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In the American theater of the 1930s and 1940s, the designation “queer star” was an oxymoron – except when applied to Clifton Webb. The Indiana-born singer and dancer was (according to colleagues) homosexual and (according to critics and audiences) queer. He was also, after 1932, a star on Broadway and the road as well as a reliably queer presence in the gossip columns and arts pages of the daily paper. Unlike any other show business personality of his rank, he used his star text to raise the visibility of queerness in early twentieth-century entertainment culture.
During World War II, when the Office of War Information urged the
American film companies to help the nation win the war, the OWI's
Bureau of Motion Pictures delivered both moral support and guidance.
The BMP “Manual” (1942), for instance, encouraged producers
to show women dropping off their children at day-care centers, then
cheerfully heading off to jobs where they enjoyed equal opportunity and
equal pay. Scenes like those may have been fantasy, and for some women
amusing, and yet, in the late 1940s and beyond, as one historian says,
World War II came to be thought of as “the best war
ever,” the war,
according to myth, where there were no tensions over class, or race, or
In 1930, to blunt attacks from legislators, social reformers, and investors, the American movie companies adopted the Production Code, a skein of dos and don'ts that regulated, among other things, the screen treatment of sex and crime and that, by 1934, had its own executive apparatus. Though Joseph I. Breen, the director of the Production Code Administration, was called “the Hitler of Hollywood,” Production Code censorship operated through negotiation and compromise; even Breen himself was less repressive or moralistic than reporters or historians imagined. From 1934 to 1941, the Production Code Administration, the West Coast studios, and the East Coast corporate offices formed a machinelike network whose power Breen used not only to license but to facilitate the production of controversial films, including those presumed most harmed by the code—sex comedies and social-problem pictures.
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