(This posting is a continuation of 52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1)
Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, January 24, 2016
Topic: What do you associate with the 1930s?
EmilyAnn: First, I think of what happened on the day the Stock Market Crashed in 1929. Mom told me that some investors were so shocked or ruined that they soon committed suicide. Dad always said that as bad as things were that should never have happened. People live through tough times by drawing closer to each other. Mom and Dad repeatedly emphasized this. With this in mind I wondered how people coped.
My parents and grandparents often told me that the movies offered a great escape. I think of the Endicott Theatre that was located on 13th Avenue and 70th Street. Mom and Dad shared many of their memories with me about their happy times at the Saturday afternoon matinees. One of Mom’s favorite series of films came out towards the end of the 1930s. She was a fan of Mickey Rooney and the “Andy Hardy” films he made. Mom thought he was cute. I couldn’t understand the appeal because as a child I knew Mickey Rooney as an older actor. When I saw the photos of him as a teenage star I quickly understood how Mom, as a 6 or 7 year old girl, could develop a crush on him.
Opening credit for Mickey Rooney from 1939 film, “Babes in Arms.”
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in a scene from the 1939 movie, “Babes in Arms.”
The Andy Hardy series of films followed Andy through his life in a small town in the Mid-West. His father was a judge and his mother was a homemaker. Andy had problems with the way he spent money and sometimes got into difficulties with girls. His father would always guide him through these rough spots so that each movie ended with a resolution and reassurance that life works out. I think messages like this were part of the great escape the movies offered.
Grandma Josie, Grandpa Sam and Mom never spoke with any bitterness or complaint about the Great Depression. There were some family stories Mom shared with me that showed how deep the fears of unemployment and how careful the family had to be with money. Overall, I think the family got through because they were not alone and never felt alone. There was such an extensive network of family and paesanos that help was never far away. From what Mom told me about the neighborhood where she grew up there was cohesiveness, safety and camaraderie that helped people get through it all.
Uncle Sammy: Uncle Sammy was born in 1943. Since Josie and Sam never complained or spoke of their hardships to their children or anyone else his memories are more generalized. When the phrase “1930s” or “The Great Depression” is mentioned Uncle Sammy thinks about how the culture changed after the Prohibition years of the 1920s were over. During the 1920s liquor was outlawed and hard to come by. Bootleggers created homemade concoctions called “Bathtub Gin”. Others sold liquor on an underground market. Secret clubs existed where members entered the front of a restaurant or supper club. If they were members of the club they gained access to a back room where liquor was served. Sometimes the back room also provided entertainment or gambling.
The 1930s were a time in the culture where drinking hard liquor and heavy smoking were deemed acceptable in life and in the movies. Censors prevented filmmakers from showing a single bed in a scene with a married couple yet there was no censorship placed on showing the same married couple drinking heavily and smoking in another scene. The 1930s were a decade in which women were still breaking the taboos of the past so it was seen as something daring for a woman to drink and smoke on screen or off.
Uncle Sammy fell into what he calls the “ugly habit of smoking” in his late teens during the 1950s. He said he got all caught up in the mystique of smoking that was perpetuated by popular culture. It took him many times and year to quit. He’s glad that the bad habit of smoking is no longer glamorized in films and popular culture.
Resources for Parts 1 & 2
“Breadline at McCauley Water Street Mission under Brooklyn Bridge, New York”
Public Domain Photo
Location: New York, New York, New York
Classification (Original Tagging System: ◾Organized Society Labor Organization Unemployment
Lot Number (Shooting Assignment): 1309
Call Number (Library of Congress): LC-USZ62-91536
McCauley Water Street Mission
“Tombs & Sing Sing Ex-Inmate Became Rescue Mission Pioneer©”
Thomas C. McCarthy & the New York Correction History Society
Hooverville, Brooklyn, NY
New York City Municipal Archives
Description: Hooverville; general view, erected on dumps on area now known as Red Hook Park in Brooklyn.
The New York Times
“A Short History of the Great Depression”
By Nick Taylor, the author of “American-Made” (2008), a history of the Works Progress Administration
“Inequality of wealth and income in the Great Depression”
The Endicott Theatre
This site has close-up photos of some details of the original building which have survived. The other photos show how the building is in use today.
Stills from the movie “Babes in Arms”
Starring Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, scene from “Babes in Arms”