As unemployment reached an all time high in 1933, this decade, sandwiched between the roaring twenties and World War II, left little to be highlighted other than the dismal consequences of the Great Depression. A nadir in American optimism, the years between 1929 and 1940 tested the strength, courage, humility, and perseverance of those forced to endure a swiftly plummeting economy. No longer did hard work translate into success or even hope. Middle class working families now joined the ranks of the poorer classes and farmers hit by the Dust Bowl in the 1920's. The immense unemployment disrupted family structure as it forced the male provider shamefully into bread lines. This readjustment of familial composition struck tension into millions of families, desperately trying to survive poverty and hunger. President Roosevelt's New Deal, contributing a roller coaster of optimism and despair could not fill every gap the Depression widened. Needing an escape and a sense of control, these downcast families turned to any (inexpensive) relief and entertainment society could confer. Thus, Hollywood industries picked up where the New Deal fell short.

"The content of the motion picture still was designed for escape, the majority reflecting the tastes of tired or jaded adults seeking a never-never land of luxury and melodrama, sex and sentiment."

-Dixton Wector, historian

Of the technological advances during the 1930's in film, sound and color resounded as the most noticed and most appealing. Coming out of a decade of silence and swing dance, the American audience of the 1930's enjoyed Hollywood's fast moving innovations in their film industry. New genres arose out of the heightened realism of audio-visual stimulation. Comedies, gangster films, and musicals emerged as new enticing forms of entertainment. Of these genres, musicals incited audiences' senses the most through its romance, humor, suspense, music, dance, and sex. The bleak outlook and day-to-day hardship of the Depression rarely provoked or encouraged any of these pleasures. For instance, mastering the advances of both color and sound, Wizard Of Oz magnetized audiences in 1939. Although Dorothy's whirlwind flight to the colorful fantasy land of Oz visually fascinated audiences, her unending desire to return to Kansas makes viewers realize "there's no place like home." Subsequently, enabling people to experience a world happier and more hopeful than their own, musicals for 15 cents fed the American people's hunger for escape and direction.

"Whether films offered visions of order restored, affirmations of work-centered values, or celebrations of a culture rooted in the mythic American village, they also held out images of competing worlds that might be entered through mimicry or consumption."

-Terry A. Cooney, Balancing Acts

As Hollywood took the front seat in shaping a new sense of optimism and relief, the American audience of the 1930's also took turns driving by making this musical culture popular. With the Depression's disheartening effects, Americans often cut leisure time before anything else. Thus, Hollywood had to aggressively compete not only with other entertainment industries but also with people's dwindling budgets. With the attendance of 90 million in 1930 decreasing by a third in 1933, the popularity of Hollywood musicals became a gauge and reflection of the 1930's personality. Consequently, the entertainment industry responded more rapidly to the economic rise and fall than other industries. And, in a variety of ways Hollywood capitalized on the effects of the Depression. Taking on the responsibility of renewing optimism, Hollywood produced musicals such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. These films instilled the possibility of success through enduring the hardship of an unsympathetic environment. No longer did films take on the idealistic outlook of the 1920's. Musicals in the 1930's gave people more realistic visions of aspiration and attainment. Stars such as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire became models of strength, courage, charisma, vulnerability, and triumph as they sang and danced their way into the dispirited hearts of the American public.

"During the Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."

-President Franklin Roosevelt

As aforementioned, Hollywood musicals often equated with escapism. In addition to magical worlds of Oz, musicals painted more familiar scenes such as Depression-stricken cities and tension filled homes. While relating to the harsh times, these settings not only capture the emotions of its audience but also later manipulates them with a positive turn of events. For example, Babes in Arms depicts struggling Broadway performers in the midst of the Depression. In this musical, actors and actresses must find a way to raise money to survive this economic disaster. And, only the audiences of the 1930's can fully relate to their struggle. (um, going to improve on that one-have yet to watch the musical!)

| Musicals in the Depression |

Last Updated on December 15, 2000