H’wood heals its war wounds

Looking back at May 1945

Variety had its own wide-ranging, sometimes whimsical, sometimes woe-filled, take on the end of World War II in Europe.

Looking back at the coverage in Variety 60 years ago in May, what’s impressive is just how much the entertainment biz was variously pummeled and throttled, yet how much it retained its spunk and spontaneity throughout the war years.

And by Victory in Europe Day — May 8, 1945 — the big show was ready to go on again.

Variety‘s May 9 banner proclaimed “U.S. Talent Set to Cross Pond,” a story that described the pent-up energy that was about to be unleashed again around the globe.

Variety was great with specifics of the dislocations in the biz and what liberation meant in business terms:

“Plans are already being made by the William Morris Agency to have Dick Henry fly over as soon as passage can be arranged. Once boat and plane accommodations are available, an unprecedented number of American acts will be making the trip,” the lead story said.

Other reports that day and for the next few weeks shone the spotlight on practically every aspect of the newly liberated biz.

  • The paper speculated that “most news gabbers” would have to go back to their typewriters or “peddle stuff on the hoof instead of airwise” once folks were no longer glued to their radios.

  • After the defeat of the Germans, a huge talent contingent — Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, John Garfield, the Andrew Sisters — jumped on the Hollywood Victory Bandwagon to be dispatched to the still active Pacific front. Studio tycoons Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and Barney Balaban also packed their bags to tour the European Theater of Operations.

  • A vivid report from Copenhagen asked how Hamlet could be melancholy in a town “mad with ecstasy” over the defeat of the Nazis and where all the gals dance nightly in the town square.

“Probably no people enjoyed the coming of peace more than the Danish staff of American film companies, who, from office windows high in the square, could see — instead of “the stony pusses of the Gestapo” — the beret of Field Marshall Montgomery.

  • In an indication of just how quickly folks wanted to get back to normal, Variety began to track the showbiz refugee flow.

French expat Leon Siritzky, for example, was due to arrive back in Paris from New York in late May to regain that country’s major theater circuit, which the Vichy regime had confiscated from him during the war.

  • Even Mae West weighed in, telling Variety, “A lot of loving is coming back from the war.”

The irrepressible bombshell, whose name lives on to this day as an inflatable life vest, advised America’s female population they’d have to make big adjustments:

“American men are going to return sexier than ever because their impulses have been speeded up by the atmosphere of war. The ladies who have been stepping out had best begin to polish off their low talk and shifty ways before they arrive.”