I always thought Al Bell had the best job in the world. When I was a little boy growing up on the prairie back in the 1950s and 60s, our small school would bring in an Al Bell Production once a year to give an "assembly" program. This is how I am guessing Mr. Bell made his living. Bell and his wife would take a very nice vacation somewhere exotic each summer. Now in small town Iowa circa 1960, "exotic" might have been interpreted a little differently than it is today. I remember some of the places Al traveled were Calgary in Canada, Mexico, Washington State, and Ireland. Anyway, the Bells would go to a place, take some slides, buy a native costume (the more outlandish the better), and couple music recordings. From these materials, he would spend an hour combining his slides, jokes, dancing, and a touch of mania on a stage in front of 500 delighted elementary school kids (and grateful teachers) in a gym or auditorium, in different schools every day throughout the school year. I'm guessing he charged maybe $50 a show, two shows a day. In the late 50's, working even 50 school days a year would have made him a rather nice income.
Does any one else remember Al Bell? I know he existed since I found reference to his programs in school histories on the web. I remember hearing that his home town may have been Menlo, Iowa. Let me know if you remember an Al Bell production - they always started with a ringing school bell.
I thought of Al Bell because I gave a short talk to my Kiwanis club today on my Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu last November. Heavy on slides, a little trivia (there is a depiction of the Last Supper in the Cuzco Cathedral where guinea pig is being served), and a straight account of the rigors of the hike. It was well received, and I thought, I've finally gotten my chance to be Al Bell!
Sometimes accomplishing the small goals are just as satisfying as accomplishing the big ones.
Update: May 2008 Thanks so much for all the responses and memories shared. Keep them coming! This photo came to me via blog reader. She attached a Christmas photo of the Bells from about 1958.
There has been a great interest shown in finding and preserving the films and memorabilia from Al Bell's school programs by those of us who fondly remember him and appreciate the influence he and his wife had on our lives. They infused some wanderlust in many an Iowa farm kid! At some time, I will approach Iowa Public Television or the Iowa Historical Society with the this blog entry and all the interest shown, and hope they will pick up the ball. It may not happen until I retire - a mere 9 years away! In the meantime, if you'd like to leave a comment, sharing you memories of the Bells and leaving information about how family members might be contacted, please do so. Doug
Update: May 2008
Jim Calkins from West Branch Middle School is working on putting together a list of Bell's topics and schools at which he spoke. If have specific information about either of these things, please e-mail Jim at conn53victor (a) mchsi.com. Thanks!
Update: March 2010
Another Al Bell post here with a link to a Des Moines Register article about the Bells and a Facebook Fan page.
Update: August 2010
An Al Bell Film Festival, Sept 12, 2010 in Stuart, Iowa and a movement to restore his films!