Frink Film Studios in the 1950s

In 1951, Maurice Frink opened Frink Studios in Elkhart, Indiana. Frink’s studio produced industrial films and TV ads for the next 30 years. The ads produced during the 1950s provide a nuanced glance at quotidian life, and concerns, particularly in Northwestern Indiana during the Cold War with building international tensions, the rise of suburbia, a new-found importance of cars, and the competitiveness of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Due to the empheral nature of TV ads, which were made to be screened and then disposed, it is rare to have such an expansive collection of region-specific ads. Within these ads, ranging from 14 seconds to a full 20-minute promotional film, we see home improvement and development of family highlighted; we see dating and gender role expectations; we see the cult of cars and car culture; we see the Midwest in the 1950s being driven out of a WWII zeitgeist towards the 1960s—with all of the social problems, explorations, and experimentations that that decade will entail. Some of these films represent Frink’s personal interests in humanitarian aid, which he developed during his military work in Europe during WWII. 

During his time at DePauw University, Frink received acclaim as a photographer and some accolades as a writer. After his graduation in 1942, he joined the Office of War Information and was stationed in the Gold Coast, and later in Italy and Germany, where he took photos of Jewish refugees and organized newspaper publications. In 1949, he married Jenny Lodahl, a Polish woman who became naturalized in 1949.

By 1954, Frink Film Studios, located in a now demolished building on 1414 Thornton Street, Elkhart, Indiana, was included in the Business Screen catalogue, an annual compendium listing new techniques for film and TV production as well as a comprehensive listing of operating film studios in the US. Over the course of the decade, Frink Film Studios produced TV advertisements for businesses based in St. Joseph County as well as ads for regional and national products. While his film studio continued production long after the 1950s, this collection focuses on his work during this decade. 

The Frink Collection, held by Indiana University Moving Image Archive, has digitized approximately 125 of a total of 243 reels. The digitized films represent unique holdings and reels which have not been digitized are iterations. The collection has been organized in to eleven sections to represent different facets and groupings of ads. 

The Alka Seltzer group represents the social guidance-driven selection of thirteen ads for this effervescent medicine. Frink Studios worked with local businesses to produce ads, including seven of them for banks and drug stores, some of which still exist in South Bend today. The largest of the groups at forty-seven ads, Cars, contains ads primarily for gas and maintenance products, such as Zephyr and White Rose, but these ads do occasionally feature specific cars such as the Chevrolet, Plymouth, Edsel, and Chrysler Plymouth. Twelve ads for clothing and fashion show South Bend-based stores, such as Gilbert’s, as well as some regional stores in Michigan. The ten slots for Christian Rural Outreach Program is interesting perhaps for its documentation of lesser-represented areas in the world during this time. The grouping of seven family-centered ads focuses on fun for parents and children in the form of games or recreation. Food and Wine, with twenty-six items, features ads for the Michigan-based winery, St. Julians, as well as the nationally distributed Archway Cookies, which had a partnership with Zephyr Gas’ coupon program; Archway’s ads draw upon the popularity of the Cisco Kid, as he and his companion, Poncho, are the spokesperson for the children’s coupon program. Five political ads show a snippet of the Congressional campaign of Shep J. Crumpacker, as well as a speech by Governor George Craig. O’Brien’s Paint of South Bend, IN, as well as products such as Zephyr Awnings, Goshen Furniture and Red Brand Fences, comprise nine ads which show Midwestern suburbia and house upkeep. Finally, there are eleven reels which were produced by Frink Studios but represent Miles’ (of Miles Laboratories) possibly more experimental interests: these films include a recording of a couple singing the Sweetheart song, as well as one showing floating hats and Easter lilies blooming in fast motion.

This collection continues to develop as IULMIA processes the digitized collection. As of May, 2017, over 100 reels were sent out for digitization. These reels will be incorporated into this exhibit and will populate the existing pages, as well as creating new pages which are discussed above.