What Dreams Were Made Of: Movie Stars of the 1940s

What Dreams Were Made Of: Movie Stars of the 1940s

What Dreams Were Made Of: Movie Stars of the 1940s

What Dreams Were Made Of: Movie Stars of the 1940s

Synopsis

Humphrey Bogart. Abbott and Costello. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. John Wayne. Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable. Images of these film icons conjure up a unique moment in cinema and history, one of optimism and concern, patriotism and cynicism. What Dreams Were Made Of examines the performers who helped define American cinema in the 1940s, a decade of rapid and repeated upheaval for Hollywood and the United States. Through insightful discussions of key films as well as studio publicity and fan magazines, the essays in this collection analyze how these actors and actresses helped lift spirits during World War II, whether in service comedies, combat films, or escapist musicals. The contributors, all major writers on the stars and movies of this period, also explore how cultural shifts after the war forced many stars to adjust to new outlooks and attitudes, particularly in film noir. Together, they represented the hopes and fears of a nation during turbulent times, enacting on the silver screen the dreams of millions of moviegoers.

Excerpt

Sean Griffin

The 1940s are often conceptualized as a split decade, a temporal “house divided.” Most obviously, World War ii deftly cleaved the decade in half. Hitler invaded Poland in late 1939, resulting in Britain and France declaring war on Germany. While the United States refrained from entering the fight initially, the pull grew month by month, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. the war then dominated all aspects of American public life for the next few years. Victory came in both the European and Pacific theaters in 1945, and suddenly the country and the entire world had entered a new world order. This postwar era saw a rapid and full-scale revision of life and thought. Not unexpectedly, many hoped to revert quickly to the way things were before the upheaval of the war. Yet major changes in global politics and advances in scientific research also irrevocably altered American life. the onset of the Cold War created a new enemy for the United States, and new fears of internal subversion— which at times veered into a fear of anything that diverged from majority thought. the postwar era was also referred to as the Atomic Age, as humanity started coming to terms with the fact that we could now literally destroy the planet and ourselves. As Jacqueline Foertsch has written, “The momentous events of the mid-1940s are thus pivotal in multiple respects,” creating an “impulse to read the 1940s as a decade that is as neatly bisected as it neatly hangs together” (1–2).

It was a split decade for the Hollywood studios as well. Many film history books cut the 1940s in half, regarding the first part as an extension of the classic Hollywood era of the 1930s, and the second part as the start of the post-classical era of the 1950s (Schatz; Lewis; Jewell; Casper). While the studios in wartime had to adjust to the loss of employees to the military, and to stronger involvement (and potential interference) from the federal government, the first half of the decade was generally a high time for Hollywood. With national employment figures suddenly at an all-time high after a decade of economic woes, but with wartime rationing limiting what was available for purchase, everyone went to the movies. Furthermore, the studios had by this time refined their business patterns and the “Hollywood . . .

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