Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day: A Tribute

I have been meaning to do a post like this since I started my blog in 2009. I am glad to have had a little time to do some research and learn some interesting things about Hollywood's involvement in our last world war. I also wanted a chance to pay tribute to the men and women both known and and unknown, who sacrifice(d) much to make our world a safer place. Thank you!
Patriotism is such a shaky thing these days. I myself, could not be called America's biggest supporter but I do appreciate and respect people who support their country by making tremendous sacrifices. Below I have put together a few things I have been reading up on, highlighting items I found interesting, nothing to in-depth, mind you. I do hope you enjoy.

In the 1940’s World War II changed the face of Hollywood, prompting Bette Davis to sing; Joan Crawford to jitterbug; Greta Garbo to laugh; Marlene Dietrich to earn the Medal of Freedom as well as the Légion d'honneur; Bob Hope to take to the road; Hedy Lamarr to show off more than her acting chops; Fredric March to earn his second and final Academy Award; Dorothy Lamour to sell, sell, sell; Donna Reed to become quite the pen pal; and sadly, have Carole Lombard and Leslie Howard sacrifice all.
As war raged on the European front, America and specifically Hollywood purposely remained isolated from the reality of any threat. Fearing that propaganda film would infect the minds of American citizens prompting them to become pro-war, some isolationist members of the US Senate created a subcommittee in 1941 to investigate Hollywood’s film output. They had little to fear due to the studio’s heavy dependence on their European market. Revenue continued to be their motivating factor, even prompting some studios to fire any “non-Aryan” employees in their German business offices to satisfy Nazi demands. Only a few anti-Nazi films such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy or Chaplin’s daring anti-fascist comedy The Great Dictator were created along with American preparedness films like Sergeant York, and pro-British films like A Yank in the R.A.F.. Then came Pearl Harbor and everything changed. In a serious twist of irony, the government became more involved in Hollywood film making, promoting its use as a powerful tool to promote American’s involvement in the war. Under FDR two institutions were created, the Office of War Information which regulated what information about the war was released, and the Bureau of Motion Pictures that worked directly with Hollywood, setting up guidelines to decide which movies were most beneficial to the war effort. With the full support of all the big studios and their available talent, Hollywood helped create an era of pure American patriotism that has yet to be reproduced.

Those Who Served: The Stars
Though there were many stars who voluntarily left prominent careers and suited up in a more serious costume, I am going to highlight only a few here. To learn more about actors and actresses who were involved, look here or here.
Jimmy Stewart was the first Hollywood star to enter the service for World War II and subsequently became the highest-ranking entertainer in the American military. Entering the Army Air Force as a private, Stewart would fly 20 combat missions as a B-24 Pilot in Europe, taking part in hundreds of air strikes and commanding a squadron, eventually earning the rank of colonel. He was awarded the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and seven battle stars. Even after the war, Stewart continued in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and became a Brigadier General.

After the death of wife Carole Lombard, Clark Gable at age forty-one enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a private. Attending the Officers Candidate School, he graduated as a Second Lieutenant. During his tour of duty, Gable filmed German military installations for U.S. Army Intelligence, and flew operational missions over Europe in B-17s. Being to old for combat missions, Gable was relieved from duty prior to the war ending, with the ranking of Major. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal.
Listen to Gable give a report on the WWII air war.

Lew Ayres daringly declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to bear weapons when called to duty in World War II. Publicly perceived a coward, MGM did not take his opinion lightly. They dropped his contract. After the war, many learned of Ayres' bravery as a non-combatant medical corpsman who served three and a half years as a medic and chaplain's aide, earning three battle stars. He eventually resumed his career.
Read an interesting article (click on the blue button Read Article For Free) about Ayers written in 1944.

Audie Murphy’s heroics under fire earned him the honor of being the most decorated American combat soldier of WWII. He won two dozen military medals for valor, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. A feature on him in LIFE magazine caught the attention of James Cagney, who invited him out to Hollywood after the war. Thus began a B-movie career that spanned forty films, mostly Westerns, as well as an opportunity for Murphy to star in his own filmed autobiography, To Hell And Back.
Read more about Audie Murphy here.

David Niven was notoriously close-mouthed about his service in WWII. He was personally congratulated by Winston Churchill for voluntarily leaving Hollywood and returning to his country to serve. A student of The Royal Military College at Sandhurst, who graduated a Second Lieutenant, Niven had the ready education to be re-commissioned and command a squadron. When he returned to Hollywood, he received the Legion of Merit, presented by Eisenhower, honoring his work in setting up the BBC Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme, a radio news and entertainment station for the Allied forces.

Another soldiers recollection:
I understand that in the '30s he [Niven] gave up regular soldiering to go to Hollywood, but at the beginning of the war returned to his regiment. An elderly field grade officer spotted him in the mess, and asked what he'd been up to the past few years.

"I've been doing pictures, sir," Niven replied.

"Really?" the old boy asked. "Watercolors?"

Those Who Served: The Directors
Just as important as those starring in the film, directors were tasked with a huge responsibility. Influence the opinion of the people. With the advantage of vision and sound, film was the most powerful tool for propaganda, more so than radio or print. Used correctly, it could create a positive outcome for freedom.

Frank Capra enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps to work under Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. Marshall wanted Capra to create a series of factual films that explained why America was fighting and the principles they were fighting for. After viewing Leni Reifenstahl's horrible yet powerful Triumph of the Will, Capra was overwhelmed. However, he recalled a Bible verse that always gave him goosebumps, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." It was then that he decided he would use the enemy's own propaganda films to hang themselves.
With the use of MGM, Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox facilities, Walt Disney and his staff for the animation, and the assistance of such notables as actor Walter Huston, directors George Stevens and William Wyler, John Huston; composer Alfred Newman, and writer Anatole Litvak; Capra not only fulfilled the original purpose of the films, but a revolutionized documentary filmmaking.

John Huston entered the U.S. Army to work with the Army Signal Corps as a Captain. He directed and produced three documentaries some would say are the very best among all films about WWII. However, only one of those three films was released at the time, Report from the Aleutians, a film about soldiers preparing for combat. The other two documentaries were censored by the Army who thought their content demoralizing to both the soldier and the public. One was The Battle of San Pietro is the story of a failure by America's intelligence agencies which resulted in many deaths. The other, Let There Be Light was about psychologically damaged veterans. Despite the censorship, Huston rose to the rank of Major and received the Legion of Merit award for working courageously under fire.

George Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film unit from 1943 to 1946, under General Eisenhower. His involvement in the war is crucial for two reasons. One, he is credited with documenting the only colored footage of WWII. Two, his footage of D-Day; the liberation of Paris; the meeting of American and Soviet forces at the Elbe River; and the truly horrifying scenes from the Dachau concentration camp, serve as a timeline of America’s involvement in the war. Stevens later prepared his Dachau footage to be used during the Nuremberg Trials.

John Ford served as a Commander in the United States Navy and was the head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services. While in the Navy he won two Academy Awards, one for a semi-documentary The Battle of Midway, in which he was wounded by shrapnel and a second for the propaganda film December 7th. Present on D-Day, Ford watched the first wave land on the beach and directed the footage of the battle from behind obstacles. However, despite the edits, little was released to the public. The US Government was afraid to show all the American casualties. There is documentation that Ford was cited by his superiors for bravery for taking a position to film one mission that made him a clear target and despite being wounded, continued filming. His last wartime film was They Were Expendable. Released several months after the end of the war, and not a film Ford liked nor wanted to make, it was nonetheless a box office hit.

Those Who Served: The Troopers
I turn now to the troopers who served. Those brave souls who gave up careers, a comfortable place to sleep, holidays and family to spend quality time on the front lines in open view to momentarily help erase the realities of war through laughter and entertainment, who brought a small piece of home to even the remotest areas of the world.

Bob Hope is the most honored entertainer ever, Bob Hope was a USO trouper in times of war and peace. Most notably after WWII for troops that would not be sent home immediately and during the Vietnam war, when patriotism was at an all-time low and GI’s were far from home. This resulted in him being on tour more than not, flying thousands of miles to gladly serve the troops for over fifty years. In 1997 the United States Congress passed a bill, signed by President Bill Clinton, which named Bob Hope "Honorary U.S. Veteran".

Despite her a fear of flying, Martha Raye travelled extensively during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to entertain the American troops. She also wasn’t adverse to playing nurse when the need for them was dear. Due to her tireless trooping, on November 2, 1993, Raye was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Bill Clinton, for her service to her country. The citation reads:
"A talented performer whose career spans the better part of a century, Martha Raye has delighted audiences and uplifted spirits around the globe. She brought her tremendous comedic and musical skills to her work in film, stage, and television, helping to shape American entertainment. the great courage, kindness, and patriotism she showed in her many tours during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam Conflict earned her the nickname "Colonel Maggie." The American people honor Martha Raye, a woman who has tirelessly used her gifts to benefit the lives of her fellow Americans."

Marlene Dietrich was a staunch anti-Nazi, who refused to return to her native Germany when ask. Instead she became an American citizen. One of the first stars to sell war bonds, she toured the states fbefore joining the USO to perform for Allied troops on two extended tours. She performed for troops on the front lines in Algeria, Italy, England and France and even risked serious danger by entering Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. Dietrich was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the US and the Légion d'honneur by the French government for recognition for her wartime work.
Dietrich goes covert.
Interesting article (click on the blue button Read Article For Free) about Dietrich from 1945.

Thanks to Uli for the great Dietrich photo.

Those Who Served: The Pin-Up Girl
During WWII soldiers were notorious for decorating everything from their lockers to their planes with beautiful pin-up girls. Many of these pin-ups were photographs of celebrities who were considered the ideal American girl.

Betty Grable enjoyed a bit of infamy and fame-boosting attention when her famous pin-up picture was taken in 1943. The end result was Grable being cast in Pin Up Girl which showcased her famous photo in several brief glimpses. Ironically, Grable was seven months pregnant when the film was concluded.

Rita Hayworth was one of the most popular pin-up girls of the 40’s. Apparently she was so loved by the servicemen that a record was made of her heartbeat! Rita was very involved in the war effort offering her services at the Hollywood canteen, performing in USO shows and selling war bonds.

Those Who Served: The Fallen Star
Casualties of war are a horrible given, however, casualties of a star, especially when on a mission for the Allies, is a harder pill to swallow. It's no secret that humans tend to put celebrities on a pedestal among the gods and supply each with a shield of invensibilty and a dash of our own brand of sentiment. Like any loved one that suddenly passes, too, we often take longer to come to terms with the idea that a favorite or known celebrity has gone.

Glen Miller was one of the most popular musicians of World War II. As a big band leader, Miller joined the service and led a band for morale-boosting. He was so in demand that his band played 800 performances in a single year. Sadly, he died in 1944, when his plane went down over the English Channel. No trace of the plane or Miller were ever found.

Leslie Howard was one of seventeen casualties in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was on was shot down by Germans over the Bay of Biscay. It’s rumored that the plane may have been shot down because Howard was an English spy and/or that Winston Churchill was also on the flight.
Read more about the theories here.

Carole Lombard was in a hurry to get home to husband Clark Gable after helping to sell millions of dollars worth of war bonds when her plane crashed into the side of a mountain. Considered the first civilian casualty of war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eulogized her saying, "She gave unselfishly of time and talent to serve her government in peace and war. She loved her country. She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget nor cease to be grateful to."
Interview with Myron H. Davis, who took the last photographs of Lombard.

Those Who Served: The Inventor
In a perfect world everyone would be endowed with both beauty and brains, however, history has shown only a few exceptions to this rule.
    With Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell .                     Lamarr sells kisses for bonds.

Hedy Lamarr's personal life around the break out of war in Europe would have been sufficient fodder for any Hollywood movie. The Austrian-born actress was married to Friedrich Mandl, chairman of an Austrian armaments firm and an Austrofascist. According to her autobiography (which she claimed was mostly false), she hired a maid that looked similar to her, drugged her, and managed to escape Mendl by posing as the maid. Whether true or not, it's still a fascinating story, as is her collaboration with experimental composer George Antheil on an invention for “frequency-hopping” on radio-controlled torpedoes. Though the idea did not come to fruition until the early 60’s, three years after Lamarr's and Antheil's patent expired, their invention is grounded in the anti-jamming devices the military uses today. Oh! She also used her star power to help raise $7 million in war bonds in a single night.

War Bonds
War bonds were issued by the government as a means to finance the military operations during the war and to control inflation by taking money out of circulation. By guaranteeing a larger return when cashed in during peace time, it also helped stimulate the economy by encouraging consumerism. It was also another way for civilians to do their patriotic duty.
Celebrities got involved by attending bond rallies throughout the country, touring from place to place to stimulate sales. The glamorous actress Dorothy Lamour alone was credited with selling $350 million in war bonds.

Victory Gardens
Due to government rationing and the questionable lengthiness of war, conservation was the largest theme in the war effort at home, prompting most Americans not only to conserve materials around their home but to grow their own food. This also helped raise morale and make each person feel like they were doing their part. Thus the Victory Garden started to crop up (oh, I’m punny) all over America. This resulted in nearly 20 million Americans planting gardens in their backyards, on their city rooftops, or in empty lots, including major city parks. Pooling their resources many people planted different kinds of food and created cooperatives. Farmers were asked to donate portions of their lands for growing food for the troops. Magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Life gave instructions on how to grow and preserve garden produce and canning became all the rage with pressure-cookers flying off the shelves. Farmers were asked to donate portions of their lands for growing food for the troops.

Sugar was the first item to be rationed.
Roses are red, violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet. Remember?

--Walter Winchell


Hollywood Canteen
Spearheaded by Bette Davis and John Garfield and with the help of several other volunteers, an old barn on Sunset Boulevard was converted into The Hollywood Canteen and opened on October 3, 1942.
Catering to men and women in uniform, most nights would find two bands playing and several volunteers to dance with, a snack bar (no alcohol permitted),and possibly a movie star or two to make your visit all the more memorable.

Though a tough time in America's history, I can't help but look back at the 1940's with a tremendous amount of sentiment. It was a time for unity as a nation's people, a time for women to prove their worth, a time for much charity and faith. It's also an experience that America will never be able to recreate in full.

 Bette Davis serves.

Charles Boyer

 Judy Garland

Donna Reed


Rita Hayworth


Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, and Bette Davis


Katharine Hepburn

Buster Keaton

Hedda Hopper, Merle Oberon, and Luis Rainier

Bette Davis

Ann Sheridan and James Cagney

Robert Benchley and Charles Butterworth

Rita Hayworth

Look here for a list of war movies that have been made. 

Tonight on TCM!
Spend the evening with James Garner!


  1. What an amazing tribute Sarah! One of the best posts I have ever read. I can tell you took some time and researched this topic very well. I remember you telling me you were planning on doing this. It was well worth the wait. An amazing selection of photos and very informative and just a wonderful piece you did Sarah. As a proud veteran myself, I have to say thank you for this awesome and well written piece.

  2. Thank you, Monty! I had you in mind while posting. Thank you for your service and dedication to our country.

  3. Hi, Sarah!
    You forgot Frank Sinatra, who because of his ear damage, wasn´t able to join the troops.
    Even-though he went to amuse the soldiers and sold war-bonds.
    I invite you all to my blog about him,

  4. Great post, great pictures. A fitting tribute to all concerned.