Escape During the Great Depression
Whenever they could, Americans escaped the terrible difficulties of everyday life by seeking entertainment. It cost nothing to listen to the radio, which broadcast all the latest jazz, the dance music of the big bands, classical concerts, and comedy programs like The Jack Benny Show. One October night in 1938, as people changed radio stations to see what was playing, they were startled to hear what purported to be a news flash that aliens from Mars had invaded the United States. Something of a nationwide panic was halted only when the radio network explained that it was a fictional news flash, part of a science- fiction dramatization of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Those who had been listening to director Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater broadcast from the beginning had known this all along and were amused by the panic.
For a few cents per person, a whole family could spend an entire day at the movie house. They would see a newsreel, cartoons, a first feature, live entertainment, and then a second feature. The Hollywood movie-studio system was one of the few industries that paid good salaries throughout the 1930s. Hollywood produced hundreds of films a year throughout the decade. By the late 1930s, some films were being shot in Technicolor, attracting even more moviegoers than before.
The most popular novel of the decade was Gone With the Wind (1936), written by Atlanta housewife Margaret Mitchell to entertain herself while she recovered from an ankle injury. This sweeping, romantic story of Civil War heroine Scarlett O’Hara captivated the entire nation; readers cheered for Scarlett as she endured starvation and poverty like their own and came out on top. In 1939, Gone With the Wind was made into an equally popular and acclaimed Technicolor film.
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