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» Film-Tech Forum   » Community   » Film-Yak   » Sy Wexler Dies, You've Likely Seen His Films

Author Topic: Sy Wexler Dies, You've Likely Seen His Films
John Pytlak
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From: Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Registered: Jan 2000

 - posted 03-21-2005 08:42 AM      Profile for John Pytlak   Author's Homepage   Email John Pytlak   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
From the listserver of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA):

Sy Wexler, 88; Award-Winning Producer of Educational Films

By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times

His films were not intended to generate boffo business at the box
office, and they bore titles that were, admittedly, lacking in marquee

But countless baby boomers in the 1950s and '60s viewed the work of Sy
Wexler, whose films such as "Teeth Are for Life," "Human and Animal
Beginnings" and "Why Physical Education" were screened in classrooms
across the country.

Wexler, an award-winning Hollywood-based educational filmmaker, died
March 10 in an assisted-care facility in Studio City of cancer and the
neurological disease known as diffuse Lewy body syndrome, said his
family. He was 88.

From the time he went into business after World War II until he retired
in 2001, Wexler turned out more than 300 educational, training and
documentary films.

Partnered initially with Bob Churchill, Wexler launched his small film
studio on Seward Street in Hollywood.

The modest "shop," as Wexler called it, was staffed with a small team
of animators, technicians and editors. The studio, whose daily 4 p.m.
tea break became something of a legend among the other filmmakers in the
neighborhood, remained Wexler's professional home for more than half a

Churchill/Wexler Film Productions became a leading producer of
educational documentaries that were acclaimed for their content,
animation style and ability to help teachers easily communicate
difficult subjects such as sex education, alcohol abuse, nutrition and

The 16-millimeter black-and-white films, which usually ran from 10 to
30 minutes, included titles such as "Food, Energy and You," "Drugs:
Helpful and Harmful" and "The Great Rights," a highly regarded animated
educational film about the Bill of Rights.

Wexler also made film strips, including two on human growth,
development and reproduction: "Especially for Boys" and "Especially for

That all of those films were seen by millions of young viewers "is
probably not a stretch," said Wexler's son, David, a film
preservationist who lives in Santa Barbara.

"That's back in the era when boards of education had money for films
and every school had a projector and some kid who knew how to run it,"
he told The Times this week.

Launching Wexler Film Productions after Churchill left the company in
the early '60s, Wexler focused almost exclusively on highly technical
medical and scientific training films — with such titles as "Complete
Dentures" and "The Case of a Persian Student With Painless Hemoptysis."

"One of the remarkable things about Wexler Films was he never once went
looking for work — never advertised, never solicited; it always came in
through the door," David Wexler said. "A doctor, for example, would
bring a subject to him and want to present it at the next medical
conference. Rather than deliver a paper, the doctor could show this

"That really caught on because this guy was the hit of the conference:
That started a whole trend of doctors going, 'Oh, I need a film for the
next conference.' "

David Wexler said his father generally "would write the script, he'd
film it himself, he'd edit it — he'd do the whole thing. By the time he
was done, sometimes he'd know more about the subject than the doctor."

Wexler also made films for pharmaceutical companies and medical
equipment manufacturers.

"He shot lots of surgeries, everything from hip surgery to brain
surgery to separating Siamese twins, so he was comfortable in the
operating room," David Wexler said. "He also helped develop
microscope-mounted cameras to be able to shoot in the operating room."

Wexler's films won scores of awards, including those from the
Biological Photographers Assn. and the International Scientific Film

"Sy was a virtuoso filmmaker, but he also got the people part of it
right," said Rick Prelinger, a San Francisco movie image archivist and
collector of educational films. "He knew how to portray people and how
to give a human dimension to a film that otherwise might be just a
straight educational film or a straight medical film."

Wexler also was a cameraman on the 1960 film "The Savage Eye," and he
co-produced the 1964 Eastman Kodak World's Fair film "The Searching
Eye," directed by Elaine and Saul Bass.

David Wexler said his father never considered moving on to feature
films. He preferred making films such as "Varicose Veins," which earned
him a blue ribbon at the American Film Festival.

"He loved science and he had a propensity for understanding it, so he
felt comfortable dealing with those kinds of subject matters," he said.

Born in Manhattan in 1916, Simon Wexler studied chemistry at City
College of New York. During World War II, he was an Army Signal Corps
cameraman and worked with director Frank Capra on the renowned "Why We
Fight" and "Know Your Enemy" documentary series.

At his request, Wexler's body will be used for medical research and

In addition to David, Wexler is survived by his wife of 63 years,
Helen; his son Howard, a Los Angeles filmmaker; and three grandchildren.

Notes of remembrance can be sent to:
The Wexlers, 742 Seward St., Hollywood CA 90038

Donations in his name can be made to one of Sy’s favorite non-profits:
Self-Healing Research Foundation
2218 48th Ave. San Francisco, CA 94115

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