gpcox has done a fantastic job of research for this Guest Post. I learned quite a bit about their participation and personal sacrifice. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Hollywood was aware of the threat of war long before Pearl Harbor. The show biz paper “Variety” called the films
‘preparedness pix’ and by the end of 1940, there were 36 titles concerning the subject: “I Married a Nazi,” “Sergeant York” and “British Intelligence” were among them. Non-Japanese oriental actors or Caucasians were hired to play the roles of Japanese villains, such as Peter Lorre as ‘Mr. Moto.’ War movies came out in the theatres as though popping off an assembly line. Greer Garson seemed to save the entire British Army from Dunkirk in “Mrs. Minivier.” Abbott and Costello continued their comedy routines in such films as “Keep’em Flying” and “Buck Privates.” The home front craved to be entertained and listened to the comedy skits performed on radio, where the message was often ‘loose lips sink ships’.
The OWI had objections as to the content of some films, such as the youthful character ‘Andy Hardy’ that seemed oblivious that a war was being fought at all and the famous “Casablanca” that provided no message of purpose or example of U.S. patriotism. Archibald MacLeish said that the theaters were “escapist and delusive.” The OWI had no problem with radio programs such as “Amos & Andy” and “Fibber McGee and Molly,” both of which not only entertained the public, but got the war time messages out – loud and clear. Singers were popping up not just in the radio shows. Now the sweep of juke boxes was found in diners, taverns, barber shops and even gas stations.
But, the actors and behind-the-scenes crews did far more for the war effort than the movies and radio shows. The charismatic Clark Gable headed the Actor’s Committee for Stage, Screen & Radio and immediately began organizing tour groups to provide benefit performances for the Red Cross, Navy Relief Fund and many more. Carole Lombard, actress and Gable’s wife, was killed during one of these tours and Dorothy Lamour (of the “Road to…” movies fame) finished her schedule of 10,000 miles to different defense plants and shipyards. After recovering from a horrific bout of depression, Gable joined the Air Force.
The Hollywood Canteen was started by John Garfield and he made Bette Davis the President of the organization.
The actress converted a livery stable into the social center of Hollywood with the aid of studio workmen. Hedy Lamarr, when asked to help out in the kitchen, replied that she couldn’t cook. Davis put her to work washing dishes and Lamarr ended up meeting her future husband at the canteen. Wikipedia lists 300 celebrities that contributed to the canteen’s success.
A movie was made in 1944 simply called, “Hollywood Canteen,” and was filled with a cast that played themselves. To name only a few that appeared: Andrew Sisters, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, and Peter Lorre.
With all that Hollywood was doing for the war effort, General Lewis Hersey provided draft deferments, but many enlisted anyway. Jimmy Stewart gained ten pounds so that he would pass the physical. I have greatly shortened the list from www.jodavidsmeyer.com to give everyone an idea of their service.
Don Adams (“Get Smart”) – USMC Guadalcanal
James Arness (“Gunsmoke”) – U.S. Army – wounded at Anzio, Bronze Star & Purple Heart
Ernest Borgnine (“McHale’s Navy”) – U.S. Navy, 12 years, joined before WWII
Mel Brooks (Director, Producer, Actor) – U.S. Army, Battle of the Bulge
Julia Child (Chef) – OSS service in Ceylon and China
Charles Durning (TV, movies & stage) – U.S. Army, Omaha Beach D-Day, 3 Purple Hearts & Silver Star
Glen Ford (movie star) – U.S. Navy Captain, remained in reserves after the war, retired after Vietnam
Lee Marvin (movie star) – USMC, Saipan
Gene Kelly (Dancer, movies & stage) – U.S. Naval Air Service
Johnny Carson (“Tonight Show”) – U.S. Navy Ensign
Ed McMahon (“Tonight Show”) – USMC captain, Corsair fighter pilot, also served in Korean War
Bea Arthur (“Maude,” “Golden Girls”) – USMC SSgt.
During WWII, the Greatest Generation proved that all needed to work together, and the same goes today. Judy and I want every story put down for posterity, so let us know your stories…
RESOURCES: “Let the Good Times Roll” by Paul D. Casolorph; “Americans Remember the Home Front” by Roy Hoopes; Wikipedia; Hollywood Canteen.net, Internet Movie Database; otrcat.com; tumbler; midatlanticnostalgia convention.com
Do you have any memories of war movies or stories about entertainment during the War? Share them in your comments.
Tomorrow, we’ll be back in 1943 with news from Grandpa and the boys.