'Pot O' Gold' in Classic Cool Context

At 9 p.m. this Saturday, KCET brings you the 1941 film "Pot O' Gold," a mistaken identity musical comedy starring Jimmy Stewart and Paulette Goddard. The film was inspired by an NBC radio program of the same name. It's 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 "Pot O' Gold" back on April 3, 1941.

"Pot O' Gold" hit theatres about a month after star Jimmy Stewart won an Academy Award for his leading role in 1940's "The Philadelphia Story." Despite Stewart's Oscar buzz, "Pot O' Gold" didn't hit pay dirt with audiences or critics. The film is probably low on the list of Stewart's most memorable roles -- a portfolio that includes such classics as 1939's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1946's "It's a Wonderful Life," 1950's "Harvey," and 1958's "Vertigo." In fact, according to Stewart biographer Michael Munn, the actor called "Gold" "easily the worst film I ever made." Stewart's distaste for the film could have been because he didn't like the sound of his singing voice. This was his second time singing on the silver screen, and his last.

Or maybe it was problems contriving an on-screen romance with co-star Paulette Goddard. Stewart and Goddard had never worked together before, and rumor had it that neither thought very highly of the other. Of Stewart's acting chops, Goddard is said to have remarked, "Anyone can swallow." Similarly, Stewart thought Goddard's used her wisecracking tone as a crutch. Stewart had a reputation as a Hollywood playboy at the time, and Goddard was married to Charlie Chaplin. Here's the "Gold" pair feigning romance during a musical number.

Besides Stewart and Goddard, there's another name you'll recognize in the credits: Roosevelt. "Gold" was the first feature film produced by James Roosevelt, the oldest son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in office when the film was released. The fledging producer's last name was likely a big help in getting MGM to lend Stewart to United Artists for the film. It turns out Roosevelt's first film was also his last, as he was called to active military duty in World War II.

Jimmy Stewart enlisted as well -- and was inducted in the Army just two weeks before "Gold" premiered. He became the first major Hollywood star to join the service in World War II -- and took break from acting for five years.

Actor Jimmy Stewart's induction in United States Army; Stewart talking to fellow Army inductees on Red Car train, 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.

The film was based on the NBC radio series "Pot O' Gold," a high-rated money giveaway program that began in 1939 and ended eight months after the "Gold" film hit theaters. The program featured Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights -- the same band in the film.

Take a Closer Look Back

It's clear that FDR had respect for his son's short-lived profession. Watch this newsreel footage of the President addressing Hollywood before the 1941 Academy Awards--the same night Jimmy Stewart won his Oscar.

FDR delivered many rousing speeches in 1941. Perhaps most memorable is his State of the Union address from that year, in which he proposed four basic freedoms that people worldwide ought enjoy. Listen here:

The biggest event of 1941 in the U.S. was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which prompted Roosevelt and Congress to officially enter World War II. Check out this post on the LA Times' Framework blog for photos and reports that show Los Angeles's reaction to the news of the attack.

As the U.S. plunged into war, shipbuilding became big business at the Port of Los Angeles. The port employed some 90,000 workers and built and outfitted warships at record pace. Check out this photo of Terminal Island shipyard workers impersonating Axis leaders.

California Shipbuilding yard workers at phony launch of cardboard ship S.S. Absentee, 1943. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.

There were several notable strikes in Los Angeles in 1941 -- including the North American Aviation Strike -- when FDR sent federal troops to the North American Aviation plant to break up picket lines of striking workers whose work was deemed important to the war effort.

You can read more about the incident and see LA Times clippings at Larry Harnisch's The Daily Mirror blog.

C.I.O leader William Elconin and union labor chief Jeff Kibre at C.I.O. meeting during North American Aviation strike in Los Angeles, Calif., 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.

Around the same time, another group of Los Angeles workers was on strike. Perhaps hoisting more imaginative picket signs, animators led by the Screen Cartoonists Guild led a five-week protest outside Disney's studios. The animators were protesting an uneven pay structure -- where some animators were given bonuses after the success of 1937's "Snow White" and others weren't. At the time of the strike, they were working on 1941's "Dumbo."

A.F.L. Screen Cartoon Guild strike at Walt Disney Productions, 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.
Artists on strike at Disney film studios parading near entrance in Los Angeles, Calif., 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.

What'd Los Angeles and the rest of California look like while all this was going on? Just watch this 1941 film--which provides a tour of popular sites around the state.


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