If you’re between the ages of 30 and 45 and grew up in California, you probably have a vague recollection of watching an earthquake safety film in school starring the late John Ritter. In my elementary school years in Long Beach I can fondly remember being led to the auditorium to watch the film on the school’s projector screen. Other times, we watched the film in our classroom.
The film, entitled Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, was released by LSB Productions and is approximately 11 minutes long. IMDB lists it as Title No. 6009, but it’s not clear what that refers to. There doesn’t seem to be any other information available on the Internet, even its year of production, except that YouTube user rustyrelic has posted the film in three parts. John Ritter does look very young in the footage, and by 1975 he was having more regular television work, so it’s most likely the film was created sometime between 1968 and 1974, when John Ritter was still struggling to make a name for himself as an actor.
The footage posted to YouTube is very poor quality, even worse than I remember it being growing up. It’s not difficult to understand why. The 8mm film reels at school each time had to be loaded into the projector, either by a teacher or a custodian. There were often technical difficulties trying to get it to play. I’m sure these film reels were not stored properly. The quality of the film has probably degraded each and every year since the film started being shown. I don’t know the source of the YouTube videos, but it’s a good guess that the footage comes from an old school reel. Despite the poor quality, the film still makes me chuckle.
In the first YouTube clip (4:02) there is an earthquake and John Ritter does everything wrong. He runs around in the middle of the quake and gets pummeled by debris, he cuts his foot open and he tries to drink from the bathroom sink, only to find black sludge coming out of the faucet. And just when John has gotten his apartment cleaned up, an aftershock strikes and knocks down a shelf of books. Fatefully, one of the books is called Safety In An Earthquake and presumably John will learn how to better handle the quake for next time.
In the second YouTube clip (1:48) John learns specifically how to handle earthquake safety. John flips through his newly discovered book and learns “What…to…do…when…the…next…Quake…hits”, whether “if at school”, “if near open land”, “if out driving”, “if on the street”, “if at the office” or “if at home”.
John accidentally cuts his hand on a piece of broken glass, then reaches for a first aid kit. This time he smartly uses the toilet reservoir to get clean water to wash out his wound. After cleaning up some around his apartment he finds a battery-powered radio in order to listen for emergency information. In a bizarre twist, the film ends with John going outside and then caught between two cars in a head-on collision. He has a funny look on his face, but if the collision were real I imagine both of his legs would be broken.
Looking back, it can be difficult to see why John Ritter’s earthquake film made such an impression on those who saw it growing up. Part of the reason was that we all found it be hysterically funny. Instead of watching humorless science videos in our classroom, we got to take a field trip to the auditorium to watch John hurting himself by doing stupid things. It’s the same reason why The Three Stooges and Home Alone are still funny to this day. High on sugary juice boxes, surrounded by other screaming kids, this film was about as funny as you could get back in elementary school. Also, the film had a rockin’ soundtrack courtesy of Charles Albertine, a well-known composer of the space age pop era.
For me personally, I also loved watching John Ritter on Three’s Company re-runs on TV. The show, which ended in 1984, was finished by the time I started school, but it was shown in re-runs at least twice a day on afternoon television. We didn’t have cable TV growing up, so I grew up on a steady diet of re-runs: Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, The Andy Griffith Show and many others. I thought of John Ritter as a celebrity of sorts, so it was exciting to see him in a school film. My parents also enjoyed watching him on TV, so when I came home from school telling them about John Ritter’s earthquake safety tips it was fun for my parents as well.
The other side to this is that earthquakes are a very real threat to Californians. Growing up, I remember feeling an earthquake about once every 4 months, although they occur every day. Most earthquakes were somewhat minor (at least in our location), but one was large enough that it literally knocked me to the ground as I was walking to school. Showing a short fun film to kids once or twice a year is an easy way to help explain what earthquakes are and how to respond to them safely. One tip that has stuck with me throughout all these years is that in an emergency you can use water from the toilet reservoir.
What’s interesting to me is that at this point probably hundreds of thousands of kids have grown up watching Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, yet apart from 3 grainy YouTube clips there still doesn’t seem to be much information about it. Is this film still being shown in schools? If it’s still being shown, has it been converted to video or DVD? What year was the film made, who exactly made it, who paid for it, and how did it end up being shown in classrooms across California?
Maybe someone reading this will have some more information, but if nothing else I hope you found this article to be an informative look into John Ritter’s “lost” earthquake safety film. John Ritter sadly died on Sept. 11, 2003 during surgery to repair an aortic dissection, just 6 days prior to his 55th birthday. John Ritter’s legacy lives on, nonetheless, due to his timeless acting on Three’s Company and his many films. For many Californians, we remember him also for his earthquake safety video.
In case anyone would like to try to search out more information about Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, here are some additional details. The credits taken from YouTube may not be 100% accurate; they are very difficult to read.
- Production Company: LSB Productions (Source: IMDB)
- Title Info: Title No. 6009 (Source: IMDB)
- Music By: Charles Albertine (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
- Cinematographer: William Crain (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
- Lighting: Robert Kringer (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
- Script Assistant: Boris Herman (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
- Special Effects: Didley Williams (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
- Narrator: Henry [Unreadable] (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
Also, the credits on the first YouTube clip list the title as Earthquake Don’ts and Do’s’, which would make logical sense as the film starts with John’s character doing everything wrong. Perhaps the film’s title was changed in post-production, but they never bothered to fix the title within the film itself. Given this discrepancy, I suppose it may be possible that information may also be found under the alternate (original) title.
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