HOLLYWOOD AND THE GREAT WAR

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This July marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, so this week we take a look back at the motion picture industry’s campaign to support the war effort. When the United States officially entered into the war in April 1917, Congress almost immediately passed the Emergency Loan Act to authorize the issue of war bonds. The Treasury Department enlisted Hollywood luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to help sell the securities, which became known as Liberty Loans. These stars and others made their patriotic pleas before crowds of thousands in New York, Los Angeles and cities across the country.

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According to The Story of the Liberty Loans, John C. Flinn, an advertising executive for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, suggested broadening the industry’s participation by asking producers to make short films to stimulate bond sales. Led by Adolph Zukor, the endeavor amounted to 35 short subjects that featured actors such as William S. Hart, Lillian Gish, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, John Barrymore and Harold Lloyd. As the photograph below demonstrates, producer Mack Sennett drew on his arsenal of comedic actors, including Mal St. Clair, Phyllis Haver and Ben Turpin, to promote the Fourth Liberty Loan drive in It’s a Cinch (1918). After screening the film in New York, Zukor sent a telegram to Sennett thanking him for his contribution and acknowledging that the film “both amused and thrilled [him] with desire to buy bonds.” Documentation of the motion picture industry’s efforts during the First World War can be found in numerous Special Collections, including the Mary Pickford papers and the Mack Sennett papers.

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