The Skyline is a Promise

Cranbrook Archives houses an impressive collection of motion picture films, many of which offer depictions of student life at Cranbrook Schools. These films uniquely capture what it was actually ‘like’ to be on campus at a given moment in time, and potentially present perspectives not captured in official written documentation. One such film, The Skyline is a Promise, from the Horizons-Upward Bound Records, is an excellent example.

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Filming on Cranbrook School campus, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) program, then in its 2nd year, was self-described as “An Experimental Enrichment Program.” In conjunction with representatives from Detroit Public Schools and Oakland County Schools, the program’s objective was to provide low-income Detroit area high school students with opportunities for future success in academics and in life. The creation of Cranbrook School teacher, Ben Snyder, who served as its director for twenty-four years, HUB was the only program of its kind at that time.

Skyline was produced, directed, and filmed by Wayne State University Audio-Visual Productions during the summer of 1966, and was intended both as a promotional piece and an educational aid. The 16-minute short film captured every aspect of the program. Raymond Maloney, a HUB English instructor from Cranbrook School, wrote of the experience in the 1966 Annual Report: “At times, the dining hall, classrooms or dormitories took on all the aspects of a movie set complete with eighty-eight willing actors.” Students not only were eager participants in front of the camera but also learned about what was involved behind the camera, thanks to one of the film’s producers.

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Wayne State University film crew, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Funding for the film was provided by an anonymous donor, supplemented by funds from the program’s Ford Foundation grant. According to a May 25, 1966 letter, the script was written by George H. Bouwman, Director of Development, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY. The soundtrack was a mix of guitar music, sound effects, and voice-overs from both the narrator and student interviews, also conducted by the film crew. The film’s title was taken from The Wanderer of Liverpool by John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1930-1967):

Go forth to seek: the quarry never found

Is still a fever to the questing hound

The skyline is a promise, not a bound.

Beginning in the Summer of 1967, the film was circulated for a $5 rental fee throughout the U.S. (with accompanying report) to other independent schools considering establishing a similar program. Made at the suggestion of the National Association of Independent Schools, it was shown in its first year at 36 member schools in 18 states, 6 school conferences across the country, and 14 other organizations including the Education Departments of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

That same summer saw a watershed moment in Detroit history: civil unrest with profound ramifications for the city’s inhabitants, which included sixty Horizon students and their families. A full page in HUB’s 1967 Annual Report expresses appreciation to those who particularly helped navigate the complexities of the situation, including Detroit educators, clergy, business leaders, and local figures, such as Detroit Tigers player Al Kaline. Cranbrook would continue to have ties to Detroit institutions through its HUB program, like the relationship it formed with New Detroit in 1968. This summer, HUB will celebrate its 55th anniversary, remaining an important link between Cranbrook and its Metro Detroit neighbors.

Fifty-four years later, Skyline transcends its original intent and gives us a window into the experiences of a specific group of students at Cranbrook during a tumultuous time in our region’s history. The film, like many others in the Archives, is currently undergoing review for reformatting to digital media for access and preservation of the originals, so that their stories are not lost to future generations.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Photo Friday: Movie Magic

Cranbrook Academy of Art students participate in the filming of Jazz, CAA student Joe Munro's first experimental film. 1943, Cranbrook archives.

Cranbrook Academy of Art students participate in the filming of Jazz, Joe Munro’s first experimental film, 1943. Cranbrook archives.

Born and raised in Michigan, Joe Munro worked at Cranbrook as a photographer and teacher. Here he works on his first film, Jazz, gesticulating wildly at his actors while his crew, made up entirely of CAA students, looks on. Munro left Cranbrook shortly after this film was completed, joining the US military and serving in WWII as a wartime photographer.  With the end of the war he began a long career as a freelance photojournalist, working for LIFE, National Geographic, and Time Magazine. His archives are held by the Ohio Historical Society are definitely worth a look.

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