Boys Beware: Views on Homosexuality in 1961

For a change from the standard fare offered on YouTube, it’s fun to stop by occasionally at the Prelinger Archives, a diverse collection of thousands of preserved films from the ages, all available for download in the public domain.  In addition to being interesting, the collection offers insights on changing attitudes over the years.  Most are hilarious, but some can be pretty disturbing.

Much progress has been made in the acceptance of, and views toward homosexuality, particularly in the last few years.  It took twenty years between “don’t ask, don’t tell” – which got a lot of emotional and impassioned criticism within the military when it first became policy – and full acceptance of gays in the military.  In 1992, servicemen and women would be poorly advised to reveal their homosexuality, because males in particular could expect to be endlessly berated and harassed.  Gay female servicemembers were more widely accepted but would still have to endure snide comments.  And woe to any public displays of affection or attempts to marry – that was grounds for dismissal, or punishment under the UCMJ.

How times have changed.  Now we have General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, going on AFN to publicly praise the contributions of gay servicemembers.  Although as recently as January 2013, a gay spouse was denied entry to an officers’ spouses club (she was eventually admitted, but only after a series of public articles), Dempsey is now advocating for equal rights for gay spouses.

But it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come.  In the 1950s, 1960s and later, Sid Davis produced well over 100 “social guidance” films.  A number of these, produced in partnership with the Inglewood Police Department and the Inglewood Unified School District, warned young people of various dangers.  Presumably the films were shown in schools, and while Davis has been called the “King of Calamity”, it’s safe to assume they reflected the general thinking of the time.

One film, “Boys Beware” (1961, remade in 1973) particularly underlines some of the changes in attitudes and is in places quite shocking though defenders of the film have characterized it as “not having aged well”  The film “Boys Beware” highlights the danger to teenage boys from older men who would prey on them.  The companion film “Girls Aware” similarly warns girls about getting too chummy with older males – but in the case of “Boys Beware”, the danger is from homosexual men in particular.

Given today’s views toward homosexuality – or even views two decades ago, the attitudes from 1961 are quite disturbing, and one imagines the shame homosexual boys may have felt having to sit through the film.  Near the beginning of the film, the police narrator explains, “What Jimmy didn’t know was that Ralph was sick — a sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious–a sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual: a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex.”  At the end of the film, the narrator reminds us, “One never knows when the homosexual is about; he may appear normal, and it may be too late when you realize he is mentally ill.”

It’s taken fifty years to bring these changes.  How will people in fifty years view the films we are making on today’s most controversial issues?

Watch “Boys Beware” below or download it at the Prelinger Archive.

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