By: The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America
Date: March 1930–1934
Source: The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. "The Production Code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America Inc.—1930–1934." Available online at ; website home page: http://home.earthlink.net/~prodcode/index.html (accessed April 9, 2003).
About the Organization: The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was established in 1922 by the major Hollywood movie studios to develop an industry response to increasing calls for movie censorship. Now known as the Motion Picture Association of America, it continues to rate movies for the motion picture industry.
By 1930, movies, like the radio and the automobile, had dramatically and permanently altered American lifestyles. In the early 1930s, the estimated weekly movie attendance was between 80 million and 110 million. (The U.S. population over five years of age was 111 million.) Clearly, Americans were infatuated with the movies.
Almost from the beginning of the motion picture industry, concerns over inappropriate content were raised. By the early...
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All Quiet on the Western Front
By: Lewis Milestone
Source: All Quiet on the Western Front. The Greatest Films. Available online at http://www.filmsite.org/allq.html (accessed February 14, 2003), 3–5, 7–8.
About the Artist: Lewis Milestone (1895–1980) was born Lev Milstein in Kishinev, Russia, and immigrated to the United States just before World War I. Milestone got his early training in film during the war when he enlisted in the U.S. Signal Corps and worked as assistant director of Army training films. After the war, he went to Hollywood, to eventually become a film director. He won his first Academy Award in 1929 and his second in 1930 for All Quiet on the Western Front. His later films include Of Mice and Men (1939), The Purple Heart (1944), and Awake in the Sun (1945).
Milestone's 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front was based on the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970), who was born Erich Paul Kramer in Germany. The name "Remarque" is a French adaptation of Kramer—"remark" spelled backwards. Remarque enlisted in the German army at age eighteen, fought on the western front in World War I (1914–1918), and was...
(The entire section is 1635 words.)
Early Sunday Morning
By: Edward Hopper
Source: Hopper, Edward. Early Sunday Morning. 1930. In the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Image number 109046.
About the Artist: Edward Hopper (1882–1967) is one of the best-known realist painters of the Depression era. Born in Nyack, New York, in 1882, Hopper studied with the renowned American realist Robert Henri and greatly admired the work of the Ashcan school of artists. He enjoyed significant success until abstract expressionism began to overtake realism in popularity. Except for regular summer trips to New England, Hopper confined himself to his New York studio for much of his life, dying there in 1967.
Two branches of realist art emerged in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States. A reaction against the excesses of romanticism and classicism, they sought to represent realistic, everyday life.
One branch of realism was the American regionalist movement. It was characterized by artists painting rural American scenes. Grant Wood's famous 1930 painting, American Gothic, is perhaps the best-known example of this style. Other American regionalists included John Curry and Thomas Hart Benton who painted Plains-states landscapes...
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Poetry of Langston Hughes
"Scottsboro"; "Ballad of Roosevelt"; "Let America Be America Again"
By: Langston Hughes
Date: 1932; 1934; 1936
Source: Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Edited by Arnold Rampersad. New York: Knopf, 1994, 234–237.
About the Author: Langston Hughes (1902–1967) was first published in a national magazine at age nineteen. Through his poetry, he became known as a major voice of the African American experience. Hughes often wrote about the plight of the oppressed, prejudice against African Americans, the American working class, or the struggle of peoples overseas. He traveled widely in the United States and abroad but considered Harlem his true home. Hughes died in a New York City hospital.
The 1930s was a decade of great social unrest. Conditions were far from the American ideal, and Hughes' poetry expressed many of the injustices he saw in the American system. The Depression and the Roosevelt administration, with its New Deal programs, created the context for many of Hughes' works. Like those of other prominent writers of his time—Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, and John Dos Passos, for example—Hughes' writings critically reflected the...
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"Art: U.S. Scene"
Magazine article, Paintings
Date: December 24, 1934
Source: "Art: U.S. Scene." Time, December 24, 1934.
About the Publication: Time, first published in 1923, is still, in 2003, a frequently-read weekly newsmagazine. Created by journalists Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden, the magazine was intended to provide information on national and international current events in a concise format later copied by other newsmagazines. By 1927, its circulation exceeded 175,000.
On the eve of World War I (1914–1918), French artists clearly reigned in American art. The influential 1913 Armory Show (officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art) significantly advanced U.S. interest in modern art. While American artists were well represented, the exhibit was dominated by the French. Despite the evident French triumph, many American artists continued their pursuit of realism with a renewed enthusiasm that evolved into several influential schools of uniquely American art.
Artists in the Midwest began creating realist impressions of the American countryside instead of the more abstract images of the modernists. This new regionalist movement depicted everyday people doing everyday things. Midwest landscapes were...
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By: Stuart Davis
Source: Davis, Stuart. Composition. 1935. In the collection of the National Museum of American Art. Image number 45061.
About the Artist: Stuart Davis (1892–1964) was a forerunner of modern American art. Son of a Philadelphia Press art editor, Davis was introduced early to artistic concepts. He studied in New York with Robert Henri. As a student in 1913, Davis exhibited paintings in the controversial abstract art Armory Show, and went on from there to become one of America's most influential abstract artists. His career included jobs as an illustrator and cartoonist for the radical journal The Masses and for Harper's Weekly. By 1935, he was president of the Artists Union.
Abstract art in the United States had its beginnings at the Armory Show in 1913. This international show was held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City and showcased approximately 1,600 works, mostly European, embodying the modernist style, including cubism. The show was bashed by critics, who thought it epitomized the absurdity of the new art. Nonetheless, the show began to open people's minds to the future of art.
Stuart Davis was one American who took to...
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It Can't Happen Here
By: Sinclair Lewis
Source: Lewis, Sinclair. It Can't Happen Here. New York: Doran, 1935, 74–83.
About the Author: American novelist Harry Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) was a 1908 Yale graduate and editor of Yale's Literary Magazine. He began his writing career as a journalist and editor. Though his first five novels failed, he enjoyed success in the 1920s and 1930s with novels chiefly about the middle class. His best-known works include Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry. Lewis traveled widely and spent his last days in Europe, where he died.
Before It Can't Happen Here, Lewis had written six successful novels. For Arrowsmith, he was offered the Pulitzer Prize for literature but refused it. When he did accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, he chided the American Academy of the Arts, asserting his concern that writers might start to write to please the committee rather than writing from their own inner convictions. His own convictions were infused with compassion for the powerless, the basis for much of his writing.
In the early 1930s, when he was writing Ann Vickers, Lewis became concerned with the rise of...
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"Mouse & Man"
Date: December 27, 1937
Source: "Mouse & Man." Time, December 27, 1937.
About the Publication: Time, first published in 1923, is still a frequently-read weekly newsmagazine. Created by journalists Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden, the magazine was intended to provide information on national and international current events in a concise format later copied by other news-magazines. By 1927, its circulation exceeded 175,000.
Born in Chicago, Walt Disney (1901–1966) moved to Los Angeles at age twenty-two and joined his brother, Roy, in creating Disney Bros. Studio. Advancing the style and technology of animation, this studio produced many popular films. Disney forever altered the mass media entertainment industry by pioneering product merchandising linked to his cartoon characters and by creating Disneyland, the theme park that quickly became a symbol of childhood innocence, American ingenuity, and rampant capitalism.
Short animated cartoons had become popular years before Walt Disney produced Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Mickey Mouse, Disney's most famous character, first appeared in 1928, amid many other cartoon figures of the Great Depression. As Americans needed to escape from...
(The entire section is 1496 words.)
Songs of Woody Guthrie
"(If You Ain't Got The) Do Re Mi"; "I Ain't Got No Home"
By: Woody Guthrie
Date: 1937; 1938
Source: Guthrie, Woody. Dust Bowl Ballads. RCA Victor, 1940. Available online at
http://www.geocities.com/Nashville/3448/guthrie.html (accessed February 15, 2003).
About the Artist: Woody Guthrie (1912–1967), a legendary American folksinger and songwriter, wrote more than a thousand songs, many chronicling his travels all across the Depression-era United States. Guthrie used his experiences to write songs about the people he encountered—migrant workers, unionists, the disenfranchised, and fellow wanderers. Having lived through the Great Depression, World War II (1939–1945), the McCarthy era, and the early civil rights movement, Guthrie also wrote several books, including autobiographies. He died after a long struggle with Huntington's disease.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was raised in a poor working-class family in Okemah, Oklahoma, and remained poor for most of his life despite the success of his music. When Guthrie's mother was sent to the Central Hospital for the Insane in Norman, Oklahoma, his father soon after went to...
(The entire section is 1353 words.)
"The Killer-Diller: The Life and Four-Four Time of Benny Goodman"
By: Frank Norris
Date: May 7, 1938
Source: Norris, Frank. "The Killer-Diller: The Life and Four-Four Time of Benny Goodman." The Saturday Evening Post, May 7, 1938, 22, 23.
About the Author: Frank C. Norris (1907–1967) was a Tennessee-born graduate of Princeton University. He joined Time magazine in 1929 as a staff writer and eventually became managing editor of the magazine. He later became a senior editor of Newsweek. Norris was the author of three novels.
The life of Benny Goodman (1909–1986) was a rags-to-riches story. Born in a poor Chicago household, Goodman used his natural musical gift to pave the way to financial success. He received early training at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue and then at Jane Addams' Hull House. His most influential teacher was the classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp. Goodman was also influenced early by the rhythms of...
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"Notes on a Cowboy Ballet"
By: Aaron Copland
Source: Copland, Aaron. "Notes on a Cowboy Ballet" in The Aaron Copeland Collection. New York: Aaron Copland Fund for Music. Reprinted online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/achtml/achome.html; website home page: http://memory.loc.gov (accessed April 9, 2003).
About the Artist: Aaron Copland (1900–1990), born in Brooklyn, studied with Rubin Goldmark, a well-known figure in New York music. He later studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, but developed an avant-garde style all his own that he characterized as distinctly American. Copland composed award-winning music for films, ballets, theater, and opera. In addition, he lectured, taught, conducted, wrote books about music, and as a concert pianist recorded his own piano concerto.
Although Aaron Copland was not encouraged as a youngster, his parents financially supported his musical pursuits. He took piano lessons when he was young and traveled to Paris at age twenty. While there, he formed what would be a lifelong student-teacher relationship with Nadia Boulanger at the School of Music for Americans. Boulanger also taught Copland's...
(The entire section is 1135 words.)
One-Third of a Nation
By: Arthur Arent
Source: Arent, Arthur, ed. "One-Third of a Nation." In Federal Theatre Plays. New York: Random House, 1938, 92–103.
About the Author: Arthur Arent (1904–1972) wrote plays for radio, television, and the Federal Theatre Project's Living Newspapers. His plays with Living Newspapers, in addition to One-Third of a Nation, include Ethiopia, Injunction Granted, and Power. His broader writing career included assignments for Warner Brothers and the U.S. Office of War Information. Arent was also a staff writer for CBS later in his career.
In response to the deep economic crisis of the early 1930s, the Roosevelt administration initiated a variety of relief programs. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the signature programs of the New Deal, was created by the $4.8 billion Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935. The...
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The Grapes of Wrath
By: John Steinbeck
Source: Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings, 1936–1941. Reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 290–294.
About the Author: John Steinbeck (1902–1968) was born in Salinas, California. Shortly after he began college, Steinbeck started writing, mostly about events taking place in California, and he finished his first novel in 1929. His 1937 novel Of Mice and Men was widely acclaimed, but it is 1939's The Grapes of Wrath that is considered his masterpiece. He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for that novel. His other works include many popular stories and novels, including Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Travels With Charley: In Search of America. One of America's most famous authors, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.
The Great Depression and the dust storms, caused by erosion and drought, drove thousands of Great Plains farming families from their land. Census figures show that 440,000 left Oklahoma and 227,000 left Kansas during the 1930s. While most went into the cities, some joined an existing army (perhaps 2 million) of migrant workers who yearly followed a planting and harvesting cycle that took them all across the...
(The entire section is 2177 words.)
"Lydia, the Tattooed Lady"
By: E.Y. Harburg
Source: Harburg, E.Y. "Lydia the Tatooed Lady," in At the Circus. Original release, 1939, MGM. Directed by Edward Buzzell. VHS.
About the Artist: Edgar Y. ("Yip") Harburg (1896–1981) wrote the lyrics to "Lydia" and all of the other songs in the Marx Brothers film At the Circus. After he lost his electrical appliance company in New York in the stock market crash of 1929, he began writing song lyrics. He wrote the lyrics for "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," an anthem for the Great Depression, The Wizard of Oz's "Over the Rainbow," and "April in Paris."
Born and raised in New York, the Marx brothers were noted for their zany slapstick comedy. Although Zeppo and Gummo, the two youngest brothers, left the act in 1935 to pursue other behind-the-scenes show business careers, Chico, Groucho, and Harpo went on to enjoy success as a team and are generally the individuals designated as the Marx Brothers. Late in their careers, they performed as solo musicians and comedians. Groucho starred as a solo film actor and hosted the television game show, You Bet Your Life. The brothers were notorious for being just as entertaining offstage as they were onstage.
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Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre
By: Hallie Flanagan
Source: Flanagan, Hallie. Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre. 1940. Reprint, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965, 340–346.
About the Author: Hallie Flanagan (1890–1969) was described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "the third most powerful woman in America, after my wife and Frances Perkins" (who was the first female cabinet member). Flanagan, however, earned this reputation with President Roosevelt by exerting her influence in the American theater, most notably as director of the Federal Theatre Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1935 to 1939. She later became dean of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and remained as professor of drama until her retirement in 1955.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt (served 1933–1945) took office in 1933, the nation was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. With the economic trouble much on his mind, Roosevelt said in his inaugural address, "I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require." These measures were called the New Deal, a massive governmental intervention composed of several major programs designed to...
(The entire section is 2993 words.)
My Lord, What a Morning
By: Marian Anderson
Source: Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning. New York: Viking, 1956, 190–193.
About the Author: Marian Anderson (1897–1993) was born in Philadelphia and began singing at age six at the Union Baptist Church. She later became a voice student and helped support her family by giving concerts. By 1917, she had become a noted contralto. She overcame global racism to become one of the truly outstanding performers of the twentieth century.
Marian Anderson: A Portrait
By: Kosti Vehanen
Source: Vehanen, Kosti. Marian Anderson: A Portrait. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1941, 237–246.
About the Author: Kosti Vehanen (1887–1957), a classical pianist born in Finland, heard Marian Anderson for the first time in Berlin in 1931. He wrote: "It was as though the room had begun to vibrate, as though the sound came from under the earth … the sound I heard swelled to majestic power, the flower opened its petals to full brilliance; and I was enthralled by one of nature's rare...
(The entire section is 3422 words.)