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"Uncle Smiley" was the title character in a series of short educational films produced in the early 1970s. Uncle Smiley was a jolly sort who had a big beard and suspenders — think Santa a' la Haight Ashbury. Basically, each film showed Uncle Smiley and a group of young kids heading somewhere in his V.W. van and learning stuff. And of course he always had misadventures and hijinks along the way — how else to keep the attention of a class room full of grade-schoolers.

I was first introduced to Uncle Smiley when I started the third grade at a new school. Mr. Novitsky said we were going to watch a film and the rest of the class chanted

"Uncle Smiley, Uncle Smiley, Uncle Smiley!"
As the classroom lights were put out and the projector started up I prepared myself for this Uncle Smiley phenomenon. I figured Smiley would be a cartoon — what else could get kids so excited that they'd chant — but a cartoon what exactly? A mouse? A dog? My money was on Smiley being a mouse.

The academy reel counted down — beep! — and the theme song started

"Who's number one?...
He's a barrel of fun...
He's got no time to run (?)
when it's Un-cle Smi-ley!"
(There was a second verse but it escapes me, perhaps it was a case of "second verse same as the first".)

What followed was not, to my initial dismay, a cartoon but live action. That said, there was no denying that Smiley had a certain clown-like charm and he had soon won me over.

There are seven Uncle Smiley films that I know of:
(it seems they may be available on video now, but I prefer the whole projector experience myself)

  • Uncle Smiley and the junkyard playground1972, Color, 13 minutes
    Smiley and the kids clean-up and convert a junk-filled city lot into a playground.
  • Uncle Smiley follows the seasons – 1972, Color, 14 minutes
    "An introduction to the beauties of nature as the seasons change, making us aware of our multifaceted environment." (remarkably, this was the theme of my senior prom)
  • Uncle Smiley goes camping – 1972, Color, ? minutes
    Smiley takes a van-full of city kids on a camping expedition where they learn how to pitch tents, build a fire the SAFE way, and clean up before they leave.
  • Uncle Smiley goes planting – 1972, Color, 15 or 16 minutes
    Unca' Smiley and the kids take a trip to a burned-out section of forest to plant seedlings and thus bring the forest back to life.
  • Uncle Smiley goes recycling – 1972, Color, 13 minutes
    Smiley takes the kids to a recycling station teaching them how their cans, bottles, and paper can be reused. After the trip, the kids are so enthused they start their own neighborhood "collection" project.
  • Uncle Smiley goes to the beach – 1972, Color, 13 minutes
    Smiley loads up the van and takes the kids to the beach. We learn that a few bad apples littering and ignoring simple water-safety rules can ruin the day for everyone. I can almost hear my mother saying "Never turn your back on the ocean!"
  • Uncle Smiley goes up the river
    Smiley and the kids share a cell in a federal prison where he teaches them how to fashion a shank from a old toothbrush — wait, no... I think it was more like: Smiley and the gang learn about how to prevent pollution and take time out to help a group that cleans up a river. (This was the first episode I saw — I recall Smiley tries to do some laundry in the river and gets told what for by the kids)
The Uncle Smiley films were produced in 1972 by the Learning Corporation of America [LCA]. The LCA was an independent film and television program distributor active in the educational/instructional field. They later became part of New World Pictures.

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Note: Apparently there was a character named "Uncle Smiley" in an old 1938 Donald Duck short titled Self Control. From what I gather, in the cartoon, Donald tries rather unsuccessfully to learn a bit of self-control from a radio announcer named "Uncle Smiley". This bears no relation to the Uncle Smiley of my youth and this node.

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