Rousing the Nation: Radical Culture in Depression America

By Laura Browder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
ONE-THIRD OF A NATION The Living Newspaper Comes to Hollywood

As successful as the Federal Theatre Project's Living Newspapers were, they reached perhaps thirty million people all told. The size of that audience may have been something that novelists such as Dos Passos, Farrell, and Herbst could only dream of, but at Hollywood's peak it was less than half of the audience for the movies in a single week. Given the popularity of film during the Depression, and given many radical writers' fascination with popular culture (not to mention, of course, the enormous salaries paid to creative personnel in the movies), it is unsurprising that many leftist writers, actors, and directors packed their bags and headed for Hollywood, where studios like Warner Brothers were churning out "social problem" movies about Depression America.

In 1939 Paramount Pictures released a movie called One-Third of a Nation, derived from the successful Federal Theatre Project's Living Newspaper of the same name. This was to be the first Hollywood translation of one of the modernist documentary dramas that were the hallmark of the Federal Theatre Project. Written by Arthur Arent and the staff of the Living Newspaper, One- Third of a Nation premiered in New York in 1937 and subsequently opened in nine other cities, including Detroit, Cincinnati, Portland ( Oregon), Philadelphia, Hartford, and New Orleans. The play ran for two years in San Francisco, its run ending only with the demise of the FTP in 1939.

As Hallie Flanagan noted, "The press considered One-Third of a Nation the most important contribution to date." She herself judged it "the most mature

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