Part Three: Stability
During World War II, government-produced propaganda films were used to convey democratic ideals and remind citizens of the freedoms they enjoy. The Office of War Information and other agencies were also committed to showing that American institutions and traditions were strong enough to hold up to the challenges of wartime. Documentaries that presented this image of stability included films about the electoral process, the Library of Congress, public education, and life in a typical American town.
In Hollywood, the studios produced topical war movies and films about the home front, but also continued to make comedies, musicals and sentimental movies that provided escapist entertainment and celebrated the American way of life. One of the most popular movies of the wartime era was “Going My Way,” a heartwarming story of an unconventional priest that won Academy Awards for both Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, and was named Best Picture of 1944.
The Academy Awards, a tradition in Hollywood since 1929, continued during the war, although the tone and focus of the presentations changed significantly. In December 1941, the Academy considered postponing or canceling the upcoming ceremony, but after much discussion the Board of Governors decided to go ahead with the annual event. Academy President Bette Davis lobbied to move the presentation to an auditorium and sell public tickets to raise money for the Red Cross, and resigned when the Board vetoed her plan. On February 26, 1942, Academy members and guests gathered for the eighth time in the Biltmore Hotel ballroom, but the subdued event was a dinner not a banquet, and formal attire was banned. This event also marked the first time the Academy recognized documentary films, with the inaugural award going to “Churchill’s Island,” produced by the National Film Board of Canada. (Listen to John Grierson accept the award for “Churchill’s Island,” along with other audio clips from the ceremony, in the Oscar Legacy section.)
Throughout the war years, the Academy Awards celebrated moviemaking while at the same time recognizing the film industry’s important role in the war effort. Banners displayed the number of industry personnel in the service, and many guests were themselves in uniform. The Academy also acknowledged the importance of metal conservation, presenting statuettes made of plaster painted gold starting in 1943. The following year, the presentation was moved to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in order to accommodate more guests, including hundreds of servicemen and women, and the proceedings were broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service.