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Too Dead To Swing Home

LIFE IN 1940

California The Band's Itinerary Cost of Living Train Travel Ju-Jitsu

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Map of CaliforniaGreetings from California postcardBy 1940, California has become a model for the nation as a whole.  After almost ten years, the Depression here is waning, thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.  But unemployment is still high, and many people believe that the New Deal hasn't brought either the state or the country back to the prosperity of the 1920s, or created enough jobs to meet the demand.  And demand is high, because California is a mecca for Midwesterners fleeing the dust-bowl drought.

All Girl Band IllustrationThe Ultra Belles are in a union -- the American Federation of Musicians -- and most labor unions are stronger than they've ever been.  California's longshoremen, like Jack's father, won a key strike in San Francisco in 1934, after bloody skirmishes with police.  But most workers have yet to get a fair shake.

Business interests run the state's political life.  Their slick advertising blitz in 1936 defeated the gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair, a socialist intellectual.  And even among people who didn't vote for him, there's popular support in California for liberal and left-wing causes, even for Earl Browder, presidential candidate of the American Communist Party.


The Band's Itinerary

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Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a resort town on the Pacific Ocean, and the Ultra Belles are booked into an enormous ballroom in a seaside amusement park .  A landmark for three decades already, it's a popular venue for Swing bands on tour, with plenty of room for drinking and dancing.


Oakland's Claremont Hotel

The band plays at a private club in Piedmont, but stays overnight in Oakland's Claremont Hotel, which sits on a thickly-wooded hill, commanding a view of San Francisco Bay and the city of San Francisco beyond.


The Golden Eagle Hotel in Sacramento

The Golden Eagle Hotel, in Sacramento, is close to the state capitol, so it attracts political groups like the League of Women Voters, and "good-government" clubs like the one that's meeting there in Too Dead To Swing.  Katy's a thoroughly modern woman, so it's not surprising that she deprecates the Golden Eagle as a "Victorian pile."


A view of Lake Tahoe

Despite its name, the Tahoe Tavern is a luxury hotel built in a "rustic" style.  From the verandah, guests look out over alpine Lake Tahoe, high in the Sierra mountains on the Nevada border.  Once, steamships plied the lake; but now everybody drives around it in automobiles.
San Francisco Street San Francisco is one of America's best venues for Swing bands.  The national radio networks have their West Coast studios there; and world-renowned nightclubs feature the country's top-name acts.  In the summer of 1940 there will also be a world's fair on Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay, generating gigs for dozens of bands.

Cost of Living

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A dollar goes a lot further in 1940 than it does today, so most 60-year-old prices look absurdly low to us now.  But 1940 incomes are smaller too.  A farm hand earns less than $10 a week; factory workers barely $25.  Clerks start at about $30, but hardly any white-collar jobs pay more than about twice that. 

Most of Katy's gigs pay her between $10-25 a night, and she rarely works more than two or three nights a week.  Her gig with the Ultra Belles is the first time she's ever been offered the top union scale ($175).  That's as much as the famous Big Bands are paying, so it's no wonder that she jumps at the chance.

A Plymouth CoupeBut few musicians make top scale over the long term.  If Katy wanted to buy a car, she'd have to save up for months, maybe even years, and banks pay only one-percent interest on savings accounts.  A new Plymouth coupe -- basic transportation -- costs $645.

Meanwhile, she has to live.  Her one-room apartment in New York has no kitchen -- just a hotplate -- and rents for $40 a month.  A loaf of bread costs a dime; bacon or butter about 35 cents a pound; and a whole chicken about two dollars.  Eating out, a cafeteria meal costs about a dollar; double that for table service. 

And she needs clothes for work.  Montgomery Ward's catalog has simple cotton dresses for as little as 98 cents.  But a two-piece wool suit costs $15, with a matching coat it's $40.  Add a dollar for her slip, $3 for her blouse, another $3 for gloves, $4 for a hat and $6 for shoes and stockings, and a working woman's basic wardrobe isn't cheap.  Department store prices are even higher, especially for more glamorous labels.

A dapper man in a suit and hatMen pay at least as much as women do for their everyday clothes.  Off-the-rack worsted suits cost $25 and up, plusTwo women modeling their outfits alternations.  A good shirt costs $2 or more; neckties are a dollar; shoes and socks $5.  (Ted saves only $2 by not wearing a hat.)

A movie ticket is only a quarter; but the cheapest seat in a live theater is at least a dollar more.  For home entertainment, a combination radio-phonograph runs about $50.  The cheapest cigarettes cost 15 cents a pack.  A bottle of Scotch whiskey costs a dollar; and (with marijuana illegal since 1937) so does one reefer.Advertisement for cigarettes at 15 cents a pack

Train Travel

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Many touring band members drive their own cars, or rent buses, to get from gig to gig.  But the Ultra Belles have attracted a major talent agency, so they're taking trains throughout their tour -- and it's not a cheap way to travel.  The one-way train fare from Los Angeles to San Francisco is about $8.  A coast-to-coast ticket costs almost $70 -- two weeks' earnings for most musicians in 1940.
And the Ultra Belles are riding some of the newest trains in America.  The Southern Pacific's Starlight and the Western Pacific's Zephyr are like modern hotels on wheels.  Their dining cars offer restaurant-quality meals, prepared to order and served on white tablecloths.; a full-course dinner on these trains costs about $3.

Who Slept Where?

Pullman Layout

Click this image to see who was in each berth, that deadly night in the ultra Belles' Pullman car


Club CarClub cars, observation cars and lounge cars are fitted out like urban cocktail lounges in the latest Moderne dZ&Mac255;cor, and are staffed by experienced bartenders who know how to mix all the latest drinks.  New cocktails, like the Martini or the Sidecar, cost about 35 cents.

A night in a train is as comfortable as a night in a good hotel -- if you're in a Pullman Sleeping CarPullman sleeping car.  The Pullman cars in which the Ultra Belles are riding have eight pairs of plush benchPullman Car By Night seats, and around nightfall the porter converts each pair of facing seats into upper and lower berths, and draws curtains around them.

In 1940 a Pullman berth costs about $2.50 per night -- in addition to the price of the ticket -- so it's a rare treat indeed for working musicians.  Each Pullman car also has a private stateroom with its own sink and toilet, which costs about $7 extra per night. 

The women's washroomThe Men's and Ladies' washrooms are as sleek and clean as those in any leading hotel.  But in 1940 many hotels still have only shared bathroom facilities; so it's quite proper for Pullman passengers to walk through the aisle to their respective washrooms wearing a robe or dressing-gown.

Pullman by DayFor short train trips, such as Santa Cruz to Oakland, the Ultra Belles won't sleep on board; so they ride in a day-coach, where the seats do not have to double as berths.  So day-coaches typically have larger windows and more elbow-room than Pullman cars.



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Heroines with a working knowledge of self-defense were practically unheard-of at How To Diagram of Ju-Jitsu the time Hannah Dobryn was writing. So although Katy Green is a character rooted in her own time (the 1940s) her adventures foreshadow those of heroines from later decades, who are physically fit and do not need men to rescue them.

Since about 1900 -- long before popular culture embraced karate and kung-fu -- the martial arts were represented in America by ju-jitsu: the Japanese "gentle art" of self-defense.

"Breaking An Unwelcome Embrace" is an illustration from Lightning Ju-Jitsu, an instructional manual published in 1943 for men and women in the armed forces.  The booklet was in Hannah Dobryn's file-folder of background material for Too Dead To Swing, which suggests that she learned ju-jitsu during the War and was thus able to endow Katy with these practical and sometimes truly life-saving skills.


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