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SMITH HISTORY BLOG: From Local Theatre to the Theatre of War: War Bond Rallies at The Smith

by Chris Woodworth

Photograph of July 27, 1942 War Bond Rally held at The Smith in conjunction with a screening of Mrs. Miniver. This photograph appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Photograph of July 27, 1942 War Bond Rally held at The Smith in conjunction with a screening of Mrs. Miniver. This photograph appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

On a late July night in 1942, hundreds of Genevans gathered in The Smith (then Schine’s Geneva Theatre) for a screening of the film Mrs. Miniver. In addition to witnessing one of Greer Garson’s most iconic roles in William Wyler’s Academy Award-winning film, those present exercised their own patriotism and support of the war effort. As a newspaper article preserved in Schine’s Geneva Theatre Manager Gerald Fowler’s scrapbook indicates, a War Bond rally was held on the stage of The Smith, between the two showings of the film. Geneva was one of many locations nation-wide that screened the film specifically to raise funds for World War II (“Buy Bonds Rally Held at Theatre”). The movie became such an effective rallying cry for the war effort that “President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked that the movie’s closing sermon be broadcast over the Voice of America and distributed as leaflets throughout Europe” (Eagan). Geneva’s first War Bond Rally at The Smith, “found a large group of well-known Geneva business and professional men seated on a stage decorated with American flags and with a neon sign of ‘Buy Bonds’ centered overhead” (“Buy Bonds Rally Held at Theatre”).

That evening in July marked the first of many, many War Bond events at The Smith, orchestrated by Gerald Fowler. Special guests occasionally livened up the War Bond effort. In September 1942, three sailors shared their experience of an attack on the U.S.S. Marblehead in the Java Sea as a means of encouraging the audience to “buy bonds to send our ship back to even the score” (“Sailor Heroes Boost War Bond Sales”). On September 21, 1942, Fowler helped organize a visit of the “Bondmobile” as it passed through Geneva. This was a motorless car “driven” by three young and pretty American Women’s Voluntary Service (A.W.V.S.) members. In the backseat of the car were effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini. With the purchase of any War Bond, people could push the motorless car one foot. The Bondmobile eventually made its way to Niagara Falls, where the effigies were set on fire and pushed over the falls! (“Victory Bondsmobile Comes Here on Monday”). The Bondmobile arrived in Geneva several hours late and therefore had a shortened visit, yet in that brief time it raised $22,650 in bond sales (“Victory Bondsmobile Does $22,650 Bond Sale”).

Advertisement for a 1943 screening of Best Foot Forward and War Bond Rally. This ad appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Advertisement for a 1943 screening of Best Foot Forward and War Bond Rally. This ad appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Films were often screened in support of the purchase of War Bonds and each screening usually featured attendant special events. In early September 1943, Irving Berlin’s This is the Army was preceded by a large war parade throughout Geneva, which included the Hobart Naval V-12 Regiment, WACS from Syracuse, local police officers, the Winnek Post American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, the Geneva High School band, as well as uniformed Red Cross women. The parade also included floats and pieces of equipment from the Seneca Ordnance Depot. To attend the premiere local screening of Best Foot Forward later than same month, patrons had to purchase War Bonds within a particular window of time. The screening was again accompanied by a War Bond rally at which two sailors related accounts of their war injuries in Guadalcanal. This one event raised $163,750 in bond sales! (“War Bond Show”).

Advertisement for a 1943 screening of This is the Army and Military Parade that preceded screening. This ad appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Advertisement for a 1943 screening of This is the Army and Military Parade that preceded screening. This ad appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Gerald Fowler’s efforts in support of the war did not go unnoticed. In addition to the newspaper clippings and photographs, his scrapbook contains many certificates and commendations for his patriotism. The American Red Cross, War Finance Committee of the U.S. Treasury, American Legion, and the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry were among the agencies and organizations that recognized his work and honored Schine’s Geneva Theatre for its support of troops.

 

Works Cited

Best Foot Forward Ad.” Appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

“Buy Bonds Rally Held at Theatre.” Clipping dated 27 July 1942 appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

Eagan, Daniel. “Mixing Movies and Politics: From Mrs. Miniver to Avatar, how big studio films have influenced public opinion.” Smithsonian.com, 24 October 2011. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/mixing-movies-and-politics-115450697/Accessed 12 July 2019.

“Sailor Heroes Boost War Bond Sales at Theatre Rally.” Clipping dated 18 September 1942 appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

“Victory Bondsmobile Comes Here on Monday.” Geneva Daily Times, 18 September 1942. Appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

“Victory Bondsmobile Does $22,650 Bond Sale Despite Schedule Mixup.” Clipping dated 22 September 1942 appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.

“War Bond Show Nets $163,750 Total.” Clipping dated 30 September 1942 appears in Gerald Fowler’s Scrapbook, housed in the Geneva Historical Society Archives.