1930’s Hollywood Musicals Lift Our Spirits
The Hollywood musical of the 1930’s provided a great deal more than just light entertainment. During and following the Great Depression, Hollywood produced a multitude of musicals that proved to be both entertaining and, more importantly, inspirational. This was a time in our nations history that presented enormous problems to the American people and their sagging spirit. The public needed an emotional lift and the Hollywood musical contributed greatly to help fill this need.
During these very difficult times, Hollywood responded to their audiences need for a “happy distraction” to what was going on around them. The Hollywood musicals of the 1930’s provided an opportunity to get away from it all for awhile and just feel good.
It’s important to understand that, despite the intense difficulties, most people of this generation did not sit around and feel sorry for themselves or blame others for their hardships. They pulled together and collectively gathered the strength necessary to put their lives back together. This took a great deal of hard work and emotional perseverance and accomplishing this task would also require periods of rest and emotional relaxation.
This is where the brief respite of going to the movies fit in so perfectly. And to the movies they went…tapping their feet to the upbeat musical numbers performed in 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933, which included a hit song with the unlikely title “We’re in the Money.” The Judy Garland classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, gave hope that someday they could “wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds would be far behind them.”
One of the most beloved screen entertainers of this time was an adorable and precocious little star by the name of Shirley Temple. Shirley starred in many musicals during the 1930’s depression era and the mere sight of her smiling face on the movie screen would uplift the spirit of film audiences across the country. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took notice of this cute little curly haired toddler who danced, acted and sang her way into the hearts of American audiences.
One of Shirley Temple’s most celebrated musicals was The Little Colonel (1935). This film was highly regarded by President Roosevelt and film audiences for finally shattering the taboo of inter-racial dancing partners.The pairing of Shirley Temple with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson resulted one of the most delightful tap dancing and singing numbers ever to hit the silver screen.
At that time, Roosevelt’s New Deal Program was being implemented and included supporting the arts and entertainment industry. At first, these efforts created some controversy and his program was criticized for being too socialistic. However, after the release of a number of the 1930’s “feel good” musicals, and the public’s positive reaction, the critic’s warmed to the value of having light, high spirited entertainment during these difficult times. President Roosevelt had realized that these films could have a positive impact on the morale of the American people – and he was right!
Another of the most notable musicals during this period gave us the memorable performance of James Cagney as George M. Cohan in the patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy. This classical “song and dance” man film would make musical history and win James Cagney an Academy Award.
The Golden Age of Hollywood continued to delight us with many more musicals right through to the post war period in America. But the musicals produced during the Great Depression were the most exhilarating, upbeat, and extravagantly choreographed ever put out by Hollywood. We should always remain thankful for the 1930’s Hollywood musicals as they made a significant contribution toward helping our grandparents through one of the most challenging times in American history.