Kirsty Wark explores the cultural impact of the 1929 stock market crash. With contributors including Sir Richard Eyre, Harry Shearer, Barry Norman, she looks at the remarkable artistic response to the Great Depression, which helped lay the foundations for America's cultural century.
Marx Brothers writer George S Kaufman invested $10,000 in stock after a tip from Groucho and Harpo. When he lost it all in the crash he remarked: "Anyone who buys stock because the Marx Brothers recommended it deserves to lose $10,000". Groucho himself lost something in the region of $350,000 and that evening spent the whole of the Brothers' show, Animal Crackers, bitterly ad-libbing stock market gags. But in the following years he, and many others in the entertainment industry, made their money back again - and more - when millions flocked to the theatres, listened to the radio, or bought records to forget the Depression.
A range of contributors shed light on some of the most significant cultural developments. Sir Richard Eyre talks about the state funded theatre initiative that gave Arthur Miller his big break. Actor and broadcaster Harry Shearer talks about the invention of networked radio and soap operas. Jools Holland pays tribute to swing heroes, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and explains how a thirst for escapist dance music lead to a jazz boom.
Barry Norman describes the public fascination for crime and how the censor made sure the bad guys always got their comeuppance. Folk musician John Tams talks about The Dust Bowl Ballads, Woody Guthrie's musical chronicle of the hardships facing migrant workers; and actor Christopher Timonthy considers the importance of The Grapes Of Wrath, Steinbeck's Pulitzer prize winning novel about the Great Depression.
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