Liberty Theatres of the United States Army, 1917–1919

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About the Book

The winter of 1917–18 found the United States in a general upheaval. A large percentage of the world’s population was at war and the United States itself was fully occupied with an unprecedented mass mobilization of its military forces, which were rushing headlong into an era of modern warfare. It was in this setting that the Liberty Theatres were opened. Created by the War Department’s Commission on Training Camp Activities, these theatres aimed to produce “morally uplifting” plays and movies as a form of entertainment for thousands of troops—ideally proving more effective than policing the camps. In actuality, however, Liberty Theatres became little more than public relations ploys. Ultimately, although the theatres endeavored to provide a constructive form of recreation and diversion, they—and CTCA—fell far short of what had been promised.
Compiled from a variety of government documents, camp newspapers and entertainment trade journals, this volume provides an in-depth look at the 42 Liberty Theatres created by the War Department during 1918 and 1919. It discusses the way in which these theatres were designed and run as well as the relationship between CTCA’s somewhat idealistic leaders and the theatrical professionals who handled this day-to-day operation. Setting the military and the American theatre within their respective historical contexts, the book also explores the role of Liberty Theatres with regard to both entities. Appendices contain a listing of Liberty Theatre opening and closing dates; Liberty Theatre expenses; gross receipts and estimates of attendance; and the average weekly receipts of Liberty Theatres.

About the Author(s)

Weldon B. Durham is an emeritus professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is the general editor of and chief contributor to American Theatre Companies and the author of numerous articles and reviews in professional journals in the field of theatre history and criticism. He lives in Covington, Georgia.

Bibliographic Details

Weldon B. Durham
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 227
Bibliographic Info: 7 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2539-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2097-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi

Introduction      1

1. The American Theatre and the U.S. Army on the Threshold of Modernity      9

2. Old Soldiers      23

3. Camp Life Reforms in World War I      29

4. The Purpose and Form of the Commission on Training Camp Activities      36

5. Commercial Theatres or Government Theatres?      48

6. Mobilizing the Commercial Theatre      53

7. Tents, Theatres and More Theatres      66

8. Money Matters      84

9. Discord      96

10. The Iron Hand      101

11. The Tightened Rein      108

12. Camp Shows

Tent Chautauqua      116

Musical Comedy, Tabloid Musical Revues and Burlesque      119

Comedies and Melodramas      127

Response to Touring Musicals, Comedies and Dramas      133

Minstrel, Speciality and Concert Performers      137

Motion Pictures      138

Vaudeville      145

Stock Companies      148

Soldier Shows      150

13. The Federal Government and the Entertainment Industry      156

14. Demobilization and Army Theatre Since World War I      159

15. Amateurs and Professionals: Conscience and Commerce      171

Appendix A. Liberty Theatre Openings and Closings      177

Appendix B. Liberty Theatre Expenses      180

Appendix C. Gross Receipts and Estimates of Attendance      182

Appendix D. Average Weekly Receipts of Liberty Theatres      185

Notes      189

Bibliography      205

Index      213

Book Reviews & Awards

“fascinating…excellent…thoroughly researched…superb”—Theatre History Studies.