The Great Depression
"They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
—E.Y. Harburg, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"
The Great Depression / The Dirty Thirties: Home to dust bowl farmers, reedy-voiced folk singers and rail-riding hobos. Life pretty much sucks unless you're lucky enough to be a rich socialite, in which case you can expect to be involved in a wacky screwball comedy which may or may not involve either three short, bumbling men named Larry, Moe and Curly, or two fast-talkers named Groucho and Chico and their mute accomplice Harpo (as the Depression drove prices plummeting through the floor, people with money suddenly found their cash increasing in value). Or if you're female, you could ditch the dust bowl and head off to Hollywood to become an actress, wearing long, sexy gowns on première night, showing off some tanned skin.
Otherwise, you would be scraping to survive, as Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. For some, it's a time to run wild to take what you want against the fatcats who exploited the people as one of the Public Enemies like John Dillinger or the bank robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde. Others found more constructive paths such as folk singer Woody Guthrie who rode the rails Bound For Glory singing as the voice of the underprivileged. And there were more than a few examples of Pennies From Heaven-style escapism as listeners didn't want to be reminded of the hard times they faced.
Against this, President Herbert Hoover found himself completely over his head, refusing to accept reality of how bad the times were, while blindly mouthing absurd statements like "Prosperity is just around the corner." A "Hooverville" was a shantytown, a "Hoover wagon" (or "Bennett Buggy" in Canada) was a Model T Ford pulled by horses and a "Hoover flag" was a trouser pocket turned inside-out to indicate it was empty. Hoover was replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt who did his best to pull America out of the economic ruin with his New Deal; he was elected to an unprecedented four terms as president before dying in office in April 1945.
In addition, you could be a globe-hopping Adventurer Archaeologist in foreign parts having adventures with the natives while fighting the Nazis who are searching for any artifact that would give them the edge in a coming war.
If you're in Europe, chances are you are living in the Nazi or fascist version of Ruritania, trying to forget your troubles in the Cabaret while the Black Shirt goons become more bolder and brutal outside as your country slides into a fascist hell. As for the rest of the world, the communists seem to be the greater threat, until Those Wacky Nazis start getting greedy enough to betray their true ambitions (and for those already under communism, like say, some parts of the USSR, well, they're about to learn the wonders of cannibalism, or worse, end up in The Gulag for thinking unhappy thoughts about Stalin). At that the Western powers slowly begin to realize that appeasing them is making them worse and they have to stand up to them.
Period lasts from The Wall Street Crash of 1929 up until the beginning of World War Two. Note that in Real Life there were several sub-periods; the Hoover years, the New Deal years up to 1937, a second recession and a subsequent 1939-41 recovery that was just picking up steam when the war build-up started.
It should also be noted that the mass suicides of financial professionals (jumping from office buildings or hanging) of 1929 are a long-standing Urban Legend—only about twenty people killed themselves immediately after the Crash and about one hundred in all. 23,000 people did kill themselves in the first year though.
- Adventurer Archaeologist
- Crapsack World: Pretty much mandatory if you're portraying the common peoples' life - it basically was.
- The start of the golden ages of film, animation, and comics
- Morally-Bankrupt Banker. Banks who'd lent money as "margin loans" to stock-market speculators were crushed under bad debt, leading to a few Bank Runs in which depositors attempted to withdraw their assets before they disappeared with the insolvent bank. Many depositors lost everything.
- The Musical: Many of Hollywood's films tended to be musical and upbeat, because it wasn't called "The Great Depression" for nothing, people needed to be cheered up. Because of this, the motion picture industry was one of a small few disposal income industries that not only survived but thrived in the Great Depression.
- Perpetual Poverty
- Sexy Backless Outfit: The trend for women exposing their backs on bias-cut and halter-neck long gowns started during this decade.
- Vagabond Buddies
- Zipperiffic: the decade made zippers more innovative in many things like bags and clothes.
Works that are set in this time period include:
Anime and Manga
- Axis Powers Hetalia had a strip about the Great Depression, explaining it in a very simple way; America got sick and spread it to the other European countries. In the end, however, Russia was unaffected due to the fact that Russia was socialist, America, England, and France were helped out by their colonies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan, not having as much colonies, got the shorter end of the stick and suffered throughout.
- In actual history, Germany probably would have still suffered, Depression or no Depression, because of the WWI reparations that the nation was being forced to pay.
- Baccano!: At least, the anime and much of the light novels.
- Tintin. Series started in 1929.
- The DCU. Established with the publication of New Fun Comics #1 (February, 1935).
- The Dandy. Magazine launched in December, 1937.
- Spirou and Fantasio
- Spirou first appeared in April, 1938.
- Action Comics. Series started in June, 1938.
- The Beano. Magazine launched in July, 1938.
- An unnamed office boy debuted in November, 1938. He was eventually given a name, Jimmy Olsen.
- Sub-Mariner. The character debuted in April, 1939.
- The first few Batman comics. The character debuted in May, 1939.
- Abigail "Ma" Hunkel. The character debuted in June, 1939. She would later become the Red Tornado.
- The Sandman/Wesley Dodds. The character debuted in July, 1939.
- The Sandman Mystery Theatre featured retro stories, taking place in this era. However some of these stories were dated to 1938, predating the original Sandman stories.
- Blue Beetle/Dan Garret. The character debuted in August, 1939.
- The Marvel Universe debuted in October, 1939 with the publication of "Marvel Comics" #1.
- Recent Captain America (comics) stories focusing on Steve Rogers before he got the Super Serum -- which was actually before the US officially entered the war -- count.
- Road to Perdition
- The story of Superman and Batman Generations begins in 1939, featuring the first meeting between Superman and Batman.
- Mickey Mouse Comic Universe. Most of these characters were introduced in the comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson.
- Mickey Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
- Minnie Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
- Clarabelle Cow. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Horace Horsecollar. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Pete. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Sylvester Shyster. First appeared in April, 1930.
- Uncle Mortimer. First appeared in April, 1930.
- Pluto the Pup. Adapted to the medium in July, 1931.
- Captain Nathaniel Churchmouse. First appeared in May, 1932.
- Mortimer ("Morty") and Ferdinand ("Ferdie") Fieldmouse. First appeared in September, 1932.
- Professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex. First appeared in November, 1932.
- Goofy. Adapted to the medium in January, 1933.
- Captain Doberman. First appeared in February, 1933.
- Gloomy. First appeared in February, 1933.
- Tanglefoot. First appeared in June, 1933.
- Eli Squinch. First appeared in july, 1934.
- Mortimer Mouse. First appeared in January, 1936.
- Detective Casey. First appeared in July, 1938.
- Chief O'Hara. First appeared in May, 1939.
- The Phantom Blot. First appeared in May, 1939.
- Lil Abner. First appeared in August, 1934.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Most of these characters debuted in the comic strips written by Ted Osborne and drawn by Al Taliaferro.
- Donald Duck. Adapted to the medium in September, 1934.
- Huey, Dewey and Louie. First appeared in October, 1937. Adapted for Animation in April, 1938.
- Bolivar. Adapted to the medium in March, 1938.
- Gus Goose. First appeared in May, 1938. Adapted for Animation in May, 1939.
- Little Lulu. First appeared in February, 1935.
- The Phantom. First appeared in February, 1936.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven
- Angels with Dirty Faces
- Cinderella Man
- Emperor of the North (a movie about rail-riding hoboes).
- Everyones Hero (an All CGI Cartoon movie starring a boy named Yankee Irving)
- Gold Diggers of 1933, made and set in the year of its title. Its Busby Berkeley Numbers include "We're In The Money," where the Gold Diggers sing that they "never see a headline 'bout a breadline today," and "Remember My Forgotten Man," which obviously was inspired by "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
- The Green Mile
- The original three Indiana Jones movies.
- Part of It's a Wonderful Life takes place during this period.
- Johnny Dangerously
- The Journey Of Natty Gann
- King Kong
- Me and Orson Welles
- Modern Times
- The Music Box
- O Brother, Where Art Thou??
- Our Gang (a.k.a. The Little Rascals)
- Paper Moon
- Public Enemies is set in the early '30s.
- Purple Rose Of Cairo
- Radioland Murders, a slapstick mystery movie set in 1939
- The Rocketeer
- Sea Biscuit
- The Sting
- This Property Is Condemned
- The Three Stooges: Their pre-1940 shorts, obviously.
- Time Cop: One of the unauthorized time travels the protagonist busts is a man who went back to this time period to make it big in the stock market armed with future newspapers.
- The Untouchables: Part of which took place during The Great Depression.
- These Three. While never stated though, it's possibly The Fifties movie takes place in the original time period too.
- Gladiator (1930)
- Miss Marple. The novel series started in 1930.
- Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
- The Shadow. The first written Shadow story appeared in April, 1931.
- Doc Savage. First appeared in March, 1933.
- The Spider. First appeared in October, 1933.
- Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
- They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1935)
- The ABC Murders (1936)
- Death on the Nile (1937)
- Of Mice and Men (1937)
- And Then There Were None (1939)
- The Big Sleep (1939)
- The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
- Madeline (1939)
- All the King's Men (1946) is set in this era.
- My Family and Other Animals (1956) is set from 1935 to 1939.
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is set in this era.
- Mentioned quite a few times in the first chapters of Memoirs of a Geisha (1997).
- The story of Kit Kittredge (2000) from the American Girl Doll books (and The Movie) is set from 1932 to 1935
- One section of The Areas of My Expertise (2005), appropriately titled "What You Did Not Know About Hoboes"
- The Young Bond series (2005- 2008/2009) covers the adventures of James Bond in this era. Events start in 1933.
- In Dubious Battle
- Tales of the Gold Monkey
- The Waltons
- HBO's Mildred Pierce miniseries
- Any episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper's childhood is important (there are a lot of them) will involve a flashback to the Thirties.
- The Doctor Who two-parter, "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks," took place in Depression-era New York.
- Two-Fisted Tales in general.
- Mafia the City of Lost Heaven
- Shadow Hearts: From The New World takes place shortly before the Crash, but doesn't really deal with it.
- Rule of Rose is set in 1930, just in time of the Crash, possibly explaining why the events in the story didn't get any outside attention; the authorities were stretched too thin to worry about a few alleged disappearances.
- Telltale's Back to The Future game mostly takes place in the year 1931, with a few segments in 1986.
- Classic Disney Shorts. Started in 1928. Continued throughout the decade.
- Silly Symphonies. Series started in 1929. Continued to 1939.
- Looney Tunes in the Thirties
- Bosko the Talk Ink Kid . Created in 1929. Public debut in 1930.
- Sinkin' in the Bathtub (1930).
- Lady, Play Your Mandolin (1931).
- Porky Pig. Created in 1935.
- Owl Jolson
- I Love to Singa (1936).
- Daffy Duck. Created in 1937.
- Bugs Bunny. Created in 1938. Prototype appearances to 1940.
- Bosko the Talk Ink Kid . Created in 1929. Public debut in 1930.
- Max and Dave Fleischer produce some of their famous series.
- Betty Boop. First appeared in 1930.
- Bimbo's Initiation (1931).
- Popeye. Adapted to the medium in 1933.
- Color Classics. Series started in 1934.
- Ub Iwerks started his own studio. Creating a few memorable series.
- Happy Harmonies by Harman and Ising. The series started in 1934.
- Good Little Monkeys (1935).
- MGM Oneshot Cartoons started appearing in 1937.
- Peace on Earth (1939).
- Andy Panda. First appeared in 1939.
- Barney Bear. First appeared in 1939.
- Tale Spin. Created in 1990, set in the 1930s/
- Cats Don't Dance. Created in 1997, set in the 1930s.
Works made, but not set, during the thirties:
- Conan the Barbarian. First appeared in December, 1932.
- "The Phoenix on the Sword" (December, 1932)
- "The Frost Giants Daughter" Written in 1932, but not published. A version modified by Howard appeared in March, 1934. A version modified by L Sprague De Camp appeared in 1953. The original version was first published in 1976.
- "The God in the Bowl". Written in 1932 or 1933, but not published. A version edited by L. Sprague de Camp was first published in September, 1952. The original version was first published in 1975.
- "The Scarlet Citadel" (January, 1933)
- "The Tower of the Elephant" (March, 1933)
- "Black Colossus" (June, 1933)
- "Xuthal of the Dusk" (September, 1933)
- "The Pool of the Black One" (October, 1933)
- "The Vale of Lost Women". Written in 1933 or 1934, but not published. First published in Spring, 1967.
- "Rogues in the House" (January, 1934)
- "Iron Shadows in the Moon" (April, 1934).
- "Queen of the Black Coast" (May, 1934).
- "The Devil in Iron" (August, 1934).
- "The People of the Black Circle" (September–November, 1934).
- "A Witch Shall Be Born". (December, 1934).
- "The Black Stranger". There are 3 versions of this story. Two by Howard, and one by L. Sprague de Camp. The original version was written in 1934 or 1935, first published in 1987. The second version by Howard was written c. 1936, and was first published in 1976. The de Camp version was first published in 1953, and further modified in 1967.
- "The Servants of Bit Yakin" (March, 1935)
- "Beyond the Black River" (May–June, 1935)
- "Man Eaters of Zamboula" (November, 1935)
- The Hour of the Dragon (December, 1935-April, 1936)
- "Red Nails" (July–October, 1936)
- Red Sonya of Rogatino. First appeared in January, 1934. Her story was set in the 16th century. Prototype for the Red Sonja character.
- A Martian Odyssey. First published in July, 1934. the story is set in the 21st century.
- The African Queen. The novel was published in 1935. But the story is set in World War I.
- The Lone Ranger. First appeared in January, 1933.
As mentioned above, the film industry was one of the few to thrive during the Depression. Among the movies made (but not set) during The Thirties:
- Gone with the Wind - the quintessential American Civil War classic
- The Wizard of Oz - although set during the Gay Nineties of the original storybook, the beleaguered Gale family's troubles with its landlord probably resonated strongly with those mindful of the Dust Bowl.
- Dozens of Westerns. Among the big names who started film careers in 1930s Westerns: John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter.
- The first science fiction films, with the first film apperances of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
- All Quiet on the Western Front, the adaptation of the novel of the same name, is still noted even today for its gritty, realistic portrayal of the horror that was World War I.
- The Roaring Twenties