The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society

By Kenneth Paul O'Brien; Lynn Hudson Parsons | Go to book overview

and goes into retirement, nurtured by his devoted wife, who, like Andrew Johnson's, represents the better side of his nature.

Familial and corporate skies brighten as people put aside parochial quarrels in behalf of something greater than themselves: the war. A labor-management committee induces Steve to return to the shop to iron out production kinks. Steve is reconciled with son Thomas. As the sound track weaves variations on "America," bombers flow from the Dangos plant and soar skyward, as father and son, labor and management, bask in a common purpose.

An American Romance was transformed from a paean to rugged individualism into a celebration of management-labor cooperation. Wartime realities belied this rosy view: the production miracle was achieved in the face of heavy worker casualties and persistent management-labor conflict. But in An American Romance OWI liberals and Hollywood conservatives achieved an uneasy truce under the flag of wartime unity.

OWI's monitoring of movies' political content necessitated changes in Hollywood's conventional treatment of unequal groups. The degree of change depended, however, on where each group fitted in a rough calculation of the political and cultural consensus of the era. Although workers and their unions remained controversial, they boasted enough political clout for OWI to fight for them against MGM conservatives on An American Romance. The propagandists wanted a "New Deal picture" that showed orderly, responsible unions working for the war effort in tandem with enlightened, union-friendly management. By contrast, African Americans found that OWI bureaucrats, for all their impassioned interoffice memoranda on Tennessee Johnson, dared go no further than the New Deal's hesitant, largely symbolic racial politics. Women did not yet form a coherent political bloc, and the unsettling social trends of women's "new expression" challenged patriarchically organized politics. OWI-approved movies, such as Tender Comrade, saluted women as war workers, but only if they were contained within a conventional maternal framework. For women and African Americans the democratic inclusion promised by "the people's war" had to await the postwar reconstruction of politics and popular culture.


NOTES
1.
The phrase is from "Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry," summer 1942, box 15, Office of War Information files, Record Group 208, Washington National Records Center, Suitland, MD. This chapter is based in part on Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies ( New York, 1987), which contains more detailed citations on OWI, Hollywood, and specific films under discussion. I wish to acknowledge the assistance of my coauthor on the book.
2.
Elmer Davis to Byron Price, January 27, 1943, box 3, OWI files.

-38-

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