This Saturday at 10 p.m., KCET brings you the 1947 hit "The Perils of Pauline," a high-spirited Betty Hutton comedy about the life of silent film star Pearl White. 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 classic cartoon, two newsreels and a vintage 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 "The Perils of Pauline" back on July 4, 1947.
Given the recent triumph of "The Artist" at the Oscars, this airing of "The Perils of Pauline" is especially timely. Like "The Artist," "Pauline" focuses on the early days of cinema and the conflict between one school of production -- in this case, live theater -- and the new film serials that made Pearl White a star. Ever seen some damsel tied to train tracks? That was an homage to poor Pauline, who enthralled audiences beginning in 1914 with her inability to keep herself safe.
As for star Betty Hutton, the woman behind the woman behind Pauline, this film marked her greatest success to date, and she'd ride the success through 1950, where she starred in a similar sort of biopic, "Annie, Get Your Gun." (Read KCET's profile on that film here.) Hitting theaters on the third Independence Day since the end of World War II, "Pauline" offered audiences a bit of history and a lot of Hollywood sparkle. But it would have also been distracting them from new troubles abroad. Just that July 1, the mysterious Mr. X published "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," a pseudonymous article in Foreign Affairs magazine that laid the foundations for U.S. anti-Communist attitudes that would last throughout the Cold War. And the following day, the Soviets would reject the Marshall Plan, the American offer for financial assistance in rebuilding after World War II, further setting observers on edge.
Clearly, Americans needed to go watch a musical.
Take a Closer Look Back
What else would Southern California residents do on a typical Fourth of July besides hit the beach? Check out three primo 1947-vintage beach party shots, courtesy of the UCLA Library Digital Collections.
"Bodybuilder Abbey Stockton lifting barbell as crowd looks on at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Calif."
"Crowds of people on Venice Beach, Calif., circa 1947."
"Five bathers running into ocean at Santa Monica Beach, Calif., circa 1947."
(See more photos of past Fourth of Julys here, thanks to L.A. as Subject.)
Though Elizabeth Short (a.k.a. the Black Dahlia) was murdered on January 14, 1947, Angelenos would still have been talking about it in July. Hell, they still talk about it now. Last January, Larry Harnisch reflected on the case's 65th anniversary with a well-written piece on his blog, The Daily Mirror.
Also from the Daily Mirror? A June 27, 1947, write up in the Los Angeles Times about a local author who was just beginning to find success after having sold newspapers on the corner of Olympic and Norton just six years earlier. His name is Ray Bradbury.
Read the story of the 1947 Plating Works Explosion that killed 17 and injured 151.
The documents were preserved and they're available online: the U.S. Coast Guard's investigation into the June 22, 1947, explosion aboard the S.S. Markay in Los Angeles Harbor.
One more way you can experience Los Angeles back in 1947? A video game: L.A. Noire, released in 2011 by the same company that put out the controversial Grand Theft Auto series. Read the L.A. Times profile on the game here and check out this L.A. as Subject article on how local archivists helped game designers recreate the city's dark side here. It re-creates L.A. in a way that's perhaps not factually accurate, but hey -- neither is "The Perils of Pauline."
You know what you can't get miss if you search for Los Angeles events that happened in July of 1947? UFOs, because it was on July 8 that the Roswell Daily Record ran its story on the supposed flying saucer in New Mexico, and many UFOlogists (yep, that's a thing) tie the Roswell incident to 1942's Battle of Los Angeles, also purported by some to have involved aliens. So if you want to fall down a long, weird rabbit hole, start here.