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Coronet Films (also known as Coronet Instructional Media Inc.) was a leading producer and distributor of many American documentary shorts shown in public schools, mostly in the 16mm format, from the 1940s through the 1980s (when the videocassette recorder replaced the motion picture projector as the key audio-visual aid). The company, whose library is owned and distributed by the Phoenix Learning Group, Inc., covered a wide range of subjects in zoology, science, geography, history and math, but is mostly remembered today for its post-World War II social guidance films featuring topics such as dating, family life, courtesy, and citizenship.
David A. Smart established the company with his brothers Alfred and John in 1934, but the first titles registered for copyright date from 1941 (beginning with Aptitudes and Occupations). Over time, a studio was set up in Glenview, Illinois. Smart was the publisher of Esquire and Coronet magazines, and the film company was named for the latter. The film company outlived the magazine; it ceased publication in 1976.
In addition to military instructional films produced during the war, the company was successful in its early years with full color films spotlighting common birds like the ruby-throated hummingbird (a 1942 release), many of these filmed by Olin Sewall Pettingill Jr. and Dr. Arthur A. Allen. One hallmark was that many titles were shot in color Kodachrome a few years ahead of competing classroom film companies. Production costs were kept under control by making both color and black and white prints available and charging a much lower fee for the latter. However, many school educators economized so fewer color prints are viewable today.
After David Smart’s death in 1952, his brother John, and Jack Abraham took over. Coronet’s output had surpassed in quantity (if not always in quality) that of the classroom film industry’s leader, Encyclopædia Britannica Films (initially ERPI Classroom Films), with an eleven-minute or longer film completed practically every week. While their biggest rival strove to be more “cinematic” with very creative takes on science and geography subjects to make them as entertaining for students as possible, the 1950s and 1960s Coronet films often had a dry, lecture-like tone to their commentary. However, there were some well-made travelogues, boasting good cinematography, in addition to an annual quota of animal-interest topics. Starting in 1957, a “Special Productions” unit headed by Bob Kohl and Tom Riha added some more ambitious and prestigious independent productions to Coronet’s more economically made “in-house” titles in its catalog.
Coronet was still very active during the 1973-4 school year, when it placed over 60 titles for evaluation with Project METRO of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), in central Connecticut. Titles included A Is For Alphabet, Color, Color Everywhere, Dating Scene, and Understanding Shakespeare: His Stagecraft.
The 1970s were a creative period for the company, despite the fact that 16mm educational films were gradually replaced by video cassettes and computers as key audio-visual classroom tools a decade later. After Hal Kopel replaced Jack Abraham as general manager (around 1972), the look and style of the films received a much-needed “facelift” and film credits belatedly included directors and the creative personnel. (Most released previously listed only educational consultants.) This was in response to ongoing criticism that the Coronet films were too “stodgy and unimaginative”. Many earlier titles were “revised” with better-produced and more-entertaining editions during this period.
By the early 1980s, however, the company was becoming more of a distributor of other company films than a producer. Sheldon Sachs became vice president in 1979 and headed a “Perspective Films” division to increase Coronet’s distribution of outside productions, making theatrical award winners like Sparky Greene’s American Shoeshine available for classroom viewing. In 1981, Coronet also acquired Centron Corporation.