The 1920s Arts and Entertainment: Headline Makers
The 1920s Arts and Entertainment: Headline MakersLouis Armstrong
F. Scott Fitzgerald
William S. Paley
Louis Armstrong (1901–1971) Louis Armstrong was the greatest cornet and trumpet player ever. His 1920s recordings with the Hot Five are milestone performances in the history of American jazz. In addition to playing an instrument, Armstrong was an innovative vocalist. With his unique gravelly voice, he sang solos on many recordings. Occasionally Armstrong sang scat songs made up of nonsense syllables instead of words. His recording of "Hello, Dolly!" in the 1960s topped off a long successful career and won him the hearts of a whole new generation of listeners.
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F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) F. Scott Fitzgerald is the American writer most closely tied to the 1920s. He spoke for the post-World War I generation which had lost touch with traditional American ideals. His first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), defined the values of the Jazz Age. In 1925, he published The Great Gatsby, a masterpiece of literary style that explores the corruption of the American Dream. Fitzgerald's talents were handicapped by his alcoholism, and his need to work on commercial projects such as movie scripts to raise money to treat his wife Zelda's mental illness.
George Gershwin (1898–1937) With brother Ira (1896–1983) writing the lyrics, George Gershwin provided the world with a treasure trove of beloved songs, including "Someone to Watch Over Me," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Strike Up the Band," and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." As a songplugger (someone who played songs for audiences to get them to buy sheet music) for Tin Pan Alley music companies, twenty-one-year-old Gershwin cowrote his first hit, "Swanee." After penning several dozen popular songs for Broadway shows, he composed symphonic works such as Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935). Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing (1931) was the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) Ernest Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), gave a name to the generation of expatriates whose experiences in World War I left them passing time aimlessly at Parisian cafes: they were "The Lost Generation." He wrote one classic after another for fifteen years, and after a slip in his literary position, made a comeback with The Old Man and the Sea (1952), which helped him to win the Nobel Prize in 1954. Hemingway had a reputation for his personal exploits. He
was a hard drinker, a sportsman, and even a journalist in the Spanish Civil War.
Al Jolson (1886–1950) Al Jolson was known as "The World's Greatest Entertainer." He starred in Broadway musicals in the 1920s, in which he often played a comical character named Gus in blackface, using make-up to darken his skin. Jolson sang comedy tunes such as "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life" and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie," and sentimental songs such as "My Mammy," "April Showers," "Sonny Boy," and "Avalon." His charismatic performance in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first feature-length film with musical numbers and a talking sequence, helped to revolutionize the moving picture industry.
Eugene O'Neill (1888–1953) Eugene O'Neill is one of the most important American playwrights. His plays examine the inner beings of his characters, and they display a solemnity similar to the European dramas of the time. His writing approach was varied, at times using expressionism, naturalism, and symbolism. O'Neill's dramas include The Emperor Jones (1920), Anna Christie (1921), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and Long Day's Journey into Night (1955). O'Neill won four Pulitzer Prizes for his plays, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1936.
William S. Paley (1901–1990) One day before his twenty-seventh birthday, William S. Paley and his father invested $300,000 to buy a Philadelphia-based radio station, WCAU, and a controlling interest in the rather unstable United Independent Broadcasters Network. Paley changed the name of the outfit to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), became its president, and spent the next few decades building his asset into a billion-dollar media conglomerate. His programming ideas were very profitable, and he became well known for shaping the content of American radio programming.
David Sarnoff (1891–1971) Russian-born David Sarnoff fulfilled many an immigrant's ideal of the American Dream by becoming a powerful media executive. As sole supporter of his family at age fifteen, he went to work as a messenger boy and then taught himself telegraphy to be able to work at the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America. He went on to become the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and in 1926 founded the National Broadcasting Company (NBC)—the first commercial radio network. Sarnoff's understanding of the technical aspects of radio, and subsequently television, helped to lay a framework for modern-day in-home media communications.