Guadalcanal Diary: Mass Media Convergence in the 1940s


Media (the plural form of medium) is the common usage word for all the various forms of mass communication. Today, the Internet, television and movies are the media technologies that inform and entertain us. In 1943, we were informed and entertained almost exclusively by print media, radio and, as today, the movies. Guadalcanal Diary is a 1943 black-and-white film that the contemplative movie connoisseur should view and study for its unusual confluence of the media of the mid-20th century.

The 1942-43 Guadalcanal Campaign during World War II was significant because it was the beginning conflict in the long and difficult effort to reverse Japanese military conquests and take the war back to the Japanese Islands. Richard Tregaskis was a 26-year-old journalist who volunteered to serve as a war correspondent with the Marines on Guadalcanal. In January of 1943, five months after the commencement of the six-month campaign, Tregaskis published a book, Guadalcanal Diary, giving the American public an eyewitness account of the island battle. 

Six months after publication of the book, 20th Century-Fox began production on its film version. With a cast that included William Bendix, Richard Conte, Preston Foster, Lloyd Nolan, and a  relatively unknown Anthony Quinn, the gritty drama was released in October of 1943, just 10 months after the conclusion of the fighting on Guadalcanal Island (some of the Marines who took part in the battle actually served as extras). Together the movie and book exposed the public to the real-life experiences of men in combat. It is significant that this mass communication of the wartime experience was only mid-way through the war in the Pacific theater of operations. The horrific death tolls of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (148,185 combat deaths) were more than a year in the future for 1943 movie patrons. One year after the picture’s release, three of its leads–Bendix, Foster, and Nolan–re-created their roles for a Lux Radio Theater presentation of Guadalcanal Diary, thereby completing a tripartite 1940s mass communication by print, film and radio.     

California-based blogger John Greanias regularly looks back on the golden age of monochrome cinema in his John Greanias B&W Movie Report.