Photographers from the Dick Whittington Studio captured a vast trove of images showing many facets of the Southern California home front during World War II. These ranged from photos of real events like parades in support of the war effort—or golf tournaments, football games, and other sporting events throughout WWII—to idealized scenes of military service and the bonds between soldiers and their families at home.
Thanks to a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the USC Libraries are digitizing 37,000 photographic negatives created by Whittington photographers during the 1930s and 1940s.
The Whittington Studio photographers took a variety of creative approaches for their clients, drawing on conventions of news photography for some jobs and using models and studio lighting to stage vignettes or set pieces of family life for others. This range of approaches and subjects—documenting both real and imagined features of Southern California home front life during WWII—is on full display in the photo gallery above.
Among the highlights are images from the Cavalcade of the West parade promoting the sale of war bonds during the Sixth War Loan Drive of November and December of 1944. The parade drew 350,000 spectators to the streets of downtown Los Angeles and used a familiar body of romantic imagery of the American West and Southern California’s Mexican past.
The Gilmore Oil Company hired the Whittington Studio to photograph horse-drawn vehicles in the Cavalcade of the West, including the company’s miniature oil tanker cart, which bore a sign reading, “Oil Is Ammunition – Use It Wisely.” The eight war loan drives during WWII were extraordinarily successful and outstripped similar efforts in other countries. Between 1942 and 1945, sales of the Series E savings bonds (or “war bonds”) raised $156.4 billion, or more than $2 trillion in today’s dollars.
Other highlights from the Whittington collection include an assortment of staged photographs of models playing the roles of U.S. soldiers, sailors, and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) members and their families at home; victory gardens; and Southern California training facilities such as a simulated Pacific island battlefield with rows of stadium bleachers in the background.