Entertainment as Escapism

Radio continued to capture Americans who desperately needed an escape. Popular programs of the day included The Jack Benny Show, Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and The Shadow. Orson Welles popularized The Shadow. In 1938, he produced a radio broadcast based on H. G. Wells's science fiction classic The War of the Worlds, in which Martians invaded a New Jersey town (in the novel, the Martians invaded several English towns). Orson Welles pulled off the production with such realism the night before Halloween that some spooked listeners panicked, believing the broadcast was indeed an actual news report of an invasion from outer space!

The sounds of Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman could be heard on the radio, which entertained audiences through the Big Band era and throughout the Swing craze. Gossip columnist Walter Winchell and several leading evangelists also found use for the radio as a platform.

Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford had appeared in early silent movies, but now the technology continued to evolve with the invention of Technicolor (a three-color process) on the big screen. Alfred Hitchcock thrillers were all the rage, and so was the comedy of Laurel and Hardy and movies starring Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Mae West, and the young Shirley Temple. Clark Gable played opposite Vivien Leigh in the Hollywood blockbuster Gone With the Wind in 1939. Gable immortalized himself when he uttered the shocking words, “Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.” The Marx Brothers, silly comedians who distracted people from harsh realities, were quite popular as well. The antics of Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo poked fun at the rich. Movie theaters provided not only entertainment, but information as well, since many learned their current events from the newsreels that chronicled headlines and images from around the world.

Jesse Owens captured headlines with his four-medal performance at the Summer Olympics in 1936. Owens, a U.S. sprinter, won the two sprint events as well as the long jump. Berlin, Germany, hosted that year's games.

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