Once upon a time – from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s – a group of buildings in Detroit’s North End community served as the world headquarters of the Jam Handy Organization, a huge national film company. The centerpiece of the structures was a white and blue Gothic-style building located at 2900 E. Grand Boulevard, just west of Oakland Avenue.

Jam Handy specializes in the full production of industrial, business, motivational, educational and sales motion pictures, filmstrips and other audiovisual platforms and aids. The company’s client portfolio included General Motors, Chrysler Corporation, Coca-Cola, Montgomery Ward, Campbell Soup, Sunoco, Electric Auto-Life, and the United States military, especially the United States Air Force, whose training films from Jam Handy included visual and training aids for aircraft mechanics during the Second World War, which began in 1939.

Jem Handy is estimated to have made more than 7,000 military training films. In all, the North End-based company produced more than 25,000 industrial, business, motivational, educational and sales films for many of the nation’s largest companies of the era.

The company’s founder, Henry Jamison “Jem” Handy, established his world headquarters for film production in North End to be close to the many automotive companies to better serve their industrial and educational film needs. General Motors’ world headquarters was a few blocks away on W. Grand Blvd. In addition, the world headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation in Highland Park, Dodge’s huge main assembly plant in Hamtramck, the famous Ford plant in Highland Park, and the Fisher Body Plant 21 were located within a five-mile radius of Jam Handy.

In addition to the automotive industry, Jam Handy has become a pioneering leader in the production of thousands of films and slides for sale in other industries. The films were created to train and motivate sales teams across the country to successfully sell almost any product or service to potential customers. The company was also a pioneer in the production of educational films for American universities on a variety of subjects. And Jam Handy gained popularity in the 1930s and ’50s with the production of “one-minute movies” to advertise other companies’ products and services to patrons at nearly 9,000 movie theaters in the United States and Canada each week.

Demonstrating his versatility, Jem Handy produced the first animated version of the new Christmas story Rudolph the Red Reindeer in 1948, according to the American Theater Historical Society. With support from Montgomery Ward, every aspect of the animation production was done at Jam Handy’s North End Corporate headquarters. Commercials in America’s major print newspapers and magazines featured an image of Rudolph flying over the company’s world headquarters in Detroit.

Jem Handy brought Max Fleischer to Detroit from Hollywood to produce and direct the animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. At the time, Fleischer was considered the premier animator in Hollywood, creating such classic animated works as Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman.

Striving to always be the best, Jam Handy Organization has often been praised nationally and internationally for its superior cinematography, visual effects, special effects, cartoon animation, state-of-the-art soundstage, equipment and skilled crew. The company maintained two orchestras for the film’s musical soundtracks, but often used musical talent from “Motor City part-time musicians” from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Motown Records.

Jam Handy proudly told the world that 100 percent of its film production and other film-related activities were done under the company banner without outsourcing its work. Essentially, the whole thing was done out of several North End company buildings on E. Grand Blvd. And when film projects required outdoor backdrops, Jam Handy’s production and camera crews often used areas in northwest Detroit, such as Sherwood Forest and the University District.

In its heyday – the 1940s and ’50s – Jam Handy is believed to have employed nearly 700 people. And with Detroit as its base, the company also had viable film operations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Dayton.

Although it is unclear how many African Americans worked for the company, it is known that one of the first black producers and executive producers at Jam Handy was Gary L. White in the early 1960s.

“At the time, and even decades before, Detroit was the ‘industrial and educational’ capital of filmmaking in the United States, perhaps the world,” White told this writer during a 2011 interview with Real Times Media. Who’s Who in Black Detroit history. “And sometimes Jem Handy made more movies than Hollywood.”

In 1969, according to the American Theatrical Historical Society, Jam Handy sold the film company Teletape, a New York television company. Teletape, however, continued to operate in the North End under the banner of Jam Handy Productions and later Teletape-Detroit. The company specialized as a film and video production company until the early 1970s before reportedly selling the facility at 2900 E. Grand Blvd. to Faith Through Miracles Church.

In accordance with www.thejamhandy.com, before Jem Handy purchased the historic building in the 1930s, the structure, built in 1919, was home to the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle. The historic Jam Handy North End building at 2900 E. Grand, purchased by brothers Simeon and Nat Heyer in 2010, is now a performance venue and available for corporate, private, community events, and film and photo shoots.

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