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How to Be Popular: 5 Helpful Films From the 1940s

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In decades past, short films were used in classrooms to show young people how to get along in society. They were starchy, unrealistic, and authoritarian. Despite all that, most of the advice they give isn’t bad. They promote courage, kindness, and inclusiveness (unless you’re Jenny—see below). It’s the package the information is delivered in that’s the problem. Here we look at mid-century ideals of How To Be Popular.

1. Are You Popular?

I’ll tell you who isn’t popular. Jenny. That make-up-caking, over-accessorized floozy who thinks parking in cars with boys is the key to popularity. In daylight, none of those boys will even make eye contact with her. There is a reason they’re called “ladies of the night,” Jenny.

Then take Caroline, who floats through the film like a large Shirley Temple on Xanax. She is on the path to being beloved by all. She helps wrangle props, and only accepts dates offered a week in advance, because she is a lady of quality.

That’s why she has to turn down Jerry, the short-sighted chap who thought he could get a same-day date with her. Who does she look like, Jenny?

2. The Other Fellow’s Feelings

In the 1950s, bullies who didn’t do actual bodily harm to their victims got to wear the much more innocent moniker of “teasers.” In this film, you’ll meet Jack, who is an absolute ass. It’s not enough that he “accidentally” knocks Judy’s first real perfume out of her hand and shatters it, he has to go on for weeks “teasing” her about how smelly she is. Judy doesn’t tattle, or retaliate, and no one defends her with any heart. Eventually she breaks down, unable to take it anymore. When the film asks the final question, “What would you do?” it’s hard to think of any responses that don’t involve establishing an alibi first.

3.The Snob

Sarah works harder than you, schlub. She studied for hours for the history test, not like the rest of those apple-polishers. She worked her pencil-skirted patoot off to design a classy yearbook cover, but everyone chose that galoot Bill Tyler’s instead! No one appreciates her. So Sarah spends Friday nights with her only friend, Algebra, glaring daggers at Don’s never-ending party pad across the yard. Because Sarah is a snob. Can she be helped? Should the gang judge her so harshly? And what of the yearbook cover? So many questions left dangling.

4. The Outsider

The narrator of this film spends the majority of the story endeavoring to irreparably damage the psyche of a young girl.

This film starts with poor, unwanted Susan Jane, huddled against a wall, watching other children, even the fat ones, enjoy life. From there she must endure the merciless taunting of the narrator:

“Susan? Susan Jane. What’s the matter with you? Why is everyone else having such a good time when you’re not? Why do they always leave you out? What makes you the outsider? The Outsider. The one who never gets asked.”

The narrator keeps pace with all of little Susan’s failures. Not invited to a study date? “Even in things you’re good at, why do they make you the outsider?” Order a root beer while everyone else ordered chocolate ice cream? “Why are you the one who’s always out of step?” You disgust me, Susan Jane.

He works so efficiently that when poor Susan Jane does get invited to a party, she drops the phone and collapses into heaving sobs of shame over her unworthiness. Even in the last frames, as Susan bravely prepares to attend the party putting everything she has into presenting herself as a likable girl, that bastard is on her heels. “But is this enough? Will it work? Will the gang accept you, Susan Jane?”

We are never told the answer. Hopefully because the happiness Susan Jane finds silences the demon voice forever.

5.The Shy Guy

Suppose you were an alien who had recently taken over the body of a teenage boy. How would you go about best understanding the human teenagers around you, and convince them that you were one of them? This 1947 film, The Shy Guy, would be your guide.

Phil (Dick York, the first Darrin from Bewitched) spends a lot of time in the basement, wearing a disheveled suit and playing with radios, presumably to contact the home world. He is failing horribly at his assimilation directive. His mission commander (called “Dad”) councils Phil to “keep an eye” on the most popular kids in school to learn of their ways.

Phil, dressed in the worst “It’s okay, I’m one of you!” camouflage sweater on Earth, begins his observations of humans in their natural habitat. Eventually Phil and “Dad” come to the conclusion that the key to fitting in with the humans is to display similar emotions to theirs, and feign empathy for their weakened human condition. The film closes with Phil using his superior knowledge of electronics to successfully infiltrate the population.

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Wikipedia/Public Domain
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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Getty Images

From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.


In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.


In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.


By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.


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