1940s: At a Glance

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1940s: At a Glance

What We Said:

Big eyes: A crush, as in "I have big eyes for her!"

Cooling: Unemployed.

Geets: Money.

"Here's looking at you, kid": These famous lines uttered by Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine to Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa Lund in the film Casablanca quickly passed into popular usage as a toast.

Hollywood eyes: A description of a pretty girl: "She has Hollywood eyes."

Icky drip: A person whose looks or interests set them apart from the crowd.

"Mash me a fin": "Would you loan me $5?"

"Murder!": "Wow!," an expression of surprise or great excitement.

Nab: A policeman.

Oomph girl or Sweater girl: A term first used by the Hollywood press to describe a full-figured, good-looking girl. Many Hollywood starlets would claim to be the "original" oomph or sweater girl.

Percolator: A car.

Pin-up girl: Attractive women featured on posters during World War II to entertain military men. The most famous pin-up girl was Betty Grable, shown in a bathing suit and high-heeled shoes looking over her shoulder; a pin-up of Rita Hayworth was stuck to the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Roost: Your home.

What We Read:

Paperback books: Born in the late 1930s, these tomes—with flashy covers, racy stories, and cheap prices—were read by the millions during the 1940s. The first paperback publisher was Pocket Books (1939). Soon publishers Avon Books (1941), Dell Books (1943), Popular Library (1943), Bantam Books (1945), New American Library (1948) and Gold Medal Books (1949) were all enticing readers with paperback editions.

Comic books: Readers could select from among more than 150 different titles. The adventures of superheroes were the most popular, including Captain Marvel (1940), Wonder Woman (1941), Captain America (1941), and Plastic Man (1941).

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940): Having already established his international celebrity as a talented writer with the novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), Ernest Hemingway offered years of short fiction and reporting from around the world. For Whom the Bell Tolls was a novel that provided an insightful portrayal of humanity during wartime, the Spanish civil war in this case.

The Sun Is My Undoing(1941): This novel by Marguerite Steen was the first in a trilogy including Twilight on the Floods (1949) and Jehovah Blues (1952), which follow the Floods family through two centuries of their involvement in the slave trade. Steen's dramatic style of writing and action-packed novels won her a large following of fans.

The Robe (1942): Lloyd C. Douglas's novel told about a centurion's quest to find out more about Christ after crucifying him. It remained on the bestseller list for three years and was made into a movie in 1953. Douglas had spent nearly twenty years as a Lutheran minister before becoming a writer.

Yank: This military magazine began publication in 1942 and by the end of the war had more than two million subscribers. The magazine is best known for its two cartoon characters, G.I. Joe and Sad Sack, which helped boost the morale of servicemen in the field.

Forever Amber (1944): Kathleen Winsor's first historical romance novel. Its racy content caused it to be banned in Boston, Massachusetts, but others clamored to read it. The book had eleven printings within a year of its publication. The movie rights to the story were purchased for a higher amount than that paid for Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.

Stars and Stripes: The largest military newspaper, which released almost thirty editions during World War II. The paper carried news of the war, news from the United States, cartoons, and photographs of beautiful women to military servicemen throughout the war.

The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946): One of the best-selling books of all time, with over fifty million copies sold by the end of the twentieth century. This work by Dr. Benjamin Spock became the bible of child care for generations of Americans, and was last updated in 1998, the year of Spock's death.

I, the Jury (1947): This hard-boiled story featuring Mickey Spillane's famous detective Mike Hammer proved the importance of paperback books, selling more than two million copies in paperback in 1948 after achieving only moderate success as a hard-back book the previous year.

What We Watched:

Walt Disney animated films: Disney's Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940), Bambi (1942), and Cinderella (1949) were among the most popular films of the decade. They captivated audiences with their stunning animated scenes and endearing characters.

Citizen Kane (1941): Orson Welles' masterpiece drama about the life of wealthy Charles Foster Kane is considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Casablanca (1942): This drama was the film in which Humphrey Bogart perfected the tough guy image he had crafted in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Co-starring Ingrid Bergman, this drama remained among the top five films throughout the decade.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942): James Cagney won an Academy Award for best actor for his role in this musical about the extraordinary life of composer, singer, and dancer George M. Cohan.

Oklahoma! (1943): Without chorus lines or comedic interruptions, this Broadway musical blended a love story with folk music and modern dance to transform the American musical.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946): James Stewart, playing George Bailey, finds out how his life has positively impacted the lives of those in his community with the help of an angel who distracts him from committing suicide on Christmas Eve.

Song of the South (1946): The tales of Br'er Rabbit are intermixed in this film about life on a southern plantation. The musical includes the popular song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): This dramatic film traces the lives of three war veterans as they return home after the war. One has lost his hands, another comes home to a larger family than the one he left, and the third returns to a loveless marriage and a dead-end job.

What We Listened To:

The Ink Spots: Between 1940 and 1949, this African American vocal group had eleven Top Ten hits on the charts, including "Whispering Grass" and "Don't Worry." They were among the first black recording groups to have "crossover" hits that were popular with whites, and laid the foundation for later "doo-wop" groups.

Charlie Parker: The most influential jazz musician of the 1940s. Saxophonist Parker led the transformation of jazz to "Be-bop," a style of jazz that highlighted complex improvisations and faster beats.

Glenn Miller: Big band trombonist Miller earned the first gold record ever presented to a recording artist for his song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," which sold over a million copies. He was the most successful recording artist of the decade, hitting the Top Ten thirty-one times in 1940 alone. He dissolved his band to enter the army's air force in 1942. He died in a plane crash in 1944.

Superman: This radio show premiered in 1940, adding catchphrases such as "Up, up, and away!" and "This looks like a job for Superman!" into everyday language.

"Back in the Saddle Again": The theme song of Gene Autry, the "Singing Cowboy." Originally written in 1938 by Ray Whitley for the film Border GMen, Autry soon revived it for his own movies and also regularly sang it on his radio and TV shows.

"The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (1941): The hit song by the Andrews Sisters, the top-selling girl group of all time. The song was featured in the Abbott and Costello farce Buck Privates, in which the Andrews Sisters play themselves.

Censored news: All reporting of news and war information was censored by the "Code of Wartime Practices for American Broadcasters," starting in 1942.

"White Christmas": Bing Crosby sang this hit song in Holiday Inn (1942). The song's longing for a family gathering during the holidays became popular with Americans as they hoped for the best for their soldiers.

"All or Nothing at All": This single by Frank Sinatra sold more than one million copies. It also marked a shift in popular music. The Harry James Orchestra originally recorded the song in 1939 (with Sinatra singing), but Sinatra wanted to rerecord it in 1943. When a musicians strike prevented that, Sinatra's managers decided to rerelease the earlier song, renaming the single to highlight Sinatra's name. Until this time, bandleaders were the most important musicians to feature on musical covers.

The Paul Harvey News: Debuting on the radio in 1944, Paul Harvey's distinctive reporting style kept him on the air into the twenty-first century.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: This sitcom about America's favorite couple and their sons David and Ricky debuted on the radio in 1944. The show moved to television in 1952 and stayed on the air until 1966.

"I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover": This song by Art Mooney's orchestra became the #1 single on the Billboard chart in January 1948 and began a revival of "old-time" banjo songs.

"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (1949): One of the last songs by Hank Williams became a country music classic.

Who We Knew:

Gutzon Borglum (1867–1941): The Idaho-born sculptor of Mount Rushmore died just months before work was to be completed. He had begun carving four presidents' faces out of a South Dakota mountain in 1927.

Bing Crosby (1904–1977): One of the most popular stars of the 1940s. His talent was firmly established in the 1930s when his music was played over and over on the radio, but his acting talent became more recognized in the 1940s, when he gave an Oscar-winning performance in Going My Way (1944) and received an Oscar nomination for his part in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).

Charles Richard Drew (1904–1950): This African American physician directed the first American blood bank. A professor and surgeon at Howard University from 1935 to 1936 and again from 1942 to 1950, Drew discovered how to preserve blood plasma for transfusion. From 1940 to 1941, he headed the American program that sent blood to Great Britain and later directed the first American Red Cross Blood Bank from 1941 to 1942. Despite Drew's scientific discovery and leadership of the blood bank, segregation laws prohibited him from donating his own blood.

Anne Frank (1929–1945): After hiding with her family in a secret room in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, from 1942 to 1944, this Jewish teen and her family were discovered by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. She died there in 1945, but her diary was discovered and published in 1947 to great international success.

Billy Graham (1918–): One of the best known American preachers of the twentieth century. Graham's evangelistic crusades have taken him around the world, put him on television and radio, and won him friendships with presidents.

Billie Holiday (1915–1959): The top jazz performer of the decade. Some of her recordings are regarded as the best jazz songs of all time, including "Lover Man" and "Now or Never."

George S. Patton (1885–1945): Nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," his leadership helped the Allied victory at the important Battle of the Bulge in 1945 and his tactics modernized the U.S. Calvary. Known as a fearless leader, whose desire for victory was infectious to his troops, Patton nevertheless lost command of troops when he declared that the United States should be fighting with Germany against the Russians.

Ernie Pyle (1900–1945): This roving reporter penned stories from the front lines of battles in World War II in Britain, Italy, North Africa, and the Normandy Beach of France. Pyle was on assignment on a Pacific island when he was killed from a shot by a Japanese soldier. Americans dearly missed their link to the warfront, and American soldiers posted a marker at the site of his death, noting that they had lost a "buddy."

Jackie Robinson (1919–1972): The first African American to play in the modern major leagues. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and played ten years with them, leading the team to six World Series. In 1962, he became the first African American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906–1947): Gangster Siegel established the first legal gambling casino in the United States. The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, proved enormously successful and became famous across the nation. Siegel's activities with a large crime syndicate proved to be his undoing. Shortly after a supposed disagreement with the syndicate over the portion of the Flamingo's profits due as payment for help financing the hotel, Siegel was shot three times in the head and died instantly.

Richard Wright (1908–1960): The author of Native Son (1940) and his autobiography Black Boy (1945) has been referred to as the "father" of a generation of black writers who came after him. He is credited with expressing the black experience in a brand new light.

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1940s: At a Glance

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1940s: At a Glance