Hollywood in Wwii
Essay Preview: Hollywood in Wwii
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Once upon a time there was a vicious attack on America — an act of war — and Hollywoods biggest stars had plenty to say — and do — about it. With the war in Iraq practically over and Hollywood liberals making themselves scarce, its time to put Hollywood and war in perspective.
Take Jimmy Stewart. Following Japans attack on Pearl Harbor, Stewart became the first Hollywood star to enlist, talking his way into the Air Force after being refused based on his weight (too thin). Stewart flew 20 combat missions, commanded a squadron, became a colonel and earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and seven battle stars. After the war, Stewart continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve. He became the highest-ranking entertainer in the American military: brigadier general. Stewart had company. At age 41, Clark Gable enlisted as a low-ranking private in the Army Air Corps. Gables wife, actress Carole Lombard, had died in a plane crash while selling war bonds — after she had raised $2.5 million. For Gables efforts, which included bombing missions and spying on Nazis, he was targeted for assassination by the Third Reich.
Hollywood stars who supported the war — not just “the troops” — included James Cagney. Cagney transformed the most decorated combat soldier of World War II Audie Murphy into a star. Cagney was so moved by Murphys war record — Murphy killed more than 240 Nazis during his service as a soldier — that he brought Murphy to Hollywood, where Murphy became a movie star (Red Badge of Courage, To Hell and Back).
Other patriots of the motion picture industry included Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, director John Ford, who proudly made war propaganda movies and was even wounded on ship during the Battle of Midway, and Leslie Howard, who played Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. Howard returned to his native England to defend Britain. He died when his plane was shot down by the Nazis.
German born actress Marlene Dietrich renounced Germany after Adolf Hitler was elected in 1933, she rejected Hitlers plea that she return and she steadfastly supported the United States by performing for American troops, reportedly as close to the front as she could get.
Actress Hedy Lamarrs war acts are legendary. The Austrian native (who played sensual Delilah in Cecil B. DeMilles Samson and Delilah) detested National Socialism. When she learned that her husband, a German arms dealer, had become involved with the Nazis, Lamarr drugged her maid and escaped. Lamarr, who did not attend college, later collaborated with a composer and inventor named George Antheil. Together, the pair created technology for radio-controlled torpedoes — an idea that is the basis for modern mobile communications.
Since the first scenes of warfare appeared in a brief 1898 silent movie filmed during the Spanish American War, many American films have sought to capture the horror and unbridled heroism, carnage and undaunted courage, the senseless and meaning of warfare. These films explore the realities of combat, the relationships that soldiers form within their units; and the interior mind of soldiers as Wartime Hollywood.
Beginning in September 1941, a Senate subcommittee launched an investigation into whether Hollywood was campaigning to bring the United States into World War II by inserting pro-British and pro-interventionist messages in its films. Isolationist Senator Gerald Nye charged Hollywood with producing “at least twenty pictures in the last year designed to drug the reason of the American people, set aflame their emotions, turn their hatred into a blaze, fill them with fear that Hitler will come over here and capture them.” After reading a list of the names of studio executives – many of whom were Jewish – he condemned Hollywood as “a raging volcano of war fever.”
While Hollywood did in fact release a few anti-Nazi films, such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy, what is remarkable in retrospect is how slowly Hollywood awoke to the fascist threat. Heavily dependent on the European market for revenue, Hollywood feared offending foreign audiences. Indeed, at the Nazis request, Hollywood actually fired “non-Aryan” employees in its German business offices. Although the industry produced such preparedness films as Sergeant York, anti-fascist movies as The Great Dictator, and pro-British films as A Yank in the R.A.F. between 1939 and 1941, before Pearl Harbor it did not release a single film advocating immediate American intervention in the war on the allies behalf.
Hollywoods greatest contribution to the war effort was morale. Many of the movies produced during the war were patriotic rallying cries that affirmed a sense of national purpose. Combat films of the war years emphasized patriotism, group effort, and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause. They portrayed World War II as a peoples war, typically featuring a group of men from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are thrown together, tested on the battlefield, and molded into a dedicated fighting unit. Many wartime films featured women characters playing an active role in the war by serving as combat nurses, riveters, welders, and long-suffering mothers who kept the home fires burning. Even cartoons, like Bugs Bunny “Nips the Nips,” contributed to morale.
Off the screen, leading actors and actresses led recruitment and bond drives and entertained the troops. Leading directors like Frank Capra,