Washington, D.C. — Government girls, victory gardens, war bond rallies and top-secret missions — WETA TV 26 explores life in the Washington area during the war years in its new production "Homefront: World War II" in Washington. The two-hour local special will document the history of the war years throughout Virginia, Maryland and D.C., showcasing the stories of area residents, including memories of shared tragedy and sacrifice, accounts of deployment and homecoming, and tales of community endeavors to support the war effort. The documentary, produced by WETA TV 26, premieres Sunday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on WETA TV 26.
As the nation’s capital, Washington was undeniably a historical center of the great happenings of the war, but it was also the home of more than one million people that experienced the era with a deep sense of community. "Homefront" captures the spirit and civic pride that filled the city. The WETA production team researched extensive photo and film archives from the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Washingtoniana Division of the D.C. Public Library; conducted more than 70 interviews with local residents and historians; and draw from a collection of more than 350 photographs of the era, creating a television program that expresses the rich tapestry of life during that period.
"'Homefront' demonstrates WETA reaching out to and participating with our community,” said John Begeny, executive director of on-air fundraising and special projects for WETA, and producer of Homefront. “Through the lives of our viewers, we’re telling the story of an important era here, and it’s such a privilege to document and share that with the Greater Washington community.”
"Homefront" will cover the full breadth of local wartime history, from the news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor — which first reached many in the District during a Washington Redskins game at the old Griffith Stadium — to the major activities of Congress, Eleanor Roosevelt’s ubiquitous ladies’ teas, and the funeral processions for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to President Harry S Truman’s inauguration, and through to the celebrations of V-E and V-J Day. The film features historians Alan Brinkley, provost at Columbia University, Kim Bernard Holien, historian for Fort Myer and Fort McNair and Jane Freundel Levy from Cultural Tourism D.C., but the history is predominately told by the accounts of local residents.
A Selection of Homefront’s Topics and Interviewees
- Government Girls and Nightlife: The boomtown brought an influx of workers, especially women. Verna Lopatkiewicz, 84 year-old resident of Falls Church, Virginia, tells of her years as a government girl and her nights on the town, including such famed local destinations as The Balalaika and The Troika in the District.
- Housing Boom: A look the region’s dramatic growth, exploring the small sleepy Washington before the war to the changing landscape brought on by the wartime boom. Well-known local developer Abe Pollin, 83 year-old resident of Bethesda, Maryland, shares his story of constructing 60 houses during the war.
- Military and Government: Colonel Indyke, 94 year-old resident of McLean, Virginia, reported to work as an Army radio operator at midnight on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attacks, and shares the story of witnessing Japanese diplomats burning their documents on their embassy’s lawn. Peter Earnest, 73 year-old resident of McLean, Virginia and currently the director of the International Spy Museum on F Street, was raised in the D.C. area and worked for the CIA for 35 years, relating for the program tales of wartime Washington, including the espionage.
- Portrait of the Times: Jean Bubley, resident of New York City, shares the story of her aunt, renowned photographer Esther Bubley, whose striking photographs of life in the District are featured prominently in Homefront. Bubley’s skillful photography captured an unvarnished look at local life during the war and quickly had her recruited into the Office of War Information (OWI). WETA producers were given unprecedented access to Bubley’s photographs for the program.
- Social Complexity: War brought new challenges and opportunities for many residents, including the strain of new populations. Renowned civil rights advocate Dr. Dorothy Height, 95 year-old resident of Southwest, D.C., describes her experience living and working in segregated Washington. American leaders, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, regularly took her counsel.
- WETA Newsreels: Homefront will also make use of the distinctive look and feel of WWII newsreels to present information with three WETA Newsreels throughout the film. Hollywood Meets Washington! features celebrities who visited the District to promote war bonds, such as Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Doing Their Part! is a story of the recycling and conservation efforts that residents took up. Top Secret Washington looks at the unique story of espionage that took place in D.C., including a POW camp and top-secret work at Fort Hunt, Virginia that was only recently declassified by the U.S. Department of State.
WETA will hold a free public screening event of "Homefront" on Thursday, November 29, 6:30-9:00 p.m. at the Arlington Cinema–n–Drafthouse at 2903 Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia. The audience will join filmmakers and featured residents from the documentary for a reception with light appetizers and entertainment, followed by a screening. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For more information about this free event, please visit www.weta.org/homefront or call Katelyn Osborne at 703.998.2875.
"Homefront" will be featured on the new WETA media player, WETA Watch Online, at www.weta.org/watchonline, with clips from the film — including a montage of each interviewee singing a song from the ‘40s — and bonus footage. Featuring more than 100 videos, WETA Watch Online includes the latest videos from WETA TV 26 local productions, such as "WETA All Access," "WETA Extras" and "WETA Hometown Heroes." The web area for "Homefront" at www.weta.org/homefront will include biographical information on all interviewees, a slideshow of photographs from the era with their historical captions, trivia from the period and event information.
The producers of "Homefront: World War II in Washington" are John Begeny and Christine Wolski. Funding for "Homefront" is provided by The Kiplinger Foundation. Support for the WETA Greater Washington initiatives surrounding this project is provided by local underwriters George Mason University and Hardwood Artisans.
"Homefront" complements the broadcast of the WETA and Florentine Films co-production THE WAR, a 15-hour World War II documentary that premiered in September on WETA TV 26. Directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the documentary is accompanied by extensive efforts to encourage students across the country to collect and preserve personal histories of World War II. For more information about THE WAR, visit WETA’s website at www.weta.org/thewar.
WETA TV 26 and Classical WETA 90.9 FM are public broadcasting stations serving Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia with educational, cultural, and news and public affairs programming and related services. WETA is committed to producing programs that highlight the history and people of the Greater Washington area. Over the past year, WETA TV 26 has produced more than 35 local productions, and regularly produces "The WETA Guide," "WETA Hometown Heroes" and "WETA Neighborhoods." In 2005, WETA produced the documentary "Arlington: Heroes, History and Hamburgers," and, in 2002, presented the documentary "Silver Spring: Story of an American Suburb." WETA’s headquarters is located in Arlington, Virginia. WETA was founded by public television pioneer and Arlington luminary Elizabeth P. Campbell. For more information on WETA and its services, visit www.weta.org. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA.
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