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DAYS OF YORE

by David Westheimer

 

If you would like to visit Yesteryear, I have a book that will take you there.

The 1941 World Almanac and Book of Facts, more than 900 pages chronicling the events and statistics of 1940. For example, in it you will find that Gone With the Wind ran away with the Academy Awards in 1939 (the last year listed in the 1941 Almanac). Best Film. Best Actress — Vivien Leigh. Best Director — Victor Fleming. Best Writer — Sidney Howard.

Mickey Rooney was the year's choice for Movie King and Bette Davis was Movie Queen (in a national newspaper poll). Tyrone Power and Spencer Tracy were Rooney's runner-ups and Sonja Henie, the figure skater, and Judy Garland were Davis's.

Radio favorites for 1939 (1940 favorites hadn't been picked yet) were Jack Benny, Information Please, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Fred Allen and Bing Crosby. There were no TV favorites because television was still in its infancy, the first public TV service was a news show in New York on NBC. The Republican National Convention in Philadelphia was telecast in that city and New York.

Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley was a best-selling novel (135,000 copies as of June 1) and a best-selling nonfiction book was Oscar Levant's A Smattering of Ignorance (65,000 as of June l). Some other best-selling novels were Christopher Morley's Kitty Foyle, which reached the screen under that name, starring Ginger Rogers; Sholem Asch's The Nazarene and Richard Wright's Native Son. The biggest seller of them all was John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, which by April, 1940, had sold 480,000 copies (one of them to me).

The Cincinnati Reds won the World Series from the Detroit Tigers, four games to two. Cincinnati players got $5,803 each; Detroit players, $3,531.

The average weight of a 24-year-old woman five feet five inches (tall for those days) was 129 pounds. For a fifty-four-year old woman the same height it was 148 pounds.

Alice Marble was world's top woman tennis player and Mildred "Babe" Didrikson was the world's champion high jumper (tied with Shiley, no first name given but it was Jean) at 1.65 meters.

But fascinating as all the statistics are, I find the advertisements even more so. Mostly they seem determined to make you to be a better person, smarter, able to earn more money, able to do things. There are 64 pages of them before you even get a statistic in the Almanac's 960 pages of facts and sales pitches. Here are a few of them:

The Linguaphone Institute reads A NEW WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND. LINGUAPHONE speeds your mastery of Spanish, Portuguese or French. The home study courses are also available for 24 other languages, including Russian, Japanese and Hebrew.

American School, Dept 11-165, offered High School Course At Home. Lasalle Extension University extolled the advantages of an accountant's career in a two-page ad, illustrated with four postage-stamp size line drawings - Good Salary, showing a nattily-dress man at a desk; Fine Car showing a snazzy sedan, A Nice Home, showing a nice home, and Bank Account, showing a man in a suit and hat leaving a bank teller's window counting a fistful of bills.

Arthur Murray offered "5 DAYS' Free Trial" of his dancing lessons and Cortina Academy had Spanish lessons on 78-rpm records. Patterson School's specialty was preparing you for jobs in the government - "Pay $1260 - $2100 To Start!" Those salaries were per year. (Railway mail clerk started at $1850 per and a stenographer-typist could draw down $1260-$1620 yearly, "either at Washington or near your home."

The School of Speedwriting promised to teach you shorthand at home in 6 weeks and the Sherwin Cody School of English wanted to sell you a book named How You Can Master Good English in l5 Minutes a Day and teach you not to say things like "I ain't" and "He don't." Charles Atlas said "15 Minutes a Day! Give me just this and I'll prove I can make you A NEW MAN!" He would do it with "Dynamic Tension" exercises.

Charles Atlas was the man who made "I was once a 97-pound weakling" famous.

Writer's Digest sprang for only a quarter-page ad asking "When Can We Get New Writers?" It claimed that authors could get from 14 cents to 25 cents a word for stories and articles.

Writer's Digest is still around. I wonder if it offers any refresher courses for former new writers?

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