Saturday, August 16, 2014

The 40s: The Story of a Decade by The New Yorker

            When current events seem overwhelming, it can be instructive, even comforting, to read about the courage and resilience of previous generations. In The 40s: The Story of A Decade, The New Yorker has collected many articles from that dire decade when The Great Depression persisted and the entire world went to war. Begun in 1925 as a magazine of humor and local interest, The New Yorker became, during the decade of the 1940’s, a national powerhouse of reporting and opinion, employing the greatest writers of the time. These writers lived in London during the blitz, landed on Iwo Jima with the Marines and crossed the Channel on D-Day. Other well-researched articles cover subjects familiar to all Americans today: John F. Kennedy and his PT boat; the Monuments Men; and the Berlin airlift. John Hersey’s famous work, Hiroshima, about six survivors of the atomic bomb, was first published on August 31, 1946, and occupied nearly the entire issue.  

            But The New Yorker articles were not devoted solely to matters of historical and political importance. The best of the movie, book, music, fashion and theater reviews have been reprinted in this book. Alas, no cartoons! Here also are the best poetry and short stories of the 1940’s. Shirley Jackson’s famous The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker. As in many modern magazines, there were articles about celebrities of the day. Such diverse personalities as Walt Disney, Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter Winchell were featured in various issues.  Human interest articles have not been omitted. Of particular interest to all readers might be the report on the 1949 Miss America contest. The simplicity of the contest and contestants stands in stark contrast to the sophistication of the current event. Three of the forty-eight states did not send contestants. All contestants were required to compete in donated Catalina swimming suits, Catalina being a pageant sponsor. In a parade rolling down the boardwalk, each contestant, wearing an evening gown, sat on a float pushed by a couple of men.  As for talent, there was the usual singing, acting and musical instrument playing. However, Miss Nevada’s talent was raising purebred Herefords. She had wanted to bring one of her cows, but pageant officials would not allow it. And the lackadaisical Miss New York State, the contestant featured in the article, gave little thought to her talent. “Her act, as she planned it, was going to consist of getting up in her nurse’s uniform and making a little speech about her nursing experience…All I know how to do is give a good back rub.” Who would not root for this young woman!