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American Society In the 1920’s Essay Sample

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American Society In the 1920’s Essay Sample

After the First World War, America became very wealthy due to the large sums of money they had loaned to other countries during the war. Not only did the countries repay the loans; they were forced to pay interest. This meant America did very well out of the war unlike most of the other countries that were in debt and their economies were struggling.

With the extra money America was gaining, people could afford to indulge themselves, people went out more, and they didn’t want to stay indoors all the time. Housewives discovered a whole new world away from cooking and cleaning, with the new technology chores took less time, women could use dishwashers, washing machines and tumble dryers which gave them time to go out and entertain themselves.

With the increasing demand for entertainment the profile of cinema, music and sport soon changed. America suddenly became modern, some people disapproved of this, they were outraged to see short skirts on women in films, and they thought it was setting a bad example for America but this was only the beginning.

In the 1920’s, when good electronic amplifiers became available cinema changed from being completely silent to having sound, these were nicknamed the talkies. The first well known ‘talkie’ was The Jazz singer (1927) produced by the four Warner Brothers, since then all the audience wanted to hear was the actor’s voices.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) was one of the most famous actors to successfully make the switch to ‘talkies’. He was born in London and appeared in many productions as a child but it wasn’t until 1913 that he appeared on screen with the director Mack Sennett. In 1914 he introduced the first of many appearances of the world famous ‘little tramp’ character, he played this role in over seventy films including ‘The Tramp’ in 1915. His character was loved by audiences throughout the world for his slapstick comedy with the baggy trousers, he bowler hat and the enormous shoes shown below in the picture

Chaplin also began directing and producing films he starred in such as The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925). Sometimes he even composed some of the background music for his films. Although he was still well known and loved in the sound era his films weren’t quite as effective, his first two in the sound era didn’t contain sound, he kept to the typical circus mime that he was famous for. But in the Great Dictator he abandoned the little tramp and used all the sound resources instead.

Greta Garbo (1905-1990), a Swedish-American actress, also survived the switch to ‘talkies’. After several successful Swedish films Garbo moved to America to be hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The move was successful as in 1926 her first American film, The Torrent was a great success; this was followed by The Temptress in 1926 and Flesh and the Devil in 1927. Other film she starred in included Mata Hari, Anna Karenina and Ninotchka. It was Ninotchka that received the phrase ‘Garbo Smiles’ to promote the film, as she was always known to be serious.

Garbo’s first sound film was Anna Christie in 1930 she also starred alongside other well known stars such as Clark Gable in the Susan Lennox-Her Fall and Rise. In 1941 Garbo retired after completing her book Two-Faced Woman.

After all her famous work in America Greta Garbo finally became an American citizen in 1951 after being chosen as the best actress of the half-century by Variety, the theatrical newspaper. It was only in 1954 when she received her first Oscar after being a famous and established actress for over twenty-five years.

The picture below shows Garbo in 1928

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) was another idol in the eras of silent films and ‘talkies’. Valentino arrived in America in 1913 to become a professional ballroom dancer although he soon began to appear in many Hollywood films as minor roles and after only a few years his face was familiar all over the world. He was best known for his performance in The Sheikh in 1921 where he starred alongside Agnes Ayers, shown in the picture below.

Others of his films included Blood and Sand (1922), Monsieur Beaucaire (1923), and the sequel to The Sheikh, The son of the Sheikh (1926)

Valentino was famous for playing romantic and exotic characters, as women worldwide loved his dark and intense eyes. Some women even resorted to committing suicide after his early death at the age of 31 following complications of an appendicitis operation.

Gloria Swanson (1897-1983) was one of America’s earliest heroines; she began working with films at the early age of sixteen and soon after she married Wallace Berry and moved to Hollywood to work with Mark Sennett in his silent films as Charlie Chaplin did. She soon became a worldwide erotic idol; she was also a big success in the ‘talkies’. Below shows Swanson in her final role as herself in the disaster film Airport 1975 (1974)

Other Swanson films include The Trespasser (1929) and Sadie Thompson (1928), she also concurred comedy with What a Widow (1930) which was regarded one of her best films.

As well as cinema, music and dance became far more popular after World War 1 but jazz was the most popular style of music by far. Jazz originated in New Orleans in the 1890’s by African Americans, to start with it was condemned, it was said to be the “devil’s music” but it soon became extremely popular all around the world but especially in America. The 1920’s were often called ‘the jazz age’; they saw jazz separate from its roots of ragtime and blues to become a different, distinct style of music.

One of the founders of instrumental jazz was Louis Armstrong, also known as the Satchmo, he was the first true soloist of jazz, he changed the format of jazz forever, bringing the soloist to the forefront, he was a brilliant improviser and inspired many jazz performers of the future. In his hometown of New Orleans he formed a vocal quartet with his friends, he mastered the cornet in the 1920’s and became a member of the bands The Hot 5 and The Hot 7. With these bands he composed many pieces the most famous being The Potato Head Blues, St James Infirmary and Cornet Chop Suey.

In 1952 he was elected the most important musician of all time by the magazine Down Beat and his success lasted until the 1960’s, fifty years after he started his musical career. His career started in the Waif’s home for boys where he was sent after a gunfire on New Year’s Eve. He had his first ever music lesson there by Peter Davis.

After a lifetime of fame and success Louis Armstrong died in 1971 on the 6th July in New York after writing his autobiography, Satchmo, My Life in New Orleans in 1954.Below Armstrong is shown performing Back O’Town Blues.

Louis Armstrong often recorded with the American singer Bessie Smith, known as the Empress of the Blues who became the most popular blues vocalist of her time. She also recorded with famous names such as Benny Goodman. She was gifted with a deep expressive voice with great power, it was reported that she earned $2000 a week at the peak of her career but the demand for her music declined when people wanted Hollywood film music and radio. She kept touring with her music but in 1937 she died in a car accident in Mississippi.

Other famous jazz singer musicians were Billie holiday who was most famous for her voice and Duke Ellington, a pianist.

As well as the music side of jazz, people were very interested in the jazz dance that came with it. It was a social dance that originated in black dance of the 19th century. It began with the Cakewalk and Turkey Trot which were later adopted into white social dances.

The Cakewalk was improvised in couples around a square, it originated in the United States in the 1840’s among the slaves and by 1900 it had become a ballroom craze and later accompanied the jazz music.

Other very famous jazz dances were the Charleston, the jitterbug and the Twist which all have movements that can be traced back to African and early slave dances.

The Charleston shown above was one of the most favourite American social dances in the 1920’s. It can be danced either with a partner or in a group, it is famed for the dancer’s turned in knees and shoes, the shifts of weight from leg to leg and the flamboyant kicks and leg and hand movement. It is originally a black folk dance in Charleston, South Carolina. It became a popular craze after featuring in the musical Runnin Wild (1923)

Often associated with the Charleston and other social dances is flappers, the supposedly unconventional women of the 1920’s, they ignored earlier rules of fashion and behaviour for women. They had bobbed hair, heavy make-up and drop-waisted very short dresses. They were disapproved of by many other women as they thought they were giving women a bad name.

Along with the new demands for jazz and cinema people started to watch sport as a hobby, hundreds of people fled to watch baseball games at the weekend. Attendance at the games increased rapidly and the World Series became one of the leading annual events. Baseball was the most popular sport by far but all the other sports were still watched, but it was the atmosphere of a huge crowd of people all gathered to watch the same game unlike a game of snooker for example; no other sport had the same appeal.

Babe Ruth (1895-1948) was one of the most famous baseball players of the 1920’s; his real name is George Herman Ruth. He began his career when he was just nineteen as a left-handed pitcher for the Baltimore team, though he soon became a member of the Boston Red Sox, who he stayed with until 1919 when he became an outfielder rather than a pitcher. In 1935 he became the vice-president of the Boston Braves and three years later he coached the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

Babe Ruth was one of the best left-handed players ever, he was particularly famous for having the most home runs in one season and most home runs in one career, and these records were unbeaten for decades after his retirement. Ruth was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 and to this day he is still considered one of the most extraordinary baseball players the field has seen. In the picture below, Ruth is shown warming up before a game in his usual manner of his bat slung over his left shoulder

Among other famous sports personalities of the same era were Bill Tilden, the American tennis player, who dominated the sport with his very powerful style. Tilden won seven United States national titles, five Wimbledon titles and many other tournaments

Golf also became quite popular with Gene Sarazan (1902-1999) leading amongst the golfers; he won the United States Open and the United States Professional Golfers Association championship. He had won three significant tournaments by the time he was twenty-three. He is shown below in his later years

Since the 1920’s with all the new entertainment in America, society has changed an awful lot, people would have never thought that women would be wearing make-up and short skirts, listening to modern music and watching films with sound and nude scenes in them. In one decade technology and society progressed so much the old America is almost unrecognisable.

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