“Hello, My Baby!”

First, watch this amazing video.
Did you notice that the setting for the 1958 student film is none other than our own Streets of Old Detroit exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum? Besides being a very accurate recreation of the silent era style of cinema (with intertitles, a jangly piano score, and actors wearing way too much grease paint make-up), the film is especially notable for its creators.

Detroit News, Saturday June 7, 1958.

Detroit News, Saturday June 7, 1958.

As Cass Technical High School “Technicians”, Gerald McDermott was a commercial art student in the 11th grade, and Harrison Engle a performing arts senior when they collaborated to make a silent movie. Not for a class assignment, but for pure fun and ambition did they start the project. McDermott and Engle researched silent film at the Museum and were granted permission to use period costumes and props from the collection—a common practice at the time that now is museum taboo. Even the soundtrack was recorded from a nickelodeon and music boxes in our collection. The camera they used was reportedly about 50 years old at the time.

 

 

Starring roles were handled by David Wellman, Susan Dorazio and Thomas Jennings – the hero, heroine and villain. Supporting players in the lighthearted melodrama include Anne Schmeisser, Anne Dorazio, Leonard Pitt and Russell Engle, of Durfee Intermediate School. Harrison and Gerald get into the act as travelling showmen. First screenings of the film were held at the Engle family home on Boston Boulevard.

McDermott went on to have a very successful career as an animated film maker and children’s book author and illustrator. He won the 1975 Caldecott Medal for his book Arrow to the Sun, and was a runner-up for the award twice. Engle graduated from Wayne State University and founded Signal Hill Entertainment, producing and directing several documentaries and television specials.

The actors too were destined for success as adults. Leonard Pitt became an authority on Paris, France, writing many books about the city in which he lived as a mime in the 1960s. In the United States, he has been a producer and teacher of physical theatre. David Wellman became a sociologist in the University of California system, and is noted for his 1977 book Portraits of White Racism. Russell W. Engle, brother of Harrison, is today a successful business executive in Sonoma, California.

8 thoughts on ““Hello, My Baby!”

  1. I was in design class with Gerald McDermott and way over my head, having transferred from music (where I should have stayed)
    to Commercial Art. We were not friends at all but I remember him well and later ran into his name buying books for my classes
    as a music teacher in the New York City Public Schools. I knew nothing of this back then, but it is brilliant. People reading about
    Detroit today could never imagine that this kind of freedom of access and this level of student creativity ever existed. Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks so much, Charles, for your comment. The Detroit Historical Museum was so generous and supportive in the making of our film. These sort of things were also more easily arranged in the late 1950s. I believe my Mom called the museum, spoke to the director, and a meeting was set up. We went there and told him of our plan. Gerald and I looked like a couple of good kids, with talent and ambition! We shot the film during one 6 hour session. I still love to visit the DHS when I get back to Detroit.

    • Harrison, I am delighted to have made this contact. It was Tom Jennings, who I met only after moving to New York in 1980, that informed me about the existence of this film. Gerald McDermott and I shared art classes at Cass Tech in those days, but he was a brilliant student next to my mediocrity. Soon as I got to Cass I did the stupid thing of transferring from music to art because “I liked to draw.” Wrong move! Anyway, over the years I watched Gerald’s star rise, as well as so many others. Tom and I have shared many fond memories of those days over lunches. Fortunately, I returned to music after a circuitous path and I am now a happily retired music teacher and independent music professional. That triumvirate, the DIA, DHS and the Main Library, were the campus where so much of my self-directed early education took place. Whenever I go back to Detroit I stop by the cultural center for a visit. It’s really great hearing from you. Take care, be well and all the best.

      • Hello, Charles!

        My goodness, how great to hear from you! Thanks so much for your message and for sharing the story of your time at Cass Tech and later. Who could have imagined connecting via the DHS website after so many years…?

        I would also be interested in hearing more about Tom Jennings. Actually, I and Gerald tried locating Tom in the 1990s and at other times, but that was a bit before all our internet connections of today. I hope that Tom is well and that you can pass along my greetings. Do you know if he has seen “Hello, My Baby!” in recent times? It would be fascinating to hear from him if he wishes. I am actually, remarkably, a Facebook friend with Gene Scrimpsher, who taught drama at Cass Tech around 1958-62. Gene was my drama teacher and mentor back then. He is now in his 90s and retired in Denver. Can you imagine?

        I’ve had a long career as a filmmaker, and am still making films in the tradition of what Gerald and I started way back then. You have much to be proud of with your own career in music and teaching.

        There is more to catch up with. My personal info is below. Please feel free to contact me directly at any time.

        With warm regards,

        Harrison

      • Hello, Charles!

        My goodness, how great to hear from you! Thanks so much for your message and for sharing the story of your time at Cass Tech and later. Who could have imagined connecting via the DHS website after so many years…?

        I would also be interested in hearing more about Tom Jennings. Actually, I and Gerald tried locating Tom in the 1990s and at other times, but that was a bit before all our internet connections of today. I hope that Tom is well and that you can pass along my greetings. Do you know if he has seen “Hello, My Baby!” in recent times? It would be fascinating to hear from him if he wishes. I am actually, remarkably, a Facebook friend with Gene Scrimpsher, who taught drama at Cass Tech around 1958-62. Gene was my drama teacher and mentor back then. He is now in his 90s and retired in Denver. Can you imagine?

        I’ve had a long career as a filmmaker, and am still making films in the tradition of what Gerald and I started way back then. You have much to be proud of with your own career in music and teaching.

        There is more to catch up with. My personal info is below. Please feel free to contact me directly at any time.

        With warm regards,

        Harrison

        englefilms@harrisonengle.com

      • Hi, Harrison. I just spoke, at length, with Tom about our shared emails. It’s the nature of our friendship that whenever we do manage to reach each other we go on forever. Anyway, Tom would be derlighted to hear from you after all these years. He was supposed to be sending me something through Yahoo so I could include his email address in this message. It hasn’t arrived yet so I’m going to give you his mobile phone number for you to call. It’s (917) 757-3261. I’m so excited to be able to bring two friends together after so many years. Us “dinosaurs” have to hang together. Thanks again for the contact and be well. All the best. Charles S. Brown (cholly)

  3. Thanks, Charles. I will try to reach Tom for a friendly chat. Would you also send me your email, so we can keep in touch directly? That would be great. Thanks again for your efforts and correspondence. All the best, Harrison

    • Hi, Harrison. Tom told me that you guys had a wonderful and lengthy conversation in which you got to catch up on a lot of shared history. I look forward to meeting you myself someday. My email address is: csbrown40@yahoo.com

      Take care,
      Charles

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