recess radio program

02/21/07
Teenagers and Andy Hardy
    by John Cech

Brief Sound Clip:

That's the young Andy Rooney hoping for a kiss from the young Ann Rutherford in the 1938 film, Love Finds Andy Hardy. In the film, Andy has a problem. He has one girlfriend, Polly. The only trouble is, he's fallen for another girl, Cynthia (played by Lana Turner), the girlfriend of his best friend, Beezy. Bezzy is being taken away on vacation and wants to pay Andy to go out with Cynthia, so that no one else tries to date her in his absence. Andy needs the money to buy an old jalopy -- after all, a fella's gotta have some wheels if he's to hold his head up socially -- and Beezy's eight dollars will go a long way toward a car.

The only trouble is, Andy's father, the austere Judge Hardy, doesn't think Andy should have a car unless he earns the money himself to buy the car outright. To further complicate matters, Betsy Booth (played by Judy Garland), the granddaughter of Andy's next door neighbors, has come to spend the holidays with them, and she, too, falls head over heels for Andy. Sorting out all these complications of an adolescent's love and social life was the trademark of the 14 Andy Hardy movies -- which were both a celebration of the American nuclear family and a valentine to the American teenager.

In 1938, when this movie came out, the American Dialect Society, which identifies a word each year to represent the prevailing zeitgeist, selected the new word, "teenager." Strange as it may seem, the whole conception of teenagers was created by the Great Depression. Until the end of the 1920s, nearly three quarters of America's adolescents never finished high school; they usually joined the work force after eighth grade, if not before. But after the stock market crash, many adults were glad to have what were formerly their youngsters' entry-level jobs; and high school was quickly seen as an invaluable place for young people to be spending their time, to learn proper manners, citizenship, and some useful skills -- to give them, in short, a leg up, once the economy turned around again.

By the end of the Thirties, a majority of American adolescents were graduating from high school, and the institution of the "teenager" was on its way to becoming one of the most successful cultural commodities to be constructed in this century. And as the continually growing stream of movies and other products for teenagers shows us -- it still is.

Copyright 2007 John Cech

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Friday, 02-Feb-2007 20:49:59 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."