Entertainment industry during World War II

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The entertainment industry during World War II underwent changes to help aid the cause of the war. The entertainment industry during this time was often controlled by a country's government. Since the governments believed that a supportive home front was crucial to their countries' victory, they generally sought to keep the civilian spirits high and to depict the war in a positive light. With this motive in mind, governments engaged in the regulation and censorship of the forms of media, as well as the introduction of new methods of informing citizens through these media outlets.

Government censorship of mass media was enforced in much of the world during this time period in fear of threatening the domestic harmony of a nation. Some of the most popular forms of entertainment during World War II were radio, film, and music. In conjunction with one another, these forms of media kept citizens entertained with a pastime, informed about their country's war efforts, and motivated to contribute to the cause of the war.


In comparison to television, radio was a much more affordable form of entertainment. Because of this, the radio was the most popular form of entertainment during World War II. Radio stations fueled propaganda and reached a countless number of citizens. Many shows popularized and quickly gained influence in certain countries. Radio broadcasts, like other forms of entertainment at the time, were regulated by the government and were pushed to keep citizens informed about war efforts and to encourage citizens to help the cause. Radio stations, along with other media outlets, were major fuels of propaganda during World War II.[1]

An example of a popular radio program is Tommy Handley's It's That Man Again, which continued airing throughout the war in Britain until 1946. Comedian Tommy Handley utilized his radio broadcasts to keep citizens informed about the war efforts and to keep the spirits of Britain high during this time of hardship. It's That Man Again garnered substantial influence - up to 40% of the British population listened to this show during World War II. The show’s last broadcast occurred on January 6, 1946, with Handley passing away only three days later. To further demonstrate the show’s influence, two memorial services were held in his honor, with thousands of listeners present at the funeral grounds.[2]

It's That Man Again was hosted on BBC, a broadcasting service program still widely known in Britain today. Like BBC, other broadcasting companies also attempted to keep civilian spirits high and expressed certain opinions on the war. Hosts of radio programs took sides regarding the war; for example, the Voice of Russia, the government's international radio broadcasting station, expressed the country’s opinions and eventually targeted the United States. Radio programs were broadcast in up to twenty-three different languages, which widened the appeal of these stations.[3]


Though Philo Farnsworth had invented the first working television system in 1927, only few people owned television sets because of its price and scarcity.[4] Since most citizens did not own televisions, they relied on cinemas to keep informed and educated. Cinemas of Europe and the United States were mostly regulated by the government. Films made during this time period were more realistic than escapist, in contrast to entertainment during the Great Depression.

Cinemas provided for a good place to watch information films. New films that showed in cinemas were often informative of a country’s war efforts or the progress of the war itself. Furthermore, the government released additional films that were designed to model the desired human behaviors and actions during the war. These government films often suggested methods of coping with the loss of families and homes and to inform the audience to caution the presence of enemy spies.


The Ministry of Information was formed on the day that followed the start of war. It was the department of government that managed propaganda and publicity for Britain during World War II. The Ministry of Information recognized the significant influence that the entertainment industry had over the citizens, so they kept their work close to film maker.[5] British war films typically incorporated a suspenseful story of war while infusing the messages that the Ministry wished to deliver into the storyline.

Another popular example of one of these films is the British propaganda film Miss Grant Goes to the Door, which taught audiences how to recognize German spies, how to hide Ordnance Survey maps from enemies, and how to be of aid to soldiers and sailors – women were encouraged to knit socks and mittens for sailors.[6] This film further reminded citizens that ‘’Cromwell’’ was the codeword to signify the invasion of Britain.[7]

Hollywood (United States)[edit]

Theater attendance was at an all-time high in 1946, proving to be Hollywood’s most profitable year of the decade.[8] For the United States, the propaganda agency that coordinated actions with the film industry was the Office of War Information. The agency worked with film makers to record and photograph wartime activities while regulating its content. The agency worked to display the war in a positive light and censored negative content like pictures of soldier insanity and casualty; pictures of American casualties were banned from being published until 1943.[9]

With the growth of the film industry came the growth of the influence of Hollywood celebrities. Hollywood stars appeared in advertisements and toured the country to encourage citizens to purchase war bonds to support their country in the war.[10]

In 2008, documents published by the National Archives leaked to the public regarding the involvement of numerous Hollywood celebrities with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Some 750,000 documents reveal that famous American public figures were actually spies for the Office of Strategic Services. These celebrities include celebrity chef Julia Child and baseball player Moe Berg, who were hired to gather information required by the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.[11]


The theme of war took a popular role in the development of pop music. Artists expressed their feelings of hardships during the war. Others sang songs that aimed to lift the spirits of the citizens.

British singer Vera Lynn, or the Forces Sweetheart, sang popular songs such as "We'll Meet Again" and "The White Cliffs of Dover", which restored an optimistic outlook for soldiers and families while uplifting Allied spirits during a time of hardship when Nazi Germany was bombing Britain.

"The Last Time I Saw Paris (song)" was a 1941 Academy Award-winning song by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, which illustrated memories of the magnificent city of Paris that had been taken over by Germany prior to the song’s release.

The Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" expressed the feelings of a man's draft experience. Many listeners could relate because of the number of people drafted into the war.

Government involvement in the music industry[edit]

Government agencies pushed music producers to record more patriotic and uplifting songs. The Office of War Information especially pushed for this following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the United States. In her book God Bless America, Kathleen E.R. Smith states that only twenty-seven war-themed songs had reached the top ten charts during the span of the war.[12]

This suggests that these patriotic war-themed songs, pushed by the government, did not sell well. Billboard archives suggest that the public preferred escapist and rather lighthearted songs.[13] Female singers became more prominent by singing songs expressing the war from the woman’s point of view, illustrating feelings of separation and loneliness. Furthermore, as musicians joined the military, larger bands shrunk and often disbanded, creating a trend towards soloists and smaller music groups.

Musician contributions to the war[edit]

Many musicians contributed to the war effort. Musician Glenn Miller enlisted in the army to perform in the United States Organization, in which he established the Army Air Force Band. Musician Irving Berlin assisted in the war effort by creating the "This is the Army" musical, which raised millions by playing on Broadway and for the US troops.

Impact of the war[edit]

Because of the war, approximately 15 million people "crossed county lines" and brought about the spread of different music styles like country music and African-American styles.[14]

Even the war itself influenced the music industry through its technology. The capture of Germany’s magnetic tape technology became a staple in music production for independent producers. Magnetic tape sound recording allowed for independent producers to produce high quality sounds without the assistance of major labels.


Changes in music correlated to the evolution of dances. Ballroom dancing gained popularity when people were looking to have a good time. The Grafton Ballroom in Britain was famed for its architecture and interior at the time.

The evolution of music brought about new sounds such as jazz and swing music. These sounds translated to new dances. Jitterbug dancing grew in popularity. The Jive, which was taken to England by American troops, eventually became a dance of the International style of Ballroom dance.[15]


  1. ^ "World War II News Broadcasts - Old Time Radio Shows - OTR". Oldradioworld.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Entertainment in Britain". Historylearningsite.co.uk. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  3. ^ Anthony Rhodes, "Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II", 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  4. ^ Museum of the City of San Francisco. "Inventor Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971) Revolutionizes Television - 1928". Sfmuseum.org. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Research and learning | Exhibitions | The Art of War | Learn about the art". The National Archives. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  6. ^ "MISS GRANT GOES TO THE DOOR [Main] | Imperial War Museums". Iwm.org.uk. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  7. ^ "WW2 People's War - Codeword Cromwell". BBC. September 20, 2005. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  8. ^ "1946: Hollywood and the Great Directors". Moderntimes.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Print and War". Xroads.virginia.edu. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  10. ^ "U.S. War Bonds". U-s-history.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Americas | US celebrities spied during WWII". BBC News. August 14, 2008. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  12. ^ Smith, Kathleen E. R. God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
  13. ^ "Search the Billboard Magazine Archives". Billboard.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  14. ^ Ennis, Philip H. The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of Rock 'n' Roll in American Popular Music. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, published by University of New England Press, 1992.
  15. ^ "Port Cities: - Entertainment during World War Two - Cinema". Mersey-gateway.org. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 

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