Ted Peshak, 87, one of the most widely viewed but anonymous film directors, whose educational shorts showed a generation of schoolchildren how to make friends, be a good sport, act on a date and control their emotions, died Oct. 9 at an assisted living home in Lake Forest, Ill. He had colon cancer.
After some journalism training and experience as an Army photographer, Mr. Peshak started making films for Glenview, Ill.-based Coronet Instructional Films. The company was started by David Smart, the founder of Esquire magazine.
Distributed to schools nationwide, the films aimed to tame postwar youth with themes of acceptable social values and behavior that in later years were seen as the epitome of prudish and well-mannered conformity. Ginny in his "Are You Popular?" (1947) finds that "girls who 'park' in cars are not really popular."
When aired in the 1990s on the spoof television program "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the Coronet films reached a new generation of viewers who might have chuckled at the stentorian-voiced narrators (among them, Mike Wallace) or appreciated the brief visit to an obsolete past.
After making countless and often-uncredited films for Coronet, Mr. Peshak launched a profitable career directing industrial films for McDonald's and the American Health Care Association. He told Ken Smith, author of "Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films, 1945-1970" (1999): "Mental hygiene films boiled down to a compromise between real life and life as it ought to be."
Theodore Joseph Peshak was born Dec. 22, 1917, in Plymouth, Iowa, and worked on his family's farm as a young man. Active in the Boy Scouts, he was singled out by a scoutmaster for his short skits, writing that led him to study journalism at the University of Iowa.
After graduation in 1940, he worked in advertising and editing at two Iowa newspapers. He served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II as a photographic officer, first in Puerto Rico and then at Fort Monmouth, N.J. He attended an Army motion-picture college and made various training films.
At Coronet, he started with "Shy Guy" (1947), about adjustment to a new town. The lead actor was future "Bewitched" television star Dick York, who remained a friend.
Mr. Peshak also made "How Do You Know It's Love" (1950), a tale of going steady; "How Billy Keeps Clean" (1951), a story of one young man's love affair with soap and water; and "Choosing Your Marriage Partner" (1952), about the qualities that make for a great wife.
He became a master of formula: recruiting family members and neighbors in his town of Libertyville, Ill., to act out the parts; finding experts to act as advisers (the Family Life Institute of the University of Oklahoma was one academic fount); and keeping the action quick and workmanlike. At his peak with Coronet, he made $190 a week, his family said.
In the late 1950s, he started Peshak Pix, "but no one knew what that meant," said a son, Gary Peshak of Robinson, Ill. He settled on the name Peshak Films and began finding clients throughout the Midwest. One of his first was Dohrn Trucking.
He had a long contract with McDonald's, making short pieces that highlighted, for example, the "VIP" status of the maintenance crew. Mr. Peshak distributed those efforts to fast-food restaurants worldwide.
Never quite embracing the video age, Mr. Peshak persevered instead as a successful real estate developer on land in suburban Chicago that once housed his film studio.
Mr. Peshak enjoyed camping with his family and, true to his Coronet films, would become irritated at the sight of trash left by other visitors. He cleaned up after people.
In addition to his son Gary, other survivors include his wife of 66 years, Margaret Martin Peshak of Lake Forest; another son, Gayle "Skip" Peshak of Phoenix; a sister; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.