1930s: At a Glance
1930s: At a Glance
What We Said:
"All the way": At a soda fountain, an order of chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream.
Brawl: A party or dance. Also called a toddle or pig fight.
Cat: A fan of swing music. Also called an alligator. Someone with a "tin ear" did not like the new music.
Chamber of commerce: Toilet. Also called "crapper" or "honey house."
Coffin nail: Cigarette.
Cramp your style: To bother or interfere with something a person is doing.
"Crap!": "I am upset!"
Dead hoofer: A bad dancer.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn": These words said by Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) at the end of the film Gone with the Wind (1939) drew attention because they included a word—"damn"—that was taboo. They have become some of the most famous words ever uttered on screen.
Knuckling down: A term to describe a way of shooting marbles by resting one's knuckles on the ground. A good player could also "clean the ring," or shoot all of an opponent's marbles outside the playing ring.
"Okey dokey": "Okay."
Swing: The most popular music of the decade. The term became popular with Duke Ellington's 1932 hit song "It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing."
Suck up: To try to gain favor through flattery.
Tin Lizzie: A car. Also called "puddle jumper," "Spirit of Detroit," and "Henry's go-cart," the latter in reference to automobile pioneer Henry Ford.
What We Read:
Cimarron (1930): Considered the best novel by Edna Ferber, Cimarron illustrates the settlement of Oklahoma during the Land Rush of 1889 and the complex social changes in an emerging American city.
Lone Cowboy (1930): Autobiography of Will James, a man who spent many years as a cowboy on the western plains and became a successful writer and illustrator of the Western experience, especially for children.
The Good Earth (1931): Drawing on her personal experience growing up in China as the child of missionaries, Pearl S. Buck wrote this novel in about three months, which described the life in China in a way that had never before been published. The book remained on the best-seller lists for nearly two years and won Buck a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
The Epic of America (1931): This history of America and the American vision by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James Truslow Adams sold five hundred thousand copies.
Anthony Adverse (1933): Known as the best historical novel by Hervey Allen, this book tells a rambling story of life in early America. The royalties from the book sales supported Allen and his family for the rest of his life.
Good-Bye, Mr. Chips (1934): One of the two most popular books by James Hilton, this novel tells the story of a teacher who spends his entire career at an English school and details the changes in the character and his community from 1870 to 1933.
Gone with the Wind (1936): The historical novel by Margaret Mitchell which won her many awards, including the Pulitzer, details life in the South during the Civil War. Although some criticized its depiction of blacks, the novel continues to influence many people's views of life in the South at that time.
The Yearling (1938): Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel about a boy and his pet deer was originally written and marketed to adults, but has since become a favorite of children.
The Grapes of Wrath (1939): John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel told of the struggles of common people during the Depression. It was the first and most widely read of the "protest" novels published during the era. It had such a strong message of social protest that it was often banned, burned, and debated on the radio.
What We Watched:
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): A drama about life on the battlefield during World War I, starring Lew Ayres.
The Big Trail (1930): A Western starring John Wayne in his first role.
City Lights (1931): A silent romantic comedy directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. At a time when "talkies" were all the rage, Chaplin produced what is considered his best film. City Lights features Chaplin's famous character "The Little Tramp" in a melodramatic story about friendship and the value of life.
42nd Street (1933): A musical starring Warren Baxter, Bebe Daniels, and Dick Powell.
Gold Diggers of 1933: A musical choreographed by Busby Berkley and starring Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, and Dick Powell and featuring the popular song "We're in the Money."
Dracula (1931): Horror film starring Bela Lugosi, with his deep Hungarian accent, brought new meaning to screen villains. More than thirty horror films were produced in the 1930s, with sound effects like creaking doors, howling wolves, and crushing bones.
The New Ziegfeld Follies (1934): Popular variety show starring Fanny Brice, Jane Froman, Vilma and Buddy Edsen, and Eugene and Willie Howard.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): The first feature-length animated film was presented by Walt Disney.
Hellzapoppin' (1938): Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson performed slapstick routines to the delight of New York audiences in this popular musical that ran for 1,404 performances.
Gone with the Wind (1939): Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable star in this epic film about the Civil War. The film was criticized for its portrayal of blacks, but eventually became known as one of the best films in history. It was the first Hollywood blockbuster to include color.
The Wizard of Oz (1939): This musical, starring Judy Garland, whisks audiences into a fantasyland of magic and wonder. The film included such popular songs as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," and "We're Off to See the Wizard."
What We Listened To:
Lowell Thomas's news reports: His popular program started in 1930.
The Lone Ranger: Western radio drama debuted in 1932.
Tom Mix: This radio program started in 1933, though he and his Wonder Horse Tony had an international base of fans from his more than 180 films.
"Fireside chats": President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first radio address occurred in 1933.
"Music Goes Round and Round" (1935): This hit swing song by Edward Farley and Michael Riley captured the feeling of the 1930s and was rarely off the air.
Guiding Light: The first soap opera debuted in 1937. It continued as a radio program until 1956 and can still be seen as a television show.
The War of the Worlds: In 1938, Orson Welles broadcast a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells's science fiction novel. Listeners thought the presentation was a serious announcement of Martian invasion and panic spread throughout the country.
Amos 'n' Andy: The fifteen-minute broadcast literally stopped other activities each evening as listeners across the nation tuned in to listen to the comedians throughout the 1930s.
"Flash!": News anchors periodically interrupted scheduled radio programs with this pronouncement, followed by a description of the latest news from Europe.
Who We Knew:
Jack Benny (1894–1974): One of the most popular entertainers in America made audiences laugh for more than fifty years. Benny played an everyday man whose vanity, penny-pinching, and anxiousness gave him ample material to make everyday troubles seem funny. In his most famous skit, a burglar asks Benny, "Your money or your life?" After a long pause, Benny responds, "I'm thinking it over!"
Fanny Brice (1891–1951): One of the most famous vaudeville stars from the Ziegfeld Follies of the 1920s. She had her own radio program from 1938 to 1950. She went on to be a movie star and the 1968 play Funny Girl was based on her life.
James Cagney (1899–1986): The actor most identified with the high-profile criminals that the American public was so interested in during the 1930s. Because Cagney did not personally enjoy his tough-guy image, he sought out more respectable roles over the years.
Fr. Charles E. Coughlin (1891–1979): A radio priest from Michigan during the Depression. Coughlin's programs were broadcast on sixteen stations and had a huge following. His listeners, mainly Roman Catholics, heard his opinions about the moral consequences of current events and about politics. The conservative priest eventually became most well known for his anti-Semitic views and for his support of German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Joan Crawford (1904?–1977): This glamorous MGM actress, who won fame playing carefree flappers in the 1920s, took on hard-working "shopgirl" roles in the 1930s. Two of her movies were Paid and Possessed.
John Dillinger (1903–1934): Notorious bank robber and murderer who dodged police between September 1933 and July 1934. During that time, he killed ten people, wounded seven, robbed banks, and escaped from jail three times. His flight was detailed daily in newspapers and on the radio.
Greta Garbo (1905–1990): The delight of sound in movies was perhaps no more evident than when sultry actress Garbo uttered her first lines: "Gimme a viskey. Ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby." Garbo's silky, accented voice enhanced her stunning beauty in the movie Anne Christie (1930).
Martha Graham (1894–1991): The most influential choreographer in America. Her Primitive Mysteries of 1931 is a masterpiece of modern dance, and one of the first to incorporate Graham's inventive spiral movements.
Herbert Hoover (1874–1964): U.S. president during the nation's most devastating economic crisis. Although some of his programs to deal with the Depression were successful, and some were used by his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the public mocked Hoover for his seeming indifference to their plight. "Hooverisms," slang that expressed the common person's difficulties, were coined, including "Hoovervilles," shantytowns found in every large city in America, and "Hoovercarts," cars pulled by horses because the driver could not afford gas.
Howard Hughes (1905–1975): At the beginning of the 1930s, Hughes was the most famous movie producer in the United States and the owner of the Hughes Tool Company that was worth $75 million. In 1935 he broke the air-speed record; in 1937 he was named the best aviator of the year by President Roosevelt, he set a record for flying around the world at record pace in 1938. By the end of his life he was worth $650 million and had become a bizarre recluse and drug addict.
Lindbergh baby: Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., the twenty-month-old baby of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped on March 1, 1932. The country closely followed the hunt for the perpetrator. Bruno Hauptmann, an illegal immigrant from Germany, was convicted of the crime and executed in 1936, although some say the evidence against him was scanty.
Joe Louis (1914–1981): Heavyweight boxing champion from 1938 to 1949. Louis was the first black man to become known by name across America. He symbolized blacks' ability to conquer racism and discrimination.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945): The thirty-second president of the United States led the country out of the Depression with his "New Deal" plan that enlarged the responsibilities of the federal government and into World War II.
Mae West (1892–1980): The most sexual movie star and playwright of the Depression era. After writing Broadway hits, West became a screen star. By 1935, she was the highest-paid woman in the country. One of her most famous lines was "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?"
Walter Winchell (1897–1972): The most popular American gossip columnist. His stories about celebrities won him a broad fan base. His syndicated column ran in more than 170 newspapers and his radio show was heard by 20 million listeners.