BOB GARFIELD: As a holiday treat, we're devoting the rest of the show to an examination of the symbiosis of media and sex, specifically how the media are used to advance ideas about sex and sex education, and how sex is used, in turn, to advance media technology. And we'll start with a quick look back to the publication of the landmark Kinsey Report. The first part, issued in 1948, dealt with sexuality in the human male; the second part, five years later, with the human female. The two studies resounded like a thunderclap across America, bringing sex education programs like this in its wake. [SEX ED TAPE PLAYS]
WOMAN: He's been awfully worried lately, so my husband says, about his own-- sex activity.
MAN: By which I suppose you mean either his dreams and emissions at night or his urge to stimulate himself?
WOMAN: It's both, I guess. He, he seems to feel he's getting out of control or something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was about this time when Kroger Babb, sex educator cum-snake oil salesman, enters the scene. His snake oil, a movie disarmingly titled Mom and Dad, was supposed to expose the consequences of sexual ignorance, to fire angry rounds of accusations straight into the living rooms of middle America. [CLIP FROM MOM AND DAD PLAYS]
WOMAN: Who was the boy? I'll have him arrested.
MAN: They didn't tell me his name, and I didn't ask. After all, why blame the boy?
WOMAN: But you wouldn't blame such a scandalous thing on an innocent young girl like Joan?
MAN: No. I wouldn't blame her any more than I would the boy.
WOMAN: Well then, who would you blame?
MAN: I'd blame you, Mrs. Blake. You, and every parent who neglects the sacred duty of telling their children the real truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Joe Bob Briggs is an author, an erstwhile TV movie host and a columnist for UPI. He recently wrote about Mom and Dad and Kroger Babb for Reason magazine, and he joins us now. Welcome to the show.
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Thanks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, first, I wonder if you can set the scene for us. Tell me about the venues that Mom and Dad played in. I mean these were less multi-plex type movie screenings than they were medicine shows.
JOE BOB BRIGGS: They were small town shows that were similar to a carnival or, or the circus. It was the type of a film called a Sex Hygiene film that was actually -- Mom and Dad was not the first of 'em. But Mom and Dad was just the greatest of all of them. If you lived in a small town in the '40s or '50s or even the '60s, cause this movie ran for 30 years, sooner or later a publicity man would show up in town and ads would appear, and a debate would occur, and there would be letters to the editor in the paper. You would get all the ballyhoo leading up to the one-week-only screenings of Mom and Dad. Kroger Babb billed himself as "America's Fearless Young Showman," and he had a, an army of these Mom and Dad road show units that went all over the country -- at one time as many as 40 of them on the road at, all at the same time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And as part of his advance strategy, he would sometimes write the angry letters to the editor, wouldn't he?
JOE BOB BRIGGS:Oh, yeah, absolutely. He was the master at writing fake letters to the editor posing as a pastor in another town that had already had Mom and Dad and saying never let this film show there. [LAUGHTER] They would, they would also occasionally try to get court injunctions filed against their own film, [LAUGHTER] you know and, and one time they were successful. And then they had to go [LAUGHS] into court and argue against their own injunction. [LAUGHTER] But yeah, anything to create controversy about the film.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so when the projector rolled, what exactly would the audience see?
JOE BOB BRIGGS:The whole first hour is devoted to showing how this sweet, pretty young girl has her life ruined because she goes to a local dance and she's swept off her feet by a handsome and worldly pilot who steals a kiss and then he overwhelms her after that in his roadster on Lover's Lane and convinces her that two people as much in love as they are should definitely go all the way. Slow fade. Okay? [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right.
JOE BOB BRIGGS:Shortly thereafter, he leaves town on business. Then she gets a letter that he's been killed in an accident on the same day that she discovers she's "worried about her hygiene." [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In other words she is in trouble, in trouble, in trouble.
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That phrase is used throughout the film. The "P" word, however, is never invoked.
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Never used the word pregnancy in the entire film.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now, the truly titillating material, though -the stuff that everybody was really there to see, was actually tucked deep in the show and arrives in the form of a film within a film?
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Yeah. In one of the clumsiest segues ever, one of the teachers at the high school says "We need a class in social hygiene." So these things [LAUGHS] don't happen again, and--somebody mentions "Oh, I know this specialist, Dr. Ashley." So in the next scene you see Dr. Ashley talking to a high school class of girls, and he shows a film called The Facts of Life. And it looks, you know, just like a normal film about the menstrual cycle, and it has some drawings of the genital organs, and then whap! -- suddenly, without warning, graphic footage of a life birth. [LAUGHTER] Then you haven't quite recovered from that, and they show a second film called Modern American Surgery that has an actual Caesarean section on camera. Then two scenes later, just when you think you've seen all you can see, there's a third film within the film called Seeing is Believing, and this is the coup de grace of the whole thing. It's, it's every teenage boy's nightmare. It's got all these syphilis victims with their rotting teeth and their bodies with open sores, and all these silent movie style captions that say "The Price of Ignorance," "Self-Styled Moralists Would Like to Keep These Facts a Secret," things of this nature.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You know what's interesting about Mom and Dad is that it allowed moviegoers to get off on images of "pickles and beaver," as they were known, and yet, still walk way with their sense of moral integrity intact. [CLIP PLAYS - MOVIE MUSIC]
MAN: And now, friends, you've seen the entire production. If you agree that these pictures have been bold and shocking enough that you've learned a very worthwhile lesson from them, I wish you'd shows the management your appreciation at this time by your applause. [LAUGHTER]
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Notice that he says two things that are contradictory. He says "If you believe these things are bold and shocking, and if you believe these things are educational, show the management by your applause." [LAUGHTER] And of course, that was the genius of the promotion -- that you could appeal to a, a man's baser instincts and yet let him justify seeing this footage by his educational mission.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Joe Bob Briggs, thank you very much.
JOE BOB BRIGGS: Okay. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Joe Bob Briggs is the author of Profoundly Disturbing: The Shocking Movies that Changed Cinema.