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A sample from the new book on America in 1941. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
A sample from the new book on America in 1941.

“There’s good news tonight”


August 12, 1941, was a Tuesday.

It was the feast of St. Clare, and, in Auschwitz, that Conventual Franciscan, Father Maximilian Kolbe, was less than forty-eight hours from eternity, in the last days of his martyrdom.

His life before the war had included a mission to Japan. In Nagasaki, he had erected a monastery, on a site that was considered by the locals to be ‘inauspicious.’

None of this was in the American mind on August 12, 1941.


On August 12, 1941, Americans were being pulled slowly out of the Great Depression. The New Dealers attributed this to government programs and Keynesian economics. Men and women who had left the ruins of Dust Bowl farms; the jerkwater, one-horse towns of rural America in all sections and regions; the Appalachian mountains; and the narrow, somnolent South, had a shrewd suspicion, as they went to their saving swing-shifts at the factories that were supplying the Allies with war materials, that there might be another reason. Nobody ever got rich working for the CCC; but Lockheed, say, was another thing entirely.

            On August 12, 1941, Huey P. Long had been in his grave for almost six years. The minister who’d taken his funeral, Gerald L. K. Smith, was striving mightily to take up Governor Long’s mantle, and was in bed with the Silver Shirts and any other fascists and white supremacists he could find. His taste for disloyalty and sedition had already proved too stout even for the America First Committee.

            Radio had helped make Huey P. Long a national figure. The days of the Atwater Kent radio, with its elegance and higher prices, had passed, and the New York tone of national radio broadcasts had passed with it. The Texas Company – Texaco – sponsored the broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera Company, certainly, and found them pulling a surprisingly large and varied audience. But grand opera and sophisticated big band jazz were no longer the only fare on radio. Now the Americans, uprooted and longing for home and simpler times, simpler answers, could drink from their baptismal font. When the whistle of the Louisville & Nashville’s crack passenger train, the “Pan-American,” passed by, and WSM – the radio station owned by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company of Nashville, Tennessee, whose slogan “We Shield Millions” gave the station its call-sign – took you to the Ryman Auditorium and George Hay, the “Solemn Old Judge,” grand opera gave way to the Grand Ole Opry. And “Doctor” John R. Brinkley, quack, demagogue, and all-around huckster, had begun the era of the “border blasters,” Mexican border radio transmitting into the US and clear to Canada, at XERA, Cuidad Acuña. Imitators had followed – Pappy Lee O’Daniel had become governor of Texas based on folksiness, a career as the front man for a Western Swing band, flour-mill advertising, and the cunning use of border radio – but XERA ruled the airwaves thanks to its having the Carter Family as its lead act. Displaced and dispossessed Americans, lost in the cities, uprooted, Wildwood Flowers taken from their native soil to wither and die, could hear Mother Maybelle on the autoharp with the turn of a dial, and go home again in memory. To this day, the Mexican trumpets in “Ring of Fire” carry on the tradition that June Carter Cash imbibed as a young girl in Del Rio.

            The big bands and Western swing (“Aw-haw,” cried Bob Wills, and Tommy Duncan laid down a solo) and country-and-western music were the demotic of American entertainment; and the radio brought to the smallest town the deeds and doings of sports heroes, and the comedy of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and – deplorably – Amos ’n’ Andy. Places that had never seen a vaudeville show or had a theater to host one could now hear the old routines: the train was now boarding for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga.

You could hear a prize-fight and, Lordy, it was almost just like you were Right There. And with Joe Louis punching through the “Bum of the Month Club” all through the year, followed by his incredible contest with Billy Conn, you were Right There pretty often, if you had a taste for pugilistic performances.

The Bigs, the Show, Major League Baseball, ended in those years at the Mississippi: St. Louis, home to the Cardinals and the hapless Browns, was as far west and south as baseball went. Beyond Sportsman’s Park there was no big league ball. The Pacific Coast League was all but the Bigs, but it wasn’t the Bigs, and any player in the PCL would take a pay-cut to have a cup of coffee in the Bigs. Three DiMaggios did – and stayed. But the inter-mountain West and the South were Cardinals Country, thanks to the powerful signal of KMOX in St. Louis and the acumen of Branch Rickey: these were the days when, it was said, every small town had an A&P and a Cardinals farm club.

            Radio had come of age. It was broader now in its appeal; and, too, a wary government had seen to it that its rough edges were smoothed off. Father Coughlin was off the air; FDR was broadcasting fireside chats instead.

            There were the movies, too; the movies, the shorts – Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes – and the newsreels, with Lowell Thomas’ mellifluence in full play. But it was the radio that gave you the news, As It Happened: scandal from Winchell and Pearson, gravitas from Murrow in London and Shirer in Berlin, and pep and jollity from Gabe Heatter. Why, you could go to church with those crystals lined up just right, listening to Bishop Sheen, say, or you could hear the sounds of London as Britain stood alone and battle raged in the skies of Kent, you could listen – oohhhhh, Doctor! – to the Dodgers tearin’ up the pea-patch as Red Barber called the game….

That was somnolent, searing August in 1941, with the rest of the world at war, and that war very far away – and as near as the signal on the radio.


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3 comments or Leave a comment
noeon From: noeon Date: May 3rd, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
You stealth-posted this under heavy Easter camouflage.

But I found it.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 3rd, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

I hope so.

Must sell those books, you know.
noeon From: noeon Date: May 3rd, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)


V important!
3 comments or Leave a comment