As 1945 began, World War II was still raging on, but at least there was some hopeful news -- in mid January, American forces liberated the Philippines. As the year progressed, there would be other news that was not so hopeful, shocking news of concentration camps in Europe, and sad news about the death of President Roosevelt. But on a day to day basis, what was probably on your mind was wondering how the boys overseas were doing -- it seemed that just about everyone had some family member fighting the Nazis. (There were even some women in the military, although not in combat roles -- the WACS and the WAVES had become much more accepted, and many young women signed up to help their country. The 12 March issue of Time magazine featured a cover story about some of these women, especially Captain Mildred McAfee of the U.S. Naval Reserves.)
Americans were still dealing with the effects of rationing -- you couldn't even buy a new car, since most companies had shut down their assembly lines during the war. Even the magazines were affected, since paper was also limited, and magazines were being asked by the War Production Board to conserve. A few magazines went from weeklies to monthlies, and some ceased publication, but there was still plenty to read. Among the most popular were Time and Newsweek, but you also enjoyed Life, Reader's Digest, Look (movie star Rita Hayworth made the cover in early March), Coronet, and Saturday Evening Post. Movie fans loved Photoplay (there was an interesting article about Judy Garland in the April issue); Radio Mirror had added the word "television" to its title, but it was still mostly about radio stars and celebrity gossip. There was Downbeat for fans of jazz and big band music: you could always find interesting stories about the performers. In January, the tragic disappearance of Glenn Miller's plane on a flight from England to Paris was still front page news, as his fans hoped for the best; but on a more cheerful note, the great Duke Ellington gave a very impressive concert, including several new songs, and the critics were eagerly awaiting some new recordings from him. Downbeat also offered lots of photographs of talented performers -- and a weekly cover photo of a popular star, such as Frances Langford or Peggy Mann. Another must-read for music fans was Song Hits, which provided the lyrics to all the songs you loved, and also had plenty of pictures of the people who performed them. African-Americans had an important new feature magazine, as Chicago-based publisher John H. Johnson put out Ebony; and the members of the Armed Forces were probably reading Stars and Stripes.
With so many men fighting overseas, women still made up a large part of the work-force, and you could find them in many non-traditional jobs: in media, for example, there were quite a few all-female radio stations, since most of the male announcers had been drafted. Interestingly, despite stereotypes about what the female gender was incapable of learning, a number of women who had been ham radio operators were quickly trained to be radio engineers, and they kept the stations on the air throughout the war. A few women even became war correspondents, reporting from the scene of some of the fiercest battles and keeping people informed about how the troops were doing. The Boston Globe hired British journalist Iris Carpenter, who travelled with the 3rd Armored Division and wrote compelling stories about what she saw. And you may have read May Craig's commentary -- she wrote for the Gannett newspapers -- or Eleanor Packard's war reports -- she was a correspondent for United Press. The best known of the female radio commentators, Dorothy Thompson, only did an occasional broadcast by this time, but she still wrote articles for various magazines. Several women print reporters tried to get on the air doing news, but they encountered considerable opposition from the men at the networks-- among the men opposed to women doing broadcast news was the legendary Edward R. Murrow. (If you want to read more about the changing roles of women in media, my recently published book, Invisible Stars : A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting goes into much greater detail.) As for popular broadcast journalists, in addition to Murrow and his colleagues Eric Sevareid and Bob Trout, pioneer newsman H.V. Kaltenborn (who had first done radio news in 1921) was still on the air. In print, one of the most respected war correspondents, Ernie Pyle, lost his life in August when he was hit by Japanese gunfire as he covered the fighting in the South Pacific; he was one of fifteen journalists killed that year. Another popular journalist was cartoonist Bill Mauldin, whose depictions of the typical "dogface soldiers" Joe and Willie, won him a Pulitzer prize; Life Magazine did an article about him in early February.
As the war dragged on, you tried to find ways to keep your mind occupied, while waiting for news from your soldier or sailor. It was a good time to be a sports fan -- despite the fact that many players were now fighting overseas, there was still a pennant race, and it was an exciting one in 1945. Star players like Mel Ott of the New York Giants made the cover of Time magazine in early July, and in late September, fan favorite Hank Greenberg hit a dramatic home run -- on the final day of the season -- to win the pennant for the Detroit Tigers. But as I said earlier, women were working in some non-traditional occupations, and baseball was no exception. In 1945, the The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League continued to develop a loyal following. It was founded in 1943 by Phil Wrigley, and in 1945, you were reading about some of its best players in a 4 June feature article in Life Magazine. (Speaking of baseball, few people realized that behind the scenes, a major social change was about to occur: Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey was working on a way to end segregation in his sport, and in August, he met with a young African-American athlete named Jackie Robinson, who was playing in the Negro Leagues at that time. By late October, Rickey had signed Robinson to a contract, and soon after, baseball history would be made.)
But baseball wasn't the only diversion; of course, there was music, and 1945 was a good year for it. If you liked that up-and-coming singer Frank Sinatra, you heard him in late January on the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show on NBC (sponsored by Chase & Sanborn coffee); he also had a number of hits, including "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week", and "Dream" -- and if that song sounded familiar, it had first been the closing theme for Johnny Mercer's radio show on NBC. Among the other big hits, the Andrews Sisters did very well with "Rum and Coca Cola"; bandleader Les Brown had two number one songs, "Sentimental Journey" and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time", and Stan Kenton had a huge hit with "Tampico". Also popular in early to mid 1945 were Johnny Mercer with "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", and Ella Fitzgerald teamed up with the Ink Spots to do "I'm Beginning to See the Light". Jo Stafford, who also sang with the Pied Pipers, had her first big hit in May, with "Candy", and Perry Como had several hits -- for Perry, his first #1 song came in August with "Till the End of Time". But nothing cheered people up more than comedy, and Spike Jones was on the charts in 1945 with "Chloe" (who could forget that immortal line, "Where are you, you old bat"?) and a great parody of "Cocktails for Two".
You continued to depend on radio; as it got you through the Depression, so it helped you through the war. In April 1945, a new show went on the air on Mutual; "Queen for a Day" was a big hit with the female audience, and a few years later, it became a popular TV show. Also new in 1945 were several detective shows, "Philo Vance", starring Jose Ferrer, and "Hercule Poirot", based on the well-known Agatha Christie murder mysteries; and the crime drama "This is Your FBI" also made its debut. And New York radio fans got an unexpected bonus: in July, when there was a newspaper strike, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia went on the air and read the comic strips so people wouldn't have to miss their favorite. Later, in October 1945, an important news show began: "Meet the Press", which would eventually go on to a long and successful career on TV. Throughout the year, the established programs such as "Fibber McGee and Molly" and the "Bob Hope Show" continued to get good ratings. You could still hear many radio stars who had been around for a long time, such as Eddie Cantor (assisted by Bert Gordon and announcer Harry Von Zell) and Jack Benny -- in 1945, you were enjoying the talented Mel Blanc doing several character voices, but of course there were still Mary Livingstone and the much loved Rochester. Arthur Godfrey finally got his own network series, "Arthur Godfrey Time" on CBS beginning in April. And the Armed Forces Radio Service was making sure the GIs overseas got their share of excellent entertainment: "Command Performance" featured such stars as Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Judy Garland, and Jimmy Durante, all of whom donated their time to help the war effort. And on 14 June, what had once been the NBC Blue Network officially became known as ABC under its new owner, Edward J. Noble (who had bought it in 1943 and operated it as the "Blue Network" till now).
A milestone was reached at the Miss America pageant, when Bess Myerson became the first Jewish winner; unfortunately, during her reign, she experienced a number of anti-Semitic incidents. This was especially ironic given that 1945 was the year the world learnt about the death camps and the murder of millions of Jews, as the Allies liberated the camps and news reporters, Edward R. Murrow among them, gave on the scene accounts. Americans were shocked at the brutality of the Nazis, and commentators remarked upon how tolerance is an essential American value. As if to reinforce that point, Frank Sinatra made a short film called "The House I Live In", in which he spoke out and sang about the need for all Americans to accept each other's race, religion, and ethnicity. Today, that seems rather obvious, but in 1945, it needed to be said, in a country that was still racially segregated, where a Jewish Miss America was sometimes treated rudely, and where Japanese-Americans were still in internment camps. Sinatra made his statement eloquently, and the film won a special Academy Award.
There were many big news stories in the first few months of 1945 -- in addition to the liberation of the concentration camps starting in January, there was the Yalta Conference in early February (attended by President Roosevelt, along with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin).
Later in February, the Marines were victorious at Iwo Jima, commemorated by an award-winning photograph of them raising the American flag. And then, on 12 April, President Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 63, and his death touched millions. Radio stations dropped all commercials for several days, people wept in the streets as the funeral cortege passed, and suddenly Vice President Harry S. Truman found himself President of the United States. Ironically, two of the other protagonists in the war drama also died in April -- Italy's Benito Mussolini was executed and Germany's Adolph Hitler committed suicide. After that, Germany finally surrendered on 8 May; it would take until 15 August for the Japanese to surrender, after two devastating atomic bombs destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on September 2; the war was finally over. America was caught up in a massive celebration -- the troops could finally come home and life could return to some semblance of normal again.
Overlooked in the initial euphoria was the fact that black soldiers, who had fought valiantly overseas, were coming back to a still-segregated America. Having defended American values like freedom and democracy against Nazi tyranny, many returning soldiers would become frustrated at being denied equal rights at home. Radio had been very reticent to discuss America's racial divide, even on news programs; and while certain black performers like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald had gained mass appeal, by and large, radio was still a mainly white industry. The few black characters on the air were usually typecast as servants, and frequently not very intelligent or honest servants. Jack Benny's black valet Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, had a role that was somewhat more respectfully done than most -- he and Benny often engaged in repartee, and Rochester could give as good as he got--but Rochester still fit most of the stereotypes. In 1945, you seldom if ever heard a black announcer on the network, although in a small but growing number of cities, there were local stations with black announcers. And in one new CBS show, "Beulah", the black maid was not black at all, and not even a woman -- the role was played by a white man, Marlin Hurt. As for black dramatic actors, they seldom found any challenging roles. One welcome exception was a theater company founded in Harlem in 1940: in 1945, New York's WNEW began airing some of the productions of this critically acclaimed group, the American Negro Theater; among the performers whose careers started there were Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.
Also overlooked when the war ended was what would happen to the many women who had worked in every industry, including broadcasting. Before the war, companies required them to sign agreements which stated that once the men came back, the women would simply resign from their jobs. In our modern world, it is doubtful that such a transition would have occurred without protests and lawsuits, but in late 1945, most women accepted it and left without much of a fight. Magazine ads that had shown a confident "Rosie the Riveter" were about to be replaced by a smiling housewife, extolling the joys of having the perfect home. In radio, the change must have been very noticeable -- where stations had relied on women reporters, writers, and announcers during the war, now nearly all of those women were replaced by men. To be fair, the women of the 40s were probably willing to let the man have their jobs back -- the idea of a "career woman" was not common in that era, and society's expectation was that women should be homemakers or do volunteer, charitable work. Some surveys showed that a large number of women wished they could have continued working, even part-time, but already the marriage rate was skyrocketing, as returning soldiers married their sweethearts, and the national conversation turned to having a home and raising a family.
But while 1945 showed signs of potential social change, that was not on most people's minds. What had affected nearly everyone's life had been rationing. On 15 September, much of it finally came to an end -- first, rationing of gasoline and fuel oil ended, and so did those 35 m.p.h. speed limits; then on 30 October, came the end of shoe rationing. As each item gradually was restored (and many people couldn't wait to buy a new car after all this time without one), a new optimism pervaded the culture. Not only was the war over, but so were the many little inconveniences. There were new toys to invent, new games to play, and of course there were movies to see. In November 1945, the first Slinky was demonstrated; it had been created by Richard James, a Philadelphia engineer, and his wife Betty had come up with the name. Other new inventions in 1945 included one from New Hampshire's Earl S. Tupper, who created food storage containers which came to be known as "Tupperware". And although you couldn't buy one yet, a Raytheon engineer named Percy Spencer invented what became the microwave oven. Ballpoint pens were big sellers in 1945, as the new and improved models didn't tear the paper and contained plenty of ink; also catching on was something we today call "frozen foods" -- back then, the best-known brand, Birdseye, called the product "frosted foods" and popular singer Dinah Shore appeared in magazine advertisements doing testimonials about how convenient these items were. And speaking of advertising, in 1945 you heard a lot of radio ads from Procter & Gamble Co., which according to Broadcasting magazine, spent around $11 million for commercial time.
You probably were not that much aware of some of the new technology, but 1945 was the year the first electronic computer was built (it was completed in November). ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer) was a huge machine with 17,468 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays, and 6,000 manual switches.
Computer terminology was developing too: a Navy engineer, Grace Murray Hopper, was working in the computer laboratory at Harvard when she found that the reason one machine wasn't working was that a moth had flown into a relay; this gave birth to the term "computer bug", a term commonly used to explain any glitch in a computer's programming. And while some people say the story is a legend, the Navy has a display that commemorate Admiral Hopper's many achievements, and it contains her log book from August 1945, with the moth taped to a page and a note explaining where it had been found. And as for other technological advances, we moved much closer to having TV available to everyone when in October, the FCC lifted the wartime ban on opening new television stations or manufacturing equipment. But there were still only nine TV stations on the air, and about 7,000 people had TV sets. WNBT in New York was one of the earliest, and it did numerous demonstrations with department store retailers, in the hopes that more people would purchase televisions. However, TV had a way to go before the average person would be familiar with it -- in fact, George Gallup was conducting a poll to find out how many people had ever heard of TV or had ever seen a demonstration.
Movies were still what most people preferred in 1945, and the biggest box office hit was probably "The Bells of St. Mary's", starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman; it made $21.3 million. Other popular movies included "State Fair" (which included the hit song "It Might as Well Be Spring"), and "Anchors Aweigh" -- the first movie Frank Sinatra did in color. "The Lost Weekend" won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Ray Milland was named Best Actor for his realistic portrayal of alcoholism in that movie. Joan Crawford won Best Actress for her role in "Mildred Pierce". As for books, 1945 was the year George Orwell wrote "Animal Farm". And in theater, you may have seen Tennessee Williams' outstanding drama, "The Glass Menagerie on Broadway.
If you were working at the average job in 1945, the minimum wage was now boosted to 40 cents an hour. You could buy a gallon of milk for about 62 cents and a loaf of bread was 9 cents. A new car, however, was around $1,000, although some luxury cars, like the Cadillac, could cost as much as $2500. Meanwhile, efforts were made to get Congress to pass an Equal Pay for Equal Work bill, but to no avail. (It would not pass till 1963.) And now it can be told: the popular graffitti that servicemen (and many other people) wrote everywhere, "Kilroy was Here" was named for an inspector of rivets at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy MA -- and yes, there really was a (James) Kilroy.
The year ended with the Irving Berlin classic "White Christmas" at #1 on the charts; sung by Bing Crosby, it would sell millions world-wide. The many Sinatra fans were happy that, just like the year had begun with their hero making a guest appearance on radio, the year concluded the same way, as Frank sang his hit "Nancy With the Laughing Face" on the Ginny Simms show. The United States agreed to join the United Nations, the annual Army-Navy football game ended with Army victorious (President Truman attended, and according to Time, he rooted for Army); and those who celebrated Christmas had a difficult time finding any holly (not because of rationing -- but because of bad weather in those states where most of it was grown). Meanwhile, the kids all wanted to go see that Disney movie "Pinocchio" -- it was in technicolor and featured the hit song "When You Wish Upon a Star". And as America greeted the new year, the Baby Boom was about to start, and it would change society in ways few people could predict.