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Making The Best Years of Our Lives

Making The Best Years of Our Lives
The Hollywood Classic That Inspired a Nation

How a Hollywood gem transformed the national discourse on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

May 2022
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240 pages | 6 x 9 | 16 b&w photos |

Released in 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives became an immediate success. Life magazine called it “the first big, good movie of the post-war era” to tackle the “veterans problem.” Today we call that problem PTSD, but in the initial aftermath of World War II, the modern language of war trauma did not exist. The film earned the producer Samuel Goldwyn his only Best Picture Academy Award. It offered the injured director, William Wyler, a triumphant postwar return to Hollywood. And for Harold Russell, a double amputee who costarred with Fredric March and Dana Andrews, the film provided a surprising second act.

Award-winning author Alison Macor illuminates the film’s journey from script to screen and describes how this authentic motion picture moved audiences worldwide. General Omar Bradley believed The Best Years of Our Lives would help “the American people to build an even better democracy” following the war, and the movie inspired broad reflection on reintegrating the walking wounded. But the film’s nuanced critique of American ideals also made it a target, and the picture and its creators were swept up in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the late 1940s. In this authoritative history, Macor chronicles the making and meaning of a film that changed America.

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Warstruck
  • Chapter 2. Every Veteran a Potential Mental Case
  • Chapter 3. The Way Home
  • Chapter 4. Underwater Again
  • Chapter 5. Fade on Kiss
  • Chapter 6. Pure Emotional Dynamite
  • Chapter 7. It’s All the Same Fight
  • Chapter 8. A Training Film for All of Us
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Sources
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Alison Macor is a freelance writer and former film critic for the Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. She has a PhD in Radio-Television-Film from UT Austin. She is the author of Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas and Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren.


“In her compulsively readable, meticulously researched, and altogether elegant reappraisal of The Best Years of Our Lives, a towering Hollywood classic that many regard as William Wyler’s most enduring cinematic achievement, Alison Macor offers a veritable model of accessible, public-facing scholarship. She chronicles in rich detail the film’s fascinating production history, the deep personal connection it had to its director, and the remarkable resonance that the picture struck with movie-going audiences in its day and continues to strike in us three quarters of a century later.’’

—Noah Isenberg, author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie

“Alison Macor has written a thoughtful and meticulously researched book that documents the fascinating production history of this groundbreaking film while also exploring its cultural, industrial, and social contexts. It will be appreciated by all readers who are drawn to in-depth studies of classic Hollywood films, as well as those interested in disability rights, veterans' issues, war and social problem films, and the postwar American film industry."

—Barbara Hall, coeditor of Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking