Although America had not entered the war yet at the time of the 1940 presidential campaign, it was imminent; and America was deeply between isolationists and interventionists. The compromise between the leading Republican candidates was unattainable, and the party settled on an unlikely candidate. New York Financier Wendell Willkie was a former Democrat and had never held an elected political office, but he was thrust into the spotlight by the media.
A staunch republican Henry Luce of Time/LIFE ordered his magazines to extensively cover the Willkie campaign. A four-page spread in LIFE magazine, photographed by John D. Collins (above) documented the humble and eloquent Willkie’s first campaign in his hometown of Elwood, Indiana. Other powerful media magnates of the day (Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune, Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and John and Gardner Cowles) supported Willkie’s run against the incumbent Franklin Roosevelt.
In the end, Willkie lost this election which eeriely pre-shadowed a similarly mediahyped one depicted in Citizen Kane a year later. Coincidence for not, on February 1942, Willkie was invited to speak at 1941 Oscars in which Citizen Kane was nominated for the Best Picture. Willkie was invited to create a serious atmosphere around the annual gala, and his speech supporting the troops in the Pacific was a success. The same couldn’t be said for Kane, which lost the oscar race in what Variety had called, “biggest upset of the year”.