In the shadow of the Second World War, Canadians on the home front still found time to let loose. It was the height of the Swing Era. Its driving rhythms, sprung from jazz roots in New Orleans, gave men and women a wild-legged respite from overseas cares. The war era’s music superstars were suit-clad gents with big bands behind them: Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. And if swing lacked the subtleties of later jazz, people sure could dance to it. Improvisational and freewheeling, the swing-inspired jitterbug took dance halls by storm. There was the Big Apple (a sort of jazzy square dance for eight), the Lindy Hop for couples, and a dozen-and-one other jitterbug variations, including Trucking, Pecking and the everpopular Suzy-Q.
At home, radio was the 1940s equivalent of television today. There were the popular American programs—The Jack
Benny Show and Amos ‘n’ Andy, to name only two. But Canada had its own domestic radio-production industry, led by the CBC, with such soaps as The Soldier’s Wife and Big Sister, in 1944 came
the sophisticated radio dramas of Stage. Much of the rest was music, including big band programs from the Panorama Roof of the Hotel Vancouver—where a teenage Juliette, later to be known as “Our Pet, Juliette,” got her break as a singer.
At the movies, screen idols de-
picted Hollywood’s America as upbeat, chipper—and always up to a challenge. There was James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story (1940), Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle (same year), James Cagney in 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (1941), and Humphrey Bogart saving the day for Ingrid Bergman in the classic 1942 romance Casablanca.
But if there were outlets for wartime anxiety, the escapism was not complete. In theatres, hastily produced Hollywood propaganda films brought home the horrors of war—and the leering danger of domestic spies. In Canada, the fledgling National Film Board got in on the act too, producing two monthly propaganda series, The World in Action and Canada Carries On. And on the radio, the CBC began scheduled news broadcasts— with regular reports about the war—in 1941. Despite the diversions and the thousands of miles separating Canada from the front lines, the war was never far away
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