Tag Archives: 1930s

Speak Like You’re In Wonderful Town

Harold Teen Comic Strip

Harold Teen Comic Strip

You can learn a lot about the 1930s from Wonderful Town. When aspiring reporter Ruth interviews a group of Brazilian cadets near the end of Act One, her topics were only two decades in the past for the show’s first audiences in 1953. Today, however, many of her references to Depression-era American culture have grown obscure. Here’s a quick guide to some of them.

NRA logo square“What do you think of the NRA? TVA?”

Nope, not the National Rifle Association. The National Recovery Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to help the country recover from the Great Depression. The NRA was designed to promote recovery by establishing a code system of fair competition for industries; it was declared unconstitutional in 1935. The TVA was one of the largest New Deal projects, created to build dams, reservoirs and electrical stations. It brought affordable power and jobs to millions in an impoverished, rural region.

“What do you think of Charles G. Dawes? Warden Lawes?”

Dawes was Calvin Coolidge’s vice president from 1925 to 1929. He had shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work on the Dawes Plan, designed to provide economic relief to Germany after the first World War. He was the American ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1929 to 1932, then served as chairman of the board of City National Bank from 1932 until his death in 1951.

As warden of Sing Sing from 1920 to 1941, the progressive reformer Lewis E. Lawes modernized the overcrowded and crumbling prison. He famously organized basketball and football games for his “boys,” with his wife and three daughters watching in the bleachers, seated with the inmates.

“Good neighbors, remember our policy”

Part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933, the Good Neighbor Policy was a pledge that the U.S. would treat Latin American nations with respect. With a goal of increasing trade with these nations, this new policy marked a departure from earlier administrations’ interventionism in Latin American foreign and domestic affairs.

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Bright Lights, Big City, Wonderful Town

Leonard Bernstein, composer of "Wonderful Town." (Photo: Paul de Heuck, courtesy The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.)

Leonard Bernstein, composer of Wonderful Town (2016); Photo: Paul de Heuck, courtesy The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

For years, the version of New York City that Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden and Adolph Green created in Wonderful Town really was the New York that many people around the country believed existed. It was a place where everyone was a lot smarter, a lot tougher, and moved a lot faster than other Americans did. Wonderful Town depicted New Yorkers with a wised-up wit, an unapologetic brashness (with a beating heart underneath), and battle scars from years of surviving life in the city—characters we came to believe were very much like the creators themselves.

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