1942: 75 Years Ago At the Movies

“Almost every year begins on January 1 – except 1942. That year began on December 7, 1941.” – Hedda Hopper, December 27, 1942, courtesy The Chicago Tribune

Indeed. The moment Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor that December 7 all thoughts turned toward war. Like most American industries the movie business stepped up. Stars joined the force to fight for our freedom and went on Victory tours to sell war bonds. Movie studios made training films and dedicated impressive amounts of resources to the war effort. And Hollywood entertained with an impressive list of movie productions. I was reminded of what a memorable year it was when I gathered the list of 1942 releases. I think you’ll agree that as far as entertainment goes 1942 was a year of extraordinary highs and heartbreaking lows as one of the community’s most beloved members died tragically as the year commenced.

The calendar I’ve put together below is an homage to 1942, its entertainment happenings and its movies, which are now 75 years old and celebrating their diamond anniversary. I do not include the many atrocities that were occurring on those days as those or were being planned. This is not because I don’t recognize them and the many lives lost, but simply because this is a classic movie blog. With that in mind allow me to honor 1942 in entertainment…

Notable movies released in 1942:

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Top movie stars of 1942 according to Quigley’s:

  1. Abbott & Costello
  2. Clark Gable
  3. Gary Cooper
  4. Mickey Rooney
  5. Bob Hope
  6. James Cagney
  7. Gene Autry
  8. Betty Grable
  9. Greer Garson
  10. Spencer Tracy


Notables born in 1942:

Barbra Streisand, Muhammad Ali, Aretha Franklin, Harrison Ford, Martin Scorsese, Joe Biden, Jimi Hendrix, Annette Funicello, Sandra Dee, Carole King, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Jerry Garcia, Paul McCartney, Madeline Kahn, Genevieve Bujold, Barry Levinson, Michael York, Yvette Mimieux


1942 Hollywood news, happenings and trends

  • How much did things cost in 1942? Take a look at this list from the Morris County Library. I find many items noted on the list astonishing by today’s standards especially considering that due to WWII the prices of most products increased. By the way, going to the movies cost about 30 cents in 1942 and – in many places – it was a big production.


  • Glenn Miller and his Orchestra start off 1942 with their version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” topping the charts at number 1. Written and composed by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren respectively, the song is featured in H. Bruce Humberstone’s 1941 musical, Sun Valley Serenade and is nominated for the Best Music, Original Song Academy Award. “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is also listed on AFI’s 100 Movies…100 Songs list in 2004. The single was also the first single since 1927’s My Blue Heaven to sell 1 million copies, and RCA Victor gave Glenn Miller the first gold record ever as a reward.


  • Wonder Woman made her debut in All-Star Comics at the end of 1941, but was featured on the cover of a new comic book, Sensation Comics, at the beginning of 1942. Drawn by Harry G. Peter Wonder Woman caused quite the stir with religious conservatives who had a problem with her attire. Or lack thereof. Despite that this superhero has remained one of the most popular and admired for over eighty years. Aside from her comics appearances, Wonder Woman has enjoyed stints in literature, all types of periodicals, cartoons, art, motion pictures and television. She has also stood behind important causes, sold products, volunteered for health awareness campaigns and most recently, she was named a UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.


  • January 1942 saw the premiere of Hollywood Detective Magazine. Dan Turner, also known as the Hollywood Detective, was a fictional hard-boiled private detective working the backlots and movie sets of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Written by Robert Leslie Bellem, Turner’s exploits were first featured in the pulp fiction magazine Spicy Detective and with his increasing popularity jumped to his own magazine featuring a monthly novel and a collection of short stories covering his cases. Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective ran from January 1942 until October 1950. (The Vintage Library)



  • Several versions of “Deep In the Heart of Texas,” lyrics by June Hershey and music by Don Swande, made the Billboard charts in 1942. Such popular names as Bing Crosby and Gene Autry recorded the song that year. Most interesting about this work as it pertains to 1942 and WWII, however, is the fact that it was banned by the BBC, which decided that playing “Deep In the Heart of Texas” during working hours might cause “factory hands” due to its infectious melody. If that happened workers would neglect their tools while clapping hands in time with the song. (popculture.us)

“Deep In the Heart of Texas” made several appearances in the movies: Tex Ritter and the Jimmy Wakely Trio sing it Elmer Clifton‘s 1942 musical Western of the same name. The song is also featured in William Morgan‘s Heart of the Rio Grande (1942) with Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette doing the honors. June Haver and Gloria DeHaven perform the song with the Harry James Orchestra in Richard Sale‘s I’ll Get By (1950). In 1951 Wendell Corey and Jane Powell give it a go in Rich, Young and Pretty and Susan Hayward (dubbed by Jane Froman) sings it in Walter Lang‘s With a Song in My Heart (1952).


  • On Jan 10, 1942  Ava Gardner marries Mickey Rooney. The union lasted until May 1943. Years later Ava would refer to Mickey as, “The smallest husband I ever had, and the biggest mistake, but I do owe Mickey one thing: he taught me how much I enjoyed sex.” 
Gardner and Rooney on their wedding day


  • A tragic happening rocked Hollywood and the world on January 16 when Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash near Las Vegas returning from a War bond tour. Lombard had just completed a major fundraising effort, raising over $2 million, when the plane she took en route to Los Angeles from Las Vegas crashed into Mount Potosi in Nevada killing everyone on board.

“She was without guile, honest, a friend of the underling. There’ll never be another Carole.” (Hedda Hopper)


  • Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy team for the first time in George Stevens‘ Woman of the Year (1942), which enjoys its New York premiere at Radio City Music Hall on February 5. This was the first of nine films in which Tracy and Hepburn co-starred over a period of 25 years. Their final film together was Stanley Kramer‘s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).


  • Archie Comics debuts on February 10 as a Winter 1942 edition. The character of Archie first appeared in Pep Comics #22 in 1941 and in no time “America’s Typical Teenager” became popular enough to have his own comic book series. I don’t believe Archie ever made it onto the big screen, but there may have been a direct-to-DVD movie release. Where Archie thrived, however, was on radio since 1943 and TV starring in several animated series beginning in 1968.



14th Academy Awards Acting Honorees: Gary Cooper, Joan Fontaine, Mary Astor and Donald Crisp

The Award for Best Documentary – Short Subject is inaugurated at the 1942 Academy Awards. The first trophy is given to the Canadian production of Churchill’s Island (1941).


  • On April 30, 1942, more than twenty Hollywood stars are invited to the White House by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt before opening their musical revue extravaganza that played in fourteen cities and netted $800,000 for Army and Navy relief funds. The “Hollywood Victory Caravan,” traveled across the country in a special train, performing songs, dances, skits, playlets, operatic pieces, and spectacular ensemble numbers. The production, hosted by Bob Hope and Cary Grant, was considered by the New York Times to be “the most ambitious money-raising project ever staged by the theatrical world.” (Library of Congress)
(Seated L-R) Oliver Hardy, Joan Blondell, Charlotte Greenwood, Charles Boyer, Rise Stevens, Desi Arnaz, Frank McHugh, Matt Brooks, James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Juanita Stark, Alma Carroll; (Standing L-R) Merle Oberon, Elanor Powell, Arleen Whelan, Marie MacDonald, Fay McKenzie, Katharine Booth, Mrs. Roosevelt, Frances Gifford, Frances Langford, Elyse Knox, Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, Bob Hope, Ray Middleton, Joan Bennett, Bert Lahr, Mark Sandrich, Jack Rose, Stan Laurel, Jerry Colonna, and Groucho Marx




  • Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney and Joan Lesley enjoys its New York premiere on May 29th, Memorial Day. The movie received eight Academy Award nominations winning for Best Actor, Best Sound, Recording and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. Warner Bros. took full advantage of the movie’s patriotic theme to help the war effort as did the film’s stars. For the first time in his entire career, James Cagney attended the premiere for one of his films. Rather than tickets for its opening night premiere, the studio sold war bonds and (reportedly) raised over $5 million.


  • Also on May 29th – beloved rogue and admired actor, John Barrymore dies from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure at age 60.


  • William Wyler‘s Mrs. Miniver starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon enjoys its New York premier on June 4th. Mrs. Miniver played for ten weeks at Radio City Music Hall, one week less than Garson’s other 1942 release, Mervyn LeRoy‘s Random Harvest released in later that year. Mrs. Miniver went on to receive 12 Academy Award nominations including five for acting making it the first movie to receive that many in acting categories. The movie won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Greer Garson and Best Supporting Actress for Teresa Wright. Considered a magnificent achievement in film, Winston Churchill once said that Mrs. Miniver had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers and Wyler admitted that he made the film for propaganda reasons.


  • Myrna Loy marries John Hertz Jr. in New York City on June 6, about a week after her divorce from Arthur Hornblow became final. Mr. Hertz was the second of Ms. Loy’s four husbands.


  • The Office of War Information (OWI) was Created on June 13, 1942. Radio programs, newsreels and films were an essential part of the U.S. propaganda machine spearheaded by the OWI. Elmer Davis, the OWI Director in 1942, said of this process, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized.”


  • Norma Jeane Mortenson, later known the world over as Marilyn Monroe marries husband James Dougherty on June 19. The union lasted four years. This was the first of Monroe’s three marriages.


  • On June 29…


  • Audie Murphy enlists in the military on June 30 after lying about his age. By the War’s end Murphy earned an unparalleled 28 medals, he’d been wounded three times and had yet to reach his 21st birthday. Audie Murphy returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States. His photograph appeared on the cover of Life magazine and he was persuaded by James Cagney to embark on an acting career. (Arlington)

It’s not easy to find exact dates of when people actually enlisted for military service, but – as you know – many other Hollywood stars signed up for active duty in 1942 including Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power, William Holden, Gene Autry, Carl Reiner, Carroll O’Connor and Clark Gable. Many others followed in 1943 and subsequent years during the War.


  • Irving Berlin‘s “This is the Army” premieres on Broadway on July 4 and runs for 113 performances. This Is the Army was released as a movie in 1943 directed by Michael Curtiz and it became the top money-maker of the year.
1942 Original Cast Album


  • Cary Grant marries heiress Barbara Hutton on July 8. The couple stayed together for three years. This was Grant’s second of five marriages.


  • Lana Turner marries actor Stephen Crane on July 17. The marriage is annulled the following February, but the two tied the knot again a month later. The second try ended in divorce in August 1944. If you count the annulment, these represent Turner’s second and third nuptials in a total of eight.


  • Mae West divorces vaudeville performer Frank Wallace after 31 years of marriage on July 21. That same day Joan Crawford marries Phillip Terry. Wallace was West’s only spouse and Crawford would give marriage another try ten years after her union with Terry ends in 1946.


  • Here is a collection of 1942 Radio News featuring many stars of the day as well as important events and episodes of “Our Secret Weapon,” a wartime show created to counter Axis propaganda: 
  • Actor and activist Paul Robeson appears in his last feature film,  Julien Duvivier‘s Tales of Manhattan, which opens on August 5th. The career halt was due in part because Robeson was unhappy about the roles available for African-Americans in movies and in part due to his being blacklisted. 
Tales of Manhattan featuring Ethel Waters, Eddie Anderson and Paul Robeson


  • Walt Disney‘s sixth animated feature Bambi, based on the book by Felix Salten, enjoys its New York premiere on August 13. This would be the last full-length animated feature made by Disney until Cinderella (1950). The gap was due to the lack of film workers (who were in military service) and materials necessary to make films during the War.



  • In September The Hollywood Victory Committee sent out many more movie stars on the “Stars Over America” bond drive in another significant effort to raise money for the armed forces. Word had spread quickly across America and bond drives proved an effective money-making machine. Part of the fundraising included free movie days in theaters across the country with a bond purchase as the admission. Greer Garson, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth were among the stars who completed seven tours in more than 300 cities. The “Stars Over America” bond blitz, in which a total of 337 stars took part, surpassed its quota and netted $838,540,000 worth of bonds.


  • Glenn Miller and His Orchestra have the third number 1 hit of the year when “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” hit number 1 the week of September 12. The song is featured in Archie Mayo’s Orchestra Wives (1942) and was nominated for Best Music, Original Song for Harry Warren’s music and Mack Gordon’s lyrics. 


  • A former livery stable and nightclub located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California opened its doors as The Hollywood Canteen on October 3, 1942. Reportedly the brainchild of actor, John Garfield, who felt there was a need to establish a place where servicemen who visited Hollywood on their way overseas could enjoy leisure and entertainment, The Canteen offered food, dancing and entertainment all free of charge.

Garfield took his idea to Bette Davis who was on-board to make it happen so she took it to her friend, Jules Stein, President of the Music Corporation of America and the three spearheaded the project, which would come to represent Hollywood’s crowning achievement in the war effort.

“There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.” —Bette Davis


  • Jazz legend Louis Armstrong marries dancer Lucille Wilson on October 12, ten days after he had divorced Alpha Smith after 4 years of marriage. Wilson was Armstrong’s fourth and final wife.


  • Acting veteran, May Robson dies on October 20 leaving behind many memories on stage and screen from her 6 decades long career.


  • Irving Rapper’s Now, Voyager starring Bette DavisPaul Henreid and Claude Rains has its New York premiere on October 22nd. The biggest box office hit of Davis’ career, Now, Voyager earned her the seventh Best Actress nomination of her career. She would receive 11 in total. The movie also earned nods from the Academy for Gladys Cooper for killing it in a sinister supporting role and Max Steiner for his score. Now, Voyager is one of those movies everyone should seek and find thanks in large part to the chemistry between Bette Davis and Paul Henreid and one of the most romantic moments on screen when he lights two cigarrettes.


  • George M Cohan, the father of musical comedy and the subject of the hugely popular, Yankee Doodle Dandy, dies of cancer on November 5th. He was 64.


  • Another great of stage and screen, Edna May Oliver, dies on her 59th birthday on November 9th.


  • Tweety Bird makes his debut in Robert Clampett‘s A Tale of Two Kitties on November 21st. Tweety was originally pink in this spoof of Abbott and Costello, which features cats, Babbit and Catstello. His color was changed to yellow after the censors complained that he looked naked because he had no feathers. (IMDB)


Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca


  • On November 30 popular Western star Buck Jones dies at the age of 50. Jones was one of 492 victims of the fire in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub on November 28, 1942. The tragedy shocked everyone in the country and briefly replaced the events of the War in the news. That fire also led to reforms of safety standards and codes across the US, and to major changes in the treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims internationally.


  • Jacques Tourneur‘s influential Cat People enjoys its New York premiere on December 5th. This was producer Val Lewton‘s first film at RKO, a movie that illustrates his genius for suggestive horror that is not for the faint of heart.


  • On December 15 Mary Astor divorces the third of her four husbands, editor Manuel del Campo, after more than 4 years of marriage.


  • On her way to becoming the number 1 box office attraction of 1943, Betty Grable becomes the favorite pinup of the boys in uniform in 1942. That was due in part to 20th Century Fox distributing three million copies of Grable’s famous white swimsuit photo, which spotlights her famous gams.


  • The 15th Academy Awards honoring achievement in movies released in 1942 were held at the Cocoanut Grove of the Amabassador Hotel on Thursday, March 4, 1943. The winners of major categories were:

Best Picture: Mrs. Miniver – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Best Director: William Wyler – Mrs. Miniver

Best Actor: James Cagney – Yankee Doodle Dandy

Best Actress: Greer Garson – Mrs. Miniver

Best Supporting Actor: Van Heflin – Johnny Eager

Best Supporting Actress: Teresa Wright – Mrs. Miniver

Special Academy Award was presented to Noël Coward for his outstanding production achievement, In Which We Serve.


And that was 1942 at the movies – in a nutshell.

10 thoughts

  1. Was very disappointed that “I Married An Angel”, released in 1942, was not mentioned as the movie was the final pairing of the very popular singing team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

  2. As always, Aurora, a dynamic post!! I didn’t realize the years until now that so many of those greats were released in ’42. It’s like 1939 all over again! 🙂 Golly!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow, what a year, huh? Just look at that list of actors. I’m not the biggest Mickey Rooney fan in the world, but not a dud in the bunch. Poor Cary Grant. Why couldn’t they just leave he and Randolph Scott alone?

  4. This is a fine, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it. It certainly provided everything one needs to know about Hollywood in 1942! When you mentioned the top ten actors according to Quigley’s, were you referring to Martin J. Quigley’s Hollywood newspaper? I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, “The Great Breening Blogathon:” https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/extra-the-great-breening-blogathon/. It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn’t have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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