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Leap year, stargazing and match making in 1940
Out of the Morgue
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Clipart from 1940 featuring a popular Leap Year motif. - photo by TRIBUNE FILE ART

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

Feb. 29, 1940 was the date chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 1939 Academy Awards. It is the only time in 92 years that it has been held on Feb. 29, making it special in its own right. That year, it was special for another reason. That night, the Academy presented an Oscar for the first time to a black entertainer; Hattie McDaniel won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in David O. Selznick’s production of “Gone With the Wind.” 

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Hattie McDaniels in her Academy Award winning role as Mammy in the 1939 Hollywood blockbuster “Gone With the Wind.”

That night, the movie went on to win a total of eight Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography - Color; Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction plus a Special Award for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood and a Technical Achievement Award for pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment. 

The movie’s Oscar winning record wasn’t beaten until “Gigi” won nine in 1958. And McDaniel would remain the only black entertainer to win until Sidney Portier won an Oscar for Best Actor in “Lilies of the Field” in 1964. 

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Hattie McDaniels became the first black person to win an Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in “Gone with the Wind ‘’ at the 1939 Academy Awards on Feb. 29, 1940. Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick’ had to negotiate with The Ambassador Hotel where the awards ceremony was held for permission for McDaniels and her escort to be allowed to participate, as the hotel had a strict no blacks policy. She was separated from the other honorees, asked to sit some distanc

 We found a trove of information about McDaniel at The Hollywood Reporter website. She was a remarkable person, both on and off the screen. 

Born into extreme poverty on June 10, 1893 in Wichita, McDaniel’s family eventually moved to Denver where her mother and sisters took jobs as maids. Determined not to follow in their footsteps, she instead followed suit with her brothers, Otis and Sam, who dubbed themselves the “Cakewalk Kids” after a dance fad that doubled as a sly caricature of white cotillions. She began doing impressions in “whiteface” for black audiences. She grew in popularity as an entertainer as she grew into adulthood. 

Her rise to stardom was a slow one, and she was in her late 30s and early 40s by the time she finally began to appear in film credits.  

5 planets
Feb. 2, 2016, the five closest planets to Earth could be seen around the world in the early morning. The report in 1940 that it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurance was false.
Star gazing

No reports about the Oscars or the Golden Globes appeared this week in the Tribune. But, there was this mention of “Gone With the Wind” in the Town Talk column mid week:

“Prominent in Great Bend today are what the jokesters possessing them describe as “passes to the show “Gone With the Wind.” The “passes” are small navy beans, either in or out of an official looking envelope. It is easy to find a receiver for the “passes” they say, as few people will turn down what appears to be a free ticket for the popular movie.”


In other news, interest in stars of another kind prompted a report about a once-in-a-lifetime viewing readers could observe during the week. Called “The Show of the Century,” the appearance of “five brilliant stars in the west, just after sunset, hanging in a long, staggered string above the place where the sun goes down,” could be seen for the rest of the month, the Tribune reported. Their line is diagonal, leaning off toward the south, or to the onlooker’s left, and at the start tonight the top of this string of celestial lanterns is well up toward the overhead point.” 

It is seldom that the five bunch together in the sky, the report said. A trove of trivia about the planets was included, providing plenty for would be star-gazers to impress with.  

We fact checked this, and it turns out the appearance of five in the sky like this happens quite a bit more often.  In fact, it happened mid-December through mid-January in 2005, and in early February 2016.  Facts are rarely as romantic.  

Leap year promotions

Wishes made on falling stars often speak to love. With Feb. 29 coming up, advertisers in the Tribune had an amble hook to base sales for the week. On Feb. 27, a playful half-page combination and offered all sorts of spoofs on the Leap Year proposal. Mull-Curtis Motors had a Leap Year Proposal -- to “make your 1940 motoring more enjoyable and more complete by driving a Mull-Curtis “Good-Will” used car. We have a nice selection that will more than please from all angles.” 

And Peter Pan Cleaners spoofed with a scripted proposal, with the bride to be, mid-proposal, advising “If you don’t get your suit cleaned and pressed at Peter pan Cleaners and quit wearing those wrinkled relics, why I won’t ask you to marry me!” A winner for sure! 

But probably best of all was the promotion offered by movie theaters Kansan, Plaza and Strand, offering “every 29th ticket is good for extra admission to the next program” on Leap Day. 

The Plaza was also offering free passes to people born or married on Feb. 29th. “All that is necessary is for these persons to present their birth or marriage certificate to the cashier at the Plaza box office and she will provide free admission to see “Brother Rat and a Baby,” featuring among other Ronald Reagan. Also, Twins would receive a month’s pass to the Plaza, and Triplets, all attending together, would receive a year’s pass. 

In Ellinwood, Maennerchor Hall was advertising a “Twenty-nine-dollar salary night dance” on Leap night, featuring the Verne Wilson 10-piece orchestra of Grand Island. Admission was 89 cents per couple plus tax, extra ladies free.

Wow! $29 salary? It figures. According to, “A teachers average salary was $1,441 per year.” That’s just a hair short of the roughly $1,450 a year a $29 a week salary would bring in. 

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Clipart from 1940 featuring a popular Leap Year motif. - photo by TRIBUNE FILE ART

While men were reportedly reluctant, women were not accepting excuses from them. It was reported on Feb. 29 that “32 Pawnee Rock Women On Matrimonial Market.” 

From Pawnee Rock where one of the most active bachelor clubs of the state has recently sprung into existence, comes an answer giving the women’s angle of the whole thing. Naturally, the women are not expected to remain silent very long on such affairs of the heart. And although the communication is anonymous, here it is.

“The philosophical cold unromantic lovelorn members are not so sympathetic of their papa, who bestowed his gallant blessings upon them, to make us suckers for the baloney still being ground out elsewhere about the need for a helping hand. 

“The Pawnee Rock Chamber of Commerce of this historic spot claims no credit in its organization of the 35 bachelors which were revealed last week as a prize for the open season. One of them was overheard as saying,” We have lived in these parts for many a moon and by actual count we have 32 eligible widows and maidens who are pretty as any orange blossom in Southern California who are worthy of the mention in your column since all the hoop-la.”

“The women ask no sympathy from anyone and many of them write their bank account in four figures. We believe in trade at home first and are always boosters for our home town.” 

For whatever reason, readers must have shown some interest. We found this short report on the front page of the Feb. 23, 1940 edition:

“The Olmitz men who were in the Tribune office a day or so ago and reported taht Olmitz had 16 widows in a population of 150 were back yesterday with the announcement that they had discovered there more widows who were not on the first list they turned in, thus giving Olmitz 19 widows or one in every eight Olmitz residents being a widow. 

“That figure far out distances the claims of Rush Center, Otis and Garfield, with claims of about one in 15 of their residents being widows.” 

Today, the Leap Year proposal hype is down, but technology and reality television offer us ample opportunity to watch men and women battle it out to see who the latest bachelor or bachelorette will choose among a field of contenders.