I’m a ‘40’s guy. By that I mean I pretty much like all things from the 1940s. Not to say that everything in the ‘40’s was wonderful, it wasn’t. For instance World War II, the Holocaust, the rise of Communist China, the beginning of the Cold War and the establishment of the United Nations are several things that come to mind that the world have been much better off without.
But don’t worry; we’re not going to rehash the war or the political part of the ‘40’s, that’s not my thing. No, my ‘40’s are all about the culture: the movies, music, clothes, restaurants, clubs and style of that era. A time of movie stars who were really movie stars and music that was literally musical. Comedians who didn’t need dirty words to be funny and nightclubs and restaurants that were elegant and didn’t have ear-shattering noise blasting out throughout the joint. In other words, the ‘40’s had class, or at least the kind of class I identify with.
Let’s start with clothes. Fashion in the 1940s was the perfect combination of comfort and glamour. Back then, people wore clothes that were meant for a particular time of day or evening. Day outfits were very different from nighttime attire. By today’s sloppy standards, men were still pretty dressed up. Suits, ties and hats were commonplace in public. Women wore dresses and skirts — they still didn’t wear slacks yet —and they always wore hats and gloves.
But if you think clothing was dull or stodgy, you would be wrong. Clothes in the 1940s were very bright and colorful. The brighter the better. Men’s tie designs could be outrageously wild. Women’s shoes often matched their purses, hats and gloves. Blues, reds, oranges, rusts, greens and yellows were normal and two-tone spectator shoes were very much in vogue for both men and women for spring.
People “dressed” when they went out anywhere. Not just so-called rich people—all people. And where you went dictated how you dressed. Going out for dinner was a different kind of dressing up then say, going to church or going to work. A man took pride in his appearance, he made sure his shoes were always shined and his clothes were always pressed. People wanted to look clean and groomed when out in public. It was a source of pride.
As far as popular music was concerned, big band swing was hot with groups fronted by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Chick Webb, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Bob Crosby, Gene Krupa, Louie Armstrong and many others.
American music was at its zenith with songs written by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Gus Kahn, Sammy Fain, Harry Warren, Jule Styne and so many more. Great musical arrangements and improvised stylizations were a hallmark of the time. Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Dick Haymes, Helen Forrest, Doris Day, Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell were among the star vocalists of that time.
What about the movies of the ‘40’s? Here’s a few to start with: The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston (1941), It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra (1946), Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder (1944), Meet Me in St. Louis directed by Vincente Minnelli (1944), Casablanca directed by Michael Curtiz (1942), Citizen Kane directed by Orson Welles (1941), The Great Dictator directed by Charlie Chaplin (1940), The Big Sleep directed by Howard Hawks (1946), The Lady Eve directed by Preston Sturges (1941), The Shop Around the Corner directed by Ernst Lubitsch (1940), White Heat directed by Raoul Walsh (1949), Yankee Doodle Dandy directed by Michael Curtiz (1942), The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed and Notorious directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1946). The Walt Disney Studios released the animated feature films Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Fantasia (1940), and Bambi (1942).
The Oscar winners were: Rebecca (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Casablanca (1943), Going My Way (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Hamlet (1948) and All the King’s Men (1949).
Technology took a mighty leap during the ‘40’s, here’s a short list: jet engines, radar, the world’s first totally electronic and digital computer, first transistor developed, artificial Intelligence, atomic bomb, atomic power, aqualung, automation, guided missile, hologram, kidney dialysis, microwave oven, mobile phone, transistor, and…
And finally, for better or worse, I am a product of the ‘40’s, having been born in January of 1949, the very same year that first introduced 45 RPM records, the Polaroid camera and Silly Putty.
For all those who love the ‘40’s as much I do, remember this: it’s only 22 years until the ‘40s are back again.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.