By: Aaron Copland
Date: March 10, 1940
Source: Copland, Aaron. "The Aims of Music for Films." The New York Times, March 10, 1940. About the Author: Aaron Copland (1900–1990) was a composer, performer, and teacher. He began his formal musical education at the age of fourteen by taking private piano lessons. He studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, the first of many Americans to do so. His best-known symphonic works incorporate American popular song types, such as hymns, cowboy tunes, Mexican dances, Latin American rhythms, and folk tunes.
The ease with which Aaron Copland could move from popular to serious music, his ability to incorporate folk and jazz in his symphonic compositions, and his endless energy and wit made him an especially welcome visitor in the Hollywood of the late 1930s and 1940s. During this period, which is often called the golden age, Hollywood was eager to attract superior talent, even if it didn't quite know what to do with it.
Copland, a superior talent, was eager to try composing movie music. He worked on many commercial films during a ten-year period, including Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The North Star (1943), The Red Pony (1948), and...
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By: Archibald MacLeish
Source: MacLeish, Archibald. The Irresponsibles: A Declaration. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1940, 24–34.
About the Author: Archibald MacLeish (1892–1982), a poet, playwright, and public intellectual, was born in Illinois and educated at Yale University and Harvard Law School. MacLeish was a distinguished poet, an influential journalist, Librarian of Congress during the Roosevelt administration, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway playwright, and a professor of poetry at Harvard.
Archibald MacLeish belonged to the generation of modernist poets that included his fellow Americans Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Both Pound and Eliot rejected large aspects of the American way of life and moved to Europe. MacLeish, however, was always able to combine a modernist approach to literature with a clear understanding of the importance of the civil and religious liberties and democratic way of life protected by the U.S. Constitution. This balanced method surely had its basis in his education in civil and constitutional law he received as a student at Harvard Law School under his mentor Felix Frankfurter.In 1939, Frankfurter, after being nominated as a Supreme Court...
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Speech on the Dedication of the National Gallery of Art
By: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Date: March 17, 1941
Source: Roosevelt, Franklin D. "Speech on the Dedication of the National Gallery." March 17, 1941. Reprinted online at http://www.nara.gov/ (accessed May 17, 2002).
About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was born in Hyde Park, New York. He attended Groton School, Harvard University, and Columbia University Law School. He served as the assistant secretary of the navy under Woodrow Wilson and was the 1920 Democratic vice presidential canidate. Crippled by polio in 1921, he perservered and was twice elected governor of New York State in the 1920s. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, he was elected president of the United States. He was reelected president in 1936, 1940, and 1944—the only president to ever win a third or fourth term—and died in office in April 1945. Roosevelt is considered one of America's greatest presidents for his efforts to fight the Depression with his "New Deal," and for leading the nation through World War II.
Andrew W. Mellon was one of the most successful financiers and industrialists of his time when he decided to heed the call of public office and serve the first of three Republican...
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"I Got it Bad (and that Ain't Good)"
By: Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster
Source: Ellington, Duke, and Paul Francis Webster. "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" song lyrics, 1941. Available online at ; website home page: http://www.thepeaches.com (accessed April 1, 2003.)
About the Artists: Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899–1974) was an American pianist and one of the nation's foremost jazz composers and bandleaders. Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington began to perform at age seventeen. As one of the fathers of big-band jazz, he composed or co-wrote thousands of scores. As an African American, he broke the race barrier in music. Like Ellington, Paul Francis Webster (1907–1984) was an African American who helped break down color barriers in American music. Born in New York City he worked as a sailor, dance instructor, and eventually a Songwriter's Hall of Fame lyricist. He won Oscars for Best Original Song in 1953, 1955, and 1965, and worked with scores of artists from Ellington to Hoagy Carmichael, Peggy Lee, and Tony Bennett.
Duke Ellington was a pioneer in big-band jazz, which combined a danceable appeal with blues-inspired lyrics about universal themes such as romantic love. His ascent...
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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
By: Walker Evans
Source: Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
About the Artist: Walker Evans (1903–1975) was a photographer, writer, and teacher. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he graduated from Phillips Academy and spent a year at Williams College. His interest in documentary photography led him to record city streets, American nineteenth-century architecture of buildings and homes, and the people and places of the rural South, especially during the Great Depression. He worked for Fortune magazine for twenty years and then taught graphic design at Yale University for ten years.
Early on, Walker Evans wanted to be a writer and a painter. He spent a year in Paris auditing courses at the Sorbonne and reading Gustave Flaubert and Charles-Pierre Baudelaire. After his return to New York City, he took up the study of photography. In his early work photographing New York streets and inhabitants, he slowly developed an austere and honest style. One of his first projects was to illustrate The Bridge (1930), Hart Crane's epic poem about the Brooklyn Bridge. Later on, he saw the work of nineteenth-century photographer Eugene Atget, whose...
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"The Life of John Brown" Series, No. 17
By: Jacob Lawrence
Source: Lawrence, Jacob. "The Life of John Brown" Series, No. 17. 1941. Available online at http://www.jacoblawrence.org/art04.html; website home page: http://www.jacoblawrence.org (accessed February 24, 2003).
About the Artist: Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He began his career in painting as a young man. After the critical and financial breakthrough of the Migration series in 1941, he became widely known as the premier African American painter in the United States. He continued to paint series based on events in African American history, including notable works about World War II (1939–1945), the civil rights movement, and life in Africa.
As a teenager, the lives of heroic, larger-than-life figures, especially revolutionaries, first captured Jacob Lawrence's imagination. In 1937, he began what was to be the first of his series of paintings on the life of Toussaint-Louverture. Next, he illustrated the stories of two former slaves who became major figures in American political life: Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman.
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What Is Modern Painting
By: Alfred H. Barr Jr.
Source: Barr, Alfred H., Jr. What Is Modern Painting? New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1943. Revised 1974.
About the Author: Alfred H. Barr Jr. (1902–1981), an art historian, was born in Detroit, Michigan. He attended Princeton University, where he was influenced by Charles Rufus Morley and his course in medieval art. Barr received a graduate degree in art history and museum studies at Harvard University under Paul Sachs. In 1929, he became the first director of the Museum of Modern Art. During his years there, he was the curator for hundreds of exhibits and wrote definitive books on Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and the cubists. He retired in 1968.
Twentieth-century artists in their most well-known manifestations—expressionism, cubism, dadaism, futurism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism—seemed
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On the Town Caricature
By: Al Hirschfeld
Date: November 1944
Source: On the Town. Available online at
About the Artist: Al Hirschfeld (1903–2003), an American graphic artist, was born in St. Louis. He is famous for his caricatures of theater people and productions, thousands of which appeared in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times to signal the arrival of new shows.
After Oklahoma! opened in 1943, the Broadway musical changed. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein showed everyone how the songs, music, dance, and plot could be integrated into a powerful and compelling whole. Now, a musical comedy needed to be written with the same unity of purpose as Oklahoma!, but this time it was to be funny.
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"Richard Wright's Blues"
By: Ralph Ellison
Source: Ellison, Ralph. "Richard Wright's Blues." In Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, ed. John F. Callahan. New York: Modern Library, 1995, 128–133. Originally published in The Antioch Review, Summer 1945, 128–133.
About the Author: Ralph Ellison (1914–1994), a novelist and essay writer, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama on a music scholarship but soon turned to writing fiction. He moved to New York where as an editor for the New Masses he wrote influential essays, book reviews, and short stories. His novel Invisible Man (1952) established him as one of the foremost African American intellectuals in the years immediately following World War II (1939–1945).
Ralph Ellison's friend and fellow novelist Richard Wright is the subject of the review "Richard Wright's Blues," which Ellison wrote following the publication of Wright's autobiographical Black Boy (1945). In the review, Ellison demonstrated some of the qualities that made him the foremost African American intellectual of his generation. He spoke with a combination of intellectual erudition and hard-won experience.
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The Iceman Cometh
" Iceman Cometh Has Its World Premiere at the Martin Beck"
By: Brooks Atkinson
Date: October 10, 1946
Source: Atkinson, Brooks. " Iceman Cometh Has Its World Premiere at the Martin Beck." The New York Times, October 10, 1946. Reprinted online at http://www.eoneill.com/artifacts/reviews/ic1_times.htm; website home page: http://www.eoneill.com (accessed February 25, 2003).
About the Author: Brooks Atkinson (1894–1984), an American theater critic and journalist, was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. Atkinson was an editor of The New York Times before becoming its drama critic in 1925. His tenure as the drama critic lasted until 1960, making him the dean of New York newspaper critics. On his retirement, he became the first critic to have a theater named after...
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"What Hollywood Can Do"
By: James Agee
Date: December 7 and 14, 1946
Source: Agee, James. "What Hollywood Can Do," Time, December 7 and 14, 1946. Reprinted in Agee, James. Agee on Film, vol. 1. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1958, 229–233.
About the Author: James Agee (1909–1955) was a movie critic, screenwriter, poet, and novelist. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, he attended Harvard University, worked for Fortune in the 1930s, and then reviewed movies for Time and The Nation throughout the 1940s. A Death in the Family (1957), his novel based on his experiences as a six-year-old boy when his father died, was published after his death and won the Pulitzer Prize.
At Harvard, James Agee discovered his poetic abilities under the mentorship of the influential critic and poet I. A. Richards. After graduating, Agee began writing poetry and went to work as a journalist for Fortune.
Although he did not agree with Fortune 's pro-capitalist agenda, Agee was a sensitive and productive writer who produced well-respected journalism on any subject that captured his attention. He thus became a favorite of the media giant Henry Luce, the discriminating founder and...
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"The Gangster As Tragic Hero"
By: Robert Warshow
Source: Warshow, Robert. The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962, 85–88.
About the Author: Robert Warshow (1917–1955) was an influential writer on popular culture who was born in New York City. He graduated from the University of Michigan and served as a translator and research analyst for the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he returned to New York to work as an editor and writer for Commentary magazine. He wrote about popular culture, especially the movies, for Commentary, The Nation, and Partisan Review. He died of a heart attack at age thirty-seven.
Warshow wrote for the so-called little magazines, that is, small circulation journals that provided intelligent analysis and honest criticism of the arts, culture, and politics during the 1940s and 1950s, when such writing was in short supply. Unconventional ideas and serious writing appealed to a small pool of influential and elite readers. Despite their tiny readership, these journals had a great influence on culture. Popular mass-market magazines, such as Life and Time, were quick to hire their most...
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"Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?"
Date: August 8, 1949
Source: "Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" Life, August 8, 1949, 42–45.
About the Artist: Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), born in Cody, Wyoming, was the leading painter of the abstract expressionism school. In 1930, he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. Under the influence of surrealism and psychoanalytic therapy, he began to develop his own notions of artistic expression, which led to the drip technique. In 1945, he married Lee Krasner, another abstract expressionist painter. He was killed in an automobile accident in 1956.
At the Art Students League in New York, Jackson Pollock studied under Thomas Hart Benton, one of the leading regionalists among American painters. Although a conservative painter, Benton was famous for twisting muscular forms and for his hard-living personality, both of which attracted Pollock. Benton was his friend and mentor for more than ten years. But Pollock was intellectually restless.
He soon found the work of the Mexican muralists Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera more exciting. In 1936, he joined the experimental workshop of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Toward the...
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William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
By: William Faulkner
Date: December 10, 1950
Source: Faulkner, William. Nobel prize acceptance speech. December 10, 1950. Available online at http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1949/; website home page: http://www.nobel.se (accessed February 26, 2003).
About the Author: William Faulkner (1897–1962) was born and lived most of his life Mississippi. In a series of novels and short stories he wrote a monumental history of Yoknapatawpha County, an imaginary place based on his home. The Sound and the Fury (1929) is the most famous of these works. He did not initially meet with success, but after World War II (1939–1945) critics took notice of his work and Faulkner is now regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest novelists. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Faulkner also worked as a screenwriter on such films as To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Land of the Pharaohs (1955).
William Faulkner's early conviction that he was commercially unpublishable gave him the independence to write only for himself and a small group of readers. His determination to do...
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"The American Theatre"
By: Arthur Miller
Source: Miller, Arthur. "The American Theatre." Holiday, 1954. Reprinted in The Passionate Playgoer. George Oppenheimer, ed. New York: Viking, 1962, 29–32.
About the Author: Arthur Miller (1915–) is one of the foremost playwrights of the postwar American theater. Born and raised in New York City, he studied journalism at the University of Michigan. His works include All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), and The Crucible (1953).
Arthur Miller's first full-length play for Broadway, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), lasted less than a week. His first success was All My Sons, a play that centers on the corruption of a successful defense industry businessman and the consequences for his family. His next play, Death of a Salesman, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and almost every other award for best play in 1949. It remains his greatest achievement. In the play, Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, suffers a nervous breakdown after being fired. This leads to the recognition of his failure as a businessman, father, and husband.
Miller was hailed as the great American playwright when...
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