Saturday, January 15, 2011

The History of One Hour Till Doom (1953)

One Hour Till Doom Ad-Best

On Labor Day, September 7, 1953 something unusual happened in the small community of Temple City, California—the “Communists” took over! The event wasn’t a patriotic Mosinee, Wisconsin-like Red Scare “pageant,” but rather a dramatized documentary project designed to get ratings. With the tense reality of the Cold War at its height, however, the local newspaper took special care to advise its readership of what was truly going on:

If you happen to see a bunch of black-shirted individuals running around town and cameras whirring in the streets on Monday, think nothing of it. It’s an act. Television has come to town.[1]

The title of the film that was being shot in the Los Angeles suburb that day (and during the rest of the week) was One Hour Till Doom. It would be broadcast one month later on KTTV as an episode of the local documentary series Before Your Eyes.

Newspaper Overrun

One Hour Till Doom was researched and scripted by Idabel Overlease, a staff writer for Before Your Eyes who had written a string of pulpy novels in the 1930s (The Hussy, The Hellcat, etc.). Overlease and the entire production team worked with the American Legion (Temple City Post # 279) to better learn about the devious methods of the Reds. Temple City businessman and Legionnaire, Pinky Smith, a former Our Gang actor, starred as the black-shirted leader of the Commie take-over plot.[2] Smith’s colleagues from Post 279 filled out the ranks of the small invasion force and Temple City residents and business leaders played themselves.[3]

ScreenwritersIdabel Overlease and American Legion Commander, Jim Speck

The backstory of One Hour Till Doom is that the Communists have A-bombed San Francisco and Los Angeles and are intent on enslaving God-fearing Americans. Temple City—a microcosmic example of the invasion—is quickly seized in a pre-planned fifth columnist strike. Churches are padlocked, banks are ordered to issue Red “scrip” and law enforcement and civil defense officials are thrown behind bars. The Temple City Times is turned into a party organ printing the headline “Workers Arise!” And, of course, books are burned.[4]

The live “lesson” portion of the program hosted by producer Bill Burrud featured civil defense and legal authorities discussing “real” Soviet plans for taking over America and what the country should be doing to guard against such an event.[5]

Commies Overrun

Considering the overheated atmosphere (It was Senator Joseph McCarthy’s heyday, the Rosenbergs had been executed, etc.) in which it was produced, it is not surprising that the Los Angeles press gave One Hour Till Doom significant and respectful play. Hal Humphrey of the outrageously right-wing Mirror wrote:

…Barrud and his associates have done a commendable job. If viewers aren’t impressed with the danger of fifth column activity after seeing “One Hour Till Doom,” they at least should be roiled to anger to see how easily a well-organized enemy can take us into camp.[6]

Humphrey also interviewed Bill Burrud and asked him why the Temple City police force is not shown to be a factor during the invasion. The producer replied cheekily:

I suppose the Temple City Police Department did not care to have itself being “taken over” on TV. But since the police are the only armed branch of city government, it would have been nice to see them in there pitching.[7]

The Los Angeles Times’ television writer, Walter Ames, led his September 5, 1953 column with news of the Temple City mock invasion with the headline “Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film.”[8]

And, naturally, the Temple City Times, chronicled the project from beginning to end. In one photograph caption, the paper reported that “Communist-tinged periodicals…have been circulated in Temple City lambasting the TV show…”.[9]

When One Hour Till Doom completed its premiere broadcast at 9 p.m. on October 8, 1953, it faded into the fog of history. To the best of our knowledge, Doom has never been replayed or commercially released. A clip from the film—featuring Bill Burrud haughtily praising American consumerism—is included in the 1982 documentary The Atomic Café, but otherwise, despite efforts described below, the show is a ghost.

In 2003 CONELRAD sent a letter to American Legion Post 279 in Temple City asking them if they had any archives related to the production of the film. We also called the post and left multiple messages. We never received a response.

In 2006 CONELRAD reached out to the Burrud family (Bill Burrud passed away in 1990) in an effort to locate a copy of the complete Red Scare epic. John Burrud, Bill’s son, very kindly went out of his way to physically check the Burrud Productions archives and stated that One Hour Till Doom is not among their holdings. It should be noted here that Burrud’s production company was formed in 1954—one year after Doom was broadcast.

In 2008 CONELRAD contacted one of the film archive specialists who worked on The Atomic Café and we were told that the Doom excerpt was licensed through Hollywood Newsreel Syndicate / Rick Spalla Productions. Rick Spalla, according to his 2001 Variety obituary, worked as a producer on several Bill Burrud series including Before Your Eyes.[10] On March 6, 2008, CONELRAD sent an e-mail to Hip Films, run by Spalla’s son, inquiring about One Hour Till Doom and requesting an opportunity to view it. We also left telephone messages, but we never received a response. If a complete version of the film still exists, it is almost certainly in the custody of Mr. Spalla’s company.

Given the historical and cultural value of One Hour Till Doom, perhaps someone from the Paley Center for Media or the Library of Congress or some other esteemed archive should endeavor to convince the junior Mr. Spalla to donate a copy of the film so that scholars can at least have the opportunity to view it. We’re not holding our breath.

Commie Story

THE COMPLETE TEXTS OF THE ONE HOUR TILL DOOM NEWSPAPER COVERAGE

Cameras Roll

Temple City Times
Thursday, September 3, 1953
“Before Your Eyes”
TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake “Commies” Take Over

If you happen to see a bunch of black-shirted individuals running around town and cameras whirring in the streets on Monday, think nothing of it. It’s an act.

Television has come to town.

Under the direction of Mrs. Idabel Overlease, researcher and writer for the television program, “Before Your Eyes” (8:30 p.m., KTTV, Channel 11). Temple City will be the setting for the program of October 1. But the scenes, of course, must be recorded on film before that. Hence the shooting next week.

This TV program, which is sponsored by Hinshaw’s of West Arcadia, will attempt to convey on its October 1 program the idea of what happens if the Communists take over Temple City.

The black-shirted individuals that your will see (and probably recognize) will be members of the Temple City American Legion. The American Legion’s traditional hatred of Communism is not expected to dampen the enthusiasm of the Legionnaires as they portray their enemies for the benefit of the TV audience.

According to Mrs. Overlease, shooting for the show will start on Labor Day and will continue off and on all week. The final shot that will be taken will be that of the Temple City Times on Friday when the ersatz “Commies” are slated to take over the newspaper and off the presses will roll the papers with the huge scare-headlines proclaiming “WORKERS ARISE!”

Mrs. Overlease explains that the theme of the show will indicate that an atomic bomb has blasted San Francisco and Los Angeles and the program will show what could happen to a quiet suburban community like Temple City if that tragedy did take place.

One of the shots will show both St. Luke’s Catholic Church and the Community Methodist being padlocked while another will show the books at the Longden school being burned.

Godfrey Lumsdon, manager of the Temple City National Bank, will be pictured being ordered to issue script and members of the Civil Defense Corps as well as other law enforcement officers will be shown behind bars.

On the night of the program it will be explained by the narrator as well as through the special presentation of an award that as implausible as it sounds, “it could happen here.”

‘Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film; Tennis Matches Seen on KNBH
Walter Ames
Los Angeles Times
September 5, 1953

Temple City was overrun with “Communists” yesterday but it was all for the sake of television and part of the filming of one of the Before Your Eyes series planned for release next month to show what would happen in a small community should the Reds ever get into power.

Leading businessmen of the community of 20,000 persons turned actors for the Open Road production cameras, donned black shirts in the city park, burned books in the schools, substituted their Red propaganda tomes, took over the community newspaper and even substituted scrip for legal money at the banks.

It will be interesting to see how the show comes out through the use of the amateur actors. One of the few citizens involved in the story who has had acting experience is Pinky Smith. Pinky once played the freckle-faced kid in Our Gang comedies and in the filming is cast as the Red leader. More shooting is set for next Monday and Wednesday.

Hal Humphrey Column
Los Angeles Mirror
October 8, 1953

KTTV’s “Before Your Eyes” documentary series has come up with a specially prepared film designed to impress us with the fact that everyone should be involved in civil defense.

It is called “One Hour Till Doom” and will be shown tonight at 8:30, channel 11.

In this case the producers took cameras and crews to Temple City to record what would happen if a Communist fifth column set about to render our civilian population helpless, prior to an armed invasion.

When producer Bill Barrud showed this 30-minute film to the press earlier this week he pointed out that the “Before Your Eyes” series is done on a small budget compared to the Ed Murrow documentaries, for example.

“Also, in the Temple City film, no professional actors were employed. It was all done with the co-operation of the local citizens.”

Taking these points into consideration, Barrud and his associates have done a commendable job. If viewers aren’t impressed with the danger of fifth column activity after seeing “One Hour Till Doom,” they at least should be roiled to anger to see how easily a well-organized enemy can take us into camp.

Where Were the Cops?

As the coup d’etat was accomplished in this film, there was no resistance as the newspaper, city hall, etc. were taken over. One flaw was the absence of any policeman during the “raid.”

“I suppose the Temple City Police Department did not care to have itself being “taken over” on TV. But since the police are the only armed branch of city government, it would have been nice to see them in there pitching.”

If it all appears as being a little too pat, just remember that recent history is filled with examples of how entire cities were undermined with traitors, who made armed invasion much simpler.

A couple of fellows by the names of Adolph Hitler and Vidkun Quisling proved it to the disgust and anger of all Norway.

TV Show Features Temple City Tonight
Temple City Times
October 8, 1953

Labeled “One Hour Till Doom,” a television program depicting Temple City being taken over by the underground Communists will be shown tonight over KTTV at 8:30 on Channel 11. It will be a special presentation on KTTV’s “Before Your Eyes” TV series sponsored by Hinshaw’s of West Arcadia.

Studio officials claim it to be the most extensive turnover of an entire community for the purpose of filming a television program. Leading Temple City civic and business people turned actors for the KTTV film for which studio cameramen spent three days here several weeks ago abstaining film footage for the presentation.

Members of the Temple City post of the American Legion under the direction of Jim Speck, commander, and W.H. (Reg) Reglin, community betterment chairman, portray Communists who join to take over the city. Pinky Smith, a Temple City businessman and legionnaire and once a freckle-faced kid in “Our Gang” comedies, enacts the Red Leader in the film.

The film shows citizens, long members of the community, gathering at the city park to put into effect plans for taking over the community as part of a master Red plot for an attack on Los Angeles. The peacefulness of Temple City, a quiet suburban community with tree-lined streets and substantial homes, is dramatically illustrated on the screen by the introductory “shots” just before the “Commies” come out in the open to strike during that last hour…”One Hour Till Doom.”

In the film the “Commies” burn books at the school and substitute their own propaganda tomes. School Superintendent Howard Beckner is roughly pushed aside and taken away when he protests. Similar fates are suffered by Rev. Randall Scott of the Community Methodist church, George Vierhus, of the Temple City Times, Myron Seals, of Lieberg’s Department Store and J.W. Parkhurst and his Civil Defense staff.

The show was researched and scripted by Idabel Overlease of Temple City and Bill Barrud is the producer-host and Bill Steen the narrator for “Open Roads Production,” producers of “Before Your Eyes’ each Thursday evening.

“Live” portion of the special program will feature Judge David T. Sweet, who will present material gathered by the American Bar Association, and Howard Earle, director of disaster and civil defense authority for the City of Los Angeles. Judge Sweet’s brief will be based on the Bar Association’s data gathered in Moscow and describing how the Reds plan to take over America. Representing the American Legion of Los Angeles County will be District Attorney Ernest Roll and Temple City Legionnaires who took part in the show.

IDABEL OVERLEASE, ONE HOUR TILL DOOM’s SCREENWRITER

Idabel Overlease, the researcher and screenwriter of One Hour Till Doom was born on January 27, 1902 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Her mother, Gussie Jobe Brown, was a well known local writer who probably inspired Idabel to try her hand at the profession.[11] In the 1930s Overlease published six books under the name Idabel Williams:

The Hussy (1933)
Hell Cat (1934)
Marriages Made in Hell (1935)
Accent on Sin (1936)
Unholy Wedlock (1936)
Laughter of Fools (1938)

Idabell collage

At some point, Overlease moved to Southern California and worked for Bill Burrud for six years. She also regularly appeared in the advertising portions of Before Your Eyes which was sponsored by Hinshaw’s, a local department store chain.[12]

Overlease-Column

By the time of her death at the age of 61 on March 16, 1963, Overlease was a popular columnist and writing instructor in the San Gabriel Valley area.[13] One of her last writing efforts, After Midnight Fifty Cents—about her teenaged daughter’s babysitting experiences—apparently went unpublished.[14] If any of Ms. Overlease’s surviving relatives are reading this, we’d love to hear from you!

TITLE / CREDITS*

Before Your Eyes
“One Hour Till Doom”
KTTV-Los Angeles
Channel 11
Broadcast Date: October 8, 1953
Production Company: Open Roads Productions
Produced and Hosted by Bill Burrud
Narrator: Bill Steen

Cast: Jay R. “Pinky” Smith as Red Leader

Appearances by: Judge David T. Sweet; Howard Earle, director of disaster and civil defense authority for the City of Los Angeles; District Attorney Ernest Roll and Temple City; Jim Speck, commander of American Legion Post 279; George Vierhus, managing editor of the Temple City Times; Godfrey Lumsdon, manager of the Temple City National Bank; Howard Beckner, school superintendent; Rev. Randall Scott of the Community Methodist Church; Myron Seals of Lieberg’s Department Store; J.W. Parkhurst and his civil defense staff; various American Legion members.

* Because we have not been able to see a print of the film or see official production documentation, these credits may very well be incomplete. The credit information that is presented is based on contemporaneous press reports about One Hour Till Doom.

TV Ad 


[1] “TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake ‘Commies’ Take Over,” Temple City Times, September 3, 1953.

[2] “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953. Jay R. “Pinky” Smith was brutally stabbed to death in 2002 by a homeless man. Smith was 87 at the time of his murder. See the Las Vegas Review-Journal article for the full story.

[3] “Free Press for Sure,” Temple City Times, October 1, 1953 and “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953.

[4] “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hal Humphrey, Radio-TV column, Los Angeles Mirror, October 8, 1953.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Walter Ames, “Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1953.

[9] “TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake ‘Commies’ Take Over,” Temple City Times, September 3, 1953; “Free Press for Sure,” Temple City Times, October 1, 1953; “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953. CONELRAD was unable to find any of the “Communist-tinged periodicals.”

[10] Rick Spalla obituary, Variety, April 3, 2001.

[11] “Overlease Exhibit in Public Library Display,” Arcadia Tribune, April 2, 1967.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Woman’s World Column, Pasadena Star-News, June 23, 1959.

2 comments:

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Sweet, who will existing substance gathered through the American Bar Association, and Howard Earle
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