August 26, 2011 by Amy Elliott Bragg
How did I not know about this guy?
Henry Jamison Handy (That’s JAM HANDY, for those of you playing at home) was an Olympic medalist swimmer and water polo player who founded Detroit’s first industrial/educational/sponsored/commercial film studio in 1911.
Dweebs, futurists and automotive history-types have known about Jam Handy forever and lots of old-time Detroiters probably know about him, too. Detroit: City on the Move, which seems to make the rounds every year or two, is a Jam Handy production.
I just learned about Jam Handy when I emailed The Hinterlands — a theater group formerly of Milwaukee, now of Detroit (like me!) — about their show Manifest Destiny (there was blood on the saddle). It’s tonight — at the Jam Handy building. Jam Handy! (Also, this show? A pseudo-historical psychedelic Wild West revue? I think it is just what the doctor ordered after penning a book that is about the pioneer days of Detroit.)
Liza, of The Hinterlands, dropped a hint about the historic appeal of the Jam Handy Building. So I did a little reading, and I watched a ton of videos from the Prelinger Collection. (Warning! This is a rabbit hole. But a delightful one!)
Here’s a short film about how modeling works. I was annoyed by its casual sexism at first but eventually won over by the hammy narrator, curmudgeonly photographer, girls, puns, and cars.
In ”Leave it to Roll-Oh,” a housewife’s robot breaks. Oh no! But it’s not really about housewife-replacing robots of the future; it’s about how many things in our modern lives already function like robots.
And here are some square-dancing Lucky Strike cigarettes.
The Jam Handy Organization employed hundreds of Detroiters and made thousands upon thousands of films for schools, companies (especially the auto industry) and for the armed forces during World War II.
I don’t know a lot more about this Jam Handy character yet, except that he worked without a desk, never wore suits with pockets, and tried to swim every day until his death in 1983 at the age of 97. But so far, I’m a big fan.
Do you have a favorite Jam Handy Production? Won’t you share it?