Wednesday, June 27, 2012


It is hard to believe that the year 1942 was 70 years ago. 1942 saw the country in its first full year in the war. Bing Crosby recorded "White Christmas" for the first time, and everyone was dancing to the sounds of the big bands. It was a tough year for society but a great year for movies and Hollywood...

Best Picture-winning Casablanca (1942), based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick's and set in 1941 war-time Morocco, premiered in New York. Its studio, Warner Bros., capitalized on the war-time events occurring (the Allied landings in N. Africa that mentioned the city). Altogether, its director Michael Curtiz made over 40 films in the decade of the 30s, and over 150 films in his entire career, from the silent era to the early 1960s.

Jacques Tourneur's moody and intelligent Cat People (1942), producer Val Lewton's first film at RKO, influenced future film-makers by showing how subtle and suggestive horror could be effectively generated.

The first of numerous Hollywood films to take up the U.S. cause of World War II was Wake Island (1942). It was Hollywood's first major World War II film, starring Brian Donlevy, William Bendix, and Robert Preston. The war film was followed by other morale-boosting feature films such as Flying Tigers.

Black actor Paul Robeson, who had starred in Show Boat (1936), said he wouldn't make any more films until there were better roles for blacks. His last film was Tales of Manhattan (1942).

Tweety Bird, originally pink-colored, debuted in Tale of Two Kitties, a spoof on the popular comedy team of Abbott and Costello. Tweety Bird's first cartoon appearance with lisping cat Sylvester was in Tweetie Pie (1947) -- it won an Oscar for animator Friz Freleng. This was the first Warner Brothers cartoon to win an Oscar!

During a War Bond promotional tour, 33 year-old popular star and actress Carole Lombard, Clark Gable's wife, was killed in a plane crash near Las Vegas, Nevada on January 16, 1942.

A fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub took the life of 50 year-old B-western movie star Buck Jones after he sustained injuries. 492 individuals were victims of the deadly blaze.

Orson Welles directed his second motion picture, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), noted for dialogue that was realistically spoken.

The Hollywood Canteen was founded (by Bette Davis, John Garfield, and others) and opened its doors on Cahuenga Blvd. in greater Los Angeles (Hollywood) in the fall of 1942, to provide free entertainment (food, dancing, etc.) to servicemen by those in the industry. It operated for just over three years as a morale booster, during the war years, and was the impetus for the Warners' film Hollywood Canteen (1944), featuring lots of stars in cameo roles.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy teamed up for the first time in MGM's Woman of the Year (1942). It was the first of nine films in which Tracy and Hepburn starred together, stretching out a period of 25 years until their final film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences commenced with an award category for Best Documentary - Short Subject, won for the first time (in the 1942 awards ceremony) by the Canadian production Churchill's Island (1941).

Lena Horne was the first African-American woman to sign a long-term contract with a major studio (MGM) as a specialty performer, meaning that she was initially cast in parts and subplots (usually separate singing scenes) that could be edited out for showings in Southern theaters.

Warner Bros' nostalgic, shamelessly-patriotic, entertaining black and white musical biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) was released. It was the first time that a living US President (FDR in this case, played by Jack Young) was portrayed in a motion picture. For the first time in his entire career, James Cagney attended the premiere for one of his films - when it had its world premiere on Memorial Day, 1942 on Broadway. Rather than tickets for its opening night premiere, the studio sold war bonds and reportedly raised over $5 million for the war effort. It became the second highest grossing box-office hit of the year for Warners (after Desperate Journey (1942)). Cagney won his sole career Oscar, and became the first Best Actor Oscar winner to take home the Oscar for an appearance in a film musical, in his role as American music entertainer George M. Cohan. The film was one of the first computer-colorized films released by entrepreneur Ted Turner in 1985 (on George M. Cohan's alleged birthday July 4th - naturally!).

The war years had a distinct influence on Hollywood. The Office of War Information (OWI) stated that film makers should consider seven questions before producing a movie, including this one: "Will this picture help to win the war?" The War Production Board imposed a $5,000 limit on set construction. Wartime cloth restrictions were imposed, prohibiting cuffed trousers and pleats. Klieg-lit Hollywood premieres were prohibited. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood turned out numerous anti-Japanese films, some of them quite racist, such as Fox's Little Tokyo, U.S.A.,which dealt with the controversial subject of Japanese internment. The OWI then cracked down on the artistic license of Hollywood beginning in 1943. The Office of Censorship prohibited the export of films that showed racial discrimination, depicted Americans as single-handedly winning the war, or painted our allies as imperialists.

And that was the year in movies 1942...

1 comment:

  1. The war years certainly brought out a lot of creativity in the picture business.