Monday, May 31, 2010

Disney Does Drugs (Dragnet, 1969)

Set in Los Angeles and starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, the 1960s TV incarnation of crime drama Dragnet was known for its stories allegedly based on actual incidents culled from police archives. The show often took itself so seriously, you couldn't help but laugh.

I've always been amused by the propaganda campaigns designed to scare kids away from illegal drugs, probably because of the glorious absurdity on display when adults try to make a dire and humorless lecture palatable to teens through their clumsy interpretation of youth 'hipness'.

So when I first stumbled upon this Dragnet episode (1969, Season 3, Episode 11, Narcotics DR-16) that revolves around a group of teenagers who've been recruited to fashion their own hip anti-drug campaign aimed at their peers, I was already at full attention. But the show is elevated to BEST.EPISODE.EVER. status when it takes an unexpected detour to the Disney studios in Burbank.

The fun starts immediately when some no good punk kid is taken into custody after staggering around a rooftop swatting invisible snakes with a TV aerial. What could cause a kid to act like that?

A quick search of his pockets reveals the cause... LSD, now in convenient pill form!

The incident gives Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) an opportunity to ponder the horrible state of today's youth.

Gannon: "Where's the kick in going out of your head?"
Friday: "You see them in juvenile... 8 and 9-year old glue sniffers, 10-year old acid freaks."
A local concerned citizen, Mr. Squire, invites the pair to sit in on a new project he's cooked up, SmarTeens, a student-led anti-drug group whose mission, as one of its members puts it, is to "make it the in thing not to do dope...by making anyone who tried pot or pills feel stupid, instead of like some big shot on campus."

After some initial suspicion, the kids eventually open up and start brainstorming ideas for posters, slogans and jingles, among them:

S.O.S. - Stamp Out Stupidity
Keep Off the Grass
Any Moron Can Smoke Pot, and Most Morons Do
So far so good, but things take a turn for the awesome when Joe Friday announces he's going to take the kids' poster ideas to his friend, Disney animator Al Bertino. "I've known Al Bertino for a long time... he's a top artist out at Walt Disney's," says Friday.

Next stop, Walt Disney Studios, Burbank!

Friday and Gannon arrive at Al Bertino's studio. "Welcome to Bertinoland. Tell me how this little Italian boy can help you stamp out dope addiction."

Now Al Bertino's face is not as widely known as some of Walt's nine old men, so it's no surprise that I didn't immediately recognize that this "animator"...

...was actually being portrayed by an actor!

That's okay, this Thomas Bellin guy can draw too... kind of. Here's a few rough drafts for posters he turns out in just a few seconds.

Here's my favorite... Don't "Meth" Around. It's funny cause its true.

Friday seems to approve.

Not sure what Bill Gannon thinks, but is that concept art for Disney's Mineral King ski-lodge project I see tacked up on the wall behind him?

A few days later, SmarTeens reconvenes to evaluate several of Al's roughs... including this one that has been cleverly placed by the clock where every student is sure to see it.

Here's a selection of final posters.

I'm assuming Al Bertino really did do some artwork for an anti-drug organization called SmarTeens in the late 60s, but I haven't found any evidence of it beyond this fictionalized account. This episode of Dragnet is available for streaming on Netflix.

5 comments:

David W. said...

Ha, yeah Al was a rather large man, and this actor isn't. I'm going to check out this episode on Netflix some time.

toddsown_007 said...

This must have been part of a real campaign -- although I don't know if it was actually Disney behind it.

But I remember my older sister coming home with sheets of stickers (each one about 1" wide) that featured anti-drug slogans; including the "Speed Kills" and the "Trip or Trap" images you showed in the post. This would have probably been when I was around six, so it would have been between 1969 and 1970 when my sister was in middle school.

Neat to see that this actually had a much bigger national push than I remember.

Pretty Groovy!

Jeff Kurtti said...

This episode is much more fun to watch if you are stoned.

Here: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Sar8IPNlxOY/SLP0anB2mCI/AAAAAAAACUo/1VDrUh-6Bo0/s320/Legends.bmp

Al Bertino (the real one) second from the right.

Brother Bill said...

Jeff:

You'll never make it into SmarTeens(tm) with that attitude!

Laurie said...

The organization actually existed.
I belonged to it in junior high in Westminster California. The posters shown were actual SmarTeens posters too.