Jun. 13th, 2012

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[personal profile] brownbetty
Over Here, Over There is written by Maxene Andrews and, I presume, ghost-written by Bill Gilbert. The book is fairly chatty, and attempts to give both an idea of what civilian life was like in America during the war, and the part played by the USO performers. It pads out Maxene's history with materials from other USO performers, newspapers snippets, letters, and other materials. Unfortunately, hardly anything is cited in such a way that you could chase it down without effort.

I am actually enough of a newb at this historical period that it's possible everything I learned from this book is on the order of SPOILER: Liberace was gay! I think it gives a decent overview of America during the war years, if one keeps in mind that the Andrews sisters were actually comparatively wealthy by the end of the war years, simply from record sales. (Maxene doesn't touch on their financial situation, and frames everything in terms of their popularity, but at one point she mentions she "owned a kennel on the ranch, and had seventy-five dogs—boxers, Dobermans, and cocker spaniels." (78) This suggests a level of affluence. (Also, OMG, I want to live there! Maxene is a dog lover after my own heart, and apparently took a dog with her all the time while on tour.))

She attempts to deal with the racial inequality of the era, but mainly talks about the segregation of the troupes and USO entertainers. (Two paragraphs are dedicated to race riots, in 1943.) She mentions one entertainer, Kathryn Grayson, who insisted on performing for Black troupes as well as white. When Grayson was told her (black) maid was going to be staying at a separate hotel, she told the organizers she would stay at that hotel as well, but her inclusion in the book suggests she was the exception. (63) The book also includes a photo of a performance of "Hellzapoppin" with what looks like an all-white cast. (Compare with this youtube scene, from the film Hellzapoppin which claims to be 'the best swing dance ever captured on screen.' (Seriously, watch it. It's amazing.))

(I was also rather non-plussed to see reference to Al Jolson. Was he performing blackface, for the white troupes? They couldn't see a black performer, but a white/Jewish man in blackface, that's fine?)

As far is the book is concerned, gay is something invented in the 1960s.

The parts I found particularly fascinating were the bits about rationing, and war bonds.

rationing, the black market )

War Bonds )

I actually bailed out of the book when the war ended, so I have no idea what happens in the bits about the reconstruction.
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[personal profile] melannen
The Big Broadcast, which is a local radio show that re-broadcasts very old radio, just had its annual D-Day special - two and half hours of curated live American news broadcasts from the day of, and days just after, the invasion of Europe. I listened to it and it's great for both getting an idea of what the war would have felt like from the home front, and for showing that live news broadcasts have only gotten *slightly* more annoying over the past seventy years. :)

(I kid, some of the reports were actually really really good - the lack of pictures meant that a lot of the reporters do a much more narrative account; there was one from somebody who was embedded on the first plane of paratroopers that had me holding my breath.

...on the other hand the guy who went around doing live man-on-the-street reaction interviews in London was exactly as terribly content-less as the modern version.)

It's up for free streaming on the WAMU website, but only until the end of the week, so listen now if you're interested!

(The Big Broadcast in general is a really good resource for anyone interested in 40s/50s American pop culture - I catch it whenever I can - but most of their usual content is post-1945)

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