'Meet John Doe,' in Classic, Cool Context

Watch the full episode of "Meet John Doe" online! Available until Friday, March 16th at 12:00pm PST.

This Saturday night at 10 p.m., KCET offers you the 1941 Frank Capra film "Meet John Doe." If you know Capra (and anyone who's seen "It's a Wonderful Life" does), then you know to expect the down-on-his-luck but soaring-in-spirit sort of inspirational story for which the director is famous. But KCET's Classic Cool Theater series sets itself apart from standard movie nights with the addition of a classic cartoon, two authentic news reels and vintage musical number -- or, in short, context. And in the spirit of this unique film package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "Meet John Doe" back on May 3, 1941.

If this Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper-starring vehicle doesn't ring any bells with you, that's quite likely because the film is overshadowed by one that hit theaters just two days earlier: "Citizen Kane". Though not an immediate success, "Citizen Kane" gradually won over the general public, and today it's regarded as a supreme achievement. Thus, it gets dibs on the entire year. And while it's hard for any film to shine when it's forever remembered for existing in the shadow of one of the greatest ever, at least "Meet John Doe" had company: Both "Dumbo" and "The Maltese Falcon" also hit theaters in 1941.

Of course, the shadow cast by "Citizen Kane" pales in comparison to that cast by World War II, which was exploding abroad at the time of Doe's release. Yugoslavia had surrendered to Germany just weeks before, and less than two weeks later, the first Allied jet would join the war effort. However, American movie-goers at the time wanted a release from escalating tensions, and they found that in the story of an ambitious reporter (Stanwyck) and a man who accidentally inspires a nation into neighborly behavior (Cooper).

Have a look at the links below to get a fuller idea of Los Angeles life in 1941.

  • Curious about how far your buck would take you 71 years ago? The People History offers a breakdown of comparative prices. The average cost of a new house? $4,075. A gallon of gas? 12 cents. Monthly rent? $32.

  • This blog offers a host of photos of back-in-the-day L.A., including this image of 1941-era Westwood Village (Click here for a bigger version.)

  • Larry Harnisch's awesome Daily Mirror feature in the L.A. Times, which looks back at Times headlines from years past, offers the Hollywood gossip from the May 3, 1941 edition of the paper. The following was written about then-child actor Roddy McDowall: "Bells to 12-year-old Roddy McDowall for his one-man campaign, which broke down studio red tape and landed his chum, Wells Wohlwend, a 20th Century-Fox stock job."

  • Big on public transportation? Then slaver over the GS Tram Site's snapshot of the Los Angeles streetcar system as it existed back in 1941. It actually breaks down old routes by stop, and you could actually plot out how you'd traverse the town... you know, if you had a time machine.

  • Or you can check out the stats for the Los Angeles Angels' 1941 line-up.

  • It was also in 1941 that the L.A. Department of Water and Power began diverting water away from Mono Lake. That story is recounted (with photos) at MonoLake.org.

  • The L.A. Times photo archives offers a look at Jimmy Stewart's 1941, induction into the U.S. army and an almost surreal photo of struggles to harvest oranges in the midst of a spring flood in Valencia.

  • And finally, a 1941 video "picture book" touting California as a tourist destination. (The clip has been set to start at El Camino Real and move into Los Angeles, but you can pull back the cursor to see an overview of all of California.)


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