What was the Performing Arts like during the Carnival Season of 1946?

1946 was a big year for the performing arts, although many various outlets of the arts were in full effect, dance recitals, motion pictures, and theater were thriving with excitement. There were many classic films released that would eventually become definitive parts of the time period, and the dance recitals coming to town were known for their free expression.

Many people aren’t aware of how iconic the 40s were, especially in the performing arts. This era in Hollywood is known as the “Golden Age”, and was known as one that brought a much needed levity to the air. Little did they know the effects that this year would have on the era, in the face of heaviness of World War II’s aftermath.

During the early month of 1946, dance recitals were one of the many ways for people to enjoy the arts in this time. One very interesting and well produced recital was a recital by Paul Draper and Larry Adler. The duo had previously to 1946 visited and performed in New Orleans multiple times with uncanny success. During the war Larry Adler was touring with the USO and was well received by the troops overseas.

Free expression dance also took center stage during this time with a trio team performing for patrons. Through dance, with some vocal interpretation. The trio, Dudley-Maslow-Bales, were able to express the struggles of the world today through dance. During the recital Vocal interpretation was provided by Miss Jane Dudley.

During March of 1946, the movies that were playing in the theatre were some of the most classic films to this day. We had Rita Hayworth’s Gilda and we also had House of Horrors playing at the same time. Back in the day all we could play was two films at a time so during the Mardi Gras season, if people weren’t interested in going to the parades they would normally go to the movie theaters to enjoy a film. Gilda made audiences rave, making  3.5 million dollars in total at the box office, and did far better than House Of Horrors. It was March, people weren’t particularly interested in seeing a thriller during the winter season so that’s why they went to see Gilda. Something the box offices noticed was overall the theaters had plenty of customers since most of the soldiers and their families were reunited after WWII.

Tudor and Globe Theaters on Canal Street in 1951. Today the site of the JW Marriott.
Charles L. Franck Photographers, Historic New Orleans Collection.

Not only during Mardi Gras time was the performing arts in 1946 a big thing, earlier in that year a film titled The Harvey Girls was released, starring Judy Garland who was at the time, the biggest musical performer of all time. Another film that starred Garland, and many other icons of the time was Ziegfeld Follies. Alongside with Garland, it starred Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Fanny Brice, Lucille Ball and so many others. This was a very prominent film, very important to the performing arts at the time and for many years to come. 

Poster for The Harvey Girls

Now focusing on the performing arts aspect of Mardi Gras, this was mainly focused on Jazz. In 1946, Jazz was very popular, everyone was listening to jazz or some sort of musical theatre like piece of music. During this Mardi Gras parade there were over 50 floats and trucks dedicated to the event, many of them only carried veterans and the bands and many others were focused on making the krewes feel noticed and to celebrate the season. This the first Mardi Gras since the war started, and now that the war was over most of them were featured on trucks with large Jazz bands playing sweet soulful jazz music. In the year after 1946, there was a film dedicated to New Orleans and the amazing jazz that the city brought to the country. It was titled New Orleans, and was created by Billy Holiday. Additionally, it was the last film Herbert J. Buber man was involved with before he was blacklisted from Hollywood.

Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in New Orleans

Overall Mardi Gras is a time for people to forget the outside troubles and release some bent up stress. What makes this time so special is that for once people were doing just that but for a purpose of celebration. Celebrating that the world was moving to peace and the war was finally over. The performing arts main purpose to escape from reality was achieved; some pieces though were able to tell patrons of struggles Still happening throughout the world now that the war was finished. 

Written By: Gracie Elizabeth

Originally Published: December 11th, 2020 || Last Updated: February 22nd, 2020

A part of Doc Studio’s History of the New Orleans Landscape Collection


  1. February 28, 1946 | Times-Picayune (published as THE TIMES-PICAYUNE.) | New Orleans, Louisiana | Page 23
  2. Ibid.
  3. March 24, 1946 – Times-Picayune (published as THE TIMES-PICAYUNE.) – page 64
  4. Ibid.

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