TAMI Flashback: Juvenile Delinquency Isn't Funny, But These Videos Are
Half a century ago, juvenile delinquency in Texas may have been less of a problem than it is today. But the TAMI videos featured in this article -- two very different made-for-TV films with a common theme -- are reminders that juvenile crime always has been a serious matter.
Made in 1962, Juvenile Delinquency... and You is the fourth installment of KTBC-TV's Progress Report Austin series, a public affairs program about issues affecting the River City. Narrated by Bonner McLane of the Winn-McLane advertising agency, Juvenile Delinquency... and You addresses the causes of and possible solutions to delinquency, focusing on how parents and the community can work together to solve the problem. (McLane's young children appear at the beginning and end of the video. We'll assume they didn't grow up to be delinquents.)
Juvenile Delinquency... and You follows the standard, rather dry Progress Report Austin format -- a series of talking heads (all middle-aged white men, or course) droning on about the issue, interwoven with shots of Austinites and Austin landmarks. This episode isn't riveting television (there aren't even any landmarks) and would be forgettable if not for its historical significance: Two of the interviewees are Judge J. Harris Gardner and Judge Charles O. Betts, after whom Austin's Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center is named. The then-new facility was part of the transition to a more enlightened approach to juvenile justice in Austin, with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than just incarceration.
Of course, things weren't completely enlightened in 1962. The funniest segment of Juvenile Delinquency... and You is an interview with Dr. Philip Russe, the supervising psychologist for the Texas state hospitals and special schools, who explains what parents can do to avoid raising teenage miscreants. Some of his advice reeks of mid-century misconception -- for example, his discussion of "milquetoast daddies."
"Men are becoming more feminized, and women more masculinized," the good doctor says. "And I think that many children do not have a clear-cut conception of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. And basically the child learns these patterns from observing his parents. And when the child is confused about this, this can lead to a good many difficulties, one of which is delinquency."
That's right: Lack of rigid gender roles causes delinquency! Men, take charge of your families and make your wives do all the cooking and cleaning -- or else your kids will steal stuff and join gangs! (Fortunately, we've learned a lot about child psychology since 1962.)
A far more entertaining video about juvenile delinquency is The Lonely Ones, also from 1962. Filmed in Houston and presented by the Greater Houston Action for Youth Project, the film tells the stories of three teens whose troubled home lives drive them to commit serious crimes.
Based on actual case histories and narrated by KTRH-FM announcer Don LeBlanc (who also stars as Harris County juvenile probation officer Paul Brooks) The Lonely Ones is anything but a dull public affairs program. It plays like a mashup of Rebel Without a Cause, a Douglas Sirk melodrama and West Side Story, telling three compelling stories with slick production values and a catchy jazz-pop soundtrack -- and hilariously metaphorical narration that makes it hard to take the program's serious message very seriously.
The first tragic tale in The Lonely Ones is the story of Jimmy (Felix Girard), a rebellious teen with a permanent chip on his shoulder. Given Jimmy's difficult family situation (his mother was married four times, Brooks says disapprovingly), there's little wonder why he drifts into a life of car theft, malicious mischief and arrests for public drunkenness, leading to a stint in juvenile prison. From there, Jimmy's life grows only more dire. (Girard went on to a long career as a TV, film and music producer, and directed the forgotten 1986 horror flick Night of Terror.)
The second story follows Susie (Gaye Goodman), a classic bad little rich girl whose alcoholic mother denies her any affection. (Mom also hides a dark secret about Susie's real father.) After she is arrested for causing a disturbance at a drive-in, Brooks tries to help Susie. But his efforts are for naught; she "slowly turned into a wanton little creature," Brooks says. Hooked on narcotics, she continues "her inevitable pell-mell rush down the hill of destruction." (Yes -- Brooks actually says this. Apparently he spends his spare time reading pulp novels about lusty debutantes.)
The final story introduces us to Johnny (played at different ages by Rufus and Nick Perez), whose case is different because he's one of "the Latin," according to Brooks. Young Johnny has his first brush with the law at age eight for shoplifting toy guns; as he grows, the toy weapons give way to real ones. The stresses of being bullied and growing up in poverty drive teenage Johnny to join a gang of, uh, Latin hooligans. His life takes a horrible turn one night when the gang steals some booze and has a party -- a night when, Brooks intones with all seriousness, the gang's "fears and inhibitions dropped away like chaff in the wind."
Did I mention how hard it is to take The Lonely Ones seriously? Of course, I'm not poking fun at its underlying message about lost youth, which is no less relevant more than 50 years later.