President Hoover and the Great Depression

Introduction Escapism is defined as a “diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine”. This coping method is used many times throughout history. One significant moment in history where this technique is prominent is during the 1930s. America was faced with The Great Depression, one of the most devastating crisis in United States history. But many new things came out during this time, and one of the most prominent was the emergence of the film industry, particularly the emergence of musical films. These films were a key form of escapism during the hard times people were facing.

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They gave people a glimpse of hope by displaying happy endings, despite the struggles characters may go through. Musical movies during the 1930s acted as a form of escapism by either portraying or distracting from the turmoil of the Great Depression. In order to investigate this idea, it is necessary to analyze the musical films made during that time period, as well as the financial effects on their movie studios. This will give a more in depth understanding of the key ways movies helped their audience escape from the hard times. The musical movies I will be analyzing are 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Snow White, and the Wizard of Oz. The 1930s Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He used this statement to give hope to those suffering during the Great Depression.

Things would be okay, as long as people stayed hopeful and fearless. In order to do this, people needed distractions. There were many ways people tried to distract themselves from the turmoil of the Great Depression. Because listening was free, most people had radios and used them to listen to comedy programs, soap operas, and music, like swing . These forms of entertainment- radio, movies, musicals- offered an escape from the harsh realities of the 1930s. The 1930s were preceded by the Stock Market Crash of October 29, 1929. Some blame this occurrence on the uneven distribution of wealth and purchasing power during the 1920s. Another cause was the instability caused by World War 1. Because banks were unregulated and uninsured, they were not prepared for this downfall. The consumer economy stopped, and this recession became The Great Depression of the 1930s.

Between 1930 and 1933, more than 9 thousand banks closed in the United States, taking more than 2.5 billion dollars in deposits with them. Franklin Roosevelt, who became president in 1933 during The Great Depression, until after it was over in 1945, put the blame on the previous president, Hoover, who became president the year of the Stock Market Crash. He called Hoover’s government a “hear nothing, see nothing, do nothing government” implying that Hoover’s lack of governmental involvement led to a lack of response and help for citizens during the troubling times. Because of this, Roosevelt wanted the government to step in a little more, proposing the New Deal, to “use the power of the federal government to try and stop the economy’s downward spiral.”

By June, Roosevelt and Congress passed 15 major laws, such as The Agricultural Adjustment Act, Glass-Steagall Banking Bill, Home Owners Loan Act, Tennessee Valley Authority Act, and National Industrial Recovery Act. During the second half of the New Deal, also called the Second New Deal, Roosevelt launched more aggressive set federal programs, such as the Works Progress Administration which provided jobs for unemployed people and built new works. National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, gave workers the right to form unions and bargain for higher wages and fairer treatment. The Social Security Act guaranteed pensions to some older Americans, set up a system of unemployment insurance and “stipulated” that the federal government would help care for dependent children and disabled. Over time, Americans confidence was being restored, but the depression had yet to end. The Great Depression ended by the end of the 1930s.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War 2, war effort stimulated American Industry. Movie musicals There was a large influx of movie musicals made during The Great Depression, becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Politicians often gave Hollywood the task of “cheering Americans up” and distracting them from the economic downfall. Popular movie studios, such as MGM, Paramount, and Fox, made musical movies during this time. These movies starred actors such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who represented a possible glamorous lifestyle to give hope to those who were suffering. Another big aspect was the creation of the first full-length animated film, Snow White. These films all had an aspect that connected them to the time period of their release. They represented, in particular, two things. Many of them were used as a distraction from the hardships of The Great Depression, to get people’s minds off their struggle and see an ideal world. On the other hand, some were used as a portrayal, as something the viewer could possibly relate to during their hardships. 42nd Street 42nd Street was a 1933 comedy and romance film by Warner Bros. Entertainment. It takes place in 1932, during the early years of The Great Depression, and shows what happens during the production of a stage musical.

Depression is a background constant throughout the film, which categorizes this film as a portrayal instead of a distraction. The film starts out with one of the main characters, Mr. Marsh, stating that he is “in this for one reason: Money.” He complains about the lack of money being made during the times. “I’m not gonna let you down, because I can’t afford to,” he says. The production risks losing the funds they are receiving to put on the show, all from the man Mr. Dillon, who is only funding the show for the main actress, Dorothy. But she is “two-timing” him with another man. If he finds out then he will walk out on the show. Everything is on the line because of this, the show has the be successful in order for them to make a living during the hard times of the Depression. Their economic struggle is concealed by the glamour and romance of the show production, but it is still present. Gold Diggers of 1933 Gold Diggers of 1933 was a 1933 comedy and drama by Warner Bros. Entertainment. This movie tells the story of a show that is closing down due to unpaid bills. It makes many direct references to The Great Depression which makes it a portrayal of the time period. The movie begins with a musical number, that soon is interrupted by sheriffs coming in to seize all their assets. The show can not go on, because the bills have gone unpaid.

“This is the fourth show in two months that I’ve been in of and out of,” one girl says, “they close before they open.” “The Depression, deary,” another girl responds. All the theaters are shutting down because they are unable to keep up with their payments, therefore the stars?Carol, Polly, and Trixie? are not able to pay their rent. They spend most days hoping for work and trying their hardest to survive, such as taking milk from their neighbors when they have none of their own. “Come on, let’s get up and look for work. I hate starving in bed” one says. They look back on how their lives were so much better before the suffering of the Depression began. These characters give the audience of the time something to relate to, to look at the screen and see a part of themselves in, because they too were struggling during the Depression. Snow White Snow White was a 1938 fantasy and romance film by Walt Disney. It was the first full-length cel animated film in history. During the time of its release, the Hollywood film industry called it “Disney’s Folly” because no one thought it could succeed. It was very costly and Walt Disney had to mortgage his house to help finance the production of the film. But as result, the film grossed 8 million dollars, which was the most made by any film at that time.

The film depicts the ideal woman of the 1930s who can cook and clean, while “restoring men’s dominance and reestablishing women by showing Snow White staying home while the dwarves go to work. While watching the film, I recognized many factors that connected to the time period of its release. In the beginning, Snow White’s “peasant life” represents the struggles of people during The Great Depression. The Evil Queen represents the evils of The Great Depression, like the government. One particular quote that stands out is when Snow White says “You don’t know what I’ve been through, and all because I was afraid, I’m so ashamed of the fuss I’ve made.” This connects incredibly to the banking panic at the beginning of the Stock Market Crash.

The dwarves made working seem fun and enjoyable, which people needed during this economic turmoil. Songs like “Whistle While You Work”, “Dig Song”, and “Hi Ho” instilled the idea of completing their work responsibilities in an enjoyable manner. Hope was shown even more through two other scenes. The first shows Snow White and the seven dwarves singing and dancing and having a good time, even if their environment wasn’t perfect. This leads into Snow White’s song “Someday My Prince Will Come” which shows an example of hope through the lyrics.

Snow White was used as an escape from The Great Depression by portraying a very happy fairy tale ending between Snow White and Prince Charming; a happily ever after. Article According to the article, Prosperity Out of Fantasy, from the New York Times in 1938, America needed to “swing out of the present economic tailspin” by a new industry. Many things had been suggested but none worked, until the success of Snow White. It was called “industrialized fantasy”. This gave employment to actors, and despite costing a lot to make, the result made even more and gave a fortune to theaters that showed it, even toys were sold of the characters.

This began the development of a new industry. “Industrialized fantasy? It should be industrially fantastic”, says the article. Wizard of Oz The Wizard of Oz was a 1939 fantasy and adventure film made by MGM Studios. It was not a huge box office success when it was released. The film represented hope during The Great Depression, through songs such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Dorothy escapes her hardships at home and ends up in Oz, much like people wanted to escape The Great Depression. According to Francis Macdonnell’s article, “The Emerald City was the New Deal”, the film “offered viewers an allegory of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.”

Differences were made between the 1900 book and the film but kept similar political elements. Instead of focusing on the Populist messages that the book carried, it focused on the more current political events. As well as that, it showed a need for self-reliance, by the main characters looking inside themselves to find courage, brains, and heart. This film starts out with a dull black and white color scheme, showing Dorothy on the Kansas farm where she lives, but transforms to color when she’s transported to Oz. This transformation from bleak to colorful represents the beauty of this fantasy place that people desired. “Someplace where there isn’t any trouble.

It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train, it’s far far away” Dorothy says before singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, conveying this desire. Because the character Miss Gulch “runs half the county,” she takes Dorothy’s dog, Toto, away from her when she becomes unhappy with his behavior. This reflects the feeling people had when losing their money in the banks. Dorothy traveling to Oz is the most evident example of escapism, portraying how the people during the 1930s wanted to escape their own hardships. Movie Studios Throughout the 1920s, there were five particular film studios that made it big. They are referred to as the big five. Starting in the mid 1910s, Fox Film Corporation was founded on February 1, 1915. Fox started out the depression making a profit of $10 million in 1930, but the year following made a loss of 4 million dollars, and then 7 million dollars the year after tha. The founder of Fox was forced out of the company in 1933.

Paramount Pictures was founded the year after Fox, in 1916. It created movies such as The Big Pond, and Love Me Tonight. It saw an 18.4 million dollar profit in 1930, a 6.3 million dollar profit in 1931, then a plunging 21 million dollar loss in 1932. Paramount Pictures went bankrupt in 1935 but was brought out of bankruptcy by new presidents that same year. The preceding presidents were blamed for their near collapse during the depression years. Compared to other film studios, Paramount put a heavy emphasis on its stars. Warner Bros was established in 1924. It made movies such as 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and the first sound film, The Jazz Singer. It made 60 films per year during the depression, particularly gangster films, backstage musicals, and social realism. It made a profit of 14.5 million dollars in 1929, 7 million dollars in 1930, then a loss of 8 million dollars in 1931. Thanks to the low-budget productions they were creating, Warner Bros did not go bankrupt during the Great Depression. Films like the Wizard of Oz and Hollywood revue were made by the media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM. MGM was founded in 1924 and was the last studio to convert to sound pictures. It “tapped into the audience’s need for glamor and sophistication” and was one of the first studios to experiment with filming in technicolor.

The effects of the Great Depression were a 15 million dollar profit in 1930 and a 4.3 million dollar profit in 1933; they never lost any money. RKO Radio Pictures Incorporated was founded in 1928  from Radio Corporation of America and Keith and Orpheum theatres in order to put its photophone sound system to use. It was responsible for films such as Top Hat, and multiple other musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The effects of the Depression were a 3.4 million dollar profit in 1930, then a 5.7 million dollar loss in 1931, and was eventually “forced into receivership”. Conclusion The 1930s met people with struggle due to the Stock Market Crash of 1929. People needed a way to distract themselves from the recession, and the emergence of the musical film industry gave them just that. They portrayed characters going through struggles, much like everyone during that time was, but gave them hope by displaying happy endings. Musical films were used to distract people from the turmoil of the Great Depression.

Some were used to get people’s minds off the hardships, while others portrayed what they were going through in order to give them something to relate to. Through exploring the movies 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Snow White, and the Wizard of Oz, I was able to better understand the use of escapism through media during the Great Depression. As well as helping audiences escape from their hard times, they also lifted movie studios through their hard times, as many of them were made tremendously successful through their musicals. Escapism was used in musical movies in the 1930s by portraying and distracting from people’s hardships of the Great Depression.

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President Hoover and the Great Depression. (2022, Apr 13). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from

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