'HARVEY GIRLS': Hollywood Post-WW2 Social Control?

Hollywood went to war once supporting the effort in WW2 with enlistments, service, volunteerism, war bonds, canteens, entertainment/training films, and movies that helped to shape public sentiment, provide instruction on being a citizen, and transform behaviors and attitudes.

The WW2 years were marked by thousands of young men going off to war to be thrust into new and often lonely situations. Inevitably romance blossomed and the girl back home might be temporarily forgotten. In the earlier conflict a song posed the question, 'how are going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" The question returned post-WW2. What happens when wives and lovers learn that there may have been more than a little, 'out of sight - out of mind' with their distant love?

You can't order love, legislate forgiveness, or mandate acceptance and return to normalcy.

What can a society do? Simple, make a movie!! The government and Hollywood teamed up for fund raising, for morality plays about patriotism, being brave, and fighting the enemy on every front. There would be little surprise if one more angle was tried in turning minds and attitudes to prepare war estranged people for the reality of a returning love.
"Harvey Girls" was a 1946 movie starring Judy Garland about one of the famous "Harvey House" establishments. These were resturants that opened to provide travelers on the rail lines clean, decorous, and good food as they traveled. To be a "Harvey Girl" was a great honor because the standards were high and there was a reputation to keep untarnished. As a musical it has some good numbers - including the award winning Mercer-Warren song 'On the Atkinson, Topeka, and the Santa Fe."

A good example is the scene where the new girls in town hold a nice, wholesome, party. The girls - all in clean, crisp pastel dresses with lots of pure white collars and aprons - bring a touch of 'home' to the rough frontier. Genteel music, punch, cake, and charming young ladies who talked of ladylike subjects. Enter the 'working girls' from across the street in their emerald, sapphire, red, and gold silks, satins, and shiny black hose. They bought tickets to the party and they will attend! They are forward and in your face and not at all ladylike.

This immediately sets up a competition between the good, clean, girls from 'back home' and the frilly, forward, saloon gals at the dance. The men caught between the shame of the their past actions represented by the 'good time girls' and the call to return to the values of a previous time are clearly embrassed. Yet, with much collar tugging discomfort, they select the fresh-facced young ladies who represent a normal future filled with home, children, and new somber purpose. As the local pastor says, in case any had missed the point, they had witnessed a miracle indeed as rough miners and cowboys resurrected social manners and waltzed off with a girl from back east. The sub-test is clear and not very subtle: those exotic and rich foods are alright for awhile but boys, now it is time for the wholesome U.S.A. dinner now.

Watch the film and see the 'forgiveness' speech Garland makes at the end of the as she rides the train in the company of the departing Madame. It's desolate, hard, and lonely out here in the rough desert, she admits, and it is only natural that a man would be lonely and need company now and again. Even company like that of the prostitute with a heart of gold...

Watching this recently, the sub-text came through loud and clear. Girls, it said, forgive the guy for being a man while he was away. Guys, let sleeping dogs alone and move into the future.

Go ahead and watch it - then tell me what you think.

Want to learn more on WW2 and Hollywood? Read an article here.

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