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Remember My Forgotten Man

"REMEMBER MY FORGOTTEN MAN"

The film Gold Diggers of 1933, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and choreographed by Busby Berkeley, was a hugely successful and accordingly oft-imitated pioneer in the genre of musicals. Its generally upbeat story caught the mood of returning hope and "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" positive thinking that accompanied Franklin Roosevelt's assumption of the presidency and launching of the New Deal the year the film was made. But its long and memorable closing number, "Remember My Forgotten Man," did something highly unusual for a Hollywood musical of the thirties: It addressed the Depression directly.

Berkeley's number reminds viewers of the sacrifices that veterans made for the nation in World War I and suggests that they have been forgotten now, as they suffer the harsh realities of the Depression. Marching soldiers from the Great War morph into hungry men plodding along on a breadline as Joan Blondell sings: "Remember my forgotten man/You put a rifle in his hand/. . ./But look at him today."

Such an attempt at social commentary in a Hollywood backstage musical would be noteworthy in itself, but the real significance of the song is what it says about gender relations and the longings of men during the Depression. Al Dublin's lyrics (the music was composed by Harry Warren) have a woman recalling that she "was happy then," when her man was employed and "the sweat fell from his brow." The reason for her happiness? "He used to take care of me." Such male care of and provision for "their women," Dublin's lyrics affirm, is the natural state of affairs: "Cause ever since the world began/A woman's got to have a man."

The Great Depression had overturned "normalcy" not only by denying men jobs, this song asserted, but by denying them their proper role of providing for and ruling over women. "Won't you bring him back again?" Blondell plaintively sang of the sort of man who was said to have taken care of women before the Depression.

See Also:BERKELEY, BUSBY; GENDER ROLES AND SEXUAL RELATIONS, IMPACT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION ON; GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933; HOLLYWOOD AND THE FILM INDUSTRY; MUSIC; VALUES, EFFECTS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION ON.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bergman, Andrew. We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films. 1971.

Cohan, Steven, ed. The Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader. 2002.

Robert S. Mcelvaine

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