This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you Frank Capra's 1941 drama "Meet John Doe," which stars Barbara Stanwyck as a journalist who fabricates the harrowing story of a suicidal man to generate readers and save her job. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic, Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "Meet John Doe on May 3, 1941.
In "Meet John Doe," Barbara Stanwyck plays a newspaper columnist who tells a lie to keep her career alive. This brings up an important philosophical question: If you can't trust a newspaper to give you the truth, then whom can you trust?
Journalists with questionable ethics make for interesting protagonists. When the first amendment is violated by the very people who have taken up the mantle to defend it, the foundations of democracy are shaken to the very core.
Here are a few examples of how Hollywood has explored this theme through the years.
In John Ford's 1962 classic "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," Jimmy Stewart portrays a politician whose career is built on a lie and how a journalist chooses to report it:
2003's "Shattered Glass" tells the sensational true story of disgraced New Republic journalist Stephen Glass:
"State of Play," a 2009 thriller based on the BBC television series, follows a reporter willing to bend the rules in order to find the truth behind a murder:
Take a closer look back
Nineteen forty-one was a landmark year for newspapers in Los Angeles. That year, Almena Lomax founded the Los Angeles Tribune, which covered the city's African-American population and exposed racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. As the New York Times reported, the Tribune's "multiracial staff included Wakako Yamauchi, who became a prominent playwright, and the short-story writer Hisaye Yamamoto DeSoto. Both were Japanese-Americans who had been in internment camps during World War II."
The Los Angeles Sentinel noted in its obituary of Lomax that the civil-rights activist made a number of demands of California gubernatorial candidate Edmund G. "Pat" Brown in order for him to gain the Tribune's endorsement in 1958. Among them, she demanded an apology for the internment of Japanese Americans following WWII.
Here's a photo of Los Angeles police officers confiscating the property of Japanese residents on Dec. 29, 1941:
Lomax closed the paper in 1960.
"Meet John Doe is based on the short story "A Reputation" by Richard Connell, which was published by Century Magazine in 1922. The film also stars Gary Cooper.