The 1940s Arts and Entertainment: Headline Makers

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The 1940s Arts and Entertainment: Headline Makers

Humphrey Bogart
Martha Graham
Lillian Hellman
Billie Holiday
Carson McCullers
Frank Sinatra
Orson Welles
Richard Wright

Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) Born in New York City, Humphrey Bogart began acting on the stage in the 1920s. He signed with Warner Brothers in 1930 and made a series of gangster movies. Bogart became a big star in 1941, when he starred in The Maltese Falcon, developing the tough, cynical style that made him a legend. He went on to appear in some of the most important films of the 1940s, including Casablanca (1942) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Bogart also was a strong supporter of the Hollywood Ten.

Martha Graham (1895–1991) Martha Graham was the most influential person in dance during the twentieth century. She was comfortable with a wide range of styles and influences, from Native American to experimental modern. She even choreographed dance steps to part of the Declaration of Independence. In the 1940s, she produced some of her finest work, including Appalachian Spring (1944) and Night Journey (1946). She danced in her last public performance in 1969, at the age of seventy-four.

Lillian Hellman (1906–1984) Playwright Lillian Hellman is regarded as one of the major American playwrights of the twentieth century. Her plays were dominated with social-justice themes that provoked controversy. She wrote many screen plays and books, and she contributed to numerous anthologies and magazines. In 1952, Hellman was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. She was blacklisted and forced to sell some of her holdings to meet financial obligations. Hellman received many awards during her life, including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and Academy Award nominations for the screenplays The Little Foxes and The North Star.

Billie Holiday (1915–1959) At the age of twelve, jazz singer Billie Holiday was working as a prostitute in Baltimore, Maryland. In the late 1920s, she moved with her mother to New York City and began singing in clubs. She sang with the famous big bands of the era, but she went solo in 1938. By the early 1940s, critics recognized Holiday as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, at the peak of her powers. But Holiday also was addicted to alcohol and heroin. Her career was effectively over by 1950. She died under house arrest for possession of narcotics.

Carson McCullers (1917–1967) At the age of seventeen, after traveling from Columbus, Georgia, to New York City, Carson McCullers lost a large sum of money on the New York subway. This money had been earmarked to pay her fees at the Juilliard School of Music. She then had to concentrate on taking writing classes at Columbia University. Just six years later, she became a famous writer, with three world-class novels to her name. After winning the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award of 1948–49 for The Member of the Wedding, her career came to a painful end. Her husband committed suicide, a series of projects failed, and her health faltered. Yet in her short career, McCullers produced some of the finest writing ever to come out of the South.

Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) Frank Sinatra became famous after 1940, but he had spent many years working in clubs before his solo career took off. He enjoyed a string of hit records and toured the world. But in 1947, Sinatra' s political views threatened to ruin his career. He had associated with known Communists and his liberal views were unpopular. A switch to acting saved Sinatra from obscurity in the 1950s, and his singing career recovered. He is widely admired as one of the finest popular singers of the twentieth century.

Orson Welles (1915–1985) Orson Welles is one of the most revered figures of the 1940s in Hollywood. Yet after the 1940s, Hollywood practically ignored him. As a sixteen-year-old, unknown actor, Welles won a part in a play at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. In 1938, he narrated the War of the Worlds radio broadcast about a false invasion of Earth by aliens, which brought panic to New York streets. But it is for his masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), that Welles is best remembered. The movie is regularly voted the best of all time for its huge scope and dramatic visuals. Welles appeared in several other movies, wrote two novels, and worked in theater and television for his entire life.

Richard Wright (1908–1960) In the 1930s, Richard Wright was linked with the Communist Party and with the Federal Writers' Project. His second novel, Native Son (1940), is full of anger and frustration. Its main character, Bigger Thomas, finds himself freed of his racial hatred after he murders a white girl. The novel won Wright respect as a writer, but it also made him enemies. In 1947, under pressure in America because of his left-wing politics and finding France a more liberal place, Wright moved to Paris. He lived there until his death.

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The 1940s Arts and Entertainment: Headline Makers