Bill Caldwell: Bette Davis Campaigned Joplin for Sale of War Bonds | Local News
At one time, Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, Bette Davis lived up to her ideals during World War II by raising money for the war effort and opening the Hollywood Canteen for enlisted men to Los Angeles. The money raised by his appearance at Joplin for War Bonds pushed sales of his appearances to over $ 1 million in less than a month.
Sales of bonds to finance the country’s war effort were made during World War I. The federal government used posters with patriotic slogans such as “If you can’t enlist, invest.” Buy a Liberty Bond, defend your country with your dollars. The bonds were sold to bearer and negotiable. The smallest denomination was $ 50.
Here in Joplin, the southwest corner of Fourth and Main Streets has been dubbed the “Liberty Lot” for bond rallies held there despite influenza epidemic restrictions on public gatherings.
In addition to the print media, celebrities have played an active role in promoting the sales of Liberty Bond. Movie and stage stars such as Al Jolson, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin have all made appearances in bond rallies. Chaplin even produced a short film, “The Bond,” to encourage sales.
During the interwar years, the first American Savings Bonds, Series A, were issued in 1935, but they were not negotiable. The owner had to keep them until maturity at 10 years. Popular-priced denominations started at $ 25 (purchase price of $ 18.75). They earned the nickname “baby bonds” due to the low starting price.
The Second World War
When the Nazi blitzkrieg struck Europe in 1940, the prospect of US involvement was not abstract. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau proposed using the sales of retroactive bonds to finance preparations for war. But, he changed the terms of the obligations. They have been called “defense bonds”. Retailers were the target market for Series E bonds, which started at $ 25 with larger denominations available. Like Series A bonds, they were non-negotiable and had a 10-year maturity. President Franklin Roosevelt purchased the former on May 1, 1941.
The US Defense Savings Stamps were introduced for smaller investors. The stamps could be purchased for 10, 25 and 50 cents, $ 1 and $ 5. Sold in post offices where free albums could be obtained, a completed album could be redeemed and a Series E bond issued.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the bonds were renamed War Bonds. Volunteers mobilized to solicit sales. When actress Carole Lombard, wife of Clark Gable, appeared at a rally in Indianapolis to raise $ 2.5 million in December 1941, her death in a plane crash the next day staged the volunteer work.
As in World War I, movie stars were enlisted to popularize sales of war bonds. Film studios engaged artists in promotional campaigns. The Hollywood Victory Committee has organized musical and variety shows tours to military bases and camps as well as shortwave radio broadcasts sent to troops overseas. James Cagney and George Murphy chaired the committee. As segregation was in effect, Hattie McDaniel led the black division. Bette Davis was the only white member of her troop.
The Hollywood Victory Caravan in April and May 1942 was a two-week rail tour through the land of stars promoting War Bonds. Artists such as Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Olivia de Havilland, Claudette Colbert, James Cagney and many more have performed in 12 major cities.
Bette Davis visits Joplin
Hollywood stars have continuously promoted bond sales. September 1942 was “Hail Our Heroes Month,” a billion dollar bond sales campaign. Jasper, Newton, Lawrence and McDonald counties had a quota of $ 800,000.
The film industry was in charge of advertising. He assigned 600 stars to tour the country promoting stamps and war bonds. On August 30, it was announced that Bette Davis, lead actress for Warner Bros., had been given a tour of Missouri and Oklahoma. She was scheduled to appear Sunday, September 13 at Memorial Hall in Joplin for a two-hour program featuring musical talent from Camp Crowder staff. There was no admission fee, but everyone who entered must have purchased a bond or war stamps.
The Globe and the News Herald have published several articles on Davis. It was discovered that Mrs. Paul Wingo, of Joplin, had gone to school with Davis in Massachusetts in 1920. She still had a school photo with Davis.
Davis first traveled to Kansas City where she was presented with a portrayal of her as the Jezebel character in the film of the same name. The painting was auctioned several times and raised $ 250,000. Then she drove to Sedalia and Saint-Joseph for rallies. On Sunday morning, she was driven from Kansas City to Joplin.
As she approached Joplin, her car was escorted into town by national highway patrol officers and Joplin motorcycle officers walking down the main street. Harley Fryer, the event’s impresario, urged her to arrive in an open car so that spectators who couldn’t attend the show could see her along Main Street. A film actress, Davis has neither sung nor danced. However, his reputation for playing tough characters allowed him to give a moving and pragmatic exhortation to buy bonds for this national life-or-death struggle.
The News Herald reported the next day: “During her address to the public yesterday, Miss Davis pleaded for continued voluntary support for the war effort through bond purchases, reminding her audience that if democracies lose control. war, the money would not be worth anything, so there is no point in “accumulating”; and, on the other hand, if the peoples of the democracies do not do “all they can” in their support of the armed forces by providing the money necessary to continue the war, they cannot hope for the continuation of the current way of life. “
In a brief interview, she was asked about the “obnoxious” characters she portrayed. She replied that such characters “live longer in memory than others who are acceptable to the audience from a personality trait perspective.” She said it was her desire to play interesting people that made her choose some of her roles.
His appearance at Joplin raised $ 177,705, bringing his total bond sales in September to over $ 1 million.
Davis does everything possible
When Davis spoke of doing everything to support the armed forces, she had worked with John Garfield and Jules Stein to open the Hollywood Canteen for enlisted men in Los Angeles. After her last appearance in Oklahoma, she returned to Hollywood where an abandoned nightclub was being renovated. Stein twisted the arms of studio executives for money, and Davis was the public face whose energy was expended to bring him together. The canteen opened in October 1942 and operated six days a week. More than 3,000 volunteers from the ranks of stars, technicians and guides of all kinds animated the canteen.
Davis served food and coffee, introduced artists, and served as president. As actor Jack Carson said, “There were real spectators in the canteen… but it was Bette that they regrouped.” When it closed in 1945, the canteen had served nearly 4 million military personnel and had a surplus of $ 500,000 which was allocated to veterans relief funds.
In 1980, she received the Distinguished Civil Service Medal for founding the canteen. As one writer put it: “She was a larger than life personality who did not readily endure fools, but I also always felt that she was a woman who really had a heart. Perhaps these same characteristics attracted her to her Joplin audience in 1942.