Newspapers served as a critical source of information for civilians during the war. Dozens of other American radio, wire service and newspaper journalists filed their reports from the battlefields embedded with military units throughout the European and Pacific fronts. Most Texas newspapers' war coverage came from the Associated Press and United Press war services.1
Comic strips provided both amusement and political commentary. Popular strips of the time included "Gasoline Alley," "Little Orphan Annie," "Donald Duck," "Mutt and Jeff," and "Joe Palooka."2
Not surprisingly, books and magazines also proved a popular diversion during the war years. Consumers gravitated toward escapist fiction, particularly romance, religion stories and humor, as well as nonfiction books of history, current events and technical subjects.3
Movies were extremely popular with an average of 85 million movie tickets sold per week.4 Tickets were relatively inexpensive and, it was an affordable pastime for most people. Yet even in the darkness of movie theaters, people could not escape the reality of war. Films were preceded by Pathé newsreels of international news, a practice that peaked during the war years.5 The movies often showed a slogan on the screen urging moviegoers to buy war stamps in the theater lobby.6
Jewel Theater (Photo by Johnny Mitchell)
John Quinn recalls movie ticket prices from that time:
Vivi Hoang (interviewer): Do you remember how much movie ticket prices were at the theater at that time?
John Quinn: You could-if you were 12, you had to pay an (bumps microphone) adult ticket. It was 15 cents for people younger than 12 and 25 cents for those who were over 12. There was a large number, large number below 12 years old. (Both laugh.) They just kind of said, "I'm not twelve yet." So they got in for 15 cents.
But it was the ubiquitous radio, which reached 90% of the population, that served as the most common source of news, entertainment and propaganda. People listened to the authoritarian voice of newsman Edward R. Murrow, who often reported from the front lines.7
Comedies, dramas, adventures, soap operas and variety shows were an everyday part of life. During the day, soaps such as "Guiding Light," "Young Dr. Malone" and "Our Gal Sunday" broadcast on the airwaves. In the evenings, families listened to the comic riffs of Edgar John Bergen and his puppet, Charlie McCarthy in "Bergen and McCarthy" or the spooky stories of "Inner Sanctum Mystery." Musical variety shows included "Western Serenade" and "Alexander's Variety Hour."8
Lyman Reed describes his favorite Saturday afternoon pastime:
Lyman Reed: At that time, all the kids would go to the movie on Saturday afternoons. And they had all these various serial shows running like "The Lone Ranger" and "Hopalong Cassidy," various things like that, but then they would have a newsreel of the latest movies and all like that that were taken, gotten back to the United States from the two war zones. That really made an impression to see that in motion rather than just a flat picture in the paper.
Lyman Reed Entertainment Audio Clip
Lyman Reed's Entire Oral History Entertainment Interview
The newsreels played at the cinema made an impression on Duane Barger:
Duane Barger (DB): Well, you'd go to picture show, the big thing on the screen.
Rebecca Snow (RS) (interviewer): Ah.
DB: That kind of stuff. We went to see cowboy shows, you know, Westerns, in those days.
RS: And then they'd have the newsreels.
DB: Then would come a newsreel, they would show what's going on over there. By that time the war was fully going on. People were being in the Army and the Navy and the Marines. Here I'm 16, 17 years old, and "Hey, I want to be in that place."
Duane Barger Entertainment Audio Clip
Duane Barger's Entire Oral History Entertainment Interview
FDR began his popular fireside chats in 1933 as a way of convincing the nation to support the New Deal initiatives. He continued these chats throughout World War II to inform citizens and keep up morale. The Office of War Information supplied popular radio performers with patriotic messages to be broadcast to their listeners.9
John Quinn talks about why FDR's radio talks were important:
Vivi Hoang (VH) (interviewer): Did you listen to FDR's Fireside Chats?
John Quinn (JQ): Yes, we always listened to those.
VH: Can you talk about why that was something that was important to you to listen to?
JQ: Well, because it not only affected my family, but every family in the nation. We were very proud of FDR. He was doing a wonderful job and it was a sad, sad day, the day he died in Georgia. Then Mr. Truman took over and he did a good job. And they ended the war by bombing Japan. This was the only way we could have won the war. If we had landed on Japan, it would have been a catastrophe.
John Quinn Fireside Chats Audio Clip
John Quinn's Entire Oral History Fireside Chats Interview
Mary Ann Reed: President Roosevelt's voice was very distinctive. He didn't sound like a Texan. (Laughs.) We were interested in his dog, Fala, the little Scottie that his wife had. And he was always, you know, he would give us a pep talk. He would always try to help the country, to keep morale high. Made us feel that we were a part of it, that our support important, and our sacrifices, which, you know, were negligible.
The Office of War Information supplied popular radio performers with patriotic messages to be broadcast to their listeners. "Nigel Bruce, in his best Dr. Watson voice, urged his audience to buy war bonds at the end of an episode of 'Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,' writes Carolyn Barnes in the essay "The Words and Pictures of War.' 'Fibber McGee and Molly' helped the drive for skilled workers by reminding their listeners, 'It's your sons of toil that'll help put those Nazis under tons of soil.""10
1Lee, James Ward, Barnes, Carolyn N, Bowman, Ken A., and Crow, Laura. (Eds.). (1991). 1941: Texas goes to war. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 108.
3Lee, James Ward, Barnes, Carolyn N, Bowman, Ken A., and Crow, Laura. (Eds.). (1991). 1941: Texas goes to war. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 211.
5Casdorph, Paul D. (1989). Let the good times roll: Life at home in American during WWII. New York, NY: Paragon House, 22.
6Lee, James Ward, Barnes, Carolyn N, Bowman, Ken A., and Crow, Laura. (Eds.). (1991). 1941: Texas goes to war. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 89.