Archive for Pre-war American life

Skating; Maginot Line; 1938 American Opinion


Vivi-Anne Hulten captured on the January 3, 1938 cover of LIFE was a five time Swedish figure skating champion but often in the shadow of Sonia Henie for much of her career. Ice skating became a big spectator sport at this time and Hulten toured with the Ice Follies, Ice Cycles and Ice Capades. Her dream was to follow her rival Sonie Henie into films but she did not succeed. In matters of love, however, Vive-Anne prevailed. She married Gene Theslof, the seven year pair skating partner of Henie. In the mid 1960′s she and her husband moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where they opened a large skating school. At age 80, Vive-Anne performed in ten ice shows with Ice Capades in Minneapolis, and continued to teach skating until age 86.

France and Germany share a border that is only about two hundred miles long. During WWI the French suffered severe losses from German invasion and built the Maginot Line to at the very least buy time in the event of another German invasion. They knew that Germany would also likely attack through Belgium but the Maginot Line would allow France to mobilize their army for a decisive confrontation with German forces. These pictures in LIFE were among the very first to depict the Maginot Line since the penalty for photographing or sketching it was life imprisonment in a military prison. However, the French Ministry of War approved a movie in which the Maginot Line plays the lead in order to raise money for comforts for the troops garrisoning there, and these images come from this source. This long fortress was impervious to most forms of attack, had good living conditions, underground railways and air conditioning. It consumed an enormous amount of money leading to other parts of the French Armed Forces to be underfunded. The Germans invaded France in 1940 through the Ardennes forest and via the low countries, thus avoiding the Maginot Line and conquering France in six weeks. Most of the Maginot Line was abandoned after WWII. Several old fortifications have been converted into wine cellars, mushroom farms and private homes.

Dr. George Gallup and his American Institute of Public Opinion surveys the citizens of Easton, PA, to see what was on their minds. Gallup had recently “perfected” his polling technique by targeting groups of people in similar circumstances based on the simple theory that these people think alike. If you can find out what a few people think, you can know what most of the whole group thinks. His latest polls of America in 1938 surfaced that: 70% of the people favored distribution of birth control information; 77% of the people voted against easier divorce laws; 84% favored sterilization of habitual criminals and the hopelessly insane. And 62% said they would not go to Europe and back on a plane even if someone paid all the expenses. The folks in Easton, PA reveal that many do not like President Roosevelt and strongly oppose double feature movies. The president of Easton’s Lafayette College says he is, “Opposed to relief, he would substitute some such system as on farms where horses not being used are taken care of.” He doesn’t say if relief workers would have to “whinny” for their food.

Muncie, Indiana: Middletown America



The art of photojournalism is on full display in this May 10, 1937 LIFE. Margaret Bourke-White captures the faces of a teacher, a worker, a waitress, a preacher, a grocer, a manufacturer and a financier in Muncie, Indiana. The town became famous in the late 1920′s when sociologists, headed by husband and wife Robert and Helen Lynn descended on Muncie. They did an in depth study to discover cultural norms and better understand social change in America. The name “Middletown” was used to suggest the typical American small city. A follow up study was conducted in 1935. For the first time the world saw how 20th century U.S. citizens live, work, play, think and talk. These in depth accounts become classic sociological studies and establish the community as a barometer of social trends in the U.S. The visual representations in this issue of LIFE illuminate the essence of Muncie in a way the study cannot. In the years since, scholars from a variety of fields have returned to Muncie to follow up on the Lynd’s work, making this small city among the most studied in the nation.

The five Ball brothers, makers of glass home canning jars, moved their small operation to Muncie in 1887 and the town hasn’t been the same since. Muncie possessed abundant natural gas reserves essential for making glass. Ball grew rapidly and their jars became ubiquitous in American homes. Ball has been in more than 45 businesses since its founding and grown into a worldwide metal packaging company that makes billions of metal containers. A unique aerospace division designs one-of-a-kind solutions for scientific and technical challenges. In the early part of the 20th century the Ball family funded the creation of the predecessors of Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital, which are now Muncie’s largest employers. After 110 years, Ball moved their Muncie operations to Colorado in the late 1990′s. Once a factory town with a small teacher’s college, Muncie is now considered by many as a college town (22,000 students) with a manufacturing past.

Photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White is a woman of many firsts. In 1929, 25 year old Margaret became the first photographer forĀ Fortune magazine. She was the first Western photographer to be allowed into the Soviet Union in 1930. Her picture of a dam adornedĀ the first cover of LIFE in 1936. She was the first female correspondent and the first to be allowed to work in combat zones during WWII. Her haunting photos of the Depression in the 1937 book You Have Seen Their Faces, a collaboration with husband-to-be Erskine Caldwell, received wide acclaim. “The woman who has been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed, was known to the LIFE staff as ‘Maggie the Indestructible,’” says author Sean Callahan. The Mediterranean incident refers to the sinking of a British troop ship which she recorded in an article “Women in Lifeboats”, in LIFE, Feb. 22, 1943. Parkinson’s disease slowed her down in the 1950′s and claimed her in 1971.

 

 

 

Sabu, Glenn and Alice

An unidentified English centenarian is featured on LIFE’S April 12, 1937 cover enjoying a smoke. And Sabu, The Elephant Boy, is introduced to readers for the first time. Thirteen year old Sabu was no creature of a Hollywood studio publicity department. He was employed by a Maharajah to help care for a herd of 200 elephants and discovered by film maker Robert Flaherty while in India making a documentary. Flaherty arranged for Sabu to go to England to study acting, and then featured him in the title role of the 1937 film Elephant Boy. The crown jewel of his career was the movie The Thief of Bagdad which began production in 1940 in England but was moved to Hollywood when WWII began. Sabu became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force. His small size made him ideally suited to man the nose turret gun on a B-24. He saw action all over the Pacific theater and flew 42 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross among several other medals. After the war Sabu appeared in a succession of low budget films and eventually left Hollywood to open a hardware store. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1963 at age 39.

Smoking a Camel cigarette “For Digestion’s Sake…” we see Glenn Hardin, world’s record holder, champion hurdler and Olympic champion. “I’m a great believer in the way Camels help to ease strain and tension,” says Glenn. He competed in the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. His 1934 400m world record of 50.6 seconds lasted a remarkable 19 years, one of the longest tenures of any record performance. A versatile athlete at Louisiana State University, he filled up their trophy case en route to winning four national collegiate titles, two in the 440 yard run and two in the 220 yard low hurdles.

“They’re a light smoke, kind to the throat” says Alice Longworth Roosevelt about her Lucky Strike cigarettes. Age 53 when this ad was produced in 1937, Alice was certainly the first female celebrity of the 20th Century. Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, she moved into the White House at age 17, in 1901. Alice’s early childhood is a gloomy Victorian tale. Her mother died of Bright’s Disease two days after giving birth to Alice. Twenty five year old Theodore, whose mother died on the same day as his wife, headed off to the Dakota territory to relieve his grief, leaving Alice in the hands of his sister. When Theodore remarried stepmother problems, predictable enough, were made worse by deliberately kept distance of the father Alice adored. She became impetuous and stubborn and developed a great sense of humor. When Theodore Roosevelt became president he is said to have remarked: :I can be president of the United States…or…I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” A heavy smoker, Alice was diagnosed with emphysema at age 60 and later had a double mastectomy. In her 80′s Alice described herself as Washington’s only topless octogenarian. She lived to age 96 and remained active in Washington politics from her Dupont Circle home, in which a pillow instructed guests: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”

 

 

 

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