The Depression was over, but depression remained a worldwide ailment as the 1940s barrelled their way into history. At the decade's onset, the big question tearing at the nation's guts was whether or not it would become actively involved in the ever-hotter foreign conflagration. On December 7, 1941, the answer came when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor; America immediately declared war and dug in for the duration.
The New York theatre already had had its share of plays related to the imminent encounter, but these were relatively few in number. Most war-theme plays of the thirties took a definitely pacifist view toward the possibility of renewed hostilities. But as the situation worsened, a small number began to take a more militant stance; the most outstanding example was There Shall Be No Night, produced at the end of the 1939- 1940 season and still running when the theatrical forties proper began. War plays inspired by our actual participation were, at first, a bit slow in coming; before long, however, it would be a rare play or musical that did not have some connection--no matter how tenuous--with the conflict. The war brought years of excitement and prosperity to Broadway, but there was a sharp turnaround in the postwar period. The hedonistic "there's no tomorrow" outlook rapidly faded into a concern with the harsh realities of forging a new future for the country and the world in an era dominated by national and international fear and distrust.
Broadway donned its most patriotic colors, not only in the types of plays and musicals it displayed, but in its active and enormously successful participation in war bond and other war-related fund-raising campaigns, including the presentation of spectacular benefit productions at the city's biggest theatres and sports arenas; in the performances in veterans' hospitals; in the provision of free or reduced-price seats to members of the armed forces (over nine million seats were thus provided); in the free matinee seats given during one fundraising drive to bond purchasers; in the junk-salvage campaigns that were important homefront activities; in the creation of outstanding hit shows-- Irving Berlin This Is the Army and Moss Hart's Winged Victory, not to mention a special revival of Candida, with Katharine Cornell--designed specifically to raise money for the war effort; in the trips to the front made by theatrical artists under USO auspices to play for the troops (a number of performers died or were injured in plane crashes); in the large number of enlistments registered among theatrical figures; and so on. Most notable of the legitimate theatre's demonstrations on behalf of the armed forces overseas was the tour to Europe's combat zones of Katharine Cornell famed production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Americans serving in the Pacific got to see Maurice Evans's bril-