During the 1940s the film industry was extremely prolific, highly affluent, and on its way to becoming very powerful and productive. Film production reached its peak during the years 1943 to 1946, a little more than a decade after the rise of sound. The most profitable year in Hollywood during the decade was 1946, with all-time highs recorded for theater attendance, drawing nearly 90 million viewers per week.  Between 1942 and 1945 Americans spent 23% of their recreational dollars on going to the movies, compared to 2% today.

During the economic boom of World War II, movie attendance rose steadily. Employment had increased during the war, and Americans had few ways to spend their money. Gas rationing limited travel and commodities were scarce, and so people turned to the cinema in absolute droves. During the 40’s the average cost of a ticket was 34 cents, actually quite high for the time in comparison to other goods and services. Still, the demand was very high as people flocked to not only see the great films of the day but to keep up on the war. Television had not made it’s way into homes yet, besides newspapers, the movies were the only real way that anyone outside of Washington could keep up with what was happening to the troops overseas.

To meet the demand, Hollywood produced an average of 287 films a year throughout the war. When you compare that number to the approximately 140 per year being made today you get an idea of just how busy they were. Musicals were one of the most popular genres, with Fred Astaire’s 1946 Blue Skies and the star-packed Jerome Kern biopic, Till the Clouds Roll By. Many great female stars rose to fame during the time, such as Olivia De Havilland in To Each His Own. Ingrid Bergman and Betty Grable climbed their way up the Hollywood ladder and were as big at the box office as their male counterparts like Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart  and Gary Cooper.

By the end of the war, Hollywood began in earnest to tackle the problems facing returning vets, with some surprising results.  Not only was William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives a box office success, anchor propaganda gave way to such film noir archetypes as The Killers and Gilda.

The cost to make movies during the 1940’s, while paling in comparison to today, still was quite high when inflation is taken into account.  The Wizard of Oz (from the late 30’s) final tally came to around $2.77 million, although most major feature movies cost around $1 million at the time. Sergeant York with Gary Cooper cost almost $2 million while the Maltese Falcon came in at $381,000.00 and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was almost $800,000.00

The Best Picture Oscar winners during the 1940’s were, by year Rebecca (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Casablanca (1943), Going My Way (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Hamlet (1948) and All the King’s Men (1949).

Many of the leading stars and directors in motion pictures joined the service or were called to serve during the 1940’s due, obviously, to the entering of the United States into World War 2. Clark Gable, James Stewart, William Wyler, and Frank Capra served, to name just a very few, and male actors were in short supply for a time. Rationing, blackouts, shortages of all sorts of products and other wartime restrictions also had their effects on US film-makers, who were forced to cut back on set construction and on-location shoots as they faced their own war-time perils.

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Below is a highlight list of actors/entertainers that were around during the 1940s. Astonishing. See for yourself, I bet you’ll agree! 

Charles Chaplin, Dana Andrews, Jean Arthur, Fred Astaire, Mary Astor, Lauren Bacall, Josephine Baker, Anne Baxter, Jack Benny, William Bendix, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, Walter Brennan, James Cagney, Cab Calloway, Lon Chaney Jr., Montgomery Clift, Claudette Colbert, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Abbott and Costello, Joseph Cotten, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Dandridge, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Olivia de Havilland, Marlene Dietrich, Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Irene Dunne, Duke Ellington, Alice Faye, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Joan Fontaine, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Greer Garson, Paulette Goddard, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Sidney Greenstreet, Carl Stuart Hamblen, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Walter Huston, Jennifer Jones, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr, Dorothy Lamour, Bert Lancaster, Laurel and Hardy, Charles Laughton, Peter Lawford, Vivien Leigh, Gene Lockhart, June Lockhart, Carole Lombard, Peter Lorre, Myrna Loy, Ida Lupino, Vera Lynn, Fred MacMurray, Fredric March, Ray Milland, Carmen Miranda, Marilyn Monroe, Margaret O’Brien, Maureen O’Hara, Gregory Peck, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Eleanor Powell, William Powell, Tyrone Power, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Reagan, Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Rosalind Russell, Joseph Schildkraut, Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Taylor, Gene Tierney, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, John Wayne, Orson Welles, Richard Widmark, Cornel Wilde, Jane Wyman, Loretta Young