The Golden Age
Still in the grasp of the Great Depression, the 1930's gave rise to a wealth of fresh Americana based upon inexpensive forms of entertainment. Ten-cent motion pictures, cheap reading material, and free radio programs came from a few of the industries that prospered during the decade, and their influence was felt deeply and is remembered warmly by millions of people. It was truly a Golden Age for films, radio programs, and comics.
Motion pictures had added sound just before the 30s began. The crime and western movies of the silent era took on new dimensions as sound enhanced the action of chases, the effect of gunfire, and the tension of the drama through the wise use of background music. Blending sound with artwork, Walt Disney changed and forever influenced animation with a series of great Silly Symphony short features and the superb full length film, Snow White. Lighthearted musicals came into being and gave brief alleviations from daily problems. Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland danced and sang their way into people's hearts. The child star became preeminent due to such talented youngsters as Jane Withers, Sybil Jason, Jackie Cooper, and Freddie Bartholomew. Adult stars grew in stature and are well remembered today--Jean Parker, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Gary Cooper. The stage voices of the Barrymores could now be heard by countless movie goers. And new, distinctive voices were created for the images of Oswald Rabbit, Betty Boop, Scrappy, Popeye, and Donald Duck.
Radio became widespread. Listening was free and grew into a national pastime that linked people through popular programs that stimulated hours of conversation about what was heard. Little Orphan Annie, Buck Rogers, and Dick Tracy were the popular comic strip characters who found a second home on the air waves. The Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong were created specifically for radio and later found their way into comic forms. Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen evolved from stage personalities to great radio personalities.
Pulp magazines grew in popularity. Catering to different escape interests, western, sport, crime, and fantasy stories were the mainstay themes throughout the 30s. Tarzan made his first appearance in a novel, and Buck Rogers began in a magazine.
Newspaper comic strips gave readers brief chuckles in a generally chuckleless time. The number of daily and Sunday comic and heroic characters increased dramatically over the previous decade. People eagerly awaited to see what would happen next to Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, and Terry Lee. New characters, such as Li'l Abner, Don Winslow, Dan Dunn, and Blondie, were added to American folklore. Comic books developed naturally from the strips as a way to cheaply reproduce and resell them. Eventually, the characters were created especially for the comic books (e.g., Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), and by the close of the 30s, their popularity surpassed the comic strips and other competitive materials.
If it had not been for these inexpensive forms of entertainment--which provided escapes from reality and served as common arenas for people's hopes, fantasies, and idealistic views of how things should work out in the world--the decade would have been an even sorrier time.
As movies, radio, pulps, and comic strips developed, there appeared on the scene an unlikely product. The product was a small book that varied slightly from publisher to publisher. Some were paperbound, some had colorful hardboard covers. Some were short and long, some were stubby and thick, others were tall and thin. Most were profusely illustrated and simply written. They drew much source material from motion pictures, radio, and comic strips and succesfully competed with pulp magazines and comic books until the end of the decade. They served to promote films and were produced in such quantities that they could be sold for 10¢ or 15¢ each.
From their appearance in 1932 until mid-1938 when the major companies changed their trademarks, the books thrived. More publishers competed and more variety in book form and content was created during the Golden Age than in subsequent periods. Whitman was the first on the scene and was the most dominant publisher during the period. The company produced western, detective, comic character, and motion picture scene books. Saalfield was a close competitor with a similar variety of books. Engle-van Wiseman specialized in fine motion picture scene books. Lynn produced both comic character and motion picutre scene books. The World Syndicate was the only publisher to specialize in books depicting United States history. Goldsmith featured stage-radio-movie personalities. Dell experimented with a few hardbound and softbound comic character books.
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