On April the 9th, 1918, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks draw tens of thousands to Wall Street and the foot of the United States Sub Treasury building (i.e. today’s Federal Hall) to drum up support for World War I war bonds (or, more precisely, Liberty Bonds).
The United States had entered the conflict the prior year, on April 6, 1917, and began selling bonds to raise funds for the war effort. Although many Americans were caught up in a patriot fervour, war bond sales were initially quite weak. Most Americans in the late 1910s had never bought a bond of any kind.
To promote sales, the government began enlisting celebrities from several fields of entertainment, most notably motion pictures. Since the New York area was filled with film stars — Hollywood not yet being the centre of the film business — its streets were soon filled with dutiful movie stars, extolling the patriotic and moral virtues of supporting their county through bond sales.
My favourite instance of this was the sale of doughnuts — considered a symbol of wartime — on the street by glamorous movie stars like Martha Mansfield. The Sub Treasury building, New York’s largest bond repository, was often the centre of such rallies and fund drives. (There were even doughnut auctions held on the steps here.) It made sense to bring the biggest stars to the Sub Treasury to drum up the most publicity.
And so, on April 9, 1918, as the New York Tribune headline goes, “20,000 Throng Wall Street to Hear Movie Stars Tell How To Win War.”
Chaplin threw himself into the war effort, embarking on a nationwide tour to promote the sale of bonds. That year he would make a propaganda film called The Bond. But there may have been a bit of self-promotion in his appearance at the Sub Treasury. His film A Dog’s Life would conveniently open in movie theaters five days later. People weren’t used to hearing their movie stars speak in 1918. “I never made a speech before in my life –” he proclaimed through a megaphone that noon, standing in front of the statue of George Washington. “- but I believe I can make one now.”
Actress Mary Pickford was also on a war bonds tour through America at this time. The following year, Pickford, her secret lover Fairbanks, Chaplin and the film director D.W. Griffith would start the film studio United Artists.
Source: The Bowery Boys