“I set the play in 1942, because I was attracted to the idea of a time that was in some ways simpler than our own, but was just starting to become more complex,” playwright Judy GeBauer said. “The United States had just entered World War II, so there are the societal pressures of that going on, in addition to this very regional episode that is also putting pressure on this group of people. I was interested in how people are affected by an ongoing catastrophe.”
“It’s a pivotal moment in American history,” director Dan Stone agrees. “We’d just declared war on Japan, and we were just coming out of the Depression.”
Historian William Manchester called 1942 “the war’s darkest year.” Germany was on the march in Europe and had control of the seas, even off the U.S. coasts, where its submarines sank many tankers and other ships. American forces suffered a number of defeats in the Pacific in the war with Japan. Allied forces did not achieve significant victories against either enemy until late in the year.
Soldiers in the U.S. Army were often posted to Europe, while sailors headed for the Pacific (like young John F. Kennedy—can you pick him out in the third photo above--click it to enlarge-- of 1942 graduates of P.T. boat training?) Marines were in fierce Pacific island battles in the war with Japan. Flyers could be anywhere: based in England for European duty, on islands in the Pacific or on aircraft carriers.
On the homefront, the U.S. was gearing up the industrial might that would ultimately make the difference in the war, as it began to churn out planes, ships and tanks in great number. The nation was mobilizing, collecting scrap iron and rationing gasoline.
Movie hits of 1942 included Walt Disney’s Bambi, Mrs. Miniver with Greer Garson, Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby (which introduced the song, “White Christmas,”) Woman of the Year with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, This Gun for Hire with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, Now, Voyager with Bette Davis. In January, film star Carole Lombard died in a plane crash returning from a war bond rally.
Popular songs included “White Christmas,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.” The Big Bands of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller were the rage, along with a new singing star named Frank Sinatra.
Radio was the major entertainment medium, with comedy shows like Fibber McGee and Molly, Duffy’s Tavern, The Goldbergs and The Burns and Allen Show; variety shows hosted by Jack Benny, Benny Goodman, Bob Hope, Fred Allen and Bing Crosby; dramas on Lux Radio Theater; adventures like Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Captain Midnight, Rin Tin Tin, Gang Busters; soap operas like Backstage Wife, The Guiding Light, and Stella Dallas; quiz shows like Truth or Consequences, novelties like The Original Amateur Hour, and informative shows hosted by Edward R. Murrow, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Crocker and Fulton Lewis, Jr.