For those who had hoped World War II would end swiftly, it continued to dominate the news in 1943. If you were growing up that year, you probably recall there was more rationing-- last year, it had been coffee and then gasoline. This year, first it was shoes (you could own three pair of leather shoes annually), and then came the coupon books so that certain foods (including meats, processed food, and cheese) could also be rationed. Here is a soundbyte from an Energine shoe polish commercial that mentioned rationed shoes.
As meat became scarce, Tuesdays and Fridays became "meatless days". But you didn't complain-- you knew it was necessary to help the war effort, and you did your part. President Roosevelt put a price freeze into effect to combat inflation-- he froze wages, but he also froze prices. However, the economy was not on the average person's mind as much as trying to get the latest news about "our boys" overseas. Many wives, mothers, fathers, and younger siblings waited anxiously to hear the news, and radio provided it.
Of course, there was censorship-- the OWI (Office of War Information) made sure that information given on the networks did not compromise national security. But for the average American, any information was better than none. Among the news commentators you heard were the esteemed Edward R. Murrow on CBS; Gabriel Heatter and Boake Carter on Mutual; H.V. Kaltenborn (who first began commenting on news back in 1922!) was still reporting, now for NBC; Dorothy Thompson and Raymond Gram Swing were working for the Blue Network-- and it was no longer NBC Blue (the Blue Network was about to be sold to businessman Edward Noble; the FCC ruled in 1943 that one company could not own two networks, forcing NBC to divest itself of Blue, while keeping what had been known as the Red network).
There were numerous discussion shows and round-tables, and the weekly news magazine "The March of Time" was still popular-- you heard it on NBC. Meanwhile, the American government had begun broadcasting special programming overseas-- the Voice of America had been started in 1942, to combat the enemy propaganda of people like "Axis Sally"; in July 1943, the American Forces Network began to broadcast music, news, sports, and information to the troops. And you probably enjoyed reading war correspondent Ernie Pyle's columns about the lives and experiences of the GI's during the war.
The war continued to bring about social change, as more women were doing jobs previously done by men. The image of "Rosie the Riveter" was a reflection of reality-- around two million American women were working in war-related industries in 1943. Women in the military were also distinguishing themselves-- there were now the WACs (Women's Army Corps) and also the WAVES (Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service)-- some of these women "manned" the airport control towers; because their work involved climbing ladders, they were given permission to wear pants.
Women were also flying supplies to the men in combat, often risking their lives to do so; their training was supervised by the respected woman aviator Jacqueline Cochran. And speaking of risking their lives, in 1943, the "Tuskegee Flyers", the Army Air Forces' first all-black (or "Negro", as they would have been called back then) fighter squadron fought bravely in North Africa; even Time Magazine commended the Flyers for their skill, noting that after seeing them perform with such distinction, the white airmen who had originally doubted them were forced to admit this squadron's aerial marksmanship made their unit "one of the best." (Time Magazine, 21 June 1943, p. 70)
Some battles were won: in March, the British and American forces captured two cities formerly held by the Germans-- Tunis and Bizerte; also in March, in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Allied troops defeated Japanese forces near New Guinea. In September, Allied forces took back Salerno, south of Naples. But no matter how hopeful the news seemed, there were still huge numbers of casualties, and the war was still not over. At year's end, President Roosevelt named General Dwight D. Eisenhower the Supreme Commander of the forces soon to invade Europe.
But there were other events in 1943. The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington DC in mid April. And earlier that year, in January, the Pentagon had been completed-- it was considered the world's largest office building, taking up 34 acres, at a cost of $64 million. And while the Indianapolis 500 and the US Open were not held, the World Series was-- the Yankees won-- and so was the Kentucky Derby, won by Count Fleet.
Many athletes enlisted in the service, as did a number of entertainers, but in the tradition of "the show must go on", 1943 saw many incredible performances. The ever-popular Bob Hope led the USO shows, helping to boost the morale of the soldiers overseas; he performed along with Frances Langford and other stars from his radio show. Many of Hollywood's and radio's best volunteered their time and scheduled USO tours-- in 1943, these included Adolph Menjou, Burns & Allen, Robert Young, and Judy Garland. And Kate Smith's manager estimated that she had logged over 60,000 miles making appearances and doing radio shows from Army, Navy and Marine training centers throughout the United States.
On stage, you may have seen the famous Negro actor and singer Paul Robeson performing in Othello. Perhaps you took your mind off your worries by attending the opening on Broadway of Rogers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma", which would become a sensation; several songs from this musical became hits, including "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and "Oh What A Beautiful Morning."
Speaking of hits, many songs in 1943 reflected the war-- such as "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"; so did the Best Picture of the Year-- "Casablanca" starring Humphrey Bogart. Naturally, the movie's title song "As Time Goes By" was revived as a hit by Rudy Vallee. The Mills Brothers were on the charts with "Paper Doll", Harry James had several hits, as did Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller. But the big news in music was a young man named Frank Sinatra-- his fans (called "bobby-soxers") gathered in huge throngs wherever he performed; at one 1943 engagement at the Paramount Theater in New York, as many as 30,000 fans grew uncontrollable, and the riot police had to be called. Meanwhile, Country music had a long-running hit show on radio-- the National Barn Dance was celebrating its 500th consecutive broadcast over NBC in early May. Bandleader Joe Rines (whose radio career began at one of America's first radio stations, 1XE/WGI way back in 1921) was now on the air for the Blue Network with a new show called "Rhythm Road"; it featured his orchestra and vocalist Helen O'Connell.
Perhaps you read "Radio Mirror, the magazine of Radio Romances"; you certainly read what had once been called just "Radio Guide" but was now "Movie-Radio Guide."
Among the new radio programs in 1943 were the "Judy Canova Show" (in her supporting cast were Gale Gordon, Mel Blanc, and Ruby Dandridge) and "Nick Carter, Master Detective". The comic strip "Archie" led to a new radio show, "Archie Andrews" "Breakfast in Hollywood" debuted in 1943, starring Tom Breneman and Garry Moore. And perhaps you heard Groucho Marx on the air for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer with his new comedy/variety show "Blue Ribbon Town."
For educational and children's programming, one of the most respected women on the air was Dorothy Gordon, whose "Youth Forum" gave young panelists a chance to talk about the issues of the day and talk with famous adults like Dwight D. Eisenhower or Dr. Ralph Bunche.
Meanwhile, "Amos 'n' Andy" was cancelled by its sponsor after 15 years and 4,000 consecutive shows; it wasn't due to bad ratings, but rather to the war-time shortage of tin, which meant Campbell Soup could no longer afford to be the show's sponsor. The show did re-appear in a slightly different format later in the year, sponsored by Rinso.
Experiments with FM continued, and most major cities had at least one FM station by now (and you would not have recognised the call letters-- the one in Boston, for example, was W43B; it would not be till late in the year that FM stations received call letters similar to what we use today), but the majority of the public was still committed to AM. Television was not yet a factor either, but shortwave was popular and people enjoyed hearing stations overseas.
Science brought us a number of innovations in 1943, including a new word-- "antibiotics" coined by Selman Waksman, who discovered streptomycin; a local anesthetic, xylocaine, was also invented, and farmers were delighted to hear about DDT. 1943 was also the year for "Uncle Ben's Converted Rice", and the city of Chicago got a subway for the first time. The average person made $2,041 a year, with a loaf of bread costing ten cents and a gallon of milk sixty-two cents.
Segregation was being challenged-- Marian Anderson, the beloved contralto, performed at Constitution Hall in Washington DC (which had refused to allow her to sing there several years earlier), the first performer of colour to do so. Many Negro entertainers were heard on the radio, but daily life was still segregated in most cities (white workers objected to blacks getting hired for defense-related work in Detroit plants; protests ensued, tensions escalated, and the result was that city's unfortunate race riot, in which 34 people died). On the other hand, it was not just the highly trained Tuskegee Flyers who were written up favourably in the press; coloured troops were winning acclaim in a number of places, and Negro journalists were doing a commendable job of reporting from overseas.
1943 was a year of on-going battles in countries most Americans had seldom thought about till World War II. It was a year of doing without, yet maintaining a patriotic spirit. It was a year when the radio, the movies and the big bands helped us to keep our balance, in a world that often seemed so uncertain, a world still at war.
(See the local Big Band and Other OTR Music page for more information on that topic - webmaster)