Information and Entertainment

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Information and Entertainment

During World War II (193945) people on the U.S. home front faced gas rationing, shortages of certain foods, over-crowded public transportation, and bans on pleasure driving. Unaccustomed to such restrictions and inconveniences, Americans found some comfort in various forms of media, including radio, movies, newspapers, books, and popular music. These forms of mass communication provided not only entertainment but important war-related information. Early in the war President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345) declared that movies and even certain sporting events were essential for maintaining morale on the home front. The U.S. government used these media and others to communicate with the American public. Government messages included statements about the nation's war goals, suggestions for what citizens could do to contribute to the war effort, and reports on the progress of the war. Government communication of this sort is often called propaganda. Propaganda is information designed to shape public opinion. Radio, movies, and all the other popular media provided the U.S. government with an effective means of funneling wartime information to the public. At the same time, these media forms

gave people on the home front a welcome escape from the war.

Hollywood movies on the eve of war

In the late 1930s many people in the Hollywood movie industry's upper management were Jewish. They strongly supported the war against Germany because German leader Adolf Hitler (18891945) and his Nazi government were persecuting Jews in Europe. Long before the United States entered the war, the movie industry produced several films that criticized Nazi Germany. The most notable was Confessions of a Nazi Spy, released in early 1939. In the film the German-born director exposed Hitler's plans for European conquest. Confessions of a Nazi Spy was the first anti-Nazi film and a commercial hit.

Other movies also promoted the idea of the United States entering World War II. Sergeant York (1941), a movie about fighting Germany in World War I (191418), is one example. The movie revived the notion of Germany as an enemy of democracy and freedom. Another example is A Yank in the RAF (1941). This movie tells the story of an American pilot in the British Royal Air Force. It promoted the idea of Americans, even individually, helping Great Britain in its fight against German military expansion.

When Congress established a military draft in 1940, the film industry formed the Motion Picture Committee Cooperating for National Defense. Its purpose was to distribute and show films that encouraged Americans to participate in the war effort. (The United States had not yet entered the war, but it was supporting the fight against Germany by manufacturing war materials for the Allies.) One of these films was called Women in Defense (1941). Written by Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962) and narrated by Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn (19072003), the film encouraged women to find jobs in the war industries or to join military services.

Although some of the movies that promoted the war were hits, the American public was not eager for the United States to enter the war. Isolationism (the policy of avoiding formal foreign commitments and involvement in foreign conflicts) had been Americans' preferred foreign policy since the end of World War I (191418). Members of Congress also held isolationist views, and they disapproved of Hollywood's pro-war stance. In 1941, before the nation entered the war, senators in Congress began an investigation of Hollywood. They charged that the movie industry, led by Jewish film company executives, was misleading the public by producing pro-war propaganda designed to gain public support for entering the war against Germany.

On the lighter side, Hollywood was also producing war-related comedies, which helped put to ease, at least fleetingly, the rising tensions of the public over the threat of war. Buck Privates (1941) and In the Navy (1941), both starring comedians Bud Abbott (18951974) and Lou Costello (19061959), are two examples of war-related comedy films.

Controlling war information

During wartime the government often controls what news and information the public hears or sees. When World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, President Roosevelt immediately began establishing some information controls. First the president established the Office of Government Reports. This agency was supposed to coordinate the release of information about U.S. preparations for possible involvement in the war. By March 1941 the war in Europe had greatly expanded, so the Office of Emergency Management also became involved in controlling public information about the government's growing defense activities. Because these two agencies had similar responsibilities, Roosevelt created the Office of Facts and Figures to coordinate their activities. He appointed Archibald MacLeish (18921982), best known as an American poet, to head the office. To filter information from overseas,

the Foreign Information Service was created in August 1941.

Having so many new information control organizations created some confusion for the public and within government. Nonetheless, censorship of military information proved effective in blocking selected information from the public. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, for example, the government withheld a great deal of information from the public, including the casualty list, which was not released for a year. The thinking was that the U.S. government did not want to encourage the Japanese over the destruction wrought, and, also, alarm the public any more than it was already.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asserted that motion pictures were important for informing and entertaining American citizens on the home front. He also claimed that movies should be relatively free of censorship. A short time later the government officially ruled that motion pictures were an essential service to the war effort and that production should continue. Hollywood war movies quickly went into production.

The president soon directly approached Hollywood about using certain motion pictures for propaganda purposes. Warner Brothers released Mission to Moscow in 1943 in response to a presidential request. Roosevelt wanted to maintain public support for U.S. military aid to the Soviet Union. Based on the experiences of Joseph E. Davies (18761958), the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938, the movie portrays the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (18791953) as a great defender of democracy. The movie became a major embarrassment to the studio when the public later learned about Stalin's brutal reign of terror on Soviet citizens.

Office of War Information

To resolve the confusion and chaos of overlapping government information offices, Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (OWI) in June 1942. The OWI took over the role of all the other information organizations. The president named popular CBS news commentator Elmer Davis (18901958) as head of the OWI. Besides overseeing the information released to the public, the OWI produced radio messages, leaflets, booklets, films, and a glossy magazine titled Victory. In addition, the new agency sought to influence the entertainment industry. The OWI issued guidelines urging advertisers, corporations, and publishers, among others, to produce positive, inspiring messages that showed confidence in the future. America was to be portrayed in a highly favorable light at all times.

Bureau of Motion Pictures

To coordinate and produce government films, the OWI created the Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) branch, headed by White House assistant Lowell Mellett. The BMP established three offices, in Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles.

The New York office, under the direction of playwright Sam Spewack (18991971), made government informational films. The films trumpeted America's successes, such as its home front industrial production miracles. One such film, Autobiography of a Jeep, was released in sixteen different languages. BMP also produced fifty-two informational short films called the America Speaks series. The OWI staff wrote half of these films and Hollywood studios the other half. (The twenty-six films written by OWI were also known as "Victory Films.")

The BMP films were supposed to be shown along with the regular movie features. The BMP also made 16-millimeter films for showing at churches, schools, and other community centers. These films actually reached a larger audience than the "Victory Films." By January 1943 about 4.7 million people had seen one or more of the 16-millimeter films.

The military also produced informational films, in coordination with the BMP. During World War II one-third of the male workers in the film industry entered the armed forces, where many of them produced educational and informational films. In addition, noted Hollywood director Frank Capra (18971991) volunteered to make a series of soldier indoctrination films for the U.S. Army; the series was called Why We Fight. Army commanders liked the films so much that they insisted the films be shown to the general public, too. As a result, these Capra films were shown in movie theaters around the country. Capra himself directed the first film of the series, Prelude to War, which included footage from captured enemy film and newsreels. Prelude to War explained the series of events in Europe and Asia that had led to war, the character of the German and Japanese governments, and the reasons why the United States had entered the war. Capra's series and various other military inspirational films were quite popular with the public and attracted a large audience in war factories and community centers as well as movie theaters.

Not everyone liked the OWI/BMP productions. Republicans in Congress were highly critical of the inspirational war films and OWI's Victory magazine. They charged that these productions were merely propaganda, designed to support the potential reelection bid of President Roosevelt, a Democrat, in 1944. In May 1943 Congress cut back funding for OWI, eliminating most of OWI's home front activities. Only the Washington, D.C., office of OWI survived.

Wartime Baseball

Throughout World War II, going to the ballpark was a favorite pastime on the home front. In January 1942, just over a month after the United States entered the war, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that major-league baseball could serve as a big morale booster for the American public. The country was at war, but the 1942 baseball season would proceed. Major-league baseball did its part for the war effort by sponsoring scrap drives. Kids who brought metal and rubber items to the ballpark for recycling were admitted to the game for free. Sometimes baseball fans could get free admission with the purchase of a war bond.

Four thousand professional baseball playersabout 70 percent of the leaguejoined the armed services during the war, including Joe DiMaggio (19141999), Ted Williams (19182002), and Bob Feller (1918). As a result, many unknown names filled the league rosters. Despite this fact, attendance rose to the highest it had ever been in major-league history to that point. The wartime stand-ins were old-timers, foreign players recruited from Latin America, and men who had not passed the physical requirements for U.S. military service. Pete Gray (19152002), a one-armed outfielder, was a big attraction. To many war veterans who had lost limbs in combat, Gray was an inspiring figure.

Minor-league baseball was also a popular attraction, although only nine out of forty-one minor leagues continued to play during the war. Some of the players were defense workers who played in their off hours. A professional league of female ballplayers formed in 1943; it was called the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Women's baseball games drew a good attendance, but the league folded in 1954.

Hollywood goes to war

Nelson Poynter (19031978) in BMP's Hollywood office was the agency's lead contact with the movie industry. He advised Hollywood on how it could assist in the war effort. BMP also wanted to make sure Hollywood was portraying the war effort and American culture in a positive way. To help Hollywood comply, the BMP issued The Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture. The manual spelled out official government policy to guide moviemakers. For example, it recommended that an occasional war message, something to promote home front unity, be worked into movie dialogue. The manual also suggested that producers ask themselves a key question, "Will this picture help win the war?"

Hoping to avoid formal censorship measures by Congress, Hollywood executives formed the War Activities Committee and agreed among themselves to cooperate with the BMP and other government agencies. They allowed the BMP to review scripts submitted by studios and to make suggestions about how to portray proper (that is, government-approved) images of America. Sometimes BMP suggested changes in dialogue or emphasis. In some cases it requested that a movie not be produced or that it be held back until after the war. National unity was the government's chief concern, so the BMP wanted films to avoid topics such as crime, poverty, and racism. The BMP banned scenes showing war heroes winning battles single-handedly because they did not want the public to think that combat was easy or that the war would be over soon. Filmmakers were never to show Americans surrendering, but rather fighting stubbornly to the end when overrun by superior forces. Gangster movies, which were popular during the 1930s, were banned because of their negative portrayal of Americans, unless the gangsters were fighting Nazis, such as All Through the Night (1942) and Lucky Jordan (1942). Citizens of Allied countries were not to be shown in an offensive manner, such as unkempt in appearance, offensive behavior, or involved in crime. The BMP reviewed about 1,650 scripts. Conformance with BMP recommendations varied among the movie studios, but most usually complied. The BMP review of Hollywood movies and film productions ceased when funding was reduced for OWI in May 1943.

Between July and October 1942, thirty-eight of the eighty-six movies in production were war movies. Filming the movies during wartime was a challenge. Film was rationed, materials for building sets were limited, beaches and open seas were off-limits for filming because of safety and security concerns, and many skilled technicians, such as electricians, were drafted. The loud resonating noises of military aircraft made outdoor filming chancy. Furthermore, like every other business enterprise in the nation, film studios had extra responsibilities during the war; for example, to protect staff members and Hollywood stars, they built sandbag air raid shelters on their lots. The war also affected some of the ceremony of a movie's opening night: Due to dimout and blackout requirements early in the war, Hollywood had to quit using flashing searchlights for world premieres.

Wartime movies

The first combat film, Wake Island, was released in September 1942, less than nine months after the battles it portrays. Director John Farrow (19041963) won an Academy Award for the film. Other early war movies portraying actual combat events include Battle of Midway (1942) and The Flying Tigers (1942). Twenty-four of the initial thirty-eight early war movies were about espionage and sabotage on the home front. Noting this trend, the OWI became concerned about raising public fears. The FBI gave reassurances to the public that very little of such activity was actually going on.

Twenty-eight percent of all Hollywood pictures produced between 1942 and the end of 1944 dealt with the war in some way. Action in the North Atlantic (1943) tells the story of the merchant marines (officers and crews of U.S. vessels that engaged in commerce). Guadalcanal Diary, released in 1943, is based on Richard Tregaskis's 1942 book about the fierce fighting that took place between U.S. and Japanese ground forces on the small Pacific island of Guadalcanal. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) dramatizes a U.S. bombing raid over the Japanese capital city that occurred in April 1942. Other popular combat movies were Bataan (1943) and Memphis Belle (1944). War themes appeared even in lighter movies, including Sherlock Holmes tracking Nazi spies in London in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942). The cartoon character Donald Duck was shown collecting scrap metal for the war effort.

Hollywood combat movies stressed teamwork on the home front and the battlefield and emphasized the diversity of Americans involved in the war effort. Women were shown going beyond established boundaries, such as going from homemaking to working in factories, but Hollywood was careful not to challenge American norms and maintained traditional femininity, including being clean with makeup, wearing hose and neatly pressed clothing, and generally sporting a bright supportive spirit. Similarly, Hollywood walked a fine line in its portrayals of black and working-class Americans; movies celebrated the contributions of both but largely stayed with traditional white middle-class values and steered away from controversial issues of race or class so as to provide a positive image of America. Of course, films touted the bravery of Allied combat soldiers and demonized the German and Japanese enemy. Movies generally portrayed the Japanese as sneaky and dishonest, such as in God Is My Co-Pilot (1945) and Across the Pacific (1942), and the Germans as stupid and ineffective such as in Invisible Agent (1942) and How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (1943).

Early in the worldwide conflict, movies avoided showing the grim side of war. However, the BMP suggested more realistic portrayals by late 1943, hoping to guard against home front overconfidence. Newsreels also became more graphic by 1944. Though made by private companies, the newsreels reported war news that was approved by the government.

Hollywood's escapism

Most box office hits did not directly address the war. Mrs. Miniver, released in early 1942, was a highly popular film that won several Academy Awards including best picture. It was also a favorite of the BMP for its strongly pro-British perspective. Casablanca (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart (18991957) and Ingrid Bergman (19151982), avoided the main issues of the war, even though the story involved the French struggle against Nazi Germany.

Moviegoers grew tired of war movies by 1943. They wanted an escape from serious subjects and turned to romances, musicals, comedies, adventure stories, and animated films for a break from day-to-day problems. Walt Disney's animated moviesincluding Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942)quickly gained popularity. Disney also produced short cartoons for the government, including "Donald Gets Drafted" (1942), "Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line" (1942), and "Der Fuehrer's Face" (1942).

Attendance at movie theaters rose significantly during the war. More than ninety million Americans attended the movies every week, up 33 percent from before the war. The American movie industry made more than a billion dollars annually through the peak war years. By late 1944, when the Allied forces had liberated much of Western Europe and the Pacific, some 40 percent of Hollywood's gross receipts came from abroad as, once again, Hollywood movies were shown in Europe.


Before television, radio was the main medium for informing Americans of world events. Radio was also the main source of entertainment at home. Families would gather around the radio for news or comedy-variety programs. The average listener tuned in for 4.5 hours a day. Because so many people listened to the radio, radio broadcasts were an essential part of the government's wartime information campaign.

Just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the National Association of Broadcasters created a set of codes banning certain types of broadcasts. Included were broadcasts that might cause undue alarm on the home front, such as dramatizations of war events. Weather reports were discontinued until the fall of 1943 so that enemy pilots would not have weather information to aid them. Security at radio stations was increased to protect against enemy infiltration.

Government radio programs

Making use of the airwaves, in February 1942 the White House introduced plans for a series of radio programs called This Is War. The half-hour programs were created by the major networks and broadcast simultaneously every week for thirteen weeks. The programs aimed to maintain calm and boost morale on the home front, because the war was not going well for the United States through the early part of 1942. The first release in the series was titled "How It Was with Us." In a calm and reassuring voice, the narrator of the film reminded Americans that they were on the right side in the battle against evil (Nazi Germany and Japan) and that it was right to go to war. Other programs paid tribute to the army, navy, Army Air Corps, and War Production Board. Twenty million listeners regularly tuned in to the series.

The OWI's Domestic Radio Bureau also provided war information on the radio in various forms. One series, Uncle Sam Speaks, featured the Uncle Sam, a fictitious character representing the U.S. government, talking about hope for the future.

Two of the most noted radio writers for home front morale-boosting programs were Norman Corwin (1910) and Ronald MacDougall. Corwin introduced sound effects, background music, and voice documentaries (radio programs featuring ordinary citizens talking about their perspectives on different war issues). MacDougall wrote The Man behind the Gun, a series about American soldiers in combat. The government also produced short spot announcements for war bonds, scrap drives, and V-mail (personal letters written to servicemen overseas on government forms that were photographed by the post office on a smaller format and delivered overseas by air mail). These war messages were broadcast during all varieties of programming, from kids' afternoon serial programs to evening adventure dramas.

The amount of airtime devoted to news rose dramatically through the war years. For example, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) increased news reporting from 4 percent of air time in 1939 to 20 percent through the war years. Firsthand live accounts quickly became popular, beginning in 1938 when William L. Shirer (19041993) reported from Czechoslovakia about Nazi Germany's takeover of that country. Speaking from distant locations about somber and significant world events, radio war reporters had a certain glamour and attained star status with home front listeners. Memorable moments included Edward R. Murrow (19081965) reporting live from a B-17 bomber while flying over Berlin.

Besides news, radio provided music and entertainment, allowing listeners some escape from the war. Soap operas, quiz shows, sportscasts, drama and mystery stories, children's programs, and variety shows were popular. The most popular radio personalities included comedians Red Skelton

(19131997), Bob Hope (19032003), Jack Benny (18941974), and Bud Abbott (18951974) and Lou Costello (19061959). Arthur Godfrey (19031983) and Kate Smith (19071986) were popular radio hosts.

News journalism

The government exerted control over news reporters and photographers primarily through the U.S. Office of Censorship. Byron Price (18911981), an Associated Press news editor,

headed the office. Like the OWI, this office controlled information in order to sustain home front support for the war. War reporters were urged to emphasize traditional American values, such as the importance of family, strong patriotism, and emphasis on the institution of marriage, in their reporting. News accounts of combat were edited to avoid descriptions of death or maiming, mental breakdowns by soldiers, and strife among soldiers under stress. Combat soldiers did not care for these sanitized reports going back to the home front. They believed such reports distorted what was really going on overseas and hid the horrors of warfare from the general public. However, the government thought it was best to keep the home front perspective on the war positive; this was essential because victory would likely hinge on strong home front support.

The Office of Censorship also reviewed the work of news photographers. Photographs of dead U.S. soldiers could not be published until 1943, when the Allied forces began gaining the upper hand in combat. By then government officials were less worried about hurting home front morale and more concerned that America might become overconfident and decrease its support for the war effort. It was not until 1945 that Life magazine, a key news photography publication, chose to show American casualties. Photographs that showed mental breakdowns among soldiers or outbreaks of violence among the troops were not allowed in any publication.

Reporting back home

Ernie Pyle (19001945) was the most famous U.S. war correspondent. He covered combat involving U.S. troops in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and the Pacific, sending firsthand accounts back to the home front. Almost four hundred daily newspapers and three hundred weeklies in the United States carried his articles. Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. He gained unusual respect among the troops because he depicted the war realistically, even under the reporting restrictions. Pyle was killed by Japanese gunfire on a small Pacific island near Okinawa on April 18, 1945. A highly acclaimed Hollywood movie, The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), is based on Pyle's life.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin (19212003) was another Pulitzer Prize winner. Mauldin drew the cartoon Willie and Joe from the war front. He used the characters of Willie and Joe, two combat infantrymen, to tell the humorous side of military life abroad. Mauldin started as a regular soldier but was soon recognized for his special talent. The army

reassigned him to its daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, which was distributed to the troops. Through an article written by Ernie Pyle, Mauldin became well known on the home front.

For the first time, women also found opportunities as war correspondents. Noted female reporters during World War II included Helen Kirkpatrick (1909), the London correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, and Sonia Tomara (18971982) of the New York Herald Tribune, who covered action in China, Burma, and India. Margaret Bourke-White (19061971), a well-known photojournalist of the 1930s, covered battlefield action for Life magazine. Her photographs helped maintain strong home front support for the war effort. These women and others blazed the trail for future female journalists.

Five Women Journalists

Stationed in Germany in the early 1930s for the New York Evening Post, Dorothy Thompson (18941961) was the first woman in charge of a news bureau in Europe. When she interviewed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1934 and exposed him for the tyrant he was, Hitler ordered her to leave Germany. In the United States she began writing a column for the New York Herald Tribune. The column, called "On the Record," was printed in more than two hundred papers. Through her writing Thompson warned Americans about the dangers of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany and their plans for expansion and persecution of Jews and minorities.

Clare Boothe Luce (19031987) played many different roles in her lifetime. She was a U.S. representative (194347), a playwright, an ambassador, and the wife of Henry R. Luce (18981967), the owner of popular magazines Time, Life, and Fortune. She was also a wartime correspondent. World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, and in early 1940 she spent four months in Europe simply to witness

firsthand the developing events. Returning to the United States, she reported her findings in Europe in the Spring (1940), a book that helped persuade Americans that isolationism (opposition to foreign commitments and involvement in foreign disputes) was a dangerous policy. During 1941 and 1942 Luce spent time in the Far East, Burma, the Philippines, and the South Pacific, writing about what she learned, photographing what she encountered, and sending her observations back to the U.S. home front. During the same period she also spent time in North Africa, reporting on the military preparedness of the Allies.

Hailing from the South, May Craig (18891975) was an early feminist who campaigned for women's voting rights. She traveled north and found employment as a journalist in Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Gannett newspaper chain. Her daily column, "Inside Washington," ran for almost fifty years. Craig was an original member of the women's press circle, established by Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady, in 1933. Craig constantly championed women news correspondents; she believed they should be allowed to go everywhere male correspondents went to get their stories. During World War II Craig often traveled to Europe to send back firsthand accounts of the war.

Toni Frissell (19071988) was a talented wartime photojournalist. Because she was a woman, her early career was full of assignments on clothes and society, topics that were deemed appropriate for women. Frissell was eager to move from fashion reporting to news reporting, so in 1941 she volunteered to document the wartime activities of the American Red Cross. She would also photograph soldiers on the front lines, members of the Women's Army Corps (WACs), black American fighter pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, and European children orphaned by the war. Frissell used her skills with a camera to influence American attitudes on the home front.

Like Dorothy Thompson, Sonia Tomara wrote for the New York Herald Tribune. With sheer persistence she acquired credentials that allowed her to travel to Asia in August 1942 to cover the war in China. She flew on bombing missions and sent vivid accounts of her experiences back to the U.S. home front.

Popular music

Popular music promoted optimism and confidence on the home front. Like movies and radio, songs were a vehicle for delivering government messages during the war. The OWI and the Songwriters War Committee produced informational songs to promote home front participation in scrap drives, victory gardens (private gardens planted by individual families to add to the nation's wartime food supply), and air raid drills. Other governmentproduced songs provided encouragement to war industry workers.

In the commercial music industry, songwriters began rolling out numerous patriotic songs immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, hoping for a big hit. However, none of these proved memorable, and most were considered rather juvenile. ("Goodbye, Momma, I'm Off to Yokohama" and

"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" are two examples.) Swing, the most popular music of the time, did not translate well into war songs. One of the better-selling records in 1942 and 1943 was "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere." In general, such standards as "God Bless America" (written by Irving Berlin in 1938), "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (from the late nineteenth century), and "Anchors Aweigh" (1906) had to suffice.

Sentimental songs, including songs of loneliness, would become much more popular as the war dragged on. The favorite of the war was "White Christmas," first sung by Bing Crosby (19031977) in the movie Holiday Inn (1942). Other popular sentimental songs were "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (1943) sung by Crosby and "I'll Be Seeing You," which was the most popular song in 1944 and also sung by Crosby.

Big bands dominated popular music during the war. Big band leaders included Glenn Miller (19041944), Tommy Dorsey (19051956), Duke Ellington (18991974), and Benny Goodman (19091986). The energetic jitterbug dance became popular on the home front, danced to both swing and boogie-woogie music. Servicemen carried the dance style overseas to other countries. Some singers with the bands struck out on their own to gain fame. Frank Sinatra (19151998) and Bing Crosby got their start with the big bands. Young teenage girls packed music theaters to attend Sinatra's performances. Other popular singers included Dinah Shore (19171994), Kate Smith (19071986), and Perry Como (19122001).

Books and magazines

Despite a shortage of paper, the popularity of books increased dramatically during the war. Publishers decreased the size of type, thereby reducing the number of pages and decreasing the cost of publication, and published fewer titles so they could focus on printing the more popular titles. Book clubs became numerous. Membership in the Book-of-the-Month Club doubled during the war years. The availability of inexpensive paperback books, first introduced in 1939 by Pocket Books, fueled this increase. Ten million paperbacks were sold in 1941, twenty million in 1942, and forty million in 1943. The most popular books were murder mysteries; self-help and health books were next on the popularity list. About 150,000 copies of murder mysteries were sold each week. For servicemen overseas, publishers established the Armed Service Edition program, which made popular paperbacks available in compact copies, designed to fit in soldiers' pockets. Both best-sellers and classics were printed in this series, and publishers released up to forty titles a month. Some one hundred million copies were printed and provided free to troops. The favorite books among troops were Westerns.

Most books about the war did not make it into print until after the war was over. However, the home front got glimpses of the war through some firsthand accounts that were written and published in short succession. One such book was Guadalcanal Diary (1942) by Richard Tregaskis. Based on Tregaskis's own observations of the battle that raged on the island of Guadalcanal, the book was quickly made into a popular Hollywood movie. The government heavily censored combat books published during the war, but the public was eager to obtain whatever was available.

The most popular combat book was by award-winning frontline journalist Ernie Pyle. Here Is Your War (1943) sold almost two million copies. He followed it with Brave Men, published in 1944. Cartoonist Bill Mauldin published another wartime favorite, Up Front (1944), a book that featured narratives between the cartoons. Comedian Bob Hope, who regularly entertained troops overseas, published I Never Left Home (1944), which sold more than one million copies.

The best-selling book overall during the war was written by the former Republican presidential nominee of 1940, Wendell Wilkie (18921944). The book, titled One World, was published in 1943, after Wilkie's journey to the Soviet Union, China, and the Middle East. In the book Wilkie made a plea for harmony in the postwar worldand he found a large audience: One World became the fastest-selling book in U.S. history, selling a million copies in two months. The publisher, Simon and Schuster, had to scramble to make enough copies available. Another notable release was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, which examines the support Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (18891945) received from common German citizens.

Like books, magazines and comic books flourished in wartime. Among the most popular magazines were Life, Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Fortune, Time, and National Geographic Magazine. Seventeen, a magazine aimed at teenagers, got its start during the war, in 1944. Designed for even younger readers, comic books became a thriving industry. Twenty million were sold in 1942 and up to sixty million in 1946. An estimated 80 percent of America's youth between ages six and seventeen read comic books during the war. Comic strips in the newspapers were also popular. Seventy million readers followed the comic strips. A special version of the comic book Superman was sent overseas to servicemen. Cartoon characters such as Joe Palooka and Dick Tracey joined the military to help the war effort. Other comic strips, such as Blondie and Bringing Up Father, took amusing looks at life on the home front. Comic books and comic strips, through their scripted dialogue, also encouraged the purchase of war bonds, and participation in scrap drives and other home front activities.

Entertainers on the home front and abroad

Members of the entertainment industry joined the war effort in various ways. Some donated their yachts to the Coast Guard Auxiliary for harbor patrols. Many employed in the movie industry joined the armed services; several of themClark Gable (19011960), Jimmy Stewart (19081997), and Henry Fonda (19051982), for examplewere big-screen stars.

Other entertainers performed for troops and war industry workers, participated in war bond sales drives, or produced radio announcements encouraging citizens to contribute to the war effort. Actress Bette Davis (19081989) served as president of the Hollywood Canteen, a place where servicemen could get free food and drink, dance with starlets, and chat with celebrities who volunteered their time. The Hollywood Victory Committee sent thousands of celebrities to military camps on the home front and abroad. Together these celebrities traveled more than 5 million miles in their mission to boost morale among the troops.

Hollywood stars used their charm and influence to help sell war bonds (government certificates sold to individuals and corporations to raise money to finance the war) to the general public. Actress Dorothy Lamour (19141996) was a major contributor to the war bond campaign; she is credited with selling $350 million in bonds. Actress Carole Lombard (19081942), wife of actor Clark Gable, was killed in a plane crash in January 1942 while coming back from one of the first bond drives. The first big drive occurred in September 1942. More than 330 actors and actresses participated, and they sold over $838 million in bonds. The war bond campaign included seven tours, covering three hundred cities and towns. Movie theaters pitched in by offering free movie days; people who attended were asked to purchase a war bond instead of a ticket.


Despite a wartime shortage of consumer goods on the home front, spending on advertising significantly increased during the war. Companies spent $2.2 billion to advertise their products in 1942; in 1945 they spent $2.9 billion on advertising, an increase of over 30 percent. This big spending was strategic: Even before the United States entered the war, American industries had converted from producing consumer goods to producing war materials for the Allies. The war industry was profitable, but companies knew the war would end sooner or later. Therefore, they spent large amounts on advertising to keep the public familiar with the consumer goods they produced before the war; they wanted to keep their brand names strong so that sales and profits would continue after the war.

The government was eager to advertise, too. Shortly after the United States entered World War II, the War Advertising Council was established; its job was to make sure that advertising inspired U.S. citizens to do whatever was needed to help win the war. Government leaders found that advertisers were quite willing to incorporate the war theme in their messages to demonstrate their patriotism to the consuming public and keeping a positive image. Advertisers promoted everything from war bond sales to military recruiting to scrap metal drives. To gain tax deductions businesses also donated advertising space and radio airtime to the government. This also helped the manufacturers keep their names before the public, so that when they resumed manufacturing consumer goods, buyers would still think of them as they had before the war.

Advertisers' portrayal of the war was even further from reality than Hollywood's. They continually showed the strong, individualistic soldier and ideal American family with the wife dealing with war industry work, taking care of children, cleaning house, and supporting her husband abroad while still appearing beautiful and unflustered. Ads were melodramatic and sentimental while encouraging home front sacrifice and contributions. Advertisers steadily portrayed the home front as a place of hard work and unity.

For More Information


Bernstein, Mark, and Alex Lubertozzi. World War II on the Air: Edward R. Murrow and the Voices That Carried the War Home. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2003.

Frederich, Otto. City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Gilbert, Bill. They Also Served: Baseball and the Home Front, 19411945. New York: Crown Publishers, 1992.

Heide, Robert. Home Front America: Popular Culture of the World War II Era. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.

Lingeman, Richard R. Don't You Know There's a War On? New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.

New York Times. Page One: The Front Page History of World War II as Presented in the New York Times. New York: Galahad Books, 1996.

Schickel, Richard. Good Morning, Mr. Zip Zip Zip: Movies, Memory, and World War II. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003.

Zeinert, Karen. Those Incredible Women of World War II. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Web Sites

"Women Come to the Front: Journalists, Photographers, and Broadcasters during World War II." Library of Congress. (accessed on July 14, 2004).

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