Guest Post – Hooray For Hollywood by GPCox

GPCox has done a fantastic job of research for this Guest Post. I learned quite a bit about the participation and personal sacrifices made by some very famous people. 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

Abbott and Costello

Abbott and Costello

‘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.

 Shirley Temple serving the G.I.s

Shirley Temple serving the G.I.s

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.

Hollywood Canteen

Hollywood Canteen

Hollywood Canteen

Hollywood Canteen

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.

Glen Miller

Glen Miller

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 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

James Arness

James Arness

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

Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly (Dancer, movies & stage) – U.S. Naval Air Service

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson (“Tonight Show”) – U.S. Navy Ensign

Ed McMahon (“Tonight Show”) – USMC captain, Corsair fighter pilot, also served in Korean War

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon

Bea Arthur  (“Maude,” “Golden Girls”) – USMC SSgt.

Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur

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, Internet Movie Database;; tumbler; midatlanticnostalgia

Do you have any memories of war movies or stories about entertainment during the War? Share them in your comments. Check out GPCox’s Blog, . On it, you’ll learn all about the Pacific Theater and the battles occurring in that part of the world.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting letters written in 1944.All the boys are scattered around the world and doing their part to support Uncle Sam while Grandpa holds sown the fort at the old homestead in Trumbull.

Judy Guion

55 thoughts on “Guest Post – Hooray For Hollywood by GPCox

  1. My husband was s crew chief on B-52’s during the Vietnam War and one of the planes he worked on had the name of Jimmy Stewart as a pilot for that plane.

  2. From the first time I saw Hollywood Canteen on TV – I fell in love with it, watching it over and over – never knowing then that there actually had been s real Hollywood Canteen! My uncle served in WWII and died over in Germany. I recently wrote this story from Letters he wrote home and my thoughts of never knowing him.

  3. colonialist says:

    Amazing how many names still familiar today were involved!

  4. The Emu says:

    Fantastic post, great reading the amount of Movie people who either contributed to the war effort, or continued to contribute after the war, and still shared their talents in movies.

  5. Yet that so called ‘great’ American acting icon Marion Morrison was too important ( or was he too scared ) to enlist and go fight for his country. Still he won the war dressed as a Naval hero many a time. He was a fraud , Now Audie Murphy there was a REAL Hero.not a boasting ham actor.

  6. Fascinating history lesson!

  7. Mustang.Koji says:

    Wonderful throwback to when America was great…

    If my aging memory serves me correctly, Ray Bolger was another actor in Hollywood Canteen… or was he one of the 300 performers that supported our troops? Oh, well. It’s the thought that counts.

    As with you and gpcox (a very good friend in many ways), I am familiar with the Hollywood actors that were in the service – either before they became famous or like Clark Gable, joined after hostilities began. However, the term “Greatest Generation” – coined by Tom Brokaw, a man who never served – is possibly an insult to other great generations. My buddies who did their duty and reported for duty in the Vietnam War years was also a great generation. As such, a “great generation” may be more apropos for WWII. Is Tom Brokaw calling my buddies’ generation not the greatest? They came back to hatred and dibilitating illnesses from exposure to Agent Orange, for example, in addition to the nightmares…

    On another concept, “Hollywood” contributed to the public’s negative view of the military by producing comedy shows and movies focusing on the military – such as Gomer Pyle, MASH, No Time for Sergeants and Sgt. Bilko.

    But back to the heart of your story, Hollywood gave it its all for WWII. I wish it woukd be true for our long war on terrorism.

  8. Gypsy Bev says:

    Great tribute to the stars who did more than just entertain us at home. I was surprised there were so many war titles before Pearl Harbor. Hmm, someone knew what was coming?

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Gypsy Bev – The War had been going on in Europe for several years so it was important to keep the full perspective in view. Lad, my Dad, came back from Venezuela where he had been working for about 3 years in May of 1941. The Customs Officials took the passports of all the passengers on the ship but did not return them to the young men of fighting age. That’s why my Dad could not return to work in Venezuela and got a job in a 100% war production plant in Bridgeport until he was drafted in May of 1942.

  9. beetleypete says:

    Great stuff from GP as always. I like his tribute to the stars that joined up and saw action too. During WW2, British and Empire forces were served by ENSA, and many popular stars and singers of the time toured to bring entertainment to the troops, all over the world.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  10. 56packardman says:

    Outstanding, GP! What a difference between Hollywood then and now!

  11. SCLMRose says:

    Glad to see all these names mentioned. The Hollywood Canteen brings back memories of what we did once at the Oyster Bay Historical Society. We had a party honoring the veterans and the theme was Hollywood Canteen. The venue was decorated like the Hollywood Canteen and veterans were encouraged to wear their uniforms (if they still fit them). A lot of them did. Music was of that era. It was great fun.

  12. Great article, GP. This is a Hollywood I could support.

  13. jfwknifton says:

    A great post to have written! I would add to the list Peter Falk (Columbo) and Clark Gable who in the USAAF apparently did a lot more than he needed to. Oh, and William Wyler as he filmed Memphis Belle was in the plane himself. Any chance of an appendix called “My Brave Deeds in the War” by John Wayne?
    I’ll perhaps do American presidents and British Prime Ministers next. I had been thinking about it.

  14. weggieboy says:

    No surprise for the men, but Bea Arthur…! Of course, I bet she was an effective staff sergeant!

  15. Dan Antion says:

    I love the part about Jimmy Stewart having to gain 10 pounds to pass the physical. Also, when you consider travel during that period, 10,000 miles is like a trip to the moon!

    Great stories, nicely done.

  16. GP Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    I wrote this 5 years ago, but to me, the stories never get old!!

  17. GP Cox says:

    Thank you once again, Judy.

  18. More excellent work from GP. I remember watching Audie Murphy in To Hell And Back in 1955. Our Dame Vera Lynn, now aged 101, sold more albums last year than any other UK female artiste

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