Former public relations executive and force behind the Doolittle Raiders 50th reunion held in Columbia, South Carolina, Marvin Chernoff proposes to open a WWII museum building upon the Movietone News Library collection already in the possession of the University of South Carolina. The collection was donated to the university by Twentieth Century Fox in 1979 and consists of 11 million feet of both raw and edited newsreels that were shown in movie theaters from the 1920s through the 40s and were the pre-television equivalent of the nightly news broadcast.
“It’s a resource unlike any in the world,” Chernoff told a subcommittee of Columbia City Council on Tuesday. “I think people (traveling on the area’s interstate highways) would stop and spend half a day in Columbia to watch them.” In the early 1970s, USC faculty member Jim Jackson began the negotiations, espousing that the movie reel library was the equivalent of a great manuscript and rare book library. The university entrusted with such a library would become a global center for study, he said. Working with SCETV, Jackson produced a PBS series, narrated by the original Movietone Annoucer Lowell Thomas, built around newsreel footage from the Fox library. The series, “Lowell Thomas Remembers,” launched in 1976 and ran successfully for several seasons on PBS stations nationwide.
The library consists of all silent newsreel elements from the original Fox News library from 1919 to 1930 and the original paper records supporting that material, all outtake and unused film from Fox Movietone News from 1928 to 1934 and the paper archive supporting that material and the published newsreels as well as all outtake and unused film from Sept. 1942 to Aug. 1944, which includes most of World War II. Chernoff says the World War II footage could be the lynchpin for a new museum, which could be located in 300,000 square feet of unused space in the South Carolina State Museum or another location.
The Second World War was captured like no other war before it, with cameras bearing witness and recording for posterity the pivotal events of the conflict in a way that continues to resonate through the ages. The founding of a museum with these films coupled with a collection of artifacts of the war would make a most compelling presentation for future generations to learn about “the greatest generation” and their heroic efforts to save democracy.