound the problem, in the ACSs view, television audi-
ences were a fckle group; it was often impossible to fgure out how
they might respond to particular programs. Thus, just as with flm,
the ACS attempted to enhance its television programming with other
methods of communication designed to manage public responses, much
as it had with movies years before. It provided physicians with talking
points that might help them address patients concerns about issues
raised in television programs, its administrators wrote letters and ar-
ticles to local newspapers, and it sought to persuade local radio and
television stations to provide opportunities for people to respond to
programs. It also encouraged television companies to direct viewers to
the ACS for more information, to present a commentary on programs
by ACS representatives, or to broadcast panel discussions in which
doctors answered audience questions about cancer.
Television itself
sometimes provided a forum through which the ACS could respond
directly to audience questions.
Displacing the Conversion Narrative
The introduction of television coincided with changes in the status
of the conversion narrative within the ACSs flm output. Conversion
narratives were no longer present in the majority of movies, and where
they were present, they no longer provided the central narrative struc-
ture but were increasingly subordinated to other stories. This change
had in part to do with the introduction of television, as I shall sug-
gest below, but it was also a product of changes in the ACSs public
education program, the expansion of the number of movies produced
by the organization, a growing willingness to experiment with other
narrative forms, and an increasing ambivalence in the ACSs attitude
towards conversion narratives as tools for managing the publics re-
sponse to cancer. Together all these helped to displace the dominance
of the conversion narrative.
In the frst place, the changing status of the conversion narrative
was associated with the emergence of new emphases in the ACSs
public education program. Whereas in the 1920s and 1930s, its movies
had mainly focused on persuading people to go to their physicians
(part of a broader program of public education for early detection
and treatment), from the 1930s and especially the 1940s on, the ACS
increasingly used motion pictures to promote a variety of other objec-
tives: encouraging the public to give money or time to the organization,
promoting public support for research, educating people in techniques
of self-surveillance, and training patients to manage the post-operative
effects of cancer. All these flms aimed to convert the public to the
ACSs vision of combating cancer, but many of them abandoned the
device of dramatizing conversions that viewers might emulate.
The changing status of conversion is most clear in the research
movies, the frst of which were released in the late 1930s.
None of
these flms employed dramatized conversions as part of the storyline.
Research movies aimed either to persuade the general public to sup-
port clinical, laboratory, and epidemiological research into cancer or to
encourage young people to take up a career in cancer research. Yet,
instead of using cinematic conversions to encourage support for re-
search, these movies, predominantly newsreels or documentaries, tended
instead to document the range of research being done, the questions
that interested researchers, the results of their work, and what these
results boded for the future in terms of better scientifc understandings
of cancer and better interventions against the disease.
The changing status of the conversion narrative is also evident in
other cancer movies that addressed subjects other than early detection
and treatment. First, it is evident in movies that aimed to encourage
the public to give time or money to the ACS. Prior to the 1950s,
most movies that portrayed peoplenormally womenvolunteering
time or money to the ACS represented these acts as a consequence
of the womens earlier conversion to programs of early detection and
treatment. During the late 1940s and 1950s, this sort of narrative was
rarely used in cancer education movies: portrayals of the conversion
of people into patients were increasingly dissociated from portrayals of
the conversion of people into volunteers and donors, and often flms
that targeted volunteers and donors abandoned the device of the con-
version narrative. Some simply asked for the money or time by using
a catchy phrase, such as Fight cancer with a check-up and a check.
Others asked for money and time through the use of poster children or
patients or by showing how the ACS used its money.
Other movies
sought to show, practically, how volunteers might charm money and
time out of others. For example, Man on the Other Side of the Desk
(1957) taught volunteers the techniques that they might employ and
the resources they might offer to the manager of a television or radio
station to promote the ACS. Eight out of Ten (1957) traced the history
of a successful fund-raising drive in Arizona. There are conversions, or
attempts at conversion, in both movies, but conversion does not hold
the central place in either that it had in the pre-1950s movies.
309 David Cantor
The changing status of the conversion narrative is also evident in
a new form of movie in the 1950s that focused on techniques people
might themselves employ to detect and recover from cancer. Conver-
sions were not central to the narrative trajectory of these movies. On
the detection side, the most important were movies that emerged in
the late 1940s and 1950s which taught women how to examine their
breasts for warning signs of cancer. Their focus was on teaching women
medically-approved techniques for examining their breasts and on
promoting the idea that breast examination was crucial to emotional
self-management by reassuring women who might be paralyzed into
inaction in the intervals between examinations that they did not have
cancer. As the narrator in the 1950 Breast Self-Examination movie puts
it, Here truly is a habit for health with an immediate reward: peace
of mind. The point was echoed by Emerson Day, Chairman of the
Department of Preventive Medicine at New York Citys Memorial
Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases, in the 1958 movie Breast Self-
Examination: An Urgent Message to All Women from the American Cancer
Society: For the vast majority [of women] who have not and will not
fnd cancer, breast self-examination has brought peace of mind, he
claimed. If these movies told a story of conversion at all, they told one
in which conversion was not a one-time transformation but something
that had to be maintained and worked upon.
In other movies, the focus was not on techniques for cancer
detection but on techniques for recovery after an operation. The re-
habilitation movie After Mastectomy (1958), for example, told the tale
of the slow healing of Kay Elliot after the removal of her breast and
of how she came to terms with the physical and emotional issues
raised by the operation. Her conversion to a more optimistic outlook
occurred very slowly and is remarkable because it occurred in spite
of the loss of her breast, a loss that was never mentioned in early
detection and treatment movies. As in the tuberculosis movie, They
Do Come Back, the moment of conversion in After Mastectomy comes
after the discovery of the disease during post-operative recovery and
The displacement of the conversion narrative, however, was not
unique to movies that addressed new subjects. Even in those flms of
the 1940s and 1950s that focused on the older theme of early detection
and treatment, the centrality of the dramatized conversion began to
fade. In an increasing number of these motion pictures, the conversion
was at best implicit: no moment of conversion is depicted, just warn-
ings of what might happen if the viewer failed to seek early treatment,
accounts of how early detection saved an individual, and stories about
the huge numbers of lives that would be saved if only people sought
timely care (The Doctor Speaks His Mind; Eight out of Ten; The Other
City, 1957).
If there was a moment of conversion, it happened off
screen, suggested perhaps, but it was not explicitly dramatized.
Instead of conversion stories, early detection and treatment movies
began to use an assortment of alternative narrative devices to get the
warning message across. One alternative was to provide a series of
vignettes that traced what happened to a variety of people, some of
whom sought early detection and treatment and others who did not.
For example, The Doctor Speaks His Mind tells the story of a family
physician who has just given some bad news to an old friend and
patient, Joe Todd and his wife Ellen: Joe had delayed seeking help,
and he is now dying. Saddened by this fact and frustrated at his in-
ability to do anything about it, the doctor begins to reminisce about
other patients, some who delayed and others who sought timely medi-
cal help. The former all died, including Ed Irwin, a baseball player
who ignored a mole on his leg; Ann Philips, a former librarian who
avoided her doctors appointment when she went on vacation; Mario,
the owner of a gas station who ignored a persistent cough; an un-
named woman who went to a quack; and the disembodied voices of
former patients that tell of fear or fatalism. By contrast, those who
followed the doctors advice lived, including Offcer Kahn, a traffc
cop, whose skin cancer was identifed during a routine examination
required by the police department; Mrs. Allen, a mother whose cancer
of the cervix was identifed after she went to her physician about some
unusual bleeding; and Mr. William Barrett, a cigar-smoking businessman
whose cancer of the mouth was identifed during a routine bi-annual
physical examination. None of these examples features a conversion
story, except perhaps the tale of Mrs. Allen, whose sister, a volunteer
for the ACS, prompts her to go see her physician after reading some
ACS literature. But if this is a conversion narrative, it is little more
than the suggestion of one.
The displacement of the conversion narrative was thus not simply
a consequence of new emphases in the ACSs public education pro-
grams. The organization may have chosen alternatives to the conversion
narrative for its new educational ventures such as research or giving
time or money, but it also chose alternative narratives for its continu-
ing efforts to persuade people to seek early detection and treatment.
This is not to say that it abandoned the conversion narrative. On the
contrary, it continued to use such stories (You are the Switchman, Man
311 David Cantor
Alive, Inside MaGoo) to persuade people to seek early detection and
treatment, but mixed these with other types of stories. The result was
that the ACSs repertoire of flms in the 1940s and 1950s provided an
assortment of narrative forms, targeted at a variety of audiences, and
that addressed a diverse range of subjects, old and new. Conversion
narratives were part of the mix.
The proliferation of narrative forms in the 1940s and 1950s re-
fected two contradictory attitudes towards the conversion narrative. The
frst was a continuing enthusiasm for these narratives as technologies
of social transformation. In the view of the ACS, cinematic conversion
stories had proved important means of persuading people to seek early
detection and treatment for this group of diseases, and there was no
reason to abandon this form of story. Equally, there was no reason
not to try other narratives. Indeed, the expansion of the ACSs income
in the 1940s and 1950s, and a consequent increase in its cinematic
provided the organization with an opportunity to introduce
new narrative forms without abandoning the older, tried-and-tested,
conversion narrative.
Paradoxically, the second reason for the proliferation of narra-
tive styles refected not enthusiasm about the conversion narrative,
but growing doubts about its power to transform public attitudes and
behaviors. For all its faith in the conversion narrative as a tool of
management and reform, the ASCC/ACS also saw limits to its effec-
tiveness. In the organizations view, it did not seem appropriate to all
subjects, and even where it had been used with some success there
was always the risk that using the same type of story time and time
again might dull audiences to the organizations message. Consequently,
as its cinematic output expanded in the 1940s and 1950s, it took the
opportunity to experiment with new narrative forms not only out of
faith in the value of new forms, but out of fear that the older conver-
sion narrative might not work. The profusion of narrative forms and
the displacement of the conversion narrative thus refected two quite
opposed rationales: one was a wish to build upon an effective narrative
form, the conversion story; the other was a desire to fnd substitutes
that might address the limitations of this same form.
It was in this context of ACS indecision about the value of the
conversion narrative that television entered the picture, and the or-
ganization seems to have been as undecided about the value of the
conversion narrative to television as it was about its value to traditional
motion pictures. In its view, the conversion narrative was both an effec-
tive narrative that could be adapted to television and one which was
quite limited in its effectiveness and which needed to be replaced by
other narrative forms. In part, this indecision refected concerns about
the previously mentioned fckleness of audiences: sometimes television
audiences seemed to respond well to traditional conversion narratives,
while at other times, they seemed indifferent. But, it also probably
refected the fact that the conditions of exhibition had changed. Instead
of making movies to show in the public setting of a flm show, the
ACS now had to make programs to ft the television schedules, and the
traditional conversion narrative did not always ft such schedules. The
short spots designed to slot into a thirty second gap in the schedule,
for example, were quite unable to tell the complex conversion stories
that had been a staple of educational flms in previous decades.
did not use a conversion narrative, and where they did, it was quite
different from the older conversion narrative. Compare, for example,
the dramatized conversion in the mid-1950s of a cartoon ostrich in a
thirty-second spot (it stopped hiding its head in the sand when the
narrator suggested it was best not to do so) with the relatively complex
conversions of Mrs. Brown-Jones, Mary Brown, Mary Bronson, or Ed
Parmalee in twenty- or thirty-minute flms.
This is not to say that the older style of conversion narrative
disappeared from the television screens.
For example, in 1956, NBC
put on The Charlatan, the story of a quack, played by George Sanders,
who successfully sues a physician who condemns his treatments. The
moment of conversion comes when he discovers that he has a cancer-
ous growth, and his own treatment fails to cure it. Mortally afraid
of the disease, Sanderss character turns for help to the physician he
had previously sued for questioning the effectiveness of his treatment.
And, to avoid the temptation that he might go back to his quackish
ways if the diagnosis turns out not to be cancer, he confesses his
conversion to a newspaper reporter and asks her to publish it. But
generally, these sorts of stories were only a small part of the vast
output of television programming.
Thus, the conversion narrative lost the dominance that it had
once enjoyed. The introduction of new emphases in public education,
the vast expansion of movie output, the willingness to experiment with
new narrative forms, changing attitudes toward movies as a tool of
public reform, and the growth of television combined to weaken its
hold over cinematic and other visual media. This paper has sought to
trace and to explain the changing fortunes of the conversion narrative
and to show how the ASCC/ACS hoped to use it to transform peoples
attitudes and behaviors towards cancer. What is less clear from this
313 David Cantor
paper is how people responded to these narratives. The ASCC/ACS
might have adopted an increasing mix of hope and caution about the
value of these narratives in persuading people to seek early detection
and treatment, but the stories it deemed appropriate to this purpose
were not always appropriate to people trying to make sense of their
lives after the onset of cancer. The sudden, dramatic, one-time con-
versions that dominated ASCC/ACS cinematic output for much of
the period covered by this essay are very different from the sorts of
narratives that people who lived day-by-day with the disease have
come to tell of their illnesses.
While this phenomenon is beyond the
scope of this paper, it may provide a fnal reason for the decline of
the conversion narrative in cancer flms and other media representa-
tions of the disease, for patient narratives have often sought to engage
with the stories put out by the cancer agencies, and sometimes to
question their value.
Key to Abbreviations:
Where copies of flms survive they are noted under Copies
NLM: National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland
LoC: Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
ACS: American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia
NARA: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park,
Internet Movie Archive:
NFB: National Film Board of Canada, Montreal, Quebec
Cancer Films
The list of cancer flms here is not a complete list of movies released
during this period; it is simply a list of those that are discussed in this
paper. For other cancer education flms released during this period, see
Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm, 5759. An asterisk (*) refers either to
movies identifed since the publication of Uncertain Enthusiasm or to
movies where further research has lead to a revision of flmographic
details provided in the 2008 article.
1921 Reward of Courage
Produced by the Eastern Film Corporation for the American
Society for the Control of Cancer.
Copies: NLM, Library of Congress
1925 A Fortunate Accident
Produced for the American Society for the Control of Cancer.
Production company unknown.
1929 This Great Peril
Produced by Visugraphic Pictures for the American Society for
the Control of Cancer. Cast: Alden Chase (Dr. Gordon Crane),
Warren Cooke (Dr. Charles Crane, his father), Amy Dennis
(Margaret Salter), Jane Jennings (Mrs. Salter, her mother), Harold
Clarendon (Dr. Wythe) Joseph Bannon (His Assistant), Andrew
Andruss (Dr. George Gwyn).
Copies: ACS (partial copy, frst reel)
1937 Cancer: Its Cure and Prevention
Originally Conquering Cancer, part of the March of Time series.
(vol. 3, episode 6) January 22, 1937. Produced by Time, Inc.,
publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, all of which
produced articles on cancer associated with this production.
Copies: ACS, NARA
1940 Choose to Live
Produced by the United States Department of Agriculture
Extension Service for the United States Public Health Service
and the American Society for the Control of Cancer. Director:
W. Allen Luey. Medical Director: C.V. Akin. Script: Clifton R.
Read. Production Manager: Ernest R. Bryan. Photographer: Carl
F. Turvey. Cast includes: Thomas Parran, Clarence C. Little.
Copies: NLM, NARA
1942 Enemy X
Produced by Eagle Pictures for the American Society for the
Control of Cancer and the United States Public Health Service.
Writer-Director: Owen Murphy. Director of Photography: George
Webber. Art Director: Oscar Yerg. Film Editor: Shirley Stone.
Sound: Harold Vivian. Cast: William Harrigan (Keith Prescott),
Edmond Dorsay (Rollins Darwin), Frederic Tozere (Dr. Crandall),
315 David Cantor
Royal Beal (Inspector Thorndyke), Robert Allen (Tom Dudley).
Also appearing: Lyman Bryson (Columbia Broadcasting System),
Clarence C. Little, Marjorie B. Illig, Samuel Binkley.
Copies: NLM; NARA
1946 The Traitor Within
Produced by John Sutherland Productions for the American
Cancer Society. Director: George Gordon. Story: Norm Wright.
Music: Paul Smith. Art direction: Bernice Polifka. Animation:
Pete Burness, Irven Spence, Elmer Swanson.
Copies: NLM
1948* The Doctor Speaks His Mind
Produced by Caravel Films (New York), supervised by Film
Counselors (New York) for the American Cancer Society.
Copies: ACS
1946 Time Is Life
Produced by the International Film Foundation for the Ameri-
can Cancer Society. Director: Francis Thomson. Supervisor of
Photography: Peter Glushanok. Camera: Albert Mozell. Film
Editor: Charles R. Senf. Supervisor of Music: Gene Forrell. Unit
Manager: Paul Petroff. Narration: Neil OBrien.
Copies: ACS, Internet Movie Archive:
details/time_is_life (accessed May 6 2010).
1946 You Are the Switchman
Unknown producer for the American Cancer Society.
Copies: Internet Movie Archive:
YouAreth1951 (accessed May 6, 2010).
1947* The Battle against Cancer
Adapted from the flm Kampf dem Krebs, Produced by the Swiss
Society for Combating Cancer.
Copies: ACS
1948 You, Time, and Cancer
Produced by Byron, Inc. for the American Cancer Society
Copies: ACS
1948 Life Saving Fingers
Produced by for the Idaho Division of the American Cancer
Society, Alfred M. Popma, MD, Executive Chairman.
Copies: ACS, Library of Congress
1949* A Question in Time
Produced by Transflm for the American Cancer Society.
1949 To Save These Lives
Produced by Tempo Productions, New York. Made by De Luxe
Labs for the American Cancer Society.
1950 From One Cell
Produced by Sturgis-Grant Productions for the American Cancer
Society. Director: Warren Sturgis. Technical Director: Douglas A.
Sunderland. Animation: Dwinell Grant.
1950 Challenge. Science Against Cancer
Produced by National Film Board of Canada (in cooperation
with the Medical Film Institute of the Association of American
Medical Colleges) for the Department of National Health and
Welfare, Canada, and the National Cancer Institute of the Public
Health Service, Federal Security Agency. Director: Morten Parker.
Narrator: Raymond Massey. Producer: Guy Glover. Script and
Text: Maurice Constant. Images: Grant McLean. Editor: Douglas
Tunstell. Animation: Colin Low, Evelyn Lambart. Music: Louis
Applebaum. Sound: Clarke Daprato. Production Executive Ralph
Foster. Production Consultants: David Ruhe, MD; Bernard V Dryer.
Scientifc Consultant: V.F. Bazilauskas (for animation scenes).
Special Effects Camera: Gordon Petty, Arnold Schieman.
Copies: NCI, NFB
1950 Breast Self-Examination
Produced by Audio Productions Inc. (New York) for the Ameri-
can Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of the U.S.
Public Health Service, Federal Security Agency. Director: Alexan-
der Gansell. Script: Earl Peirce. Photography: Peter Glushanok.
Editor: Murray Margolin. Cast: Unidentifed.
Copies: ACS
1951 The Fight against Cancer
Theatrical version of Challenge above.
Copies: NLM, NFB
317 David Cantor
1951 The Outlaw Within
A ten-minute version of Challenge above.
Copies: NFB
1952 Man Alive
Produced by UPA (United Productions of America) for the
American Cancer Society. Story: Bill Scott, William Roberts.
Design: Art Heinemann, Sterling Sturtevant. Music: Benjamin
Lees. Voices: Vic Perrin, Dorothy Scott, Bill Scott.
Animation: Cecil Surry, Phil Monroe, Rudy Larriva. Color: Robert
McIntosh, Boris Gorelick, Michi Kataoka, Jules Engel. Production
manager: Herbert Klynn. Executive producer: Stephen Bosustow.
Director: William T. Hurtz. Color by Technicolor.
Copies: NLM
1953* Cancer: A Research Story.
Produced by Teleprograms, New York, for the American Cancer
Society. Narrator: Charles S. Cameron. Photography: Joe Dephoure.
Sound: Ed Gilman. Executive Producer: Bill Hodapp. Associate
Producer: Bob Wald. Director: Larry Schwab Jr. Writer: John
Latham. Production Manager: Larry Lockwood. Scene Designer:
Joe Kirby. Cast: Clarence C. Little, Charles Huggins, Lewis F.
Fieser, C. P. Rhoads, John Bittner.
Copies: ACS
1953 The Warning Shadow
Produced by Herbert Kerkow Inc. (New York) for the American
Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of the U.S.
Public Health Service, Federal Security Agency. Director and
Photography: Julian Roffman. Script: Howard Breslin. Animation:
Sturgis-Grant Productions. Musical score: Gene Forrell. Editor:
Stanley Cypher.
Copies: ACS
1955 The House-to-House Campaign
1955 Alexander Ten Spot
Made for ARCO flms by a production group in Paris. Narrator:
Tom Ewell.
1957 Much Ado about Something
1957 The Man on the Other Side of the Desk
Produced by the American Cancer Society. Narrator: Dean Land-
fear, program manager of WMT radio, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Copies: ACS
1957 Eight out of Ten
Presented by the American Cancer Society.
Copies: ACS.
1957 The Other City
Produced by the American Cancer Society. Producer-Director:
John F. Becker. Photography: Kenneth Snelson. Editor: Stefan
Bodnariuk. Musical score: Charles Strouse. Script: Allan Sloane.
Orchestration: Amerigo Marino. Narrator: Robert Carson. [Pro-
duced in-house?]
Copies: ACS.
1957 Time and Two Women
Produced by Audio Productions Inc. (New York) for the
American Cancer Society. Cast: Joe V. Meigs M.D. (Consulting
Visiting Gynecologist to the Vincent Memorial Hospital at the
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston).
Copies: ACS
1957 Decision for Life
Made by Cine-Pic Hawaii for the Hawaii Cancer Society. Credits:
Walter B. Quisenberry.
1958 Never Alone
Produced by Camera Eye Productions, Los Angeles, for the
American Cancer Society.
1958 After Mastectomy
Produced by Churchill-Wexler Film Production for the American
Cancer Society.
Copies: ACS
1959* Breast Self-Examination: An Urgent Message to All Women from the
American Cancer Society
Produced by Audio Productions Inc. (New York) for the Ameri-
can Cancer Society. Narrator: Emerson Day.
Copies: ACS
319 David Cantor
1960 Inside Magoo
Produced by UPA for the American Cancer Society. Narrator:
Marvin Miller. Live action cast includes Jim Backus and Stephen
Bosustow as themselves and Jeff Corey (the doctor) and Joi
Lansing (the nurse). Live action sequences written and directed
by John F. Becker.
Copies: Internet Movie Archive, ACS
Cancer Television Movies and Programs
1951 This is Serious Business
ACS Connecticut Division, sponsored by the New Haven Unit:
Director: Aubrey Moore. Script: Morris Koffman. Cast: Julius Kauf-
man (father), Sue Ann Young (mother) Susan Achorn (daughter),
Patricia Hanlen (daughter). Shown on WHNC, New Haven.
1951 Worry and Doubt
1954 Operation Cancer
Kentucky Division of ACS and WHAS-TV.
A telecast on a lung cancer operation.
1956 The Charlatan
Produced by Revue Productions Inc. in association with MCA
TV Ltd. Director: John Brahm. Story and teleplay: Wells Root.
Producer: William Frye. Director of Photography: John MacBur-
nie. Art Director: John Meehan. Editorial Supervisor: Richard G.
Wray. Film Editor: Daniel A. Nathan. Set Decorator: Ralph Stylos.
Sound: William Lynch. Assistant Director: Hilton Green. Music
Supervisor: Stanley Wilson. Wardrobe Supervisor: Vincent Dee.
Makeup: Jack Barron. Hair Stylist: Florence Bush. Cast: George
Sanders, Jeff Morrow, Virginia Gregg, Bart Burns, Fredd Wayne,
William Remick, Dan Riss, Jean Willes, Marianne Stewart.
Copies: ACS
1958 Just by Chance
Produced by ABC in conjunction with the American Cancer
Society. Photography: George Jacobson. Music: Corelli and Ja-
cobs. Special Effects: Arthur Jack. Editor: Tony Gemini. Writer,
director, and producer: John F. Becker. Cast: Ruth Hussey.
Copies: ACS
1959 Tactic
Produced by NBC in collaboration with the ACS and the Educa-
tion Television and Radio Center. A series of six programs called
Tactic, in which different artists dramatized the subject of cancer
in different ways through music, song (Hy Zaret), cartoons (Mr.
MaGoo and Pogo), drama (Alfred Hitchcock), dance (Mata and
Hari), and comedy (Wally Cox).
Other Health Education Movies
1938 Let My People Live
Produced by the Motion Picture Service Corporation for the
National Tuberculosis Association. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.
Camera: William Miller. Editor/sound: Nelson Minnerly. Dramatic
assistants: S. E. Walker, Edward Lawson. Cast: Rex Ingram,
Peggy Howard, Merritt Smith, Erostine Coles, Christine Johnson.
Jackson Burnside.
Copies: NLM, Internet Movie Archive:
details/let_my_people_live_1938 (accessed January 25, 2010).
1939 Cloud in the Sky
Produced for the National Tuberculosis Association. Director:
Edgar G. Ulmer. Director of Photography: J. Burgi Contner.
Sound: Dean Cole. Film Editor: Marc S. Asch. Cast: Rosario de
la Vega, R. C. Ortega, F.L. Tafolla, Frederick J. Mann, R. Trevino,
Copies: Internet Movie Archive:
cloud_in_the_sky_1939 (accessed January 25, 2010); http://www. (accessed January
25, 2010).
1940 Goodbye, Mr. Germ
Produced at De Frenes Studios, Philadelphia, for the National
Tuberculosis Association. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer. Animation:
H.L. Roberts Jr.
Camera: Joseph Noble. Settings: Stanley Levick. Editor: Hans
Mandl. Cast: James Kirkwood.
Copies: Internet Movie Archive:
goodbye_mr_germ_1940 (accessed February 3, 2010).
321 David Cantor
1940 They Do Come Back
Produced at De Frenes Studios, Philadelphia for the National
Tuberculosis Association. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer. Camera: Jo-
seph Noble. Editor: Hans Mandl. Narrator: Alois Havrilla. Cast:
Wilma Caspar, Edward Mulhern.
Copies: Internet Movie Archive:
they_do_come_back_1940 (accessed January 25, 2010). For a dif-
ferent version of They Do Come Back, see http://www.archive.
org/details/they_do_come_back (accessed February 3, 2010).
1941 Another to Conquer
Produced by Springer Pictures for the National Tuberculosis As-
sociation and the U.S. Offce of Indian Affairs. Director: Edgar
G. Ulmer. Camera: Robert Cline. Sound: Clarence Townsend.
Consultant: Ruth Underhill. Editor: H. E. Mandl. Cast: Howard
Gorman, Sammy Day, Geraldine H. Birdsbill, Richard Hogner,
W. W. Peter, M.D.
Copies: Internet Movie Archive:
another_to_conquer_1941 (accessed January 25, 2010).
Movies listed in the Filmography above that appear in notes are referenced by
title only. Films not included in the Filmograpy include dates as well as titles.
1. In 1944, the ASCC became the American Cancer Society (ACS). The ab-
breviation ASCC/ACS is used when the discussion crosses the 1944 divide. ASCC
is used when the discussion covers topics that concern only the American Society
for the Control of Cancer; ACS is used when discussion covers topics that concern
only the American Cancer Society.
2. Choose to Live.
3. Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm.
4. Parts of this section are based on Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm.
5. In 1919, two ASCC lantern slides noted, In a few more years thorough
physical examinations every year will be taken as a matter of course . . . . and
This alone will add several happy years to the average life. Anon., Lantern
Slides on Cancer, [4].
6. Fisk, A Deadly Foe Routed, [2].
7. On the history of delay, see Aronowitz, Do Not Delay, and Aronowitz,
Unnatural History.
8. Anon., Lantern Slides on Cancer, [4].
9. Anon., Cancerophobia, 10. On phobias about cancer, see Little, How to
Educate Women to Recognize Breast Tumors, 10, and Clarkson and Baker, Cancer
Control, esp. 4.
10. For discussions of the effectiveness and status of cancer education in the
1930s that emerged, partly in response to concerns that cancer education exacerbated
cancerophobia and delay, see Anon., Is Cancer Education Effective?; Salzstein,
Cancer Education: A Note; and Anon., The Present Status of the Educational
Campaign Against Cancer.
11. Dozier, The Laymans Responsibility in the Control of Cancer.
12. Anon., Intelligence and Cancer Control, 9.
13. Lakeman, Cancer Education in Massachusetts, 158.
14. Bluestone, The Importance of Cancer Education, 6.
15. Anon., The Radio as a Pioneer in Cancer Education, 10. See also OBrien,
The Use of Radio in Cancer Education.
16. For accounts of the range of educational methods used by the ASCC in
its National Cancer Weeks in 1921 and 1922, see Anon., Consolidated Report of
the President and Executive Committee; and Anon., Suggested Plans for National
Cancer Week.
17. On the frst radio broadcast, see Anon., Suggested Plans for National
Cancer Week, [3]. According to George Rosen, this might have been the frst health
talk ever broadcast by radio (Rosen, A History of Public Health, 375). On the role
of movies in the frst national cancer week, see Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm,
18. Edison quoted in Anon., The Moving Picture and the National Char-
acter, 317.
19. Grieveson, Policing Cinema, chapter 3; and Bowser, The Transformation of
Cinema, chapter 3.
20. Nichtenhauser, A History of Motion Pictures in Medicine, 10609.
See also Pernick, Thomas Edisons Tuberculosis Films; Pernick, The Black Stork;
Lederer and Rogers, Media; Cartwright, Screening the Body; and Reagan, Tomes,
and Treichler, Medicines Moving Pictures.
21. Anon., The Rockefeller Gift [3].
22. On the history of visual education, see Wiatr, Seeing American and
Wiatr, Between Word, Image, and the Machine.
23. Edlin, Cinematography: Its Uses in Teaching Medicine and Surgery,
191; Anon., Society for Cinematographic Instruction in Medicine and Surgery; and
Anon., Cinematographic Instruction. See also Edlin, Letter to Simon Flexner.
24. For a description of this movie, see Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm,
25. It has not been possible to trace a copy of this movie, but an ASCC
synopsis survives which sets out the sorts of narrative strategies the Society adopted
in its movies: Anon., A Fortunate Accident, the New Cancer Film. This section
of the essay is derived from Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm.
26. Anon., A Fortunate Accident, the New Cancer Film.
27. Tomes, Gospel of Germs, 2728, 114, and 124.
28. The practice of recounting ones own conversion narrative was hardly
new. The term conversion narrative is often associated with a particular form
of autobiographical expression that emerged in the mid-seventeenth century on
both sides of the Atlantic. People wishing to join a Puritan church had to appear
before its members to recount the story of their religious conversion and provide
compelling oral evidence that their souls were saved. On the Puritan conversion
narrative, see Caldwell, The Puritan Conversion Narrative; Cohen, Gods Caress; and
Dorsey, Sacred Estrangement.
29. Historians of stage and screen have also highlighted how conversion
narratives have served similar instrumental purposes for theater owners and
flmmakers. Thus, in the mid-nineteenth century, theater owners used conversion
stories to transform the cultural status of the theater by promoting the educational
aspects of theatrical productions and by appealing to women and family audiences
as signifers of respectability. Similarly, from 1908, a cycle of flmed temperance
dramas appeared as an important part of the commercial flm industrys attempt
to reposition itself through appeals to gendered conceptions of respectability by
323 David Cantor
emphasizing the educative function of the cinema. What this meant in effect was
the emergence of a variety of social problem flmsuplift flms, as they were
describedthat sought to reform a variety of deviant forms of masculinity, espe-
cially drunkenness (McConachie, Melodramatic Formations, 163179, and Grieveson,
Policing Cinema, 103114). For later uses of conversion narrative in flm, see May,
The Big Tomorrow, chapter 4.
30. There is an extensive, if somewhat inaccurate description, of this flm in
Gardner, Early Detection, 134137.
31. Hawkins, Reconstructing Illness, 40.
32. On pathological knowledge, see Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm, 523.
33. Doane, The Desire to Desire.
34. For examples of church support of the cancer organization, see Anon.,
Utah; Anon., Letter Prepared for Federation of Churches, Ministers and General
Circulation in Massachusetts CANCER WEEK; and Anon., The Church Letter.
35. This is not to say that the cancer movies were not seen by non-white
audiences or that they did not include some non-white cast members. Most likely
these flms were shown to non-white audiences, and a very small number of movies
included non-whites in the cast. One example was Challenge: Science Against Cancer,
a Canadian movie made for the US National Cancer Institute in 1950, which in-
cluded a South Asian pathologist and a negro medical student in the cast. This
was primarily a recruitment movie for young scientists rather than one aimed at
promoting early detection and treatment, and the inclusion of these characters may
have had as much to do with casting policy of the Canadian flmmakers as with
the desire of the sponsoring bodies to attract these groups to science.
36. Lisa Cartwright suggests that Roy catches the disease from an asymptomatic
Julie. In fact, the flm does not mention the possibility of asymptomatic tuberculosis
and is ambiguous on the direction of transmission. Indeed, the movie can be read
to suggest that Julie caught TB from Roy: Roys tuberculosis is an advanced case
when it is diagnosed. Julies tuberculosis is discovered after his; she has early tu-
berculosis, and her treatment is less severe than his (Screening the Body, 150).
37. Parker, Purifying America, 213.
38. Keith Wailoos current research suggests that the ASCC/ACS did not
target non-whites until much later than the tuberculosis organization. The National
Tuberculosis Association began to target non-white audiences in the 1930s and to
encourage churches to continue their earlier work of educating the public about this
disease, not least through Ulmers flms (Shryock, National Tuberculosis Association,
2326). See also Roberts, Infectious Fear.
39. Reagan, Engendering the Dread Disease. See also, Gardner, Early Detec-
tion; Aronowitz, Unnatural History; and Lerner, The Breast Cancer Wars.
40. Reagan, Engendering the Dread Disease,1781.
41. On melodrama in flm, see Gledhill, The Melodramatic Field; and Neale
Genre and Hollywood.
42. This paragraph is derived from Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm, 47.
43. For another example of maternal culpability in public health movies, see
Cartwrights discussion of the anti-tuberculosis movie Let My People Live (1938) in
Screening the Body, 14950.
44. For another example, see the discussion of Choose to Live in Cantor,
Uncertain Enthusiasm, 5154.
45. On the relations between stage and screen melodrama, see Vardac, Stage to
Screen; Fell, Film and the Narrative Tradition; and Singer Melodrama and Modernity.
46. William Harrigan (18941966), the son of playwright/actor Edward Har-
rigan, was one-half of the Harrigan and Hart musical comedy team. Harrigan made
his flm debut in 1917, starring as the duplicitous Dr. Kemp in The Invisible Man
(1933); as a retired gangster Mac McKay, aka Joseph Lynch, in G-Men (1935); and
as the Federal Agency Chief in Federal Bullets (1937).
47. Another exception is To Save These Lives, a movie that aimed to recruit
members of the public to volunteer for the ACS (Anon., Animated Film to Launch
Drive for Recruits; and Anon., Recruiting Movie). For the use of humor in cancer
education aimed at men, see Reagan, Engendering the Dread Disease, 1784.
48. Thus, You, Time, and Cancer told the tale of a young husband who experi-
ences symptoms of persistent indigestion. After trying self-cures without effect, he
undergoes surgery and realizes the need for extensive cancer research and more
cancer funds (Anon., New Cancer Film Prepared for Campaign Use; Anon., New
Film Ready for Use in Drive; Anon., Murphy Seeks Check on Film; Anon., ACS
Drive Film Clicks in Capital; Anon., Milwaukee; and Dewey, Recent Additions
to the Film Library, 561).
49. Reagan, Projecting Breast Cancer, 184. Reagan implies that the BSE
program of 1950 made the ACS realize that its educational programs had neglected
men. In fact, as Enemy X and You Are the Switchman indicate, educational efforts
to target men had started in the 1940s.
50. A Nagging Wife May Save your Life. This advertisement was part
of a campaign against lung cancer that urged men to see the movie The Warning
51. For another example, see Decision for Life, in which a father who has a
warning sign of cancer is persuaded by his wife to attend a PTA lecture on cancer
and decides to see a physician. Cancer is detected, and an immediate operation
saves his life (Cancer Control Program and the National Library of Medicine; Cancer
Motion Picture Guide, 22; U. S. Public Health Service, Cancer Control Branch; and
Cancer Film Guide, 19).
52. On the gendered messages in this movie, see Reagan, Engendering the
Dread Disease.
53. Two other movies aimed at men draw on analogies with work: The Traitor
Within conjured up anxieties about industrial disruption with portrayals of the body
as a series of factories and cancer as workers gone bad, and You Are the Switch-
man conjured up the image of the railway switchman to illustrate the consequences
of delay and early detection. In the case of the latter movie, the flm asks us to
imagine John as the switchman, deciding which track his life will take (delay or
early detection and treatment), just as the railway switchman decides which track
the train will take. In Man Alive, Ed Parmalees decision to seek medical advice
follows from the narrator explaining the mechanical analogy it is central to his
decision to convert. This is not the case with the industrial analogies in Traitor
Within and You Are the Switchman. The mechanical analogy found in Man Alive
is also briefy referred to in the story of Mario, the owner of a gas station who
ignored a persistent cough, which is told in A Doctor Speaks His Mind.
54. Some movies might remain available in flm libraries long after the ASCC/
ACS retired them. However, the ASCC/ACS tended not to promote these legacy
flms in its educational campaigns.
55. Sometimes images of cancer were used as a warning of what could
happen if people delayed and sometimes as a stimulus to giving for research.
Several images of cancer and early cancers were provided by the ASCC for the
public in Anon., Lantern Slides on Cancer. Before and after photographs were
used to show the wonders of new therapies and to urge early treatment (Anon.,
U.S. Science Wars Against an Unknown Enemy: Cancer). See also Anon., Cancer:
The Great Darkness.
56. I am relying here on those posters discussed in the ASCC/ACSs news-
letters, and in American Society for the Control of Cancer, Catalog of Educational
Material. For an article enthusing on the value of posters to the ASCC, see Rigney,
Does Medical Publicity Work Really Have a Place? 7.
57. See the following advertisements: Anon., Advice for Preventing Unneces-
sary Sickness in Texas, esp. [3]; and Anon., New Cancer Poster. Where illustra-
325 David Cantor
tions were used, they tended not to illustrate the warning signs themselves, but the
consequences of acting or not acting appropriately upon discovering such warning
signs, or they tended to show the location of these signs in the body rather than
the signs themselves. (Anon., If Daddy Had Only Known of This!).
58. Thus, for example, a By The Way poster from the c.1940s showed the
thickening in the breast in a stylized form, and Symptoms and Diagnosis, an
exhibit, also from the 1940s, showed warning signs (Both in American Society for
the Control of Cancer, Catalog of Educational Material).
59. Mitchell, Iconology; Mitchell, Picture Theory.
60. For example, in Choose to Live, the signs are described by a physician. In
Man Alive, they are listed in a poster that the characters view, and in Man Alive
and The Traitor Within, the location of the warning signs (but not the warning signs
themselves) are indicated in the visuals.
61. See, for example, Challenge: Science Against Cancer, The Doctor Speaks His
Mind, and You Are the Switchman, all of which displayed skin or lip cancers. At the
same time, movies also began to show other body parts previously not show, includ-
ing from the late 1940s womens breasts. Compare the discrete breast examination in
Reward of Courage with the medical and self-examinations in Breast Self-Examination.
On the breast self-examination movie, see Reagan, Projecting Breast Cancer.
62. In Time and Two Women, the discharge from uterine cancer is shown
through animation. In Inside Magoo, the nearsighted central fgure worries about
cancer when he mistakes the paint dripping from his head for blood. In Traitor
Within, there is a remarkably clean animated depiction of surgery.
63. Thus, in Reward of Courage, an animated sequence shows the growth
and dissemination of cancer subjects. The animated sequence allowed viewers to
be shown aspects of cancer that would normally only be seen by the knife and
the microscope. The contrivance is that these images are from a book that the live
actors are viewing.
64. Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm; Cantor, Before Survivorship.
65. For operation scenes, see Time is Life and Choose to Live. For cancers, see
Battle against Cancer and Challenge: Science Against Cancer. For mastectomy scars,
see After Mastectomy.
66. Cantor, Before Survivorship.
67. Anon., Testing of the Film, Time and Two Women. More generally, on
efforts to evaluate the importance of movies to cancer education programs, see
Survey Research Center, The American Public Discuss Cancer, 28, 29 and 87. Also,
Horn, Kipnis, and Craig, Public Opinion on Cancer. On lay education in the post-
war period, see Wilzbach, Lay Education.
68. To this end, it also provided materials that might help an expert prepare
for a flm show and conduct the discussion. See, for example, the folder for flm
forums Get One Man Up on His Feet issued by the ACS c.1949 (Anon., New Public
Education Material, 12).
69. For an example of how the ACS sought to organize flm showings and
embed them in other forms of communication, including program packets, see
Anon., Taking a Fresh Look. See also the advice given to volunteers in Anon.,
How to tell Neighbors.
70. Anon., Education vs. Cancer.
71. For some exceptions, see Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm, 59.
72. On Laskers take-over of the ASCC, see Patterson, Dread Disease, 172179;
and Gardner, Early Detection, 95104.
73. See, for example, This is Serious Business, a TV play for the ACS Con-
necticut division which appeared on WNHC, New Haven, in 1951 (Anon., Volunteer
actors appear in a TV play . . .).
74. Two examples illustrate the point: Tactic (1959) and Operation Cancer (1954).
On Tactic, see: Anon., T.V. Guide Will Carry a Color Photo Story on Tactic . . .;
Anon., Crusader Publicity Check List; Corwin, Tactic; Anon., Cancer Goes to
College; Anon., The Series of 6 TV Shows . . .; Anon., National Notes; Anon.,
Tactic to Reach Early Audience of 12 Million; Anon., Variety Lauds Tactic; and
Anon., The Virginia Experience with Tactic. On Operation Cancer, see: Anon., TV
Program Cited; and American Cancer Society, Annual Report [1954], 27.
75. Copies of these are available in the ACS archives in Atlanta. A selection
of these is also available in Man on the Other Side of the Desk.
76. American Cancer Society, Annual Report [1956], 30.
77. For examples of movies that crossed over from public shows to television,
see Alexander Ten Spot, Man Alive, and Traitor Within.
78. American Cancer Society Annual Report [1956], 30.
79. Cancer: Its Cure and Prevention; The Battle Against Cancer; From One Cell;
Challenge: Science Against Cancer; The Fight against Cancer; The Outlaw Within; and
Cancer: A Research Story.
80. For example, the humorous short Alexander Ten Spot was a flm in which
a cartoon version of Alexander Hamilton jumps off a ten dollar bill and shows how
the ACS allocates a $10 gift for various purposes in the fght against cancer. Ham-
ilton was apparently already converted to the ACS cause (Anon., Alexander Tells
a Story; and Anon., Television Campaign is Set, Features Two Special Films).
81. Only two movies aimed at volunteers have been viewed: The Man on
the Other Side of the Desk and Eight Out of Ten. Published descriptions of other
volunteer movies do not put conversion at the heart of the narrative. These other
movies included: To Save These Lives, which aimed to recruit volunteers for ACS
public-education programs; The House-to-House Campaign, which taught ACS volun-
teers and offcials how to organize successful door-to-door campaigns; Much Ado
about Something, which was an All Star round-up that showed how more than
a dozen celebrities helped the Society; and Never Alone, which was a celebratory
story of the ACS and its work (American Cancer Society, Annual Report [1950], 16;
Braddock, Films for Teaching Mass Communication, 167; American Cancer Society,
Annual Report [1957], 32; American Cancer Society, Annual Report [1958], 32; and
Anon., Medical Film Reviews).
82. Of the three breast self-examination movies released before 1960Life Sav-
ing Fingers, Breast Self Examination, and Breast Self-Examination: An Urgent Message to
All Womenonly the Breast Self-Examination seems to hint at a conversion. In this
flm Mrs. Wright attends a talk by Dr. Williams at her Womens club and appears
to be persuaded to see her own physician when she nods (in agreement?) with
comments by the physician. But, if this is a conversion story, it is a very truncated
one. In early detection flms, the story of delay was often used as a way of setting
up the eventual conversion. But there is little emphasis on the problem of delay
in the movie, and most of this flm, like the other BSE flms, focuses on teaching
women techniques of breast self-examination. On breast examination movies, see
Reagan, Projecting Breast Cancer.
83. Anon., The Other City.
84. Another example of this technique is The Warning Shadow. This dramatic
documentary flm re-enacts the frst successful pneumonectomy undertaken in 1933
by the thoracic surgeon Evarts A. Graham on the obstetrician James L. Gilmore.
After this reenactment, we are introduced to the real Evarts and Gilmore (who
survived the operation), who both reminisce about the operation and use its success
to stress the point that that lung cancer is curable. This is followed by a description
of how cancer spreads from a local to a general condition and then by a series of
vignettes that tell stories of several patients to promote the idea that every man
over forty-fve should have a chest x-ray twice a year: the warning shadow on
their chest x-rays saved all these men. None are conversion narratives, except to
the extent that Gilmore decides to have the operation. The Warning Shadow was
released shortly after Breast Self Examination, and the ACS saw it as an effort to
327 David Cantor
reach out to men (Anon., Army Launches Educational Offensive; ACS Annual
Report, [1953], 14 and 23; and ACS, Annual Report [1954], 21).
85. Cantor, Uncertain Enthusiasm, 578.
86. In earlier years, spots might not have been regarded as flms. Before
television, the ASCC/ACS had distinguished between full-length flms (from twenty
to thirty minutes) and shorts (approximately ten minutes), trailers, and spots (Anon.,
How to Tell Neighbors, Your Country about Cancer). But as it tried to adapt its
flms to television, its movies were shortened to ft television schedules, and the
distinction between shorts, spots, trailers, and flms sometimes blurred. See, for
example, the discussion of Worry and Doubt (c.1951), a movie which aimed to show
the futility of worrying and doing nothing about cancer, sometimes described as a
television trailer and distinguished from television flms and sometimes described
as a short motion picture (ACS, Annual Report [1951], 26; Anon., How to Tell
Neighbors, Your Country about Cancer).
87. The ostrich flm is shown in The Man on the Other Side of the Desk.
88. Man Alive, with its conversion story centered on Ed Parmalee, was also
shown on television.
89. On pre-war efforts to tell stories about cancer, see Clow, Negotiating Dis-
ease. For discussions of the post-Second World War rise of cancer narratives, see
for example, Hawkins, Reconstructing Illness, esp. chapter 2, and Deshazer, Fractured
Borders. For lay attitudes toward cancer and quackery, see Cantor, Cancer, Quackery
and the Vernacular Meanings of Hope in 1950s America.
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