Camera Rolls: 314:28-29
Sound Rolls: 314:16
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Fay Blake , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 5, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Can you give me, you know, all the silly feelings that you had [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?
Mostly, to me, living
as a teenager
** living in New York, California was a
** myth. There really weren't any people living there, there were just shadows and images across a screen, and if there were people there, they were just a bunch of nuts. They never had to work for a living, or work for a...
I'm gonna start you again, actually, and tell me again...
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
As a teenager in New York, I didn't think much about California at all, but whenever I thought about it, I thought of it as a land of [Kahkain?]. It was a place where people didn't have to work for their food...
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, one more, instead of "it" was a place, say "California"-
California, right. I, as a teenager, should I start?
Oh. To me, California was a
place where people never had to deal with the problems I was dealing with every day. If they wanted food, they would sit under a palm tree and an orange would fall down into their hands, and if they wanted sunshine, they always had it.
** We had to go hunt for it, in New York. That people in California were never seriously dealing with anything, and therefore, they really weren't serious people, they were a bunch of nuts, and that ideas about politics, about economics, about any of the serious issues that I, as a member of the Young Communist League dealt with very seriously, that Californians didn't deal with at all. They would, just as they would pluck an orange off a tree, they would pluck a solution out of the air, somehow, and that none of them, of course, none of these solutions, of course, would work, because people weren't seriously considering them. So, California was really more of a land of myth and story than a reality.
OK, I want you to repeat one part of what you said to me again. You said, just as "they" could pluck an orange off a tree, that, so, say...
"Just as Californians"? It seemed to me in, as a very serious-minded Young Communist in New York, that people in California had solutions that weren't really solutions, that, just as they plucked an orange off a tree if they got hungry, they would pluck an economic or political or social solution out of the air, and that it never really was meant to work, and was never really meant to be a reality.
OK, I want to try one more time on that, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] .
I'm not sure how I knew, whether it was from the newspaper or the radio or magazine articles, but I did know that Sinclair was expecting an endorsement from the President, from President Roosevelt, and I felt strongly that such an endorsement would be of great help in Sinclair's campaign, that people would pay attention to what Roosevelt had to, to what positive things Roosevelt had to say. When it became clear that Roosevelt was not going to endorse Sinclair, to me, three thousand miles away from the campaign, it was very clear that Sinclair probably would not win.
OK, I'm going to want you to start, just say, "When it became clear that Roosevelt would not endorse the campaign", don't say "from three thousand miles away".
Oh, OK. When it became clear that Roosevelt was not going to endorse Sinclair, it was fairly evident to me that Sinclair was not going to win the campaign. Even though I felt it was important as an educational campaign, Roosevelt's lack of endorsement was a fatal blow.
Did it make you angry?
It made me angry at Roosevelt, but then I was consistently angry at Roosevelt. I always felt that he didn't live up to the great reputation that he was building, or that was being built around him, as the savior of mankind.
OK, I want you to, without, just, also, just, tell me, just, briefly, that it made you angry that Roosevelt did not support Sinclair. The long explanation's good, and I want a short one too.
It made, it made me very angry at Roosevelt, that he didn't endorse Sinclair. My feeling was that he was betraying the principles that he said he stood for.
OK, all right, so, we're back on, you were telling me...
...how he betrayed, you know, the kind of principles, or beliefs that he stood for as a Democrat? Are we ready? OK.
I felt anger at Roosevelt's failure to endorse Sinclair's campaign, because I felt that it was a betrayal of what Roosevelt had put forward as his, as the principles on which he was governing this country.
OK, great, one more time. And maybe "a betrayal of the New Deal"? Was that what it was?
Yeah, OK. When it became clear that Roosevelt was not going to endorse Sinclair's campaign, I felt anger at Roosevelt. I felt that he was betraying the principles of the New Deal, and that Sinclair's campaign would have been an occasion for him to further the ideas of the New Deal.
Good, OK. Great. Let's go back to the oranges.
Tell me the image of Californians, you know, picking oranges off trees, and then go, then make that leap to the fact that they were picking oranges like they were picking solutions, political solutions.
I felt that Californians were, never had to deal with the real problems that most human beings have to deal with. If they got hungry, they picked an orange off a tree, and if they needed, felt they needed a solution to a political or social or economic problem, they plucked that off a tree too, or out of the sky somewhere.
OK, great. Did you ever go the movies?
I went to the movies constantly. When I wasn't in the library, I was in the moviehouse, three times a week, usually.
What did you think about, what did the movies mean to you, what did you think about it?
The movies were an escape from the problems of everyday life. I believed utterly in the kinds of lives that were betrayed [sic - check this], that were portrayed in the movies-
OK, start again.
Yes. I believed utterly in the kinds of lives that were portrayed in the movies, at the same time as I didn't believe anything. I knew that secretaries weren't living in penthouses, and that girls working on assembly-lines were not dressing in Chanel dresses, but I wished they could, and I loved the movies.
What did you love about them, was it the sound, was it the images, what was it?
Well, I started before there was sound in the movies. I started going to the movies when they were silent. The images were entrancing...when I first started going to the movies, it was with my parents, who were immigrants, and who were learning English from the captions of the silent films, who would, somebody in the theater would read out the captions, and everybody else would follow and mouth each of the captions. So movies were a part of my life from when I could first remember anything. Then they became, when I was a young teenager, an adolescent, the movies became a glimpse into worlds that I had no other access to. Rich people were on the screen, and people from Africa were on the screen, and it meant lives that I was not much aware of. I began to be a great reader, I was reading constantly, and many of the movies were dramatizations of stories that I had read, so they came very close to home, too.
Did you ever, did you ever, in the fantasies or in the escape, did you ever want to be a part of that life? Did it ever, did it hold an attraction to you?
No, on the contrary, I knew, first of all, I never believed that I could live that kind of life, but I never really wanted to, either. I didn't, I didn't feel that the lives that were depicted there as glamorous and as rich and as fabulous, as they were made out to be, really were what I, how I wanted to spend my lifetime.
You talked about your parents being immigrants. Did, did, was, were movies also an experience of inculturation, to know kind of what the...
To my parents, the movies were an essential part of becoming more like Americans were supposed to be. We never were exactly sure what that meant, but, that they were important for the language, they were important for customs, the way you dress, the way you moved, when you said, "Thank you", when you sat down, when you stood up, what kind of relationships between classes were indicated, even though we knew they were all fake, and that they really had nothing to do with our real lives.
Great. So do you remember what kind of movies that came out that were kinda "Golden Age", or [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?
Well, I, it's interesting, when I see movies from the 30s, even today, I find them an important artistic experience. They were very well done, and I find them, I begin, I look at them now as...
No, what do you remember of them then?
I remem--, in the 30s, some of the great films ever were appearing. To a young girl, a film could mean the difference between being a part of this country and being an alien outside of it.
Do you have any particular titles that you [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?
I saw all the Charlie Chaplin films, and loved every one of them. I liked the Powell/Loy films. The Laurel and Hardy films were essential to my life at the time. Some of the dramatic films...I can't...
OK. Do you remember _Our Daily Bread_, _Dinner at Eight_, any of those?
All of them. [laughs] But they weren't the ones that I was really... It's interesting, that [coughs] the films of the 30s that were most, that were closest to the kind of life I knew- [coughs]
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
OK, go from where you were at.
[coughs] It's very strange that the films that I considered to be closest to the life I knew, I remember a British film, _Life on the Dole_, which showed unemployed workers, and I knew about that kind of life, those were less important to me than the ones with, [NOTE Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression; Episode 314-40] with Ginger Rogers sailing across the screen in a beautiful, fluffy, long gown...
OK, I'm gonna ask you to start that again, just by saying, the films that dealt kinda with, I don't wanna refer to British films, that dealt with the unemployed, unemployment, the Depression, were less important.
The films that, strangely, the films that dealt with the kind of life I knew, the films that dealt with unemployment, the films that dealt with hunger, with lack of sufficient means, were less important to me than the films that depicted
glamorous, rich, important people,
** and whose lives I had no idea about.
OK, one more time, but refer to Ginger Rogers.
The films that depicted life as I knew it, that showed unemployment or hunger or disability, were less important to me than films that depicted a life I had no idea about,
** but when Ginger Rogers sailed across that screen in a beautiful, haute couture gown, that, I drank that in, that was life to a young teenager.
OK, I think we're done.
That's it? Ah...