During World War I, the film, theatre, and music industries encouraged Americans to support the war effort. Prior scholars have shown that the U.S. government and the entertainment industry partnered with one another to develop propaganda for the war effort, that individual performers entertained wartime audiences, and that various types of entertainment shaped American audiences throughout the 1910s.
Using newspapers, autobiographical accounts, and mass media performances in films and songs, this project studies the viewpoints of performers and audiences from 1917 until 1919 to understand how American culture and society changed during the War. This project examines the war effort entertainment work of comedian Charlie Chaplin, vaudevillian Elsie Janis, and jazz bandleader James Reese Europe. These artists of the film, theatre, and music industries gave their time, money, lives, and talents to the American war effort. Yet, each also represented a stigmatized social group in the United States: Chaplin as an immigrant, Janis as a woman, and Europe as a black American. As popular entertainers, they each used their war work and celebrity to break societal boundaries during the First World War. Recorded by skeptical journalists, American audiences intently approved of each entertainer who helped boost morale during the War. These three figures transformed American culture and society due to their patriotic service as civilian and soldier entertainers for American audiences on the home and war fronts.