Running time: 05m 11s
Source film: 16mm; color; sound
Sponsored by: United States Forest Service, The Advertising Council, Inc.
Published by: United States Department of Agriculture
Narrator: Vaughn Monroe
Cast: Vaughn Monroe, Chris Monroe, Candace Monroe, Marian Monroe
If you find yourself in these last summer days longing for a walk in the woods, beware of the potential forces you may encounter, for they carry messages of grave importance! I don’t mean to imply that they’ll necessarily be scary, but that depends entirely on your tolerance for the sudden appearance of talking, anthropomorphic bears or — if we’re being real, here — strangers in bear suits lurking in the woods.
In the event you do come upon any woodsy weirdness, you won’t have Vaughn Monroe, the infamous “voice of RCA,” to run to for help. Here, the singer and radio and television personality of the 1940s and 50s is depicted with his real-life family as they enjoy a day of outdoor activity in the woods (a commenter on the Internet Archive maintains that this was filmed by Lake Cochituate near where the Monroe family lived at the time).
Vaughn narrates the opening scene of the film as he guides his boat to shore before offloading a fresh catch of fish. He enjoys spending his free time outdoors, camping and fishing with his family. He and his daughter, Chris, discuss a Smokey the Bear poster affixed to a nearby tree that reminds campers, “Carelessness kills tomorrow’s trees too!” Vaughn regards it as a “nice idea,” but Chris forcefully says that, “He’s not an idea, he’s REAL.” (Jeez, Dad). Vaughn seems to dismiss his child’s silly notion about the U.S. Forest Service mascot and goes on about his day by building a fire, smoking a cigarette, and singing a campfire version of his 1949 song, “Riders in the Sky,” complete with orchestral and choral backing. You have to wonder whether the Monroe family was ever embarrassed by dear old Dad randomly belting out his former Billboard hits like this. Given the choice, though, I’m sure they’d rather it happened during a fish fry in the woods instead of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken during a busy lunch hour.
Chris gets away from her family to fill a bucket of water and during the walk back, the illustration of Smokey the Bear separates itself from the two-dimensional prison of the poster to emerge as a fully-formed being, capable of walking, talking, and brandishing a shovel. After thanking Chris for “[her] good help,” Smokey walks into the forest. Was this big reveal solely intended to enhance an otherwise dry slog through fire prevention practices? Perhaps it’s a reminder about the importance of maintaining a childlike sense of imagination as we get older? Or is there also an implicit warning about the dangers of consuming psychedelics in the woods or drinking pond water?
The film ends with the Monroe family performing and discussing key fire prevention measures, including dousing camp fires with plenty of water, stirring the pit to extinguish any lingering coals, and stubbing lit cigarettes in the dirt and stepping on them. Woodsy Owl — another infamous National Forest Service mascot — would come along a little more than a decade later to remind us not to pollute the outdoors with things like cigarette butts.
- Vaughn Monroe (New England Conservatory Archives)
- United States Forest Service Smokey Bear Collection (United States Dept. of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library Special Collections)