Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 81-82
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Book Reviews Howard Blue. Words at War: World War Il Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist Scarecrow Press, 2002. 406 pages; $34.95. Quick Information In the 2003 world of instant, tactile communications, a McLuhan time frame where everyday parlance is laden with brightly coined electronic terms—E-mail, palm pilots, spam, gigabytes, cell (a back formation of cellular) phones, slamming, downloading, pixels—that allow large segments of the population , people who aggrandize their importance, status, and rank, to regularly pause, turn on miniaturized equipment, and check for messages hoping for the instant shot-in-the-arm gratification so necessary in American society. What happened? How did all of this come about? Why is everyone wired, waiting for that opportune moment, hoping that this is the day when their message will come in? But, ofcourse, this was not the scene in the late 1930s when only one form of communication—radio—satisfied the nation's need for quick information about events unraveling in faraway Europe, a continent caught up in territorial warfare and political brinkmanship. Here, on a daily basis, many Americans—sitting in their front rooms—listened woefully to the news blaring from their prized Atwater-Kents about the international conflict. Now, they realized, it would only be a matter of time before American boys would fight on foreign soil. Why wouldn't they? Each day, programmers reported the dismal facts about Nazi expansion, Italian duplicity, and, off in another part of the world, Japanese conquests. Here, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the radio industry coalesced the nation with its twenty-four-hour coverage of troubled times. Soon, the country's greatest fears became a stark reality and eventually American troops fought in virtually all corners of the world as the conflict took on unprecedented dimensions. Back on the Home Front, a cautious public listened intently to the war news as hundreds of stations blanketed the airwaves with ongoing coverage. For better or worse, radio had now become the medium that shaped the American mind. But how well did network radio succeed? Who were the principal players? What programs became household names? These are some ofthe questions that Howard Blue answers in his wonderful study, Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist. According to Mr. Blue, by the late 1930s, various radio dramatists were hard at work producing network plays that warned of the impending Nazi threat. During the War, these writers created scripts that stimulated morale and fostered patriotism. While many programs maintained a status quo format, other shows advanced a liberal agenda, calling for an end to American racism, poverty, and inequality. But at war's end, these progressive advocates were called to task for their altruism as veteran groups, rightwing loudmouths, and even the FBI launched numerous attacks that culminated witìi the blacklisting period. Now many of the writers and actors were in the hot seat struggling to hold onto their careers as theWisconsin senator intensified his finger-pointing and name-calling smears. To clarify his many points, Mr. Blue interviewed numerous personalities from this long ago period—including Art Carney, Howard Fast, Robert Vaughn, John Eisenhower, and Leonard Maltin—to set the mood of those turbulent days. As the folk singer Pete Seeger reflected, a group offriends were gathered at a Manhattan rent party when news of the Nazi invasion of Russia blared over the airwaves. Immediately, Seeger mused, the room became somber as everyone realized it was time to put aside their ideological differences and support the victory effort. Even the playwright, Arthur Miller, reminisced about the early World War II experience. Exempted from the draft because of a knee injury, he worked at a Navy ship yard and frequently heard anti-Semitic diatribes by a co-worker who did not realize the future Pulitzer Prize winner was Jewish. Certainly other mediums—motion pictures, newspapers, magazines, and evenbondrallies—broughtthe war closerto home but radio, as Mr. Blue affirms, held the prominent position because its instant format galvanized every listener. Unquestionably , Words at War documents those uncertain days with clarity and insight, remembering such short-lived innovations as...