Shore Leave With Marty

Wartime Kids

Nov. 2000. Volume 1 No. 2

      When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, visiting the vintage Irving theatre was a welcoming haven from my everyday stress of schoolwork. For only 10 cents my Saturday afternoons were filled with adventure, intrigue and suspense. While the city was riding the crest of waves of troops embarking to foreign soils to fight the enemy in Europe and the Pacific, the Irving was reeling out hundreds of war movies. The story line didn't matter either, as I was having a love affair with my favorite stars and starring in their movies. Once inside I was taken care of with huge three-for-a dime candy bars! Clark, Milky Way, Snickers, Mounds. Another please!!

      Mr. Teedyman had owned the Irving threatre since the days of silent movies. With his flashlight in hand, he would patrol the darkened aisles looking up and down the rows for troublemakers. Sometimes my friends and I were so rambunctious we were told to leave. A stern "You'd better quiet down!" was usually our first warning. If we acted up again, then we would be escorted out of the theatre. But, we hadn't really come to make trouble. We just really enjoyed the excitement!

      The Saturday matinees were always the high point of the week for me and my friends. We would perch on the edges of our seats chewing a Milky Way or munching on Cracker Jacks, and we kept our eyes glued to the big screen anxiously awaiting the next action scene. The feature was almost always a war movie; like John Waye in "Flying Tigers"; William Bendix in "Wake Island"; Van Johnson in "30 Seconds Over Tokyo". And there were other actors that flew those warbirds in dogfights with the enemy, or fought hand-to-hand combat with the villains, or skippered those PT boats. It seemed all this happened, and more, without them ever being killed, captured alive or losing a battle! The co-features were usually a Charlie Chan, Captain Marvel, Sky King, Dick Tracy whodunit. But the added attraction we looked forward to most was the continuing weekly adventure serial. Each serial consisted of 13 half-hour chapters. These episodes always concluded with the hero dangling by a thumbnail in a nail-biting situation. Sometimes our heros were trapped in a foxhole with bombs dropping or trapped in an abandoned farmhouse with poisonous gas seeping inside as fierce fighting with the Jerry's or Japs raged, machine guns blazing, fighting hand-to-hand with rifles and bayonets, grenades exploding! It wasn't until the final episode before we knew the final outcome or how our heroes would escape. The endings were unbelievable. Boy those Saturday matinees sure had plenty of action. And that's all we needed to be entertained.

      When we weren't at the movies, comic books added levity to our lives during the war. For 10-cents, these colorful comics became one of the most popular forms of entertainment on the homefront for kids as well as adults. "Joe Palooka" was one of the first comic book characters to "enlist" in the army. He even received public thanks from President Roosevelt for joining up. Shortly after, other comic book heros jumped in. Although Clark Kent flunked his army physical, "Superman" did his bit in the war against the Nazis. The tall, curly-haired "Tillie the Toiler" left her secretarial job to join the WAC's. It took "Skeezix" of Gasoline Alley a little longer to join the military. He did not inlist until August of 1942. Later, when rumors began to fly that "Skeezix" was going to be wounded by a Japanese bullet, concern was so widespread that the Pittsburgh-Gazette devoted a front-page story to the perils facing him. Other familiar characters who helped in the war effort included Dick Tracy, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Charlie Chan, Terry Lee and the Pirates and others. Little Orphan Annie did her duty by starting the "Junior Commandos" movement. Annie's "Commandos" pitched in by collecting tons of newspapers, scrap metal and other recyclable materials for the war effort. Thousands of kids across the country joined up-including me! I still own my very first "Commando" pin-back button. By late 1943 there were nearly 20,000 of us "Junior Commandos" in San Francisco alone. The mobilization of kids all across America reflected the popularity that comic books enjoyed during the war.

      New comics like "Sad Sack" and "GI Joe" also helped many servicemen pass the lonely hours away from home. Comics were a needed escape from the dog-days of war. Toward the end of the war, it was estimated that 70-million Americans, nearly half the population at the time, were comic book readers. Nowadays, comic books are still popular, but it's unlikely they'll ever enjoy the popularity they did when I was a kid. It was the Golden Age of comics in the Dark Age of civilization. But you wouldnt know it was a dark time by looking at us. We were tapping our toes and munchin' on Cracker Jacks.

      See you next month!


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