SI Vault
Henry Romney
December 21, 1959
The mood of the country was recovery, and as employment rose, so did the spirits of the nation. Broadway and Hollywood had a memorable year. The pass took over college football and Silver Anniversary All-Americas played their last season
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December 21, 1959

1934: No Place To Go But Up

The mood of the country was recovery, and as employment rose, so did the spirits of the nation. Broadway and Hollywood had a memorable year. The pass took over college football and Silver Anniversary All-Americas played their last season

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We have plowed the furrow and planted the good seed; the hard beginning is over." To millions of Americans clustered around the radio on January 3, 1934, these words, in the confident Groton-Harvard voice, confirmed a growing hope. After four bruising years of the Great Depression, Americans were picking themselves up off the floor. Assuredly, they told each other, there was no place to go but up.

Their hopes were firmly fixed on Plowman ROOSEVELT. Will Rogers, the syndicated sage, eying the election returns which left only 23 Old Guard Republicans in the Senate, was calling the voter and F.D.R. "a lovesick couple." Businessmen, despite Harry Hopkins' grimly gleeful warning that "this country does not know what real taxation is," could see no recovery without That Man in the White House, and Lloyd's of London found profitable unexpected new business in insurance policies on the President's life and continued health.

The chosen instrument for business recovery was still the NRA, General HUGH JOHNSON commanding. Even that confirmed loner, Henry Ford, came out in favor of the general's high-flying Blue Eagle. But even so, Old Iron Pants Johnson had a crawful of problems before the year was out and quit after a clawing match with Clarence Darrow, the famed legal eagle whom Roosevelt had appointed to the NRA eyrie to keep order.

Few were as rash as General Johnson, for jobs were still scarce and one man out of every four was living wholly or partly on relief. Nevertheless, strikes among those solidly employed were becoming a serious national problem. JOHN L. LEWIS, his bushy brows fast becoming as familiar as Santa's whiskers, made himself and his miners a potent new force to be reckoned with. The word share caught on, and wildly original share-the-wealth schemes began to flourish across the country, especially in California, the new haven for the retired and pensioned-off. Dr. Francis E. Townsend promised to abolish poverty "within five years" with a gimmick to hand out $200 a month to anyone 60 or over who had "lived an upright life," and clean-living elder citizens in 47 states banded together in hundreds of Townsend Plan Clubs.

Eleanor Roosevelt, relatively recently established as a Page One personality, was credited with saving the job of at least one man. When Nicholas Vasilakos, for 28 years a peanut-stand proprietor at a busy Washington intersection, was threatened with extinction as a traffic obstruction the First Lady appealed to her husband. Vasilakos stayed, reciprocated with a day's receipts ($9.45) for the President's new polio fund.

It was a time not only of economic reform but of earnest inquiry into the nature of man and his society. In keeping with strong national sentiments, the President endorsed a highly publicized drive "to take the profit out of war."

As the year progressed, some 3 million people found new jobs and the mood of recovery began to spread. "The credit of the nation was never greater or sounder," proclaimed Commerce Secretary Daniel C. Roper.

Nowhere was the new jauntiness more evident than in the entertainment business. There was magic in the star system, and Hollywood was having one of its best years. GRETA GARBO, flitting through the Southwest with one of her directors publicly searching for privacy, was accorded none. Headlines proclaimed her every stop and start and the moody Swede became even moodier.

Two great new faces flashed on the silver screen: those of a flesh-and-blood little girl with dimpled cheeks, and a pen-sketched duck with a rasping voice. SHIRLEY TEMPLE's disarming performances in Stand Up and Cheer and Little Miss Marker made her everyone's adopted daughter. Donald Duck, strictly a bit player in his first Silly Symphony, stole every scene and became Walt Disney's second immortal creation.

Columbia Pictures won seven Academy Awards with two of the year's box-office hits. In It Happened One Night Clark Gable took off his shirt, brazenly displaying a bare chest, which sent undershirt manufacturers into a depression of their very own as hundreds of thousands of emulative males did same.

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