Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are shown at a meeting of the Hollywood Victory Committee in December 1941, organized by members of the motion picture community not long after Pearl Harbor. Today marks the 70th anniversary of that tragic event, which thrust the U.S. firsthand into World War II; doubtless you'll read and hear a lot about it, though the number of people who were adults on that fateful day gradually diminish daily.
For our angle, we thought we'd examine what was going on in Los Angeles in the days drawing up to Dec. 7, both in news on U.S. relations with Japan and the city's signature industry -- movies. The splendid site http://ladailymirror.com has in recent days been running stories from the Los Angeles Times, and we thought we'd share a few with you to provide a snapshot of a city on the verge of war. And "verge" it was indeed; by now, most Americans were staunchly against the Axis powers, and the U.S. had been building up its military might in the past year or two.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt admitted as such, as the Times reported on Nov. 30:
The next day, an Army lieutenant general said, following a two-week simulated war, that U.S. troops could succeed in battle at the present time but could use more training:
The Dec. 3 Times featured an ad promising relief from world conflict, from the Hollywood star with the most international appeal:
This attempt to shoehorn Garbo into an American-style comedy (as opposed to the Lubitschean "Ninotchka") was a misfire, especially since Constance Bennett, in a supporting role, was clearly more comfortable in this environment than Greta was.
Negotiations were going on between the U.S. and Japan, and the Dec. 4 Times reported that Secretary of State Cordell Hull believed the Japanese were acting in bad faith, and that collapse of the talks could be imminent:
In Jimmie Fidler's column, he reported that another illness would force another long idle spell for William Powell (he would make "Crossroads" in 1942, but then didn't make another film until "The Heavenly Body," also with Hedy Lamarr, in early 1944), and that a limp Lupe Velez suffered while horseback riding had forced her to cancel an upcoming Honolulu trip.
On Dec. 5, the Times reported that Japan wanted no part of the U.S.' terms:
The Dec. 6 Times reported further tension at Foggy Bottom, and some American officials stating the chances were now 60-40 that Japan would provoke an immediate war:
Times columnist Tom Treanor wrote, "After the war, we'll be knocked bowlegged by the shock of the changes." Was he assuming the U.S. would eventually be involved firsthand in the conflict? It makes for fascinating reading, as he looks forward to postwar life, and I can imagine Carole reading this at the breakfast table that Saturday, pondering what it would be like.
Treanor never saw the postwar world, either; he was killed in France while covering the war on Aug. 18, 1944, some 2 1/2 months after D-Day.
Of course, the next day...
That's the U.S.S. California on fire.
The events led to many extra editions for newspapers, and the Times was among them. Here's the front page in the edition printed late Sunday night (though it has a Monday date), followed by a later edition that day:
The day after the attack, Los Angeles attempted to adjust to this new, different world, where the reality of war had finally, fully hit home. The Times did a "man on the street" (women too) reaction column, and most of the respondents thought Japan would be beaten in a few weeks (evidently they didn't read the Dec. 1 readiness story shown above):
One area of the city that had special concern was Little Tokyo on East 1st Street, home to a fairly large Japanese-American community:
Virtually all of these residents, victims of war hysteria and racist attitudes against Asians, would be put in internment camps far removed from Los Angeles, in one of the sadder by-products of Pearl Harbor.
For a timeline of that fateful Dec. 7 and 8, along with clips from a number of broadcasts at the time (including interruptions of entertainment programs), go to http://www.authentichistory.com/1939-1945/1-timelines/2-PH/.