"The talkies brought the film industry's Golden Age of super-cinemas, packed audiences and lavish productions." Sound films destroyed some of the silent stars, because their voices were unsuitable or because the talkies called for a more natural style of acting. During the '30s about 40 percent of the people in Britain and America went to the cinema every week - with 25 percent who went twice or more. And to top that, most of the films they saw were made in Hollywood.
Even though France, Britain, Italy and Germany had their own film industries, they could not rival Hollywood's mammoth production of nearly 600 films a year. "No other industry could boast such extraordinary growth in one generation as the American film industry. No other country could have produced the great epics of the decade, 'Gone With The Wind,' and 'The Sign of The Cross,' nor the lavish musicals and full-length cartoons.'"
Movies back then did not deal with mankind's problems - the cinema was a place of refuge from everyday life - a place where the viewer could enter a world of song and dance, comedy, and adventure. The most glamorous movie star of the era was Jean Harlow, the 'blonde bombshell.'
The talkies also brought a new kind of star. "Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, and Judy Garland were just nice people who happened to be actors and actresses. "An interesting development was the permanence of the screen favorites. Many of the idols, whether homely, like Tracy, exotic, like Garbo and Dietrich, or comic, like the Marx Brothers, went on making pictures for years and years. They were old friends whom people wanted to go on seeing." Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in numerous musicals - not only were they skillful dancers, their exuberance and humor, their catchy songs and lavish sets provided a wonderful kind of escapism. Walt Disney's first feature-length cartoon, 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' appeared in color. Disney made his name with Mickey Mouse which was released in 1938. Shirley Temple was the child star of the '30s - her only rivals were Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew.
Marlene Dietrich, as Lola, displayed her famous legs in 'The Blue Angel,' which was a German film made in 1930. Charlie Chaplin in 'City Lights,' was produced in 1931.Chaplin's style was perfectly suited to mime, so, in this film and 'Modern Times (1936), he remained silent, along after the introduction of sound.
"The twenties had been an era of experiment, but the menacing events of the '30s pressed hard on artists."
Much of the paintings and writing during this decade expressed the impact of Communism, Fascism, unemployment and human suffering. Communism was a powerful fascination. Many German, French and English writers became Communists or sympathizers. To these writers, such as George Orwell, was the Soviet Union was the hope for humanity. Some of them had served in the Spanish Civil War, and the struggle produced books like Hemingway's 'For Whom The Bell Tolls,' Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia,' Malraux's 'Day of Hope' and some poems. Documentaries and fiction showed a concern for social conditions. Steinbeck drew a harrowing picture of the plight of American 'Okies' in the dust bowl in his book 'The Grapes of Wrath.' Pearl Buck's 'The Good Earth' became a best seller. Clifford Odets' play 'Awake and Sing' showed what it was like to be a poor Jew in England and New York. Sherwood's play 'Idiot's Delight' (1936) prophesied the outbreak of WWII.
"The '30s saw the growth of mass propaganda in the dictatorships and press sensationalism in the democracies." The press was strictly controlled by the dictators in Russia, Germany and Italy. Russian papers promoted the official drive for rapid industrialization - with particular attention given to stories about enthusiastic workers. "Goebbels was a master of propaganda in Germany. A brilliant broadcaster, he used radio for mass propaganda on an unprecedented scale. The papers supported the regime with adulatory articles about the 'rebirth' of Germany. Many, like the notorious 'Der Sturmer' run by Julius Streicher, endorsed the official campaign against the Jews." Elsewhere in Europe, the newspapers continued the pattern set during the '20s. In Britain the press imitated the American newspaper created by Hearst, with big headlines, staccato news items and pages of pictures. "The drive for mass circulation led to a press war in Britain, with the popular press offering all kinds of inducements, from sets of encyclopedias to flannel trousers, in attempts to win readers away from their rivals.' Newspapers in America contained real life drama by following the lives of gangsters John Dillinger and 'Pretty Boy' Floyd - the kidnapping of Lindbergh's baby. Columnists such as Damon Runyon in the U.S. made large sums of money for their newspapers with regular columns. Radio extended its scope with the popularity of news bulletins, dance band programs as well as serious drama. President Roosevelt introduced fireside chats to the nation. One of the biggest radio and press stories of the era was in 1932 when they announced the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby. In 1927 Lindbergh had become America's No. 1 hero by flying solo across the Atlantic.
(Continued next week)