By Sarah Eilers
The road to abundant life is not hard to follow and it is not expensive. So we are told in the opening frames of the 1937 silent film The Road to Health and Happiness, produced by Salem, Oregon dentist and filmmaker David Bennett Hill. Mental as well as physical habits are key. Mentally, one should be guided by the church; physically, by vigorous outdoor activity. Dr. Hill was a dentist, and a goodly portion of the film is devoted to dental care and orthodontia, once the basics of hygiene, exercise, nutrition, and spirituality have been addressed.
The ideal number of baths per week (two) is suggested, as is the ideal number of hours asleep (ten). Exposure to plenty of sunshine is encouraged (no mention of sunscreen). Vaccinations are encouraged, and local government is depicted as benevolent and effective. The health department provides pure water and safe food; the police officer gives protection; the public school educates developing children on foods that will help them grow up strong.
The happiest people are those whose careful health, mental and spiritual habits carry them through to a ripe old age. They are the ones whose laughter rings true.
Dr. Hill produced another film, The Life of a Healthy Child, which the National Library of Medicine holds in its collection. He sold and rented these films, and an advertisement in the March, 1939 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, apparently placed by Dr. Hill himself, promotes them as “…the greatest health films ever produced.” (This issue of AJPH, as it happens, also contains an editorial piece titled Army Medical Library [that’s NLM’s precursor] Needs a New Building.)
Dr. Hill was also a great booster of the Salem area, and used his filmmaking and photography skills to produce footage and images showing the region to its greatest advantage, with the stated goal of attracting more tourists and giving them reason to stay longer. He spoke often at local events, showing both his health and his “tourist” films.