Some Celebrity Soldiers of World War II
|Captains Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart ca. 1943.|
Below are some celebrities who served in the military during World War II. Naturally, a huge number of celebrities participated in the war effort, and so this list is not by any means meant to be all-inclusive or exhaustive or anything like that. Nobody is left out intentionally, the only rule was that to be on this page, the person had to be a celebrity whose fame extended beyond the duration of the war - before or after. I hope to make this fairly comprehensive over time, but it will never be complete because there are simply too many veterans who became (or had been) celebrities.
Celebrity warriors generally fall into three camps:
- Celebrities who were famous before they served in World War II (and almost invariably remained famous thereafter, though there were exceptions such as Max Schmeling). The top figures in this category are Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Mickey Rooney;
- Celebrities who only became famous many years later, being unknown or largely unknown at their time of enlistment. Some names in this huge field include Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, and George Scott; and
- Celebrities who initially became famous to some extent due to their war service during the war, and greatly extended it after the war in some new direction. Audie Murphy exemplifies this group.
Celebrities who were huge stars before the war and enlisted after Pearl Harbor include among their ranks Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Cesar Romero, Henry Fonda, and Mickey Rooney. Those who served and only became famous much later include Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine (one of the very few who served before the war in the 1930s, too) and pretty much 99% of the rest of the names that follow. Follow on below for a peek at some of the unexpected names on this list.
|This is probably how you remember Mr. John Banner.|
I also want to pay respect to celebrities who perished during the conflict during their service. These include Glenn Miller and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
There really isn't any order to this page, and it is not alphabetical. If you served in the war, you were as good or bad as anyone else that served. There were no movie stars at 20,000 feet over Hamburg. I prefer to believe that every star, no matter how big, would have agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment and asked for no preferential placement. For practical purposes, though, I did put a star or two in a particular spot to aid the flow of the article. Otherwise, it is pretty much random.
As always, if you want to see someone mentioned that I (so far) have overlooked, or you see any factual errors, drop me a note in the comments and I will get on it.
Apologies to those celebrities who just missed World War II, such as Gene Hackman (enlisted 1946), Steve McQueen (enlisted in the Marines in 1947), Willie Nelson (USAF 1950), Clint Eastwood (1951), and Sean Connery, among many others. They also served honorably, but this is a list of World War II Vets. Once again, I apologize for Vets I have overlooked. I am constantly adding new names, some quite prominent that I simply missed.
All right, let's start off with someone unexpected. Ladies first.
|Bea Arthur, accepting her Emmy for "The Golden Girls".|
Arthur was one of the first members of the Women's Reserve before World War II. On her volunteer application, Bea listed her active hobbies as hunting with a ".22 caliber rifle and a bow and arrow." When she was interviewed for enlistment, the notes described her as "officious – but probably a good worker – if she has her own way,” as well as “argumentative” and “over-aggressive.” I know, go figure, right?
Arthur achieved fame as the character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcoms "All in the Family" and "Maude," and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom "The Golden Girls," winning Emmy Awards for both roles. She was a successful stage actress both before and after her television success. Being in the Marines no doubt helped to shape her abrasive professional personality that kept her busy for decades as a top character actress with an edge of sardonic humor.
Now, let's look at an unlikely female figure from the other side.
The part about World War II, though, is a little less well known. Gertrude Stein, though Jewish and a vocal lesbian, was a supporter of fascists such as Francisco Franco and Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain. To put it gently, Stein became a collaborator of the German war machine during the war. At one point in 1934, fully aware that Hitler was "driving out the Jews from Germany," Stein "joked" to an interviewer from the New York Times that Adolf Hitler deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because he was removing sources of internal conflict from Germany. Stein was warned to leave by US officials, but she chose to stay in France.
Stein spent the early war years in Paris doing translations for the Vichy regime into English until that became unnecessary after Pearl Harbor. As late as 1944, Stein was lauding Petain's policies as being "really wonderful." The extent of Gertrude Stein's participation in the Axis war machine and her motivations for doing so is a very controversial topic. Many are quick to defend Stein and make excuses and argue this point or that, but there are undeniable facts that must be confronted.
Werner continued his career after the war, becoming primarily a television actor. He typically played the heavy. In the mid-1960s, Werner was offered the part of a commandant in a German POW camp in the TV series "Hogan's Heroes." It became a smash hit. Klemperer came up with the riding crop and monocle for his character Colonel Klink and creating an enduring image. "Hogan's Heroes" remained a huge success in syndication after its long original run, becoming a cult hit even after went off the air in 1971. After that, Klemperer mixed film and television work with stage appearances (earning a Tony Award nomination for his performance in Cabaret in its 1987 Broadway revival). Werner Klemperer, recognized as his "Hogan's Heroes" character "Colonel Klink" (of which he was very proud) for the rest of his life, passed away on 6 December 2000.
|The Manitoban, January 10, 1944.|
|Monty Hall in The Manitoban, March 1, 1944.|
After his Canadian television employer, CBC, let him go, Monte Halparin moved to New York City in 1955. Monty began hosting game shows in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with his big break being "Video Village" on CBS TV in 1960. Monty Hall then helped develop and hosted "Let's Make A Deal," a famous game show which he continued to host until 1991 and with which he remained associated until his death on 30 September 2017. In all, Monty Hall hosted 4700 episodes of "Let's Make A Deal." Monty Hall received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 24, 1973, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars in 2000, and in 2002, he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.
Initially, just an ordinary private, Red was transferred into the entertainment corps and entertained troops both stateside and in Italy. He undertook a huge workload and developed voice problems, which sent him to a VA hospital in Virginia. Once the war ended, Red was honorably discharged in September 1945 and resumed his NBC radio show on 4 December 1945. His radio show turned into a top-rated television show which continued until 1971, and he also did occasional appearances in films. While his service was just a blip in his long entertainment career, it had one enduring legacy: the termination of his radio show upon his induction led to his bandmaster, Ozzie Nelson, and his wife Harriet getting their own show.
|A wartime Dr. Seuss cartoon.|
|The Cat in the Hat & Dr. Seuss at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden - Springfield, MA; statues designed by Theodor Geisel's step-daughter, sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates; photo by Erika_F|
|Charles M. Schulz.|
A fact that is a little less known is that Mel served as a private, then a corporal, in World War II, including combat during the Battle of the Bulge. After specialized training at Virginia Military Institute, Mel was in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion. One of his jobs was defusing landmines, which is no laughing matter and killed a lot of soldiers. He remarked of his service, "I was a Combat Engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate most in the world are combat and engineering."
|Jack Webb in "Appointment with Danger," 1950.|
Webb then moved to San Francisco, where he got into radio broadcasting. He had his own show, "The Jack Webb Show," in 1946. He got some film roles, but that career never took off. His radio career blossomed, however, and Jack Webb became a key figure on "Dragnet" in 1949. Webb's character of Detective Joe Friday struck a chord with listeners, and he carried the character over into a television show that ran from 1952 to 1959. "Dragnet" also became a 1954 feature film. Webb formed a successful production company, Mark VII Productions, which he ran for the rest of his life. Some of the Mark VII Productions were "Noah's Ark," Emergency," and a second incarnation of "Dragnet" from 1967-1970. Webb was famous for directing all of his television "Dragnet" appearances and also writing many episodes for it and the other Mark VII productions, including 174 episodes of "Adam-12."
Webb was going to resuscitate "Dragnet" again in the 1980s when he suddenly passed away from a heart attack on 23 December 1982. Jack Webb has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for radio (at 7040 Hollywood Boulevard) and the other for television (at 6728 Hollywood Boulevard) and was posthumously inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1992.
|Edmond O'Brien during World War II.|
O'Brien resumed his Hollywood career in 1946 like the war had never happened. After starring in the classic "The Killers" (1946), O'Brien signed with Warner Bros. This led to a string of primarily film noir roles as gangsters, cops, victims, and sometimes all three at the same time. His best films during this period were "White Heat" (1949) with Jimmy Cagney and "D.O.A." (1950), both of which are among the finest films in the genre. Mr. O'Brien probably would consider this period as the highpoint of his career. After these brilliant successes, though, O'Brien's career subsided and he played an increasing number of supporting and character roles. He tried several TV series, but none of them were particularly successful, and he even tried his hand at directing. By the mid-1960s, O'Brien was complaining to interviewers about his lack of "personality success," though he was almost always working. This is not to imply that O'Brien's talent waned. He brilliantly played a doomed terrorist in Rod Serling's "Doomsday Flight" (1966), a film that deserves more recognition as the true forerunner of the "Airport" series of films that followed. Unfortunately, O'Brien's health declined rapidly during the 1970s as he developed Alzheimer's disease at a young age. Edmond O'Brien, the winner of an Academy Award and with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, passed away on 9 May 1985.
|Dick Van Dyke in London, 1967.|
|Dick Van Dyke with Mary Tyler Moore ca. 1961.|
Part of my confusion lies in the fact that this man seemed to break through as a beginning actor in the early 1960s and appeared unconnected with his own generation. He also played, quite convincingly, a stranded serviceman in "Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N." in 1966. Overall, he always seemed much younger than he was (and still does, in fact). All that is deceiving, because this legend had been working on his "overnight success" for the entire decade of the 1950s. It was all local fame prior to the 1960s, however.
Okay, it is Dick Van Dyke. Dick enlisted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II but initially did not make the cut. Van Dyke did not meet the weight requirement because he was considered underweight. He tried three times to enlist, before barely making the cut. He then served as a radio announcer during the war, and he never left the United States nor flew a plane.
Dick was stationed at Camp Crowder in Missouri, and this became part of his acting career. In the first season of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," he several times alludes to that camp. During the show, as emcee of the entertainment for the troops at Crowder, he meets a singer/dancer played by Mary Tyler Moore, who, in the sitcom, he will later marry.
Camp Crowder had an awful reputation amongst the troops for its uncomfortable living arrangements. Apparently, it was hot, dirty, and bug-infested. Besides Van Dyke, the camp counted among its inhabitants the humorist Jean Shepherd and the cartoonist Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"). Apparently, service there brought out the humor in people.
As of this writing in 2014, Dick Van Dyke remains very much a working actor, though he has numerous times declared that he was "retired." Apparently for Vets like Dick, being retired means continuing to work. Dick is among the last of the World War II Vets still going strong in his occupation, 70 years after his service.
|Charles Boyer ca. 1920.|
When war broke out in September 1939, Boyer happened by chance to be in Nice, France, working on a French film ("Le corsaire," never completed because of the war). The production ceased immediately when France declared war. Although 40 years old, Boyer joined the French Army. However, he was short and not in very good shape (despite his image). The French government discharged him from the army by November 1939 and told him that he would serve his country best by continuing to make films. Boyer immediately returned to Hollywood and began the most famous portion of his career, working for all the top studios. He thus avoided the occupation of France, not returning until after the war. Perhaps Boyer's most famous film was "Gaslight" (1944) with Ingrid Bergman, whose plot involved trying to convince his wife that she was crazy. The word "gaslight" since has entered the lexicon for people lying to try to convince another of a false fact.
Boyer's career continued after the war, and he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. However, his career seldom again reached the heights that it had during the war years. However, he became a successful television show producer in the 1950s as one of the founders of Four Star Productions with David Niven and Dick Powell. This set him up financially for life to the extent his earlier successes may not have.
Charles Boyer remained a top star, and even earned an Oscar nomination for "Fanny" (1961). He received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and many other honors. However, his later years featured some family tragedies from which he never recovered. Charles Boyer passed away on 26 August 1978 two days after the death of his long-time wife, British actress Pat Paterson.
Glenn Miller, writer, and performer of classic jazz compositions such as "In the Mood," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade," was at the peak of his fame when the war started. In 1942, he was age 38, with his own band and hit records. He was well beyond draft age and could have sat out the war entertaining civilians and troops stateside. Instead, he volunteered for service in 1942, joining the Army after the Navy turned him down. He quickly became a Major.
On December 15, Miller was flying to Paris in a light plane that disappeared. Modern research suggests that his plane was hit by bombs dropped by Allied bombers returning from an abortive raid on Siegen, Germany. A crew member on one of the bombers stated that he saw a small plane hit by the bombs and sent into the sea, but there is no proof that it was Miller's plane. There are other theories, including a controversial one that states that Miller actually made it to Paris but died of a heart attack there while in flagrante delicto with a local girl. According to this version, his actual cause of death was covered up because of the embarrassing circumstances and a cover story of a lost flight crafted out of whole cloth. Whatever happened, Miller died in the service of his country. Perhaps his plane will be found someday - assuming there is a plane to be found.
Ray's brother, Robert Eberle, also was a top singer and served in the army during the war. He sang with the Wayne King army band. However, it is unclear if Ray sang in the service as well. Bob Eberle, a Corporal, is perhaps most famous for singing "Bésame Mucho" with Kitty Kallen in 1944. He also sang on the "Notes From Your Soldier's Notebook" NBC Blue Network radio program later in 1944.
After mustering out after the war, neither Eberle regained his former popularity as a vocalist. Ray struggled to form his own band, hooked up with other performers such as Tex Beneke, and had occasional television appearances (including on "Happy Days"). Ray Eberle passed away on 25 August 1979 in Douglaston, Georgia, and Robert Eberle passed away on November 17, 1981. Ray's daughter, Jan, also became a singer and wrote a biography of her father.
Actor first earned fame for heroism in combat
By Charles A. Jones - Special to the Times
Posted : November 26, 2007
Best known for his role as lawyer-turned-farmer Oliver Wendell Douglas on the 1960s TV show “Green Acres,” Eddie Albert also had a strong following in the 2nd Marine Division after he helped save the lives of dozens of leathernecks during the Battle of Tarawa.
Albert, whose real name was Edward Albert Heimberger, established himself as an actor in pre-war Hollywood with his first movie, 1938’s “Brother Rat.”
But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor launched the U.S. into World War II, he joined the Navy in 1942 and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve lieutenant junior grade.
He sailed to Tarawa as a salvage officer on the troop ship Sheridan, one of many ships that arrived on Nov. 20, 1943. Tarawa was a strategically vital Pacific island that was key to helping U.S. bombers attack Japanese forces in the Marianas.
Albert guided the assistant control boat he commanded to the designated drop zone on the beach, where it unloaded Marines and supplies.
However, a blunder by military planners predicting the tides stranded many landing craft hundreds of yards off-shore on reefs and exposed Marines to Japanese fire.
As Marine casualties mounted in the lagoon, Albert assumed the initiative, plucking the injured and dead out of the water and from under enemy fire in his salvage boat. He transferred the leathernecks to landing craft, which then transported them to ships further offshore for medical treatment.
When his boat was damaged, Albert sent it and the wounded Marines aboard to the Sheridan, taking command of a landing craft and rescuing more men.
Assuming command of a third craft, he led four other boats to the beach and loaded them with wounded Marines, taking them to various ships, including destroyers providing fire support.
Albert took 46 wounded Marines to the Schroeder on his final trip; records show 42 of them survived.
His last task at the end of the battle was to recover bodies from the surf.
After Tarawa, Albert made training films and did war bond tours. He left the Navy after the war as a lieutenant.
Albert resumed acting and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 1953’s “Roman Holiday” and 1972’s “The Heartbreak Kid.”
Forty-four years after the battle, due largely to efforts of Schroeder crew members, Albert received a Bronze Star with combat “V” for his actions at Tarawa. He died at age 99 in 2005.
|Bob Hope and sidekick Jerry Colonna during World War II.|
|Bob Hope's service papers.|
How can this be?
On Dec 23, 1942, Bob Hope agreed to entertain U.S. airmen in Alaska. This was during a time when Japanese soldiers still occupied some Alaskan territory. It was the first of the traditional Christmas shows that Bob later performed for the troops into the 1990s. The trip to Alaska, then a U.S. territory, required a special permit. So, he entered a combat area and did his duty there.
In 1997, Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran for his humanitarian services to the United States Armed Forces by Congress. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor. He certainly is the only man born in England to win that honor from the United States.
So, Bob belongs here. I have no patience with people obsessed with technicalities. He went into a war zone in the service of his (adopted) country, he was almost 40 at the time of Pearl Harbor yet exerted himself to help the cause, he didn't have to do squat and yet did a great deal, and veterans invariably loved him. That's good enough for me.
|Kevin McCarthy as Biff Lohman in "Death of a Salesman" (1951).|
After that breakthrough, McCarthy settled into a career primarily as a television guest star actor. One of his relatively rare lead film roles, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), though, turned into a surprise science fiction cult classic. McCarthy's epic scene of running through traffic shouting to warn people of imminent danger became iconic and was parodied many times afterward, including by McCarthy himself in the 1978 remake. Many would consider "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" to be the highlight of his career, though McCarthy himself might disagree. The role cemented his place in Hollywood, and McCarthy remained a working actor until his death (in fact, some of his work was released after his death). While continuing his TV work, McCarthy also played amiable supporting roles in films, usually portraying a conflicted character or put-upon authority figure, but almost never a lead actor. He did have a lead role in the "Flamingo Road" television series of the early 1980s and also a recurring role in "The Colbys." Kevin McCarthy passed away on 11 September 2010 at age 96 in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
|Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). Lombard gave her life for the war effort, perishing in a plane crash during a war bond tour early in 1942. Montgomery signed up about the same time.|
Montgomery served five years of active war duty, was awarded a Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European Theater Ribbon with 2 Battle Stars, one Overseas Service Bar, and promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander.
You likely don't know who Robert Montgomery was because chances are his star rose, burned very bright, and then set before you were born. He actually was quite famous in his day, starring in, for instance, the original "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" with Carole Lombard for director Alfred Hitchcock. Big time actor, biiiiiiiiig star both before and after World War II.
I know, still not ringing any bells. I understand. Let's try again.
Well, he had a very successful anthology show named after him that ran for almost the entire decade of the 1950s. Montgomery was a huuuuge television presence throughout the decade. Huuuuuuge.
No, huh. Still not ringing any bells. I know, that show has never been in repeats for some reason so it might as well never have existed.
Ok, one last shot: he was the father of Sabrina in "Bewitched." Yes, Elizabeth Montgomery was his daughter.
See? There you go! He was a great hero!
|Douglas Fairbanks Jr.|
|Neville Brand in "D.O.A."|
After being born in Griswold, Iowa, Brand joined the Illinois National Guard in October 1939 as a private in Company F, 129th Infantry Regiment. This unit was absorbed into the U.S. Army on March 5, 1941. After training at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Brand served with B Company, 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. Neville Brand saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded on the Weser River on April 7, 1945. He received the Silver Star and several other medals. The Silver Star came about because he decided to singlehandedly go into a hunting lodge being used by Germans as a machine gun nest and subdue it. "I must have flipped my lid," he said in 1966.
After the war, Neville began a brilliant career as a character actor. He made a memorable debut in "D.O.A." (1950) as a crazed henchman, then went on play gruff characters in Bonanza and other shows and films. Neville Brand passed away in April 1992 and is buried in Sacramento, California.
Warden served in the U.S. Navy from 1938-1941, then joined the Merchant Marine as water tender in the engine room. He then learned that he heartily disliked convoy duty because of Axis aircraft attacks and his dangerous location 3 decks below the main deck which made survival highly unlikely in the event of a quick sinking (some ships went down literally in seconds) -- this, as he says, ended his "romance with the life of a sailor." Warden left the Merchant Marine in 1942, joined the Army and became a platoon sergeant and parachute jumpmaster in the 101st Airborne - the outfit that held Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st were (and are) the ultimate badasses. That's just an amazing career progression in the military for anyone, much less a celebrity.
Oh, and Jack Warden later became a top character actor on television and films. He was Juror 7 in "12 Angry Men" (1957), but after that mostly played gruff-but-understanding types in a slew of television series. My personal favorite Jack Warden appearance was as a lovelorn convict in the original "The Twilight Zone," where he somewhat played against type, and he cornered the market on gruff-but-understanding police lieutenants in "N.Y.P.D." (1967-1969). Jack had an interesting career progression in Hollywood, too - he started out in films, became a huge television actor starring in about as many different series as anyone in the business, and then spent the final decade of his career almost entirely in films again. If you like cult films, pick up a copy of "Used Cars" (1980), with Jack as feuding twin used car salesmen, a role he was born to play. Jack Warden passed away in 2006.
|Bob Barker, USN.|
Yes, cooking show hostess Julia Child. Yeeesss, Julia Child. Big war hero.
|Ronald Reagan, May 2, 1942.|
Many people know a lot about Ronald Reagan due to his political success. Even people who know more than others, though, may not appreciate that Reagan actually joined the military well before not only Pearl Harbor, but even before Hitler invaded Poland. Despite being a huge film star already, Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corp of the Cavalry on 25 May 1937.
After war broke out, Reagan was called up on 18 April 1942. Due to poor eyesight, his service options were limited. The Army sent him first to Fort Mason, California, where he served as a liaison officer. Later, he transferred to the Army Air Force (USAAF), again serving in public relations. Ultimately, he wound up in the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California. He later participated in war bond sales, and his unit produced some 400 USAAF training films. Reagan did what the Army wanted him to do, and he did it well. He mustered out on 9 December 1945 with the rank of Captain.
Mr. Reagan returned to his film career after the war, did some television work, served as President of the Screen Actors Guild, then graduated to politics in the 1960s.
|David Niven in 1944 "somewhere in Europe."|
James David Graham Niven in point of fact did come from a distinguished family, full of heroic types killed with glory in the Zulu War and bearing hyphenated names and distinguished medals and all that. Niven, however, was a bit of a black sheep and got thrown out, as they say, but in his case for real, of some of the best schools in England. Winding up at Sandhurst, he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1930. He served for a few years, got bored, resigned (that's a delicate way of putting it, he actually escaped from house arrest and fled to America), tried selling whiskey in New York City, tried to break into acting in Hollywood, went to Mexico and worked menial jobs to earn his way back into the States with a resident alien visa, and then finally got accepted by Central Casting as, well, the archetypal Englishman who might be attended to by servants and drink champagne in the back of his jalopy.
Success followed - how could it not for someone who so firmly fulfilled the image? - and by 1939 David Niven was the toast of the town, friends with Errol Flynn and renting Rosalind Russell's house. However, after 3 September 1939, he quickly returned to England - the Foreign Office wanted successful actors like him to stay there and work in patriotic films, but David had shown that he didn't take kindly to instructions of that nature - and re-assumed his old rank of Lieutenant on 25 February 1940. Apparently, the little matter of insulting the General (that's why he had been under house arrest) was forgiven now that there was a war on. Niven wound up in the Commandos because, once again, he got bored with ordinary soldiering, and worked in the Film Unit - which was a nice cover for what he was really doing. You know that film "Argo"? Stuff like that, for real.
Niven went ashore a few days after D-Day as a member of the "Phantom Signals Unit." It was a sort of military intelligence outfit, but Niven - like many of his day, see Christopher Lee elsewhere in this article - refused to talk about it afterward, so we don't really know what he did. Suffice to say there was some skullduggery involved, the whole false-moustache bit at which he, a top actor, excelled. Niven ended the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel, receiving the Legion of Merit at the hands of General Dwight D. Eisenhower for whatever it was that he did - and it must have been something indeed to get that kind of honor.
Niven returned to Hollywood after the war and became one of the top leading men of his day, once again playing bon vivant types who never earned an honest day's pay in their lives. He won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor playing, what else, a Major in "Separate Tables." He also gave a fantastic turn in "The Guns of Navarone" that should have received more awards as a soldier who's seen one too many dead men for his liking but stands tall when it's time to be counted.
One of the most under-appreciated (for his military service) heroes of the war, Niven continued for the remainder of his career to draw roles which inevitably saw him elegantly attired in tuxedos and sipping champagne playing Sir such-and-such. Perhaps his greatest honor was the fact that Ian Fleming, a former spy type himself, chose Niven as the only Bond actor ("Casino Royale" 1967) to mention by name in any of his novels.
Autry enlisted in 1942 and earned his Service Pilot rating in June 1944. Starting out as a Technical Sgt, he became a flight officer and flew the C-109 transport for Air Transport Command. Autry ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms to China in the China-India-Burma theater of war flying over the Himalayan air route, "The Hump." Autry also volunteered his talents as an entertainer for numerous Air Force shows. He had his own radio show entitled "Sergeant Gene Autry." When the war ended, he was reassigned to Special Services where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific until 1946. Autry received the American Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
After the war, Autry continued his radio show and film career and also had his own television show beginning in 1950. In the early 1960s he bought the Los Angeles/California Angels major league baseball team, and eventually his "number" - 26, for 26th man on the 25-man roster - was retired due to his passion for the franchise (he also briefly had considered a baseball career as a young man). Autry retired from show business in 1964 after having made almost 100 films and thereafter focused on numerous very successful business interests such as the Angels and the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gene Autry passed away in 1998. He is buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his epitaph reads, "America's Favorite Cowboy ... American Hero, Philanthropist, Patriot and Veteran, Movie Star, Singer, Composer, Baseball Fan and Owner, 33rd Degree Mason, Media Entrepreneur, Loving Husband, Gentleman." Gene Autry is remembered every Christmas season due to broadcasts of his classic rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which continues to this day to be a top-played carol every year, and "Here Comes Santa Claus," which he wrote.
So, he was a huge star as a kid, then basically a nobody in the military, then a huge star again later. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery midway through his career. He sure got one! Once his wanderlust was cured, Coogan went back to work.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Coogan requested a transfer to United States Army Air Forces as a glider pilot because of prior civilian flying experience. He wound up in the 1st Air Commando Group, which sent him to India in 1943. Coogan volunteered for hazardous duty in March 1944 and flew British troops ("Chindits"), landing them at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines. Yes, Uncle Fester was actually an American hero!
Soupy used "White Fang" and other old characters he developed in the Navy when he had his own show during the 1950s and 1960s, "Lunch With Soupy Sales" and "The New Soupy Sales Show." The show brought him fame and controversy. His most notorious stunt was one in which he told the little children listening to his show to grab all the green paper with faces on them in their parents' wallets and send them to him at his studio - and many did! That kind of thing pretty much makes a comic's work immortal. Soupy passed away in 2009.
Later, he rejoined his unit in December 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge. He reportedly was bayoneted 8 times in hand-to-hand combat. At The Bulge he survived The Malmedy Massacre, one of only two men left alive in the snow surrounded by machine-gunned friends. He was wounded and repatriated, where he was in military hospitals until discharge in January 1946. He received the Silver Star.
He refused to discuss his service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. "Too many bad memories," he told an interviewer. "I don't want you to see me crying." A true American hero. He later became known for classic roles in films like "The Sting" and "The Front Page" until his untimely passing on Christmas Eve 2012.
Johnson earned a Purple Heart, among other honors. He was honorably discharged and later served in the Army Reserve. He used his GI Bill to fund his acting lessons. He is best remembered as the Professor on '60's television show Gilligan's Island, a comedic turn which he later related was quite different from his usual role as a quiet cowboy. Russell Johnson passed away in early 2014.
|Robert Stack, here with Lana Turner.|
During World War II, Stack served as a gunnery instructor in the United States Navy. Because of his expertise as an Olympic champion skeet shooter, Stack was assigned to teach anti-aircraft gunnery in the United States Navy. He thus was one of the rare top actors, including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, who performed a useful function in the service that was unrelated to performing.
Stack was multilingual and stayed active in Hollywood as an actor and television host until his passing. He is perhaps best known for starring as Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" and as the long-time host of "Unsolved Mysteries."
One of the many oddities of Hollywood is that Curtis chose the submarine service in part because of a Cary Grant film, "Destination Tokyo" (Tyrone Power in "Crash Dive" (1943) also influenced his choice of services). Grant and Curtis later starred together in the World War II submarine comedy "Operation Petticoat." Tony Curtis, of course, became one of the true legends of Hollywood, starring in some of the greatest films of all time such as "Spartacus," "The Boston Strangler," "The Great Race" and many others. Tony Curtis passed away in 2010.
|Anthony Benedetto aka Tony Bennett during World War II.|
Larry's friendship with Curtis proved instrumental in his career. Larry did some stage work and impressions after the war but was looking for more. He made his film debut - unbilled - in Tony's film The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) after Curtis put in a good word for him. That jump-started Larry's film career, but it stalled out in the early '60s. Tony stepped in again and gave Larry some choice film parts, which eventually led to the role for which Larry is best-remembered by many fans: Corporal Agarn in the comedy classic "F-Troop." After that, Larry became a true celebrity recognizable to fans around the world.
Larry Storch is still with us as of this writing. He is said to attend some fan conventions and play his saxophone in the local park when he isn't off receiving tributes such as the 2013 Barrymore Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film and TV from the Fort Lee Film Commission.
An accomplished pilot before the war, Power became a transport pilot and flew missions in war zones including Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands in February 1945, the Battles of Iwo Jima (Feb-Mar 1945) and Okinawa (Apr-Jun 1945). Power mustered out in January 1946, but stayed in the reserves, reaching the rank of Captain in 1951. Power resumed his acting career and was one of the top film stars of the 1950s. Tyrone Power was the Real Deal during his military service, performing a useful service right at the front lines at a very high level of competence.
He also served two separate tours in Korea and downed some MiGs. He was baseball star Ted Williams' wingman for a while in Korea. From there, he went to Test Pilot School, which eventually led to NASA, which led to Outer Space, which led to the US Senate, which led to John Glenn becoming a legend.
|Don Rickles with his father before shipping out for service in WWII. March 1943. You can see the bubbly personality even at that young age.|
|Burgess Meredith on June 10, 1943 (AP Photo).|
After leaving the military in 1945, Cann continued his acting in bit parts and at some point adopted the stage name William Conrad. However, his main success was on the radio, and he was on literally thousands of radio programs due to his clear, deep voice. However, he also continued his acting career throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and the parts gradually got better. At some points, he combined his vocal talents with the new medium of television, such as when he was the narrator on "This Man Dawson" from 1959-60 and "Rocky and His Friends" from 1959-61. He achieved some fame for voicing Dudley Do-Right on The Bullwinkle Show in the early 1960s. In the mid-1960s, Conrad was the narrator throughout "The Fugitive."
Conrad's acting career, however, was catching up to this vocal career. In 1970, he was cast in the Quinn Martin pilot of "Cannon," playing a corpulent private eye. This resulted in a very successful television series that ran from 1971-76. Conrad then resumed narrating series and doing guest appearances until "Jake and the Fatman" came along, a successful series that ran from 1987-92. Conrad retired from acting after that. William Conrad passed away on February 11, 1994, and is buried in the Lincoln Terrace section of Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery, California. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.
The Anzio incident encapsulates the experience of many average soldiers, so is worth briefly retelling. Arness was the first American soldier to jump off his boat at the Anzio beachhead. He was ordered to do so by his commanding officer because Arness was the tallest man in his company, and the water’s depth needed to be tested as a safety precaution. Naturally, if it had been too deep, Arness could have drowned given his full pack, or been picked off by a sniper as the first one off and being so visible due to his size. People did what they were told then, however hazardous, and they were chosen simply because they were the right person for whatever reason. That is how it went during the war: you might be lucky to be tall, and you might wind up getting shot or drowned because of it.
Arness earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, and the European-Mideast Campaign Medal. Best remembered for his role as Matt Dillon in the TV series “Gunsmoke” during its 20-year run. He also is the brother of another celebrity on this list, Peter Graves.
Marvin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the beginning of World War II and served throughout as a Private First Class. During the battle for Saipan in June 1944, he was part of the assault on Mount Tapochau, which resulted in the death of most of his unit ("I" Company, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division). Marvin himself was wounded in the buttocks from Japanese machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve. He received a medical discharge.
Marvin participated in seven island campaigns in all.
Lee Marvin later starred as a World War II serviceman in numerous films, including "The Caine Mutiny" and "The Dirty Dozen." The "Caine Mutiny" role is particularly interesting for Marvin fans because he plays a sailor who is called to testify about the numerous island campaigns in which he had participated - basically, reciting Marvin's own real-life experience in a candid moment of cinéma vérité. When asked once his secret for success as an actor by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, Marvin simply cocked his fingers and went "Rat-a-tat-tat."
Marvin died of a heart attack in 1987 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His headstone reads: “Lee Marvin, PFC US Marine Corps, World War II.”
|Lee Van Cleef.|
|Laurence Olivier narrating "The World at War" in the 1970s.|
Wishing to contribute despite being in the States, which was not yet at war, Olivier called Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information under Winston Churchill, hoping to get a position in Cooper's department. Cooper politely advised Olivier to continue what he was doing, and make patriotic films. Olivier did that, including "That Hamilton Woman" and "Henry V" among other works that had a tinge of wartime propaganda. In hindsight, it seems just the right decision, maintaining public confidence that the country was still functioning normally despite the hardships of the war.
While in Hollywood, Olivier trained as a pilot. He eventually came back to England in the middle of the war and joined the Fleet Air Arm, stationed at RAF Worthy Down and rooming with fellow pilot and thespian Ralph Richardson. Neither was worth a tinker's damn to the war effort as a pilot (or so they liked to tell their buds over drinks), but they were unique A-grade celebrities who could rouse great enthusiasm amongst the public. Thus, the pair was used by the military to give speeches and making additional propaganda films such as "The Demi-Paradise." Olivier served for two years as a pilot, resigning his commission in 1943 as a Lieutenant-Commander. Olivier went on to become the most respected actor in the world, with all of the accouterments. Both Ralph Richardson, who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, and Olivier eventually were knighted.
|Benny Hill early in his career.|
Hill later claimed to have hated the Army, saying (probably correctly in his case) that there was always someone above you to shout at you. He later transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment division before the end of the war. He was eventually transferred to Germany and began entertaining, ending up in the production ‘Stars in Battledress’. He later summed up his military service with, "I was five years in the army and never got a stripe." Regardless of his negative feelings about his service (no doubt shared by millions of non-celebrities), Hill was every bit a veteran.
After the war, Hill scratched around for a bit trying to build a career as a performer and adopted "Benny" as his first name in homage to Jack Benny. As Benny Hill, he got his first gigs on the radio, but they did not lead to much. He then tried the new medium of television in 1950 and found that it matched his skill set as a comic. Within a few years, he was named England's entertainer of the year. It is said that he became the first comedian who became famous on television, or at least as a result of television.
After that, Benny Hill's career built over the years. He tried feature films beginning with "Who Done It?" (1956), but television was his bread and butter. By 1962, Hill had his own series, first on BBC, then later (beginning in 1969) on Thames Television. His show lasted until 1989 when Thames Television unceremoniously refused to renew his contract (he received other offers thereafter which he turned down). The large body of television comedy Benny Hill had created by then was repackaged and shown around the world.
Although he made millions of dollar, Benny Hill spent little of it and lived simply. This apparently was due to his frugal upbringing, many children of the Great Depression were like that. For instance, Hill never bought a car (preferring to walk fairly long distances or take the bus even after he was famous), and always rented a simple apartment. Benny Hill passed away on 20 April 1992 (aged 68) from a heart attack (coronary thrombosis). However, his work continues to be enjoyed around the world.
In terms of his subsequent acting career, Winters was a late bloomer, like some of the others on here (e.g., Dick Van Dyke). Winters did not really get his film/television career rolling until the 1960s despite having occasional appearances starting around 1950.
Winters' breakthrough film was the 1963 Stanley Kramer comedy "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" - which was kind of an ironic title, because Winters literally had just been released from an insane asylum (he later claimed for being bipolar, and he had admitted himself to "the funny farm" as he called it voluntarily) days prior to filming. It is easy to speculate that his mental difficulties during that period may have been delayed PTSD from his war duties. Whatever the origin, Winters overcame his issues and went on to become a comedy legend.
|The Richard Anderson action figure, complete with exploding briefcase.|
After the war, Richard Anderson continued acting, studying at the Actor's Studio, and finally nabbed a contract from MGM in 1950. This led to bit parts in some popular films such as "Forbidden Planet" (1956). While his film career continued successfully, Anderson found even greater success in television. He became a regular on "Perry Mason" and featured in the final episode of "The Fugitive." Many guest-starring roles in television series of the day followed such as "The Big Valley," but Anderson found his greatest fame as Dr. Oscar Goldberg in "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman." He was so identified with this role that Kenner even released an action figure made of him (which since has become prized by collectors). Anderson also became recognizable from playing the "Shell Answer Man" in commercials from 1976-82. Richard Anderson continued acting into the mid-1990s and passed away from natural causes on 31 August 2017 in Beverly Hills.
|Pvt. Mickey Rooney attends a Hollywood movie premiere with his mother, Nell Pankey, in 1944. The actor is back in Hollywood after completing 3 months of basic training at Fort Riley, KS. (AP Photo)|
|Mickey Rooney received the Silver Service Medal at The National WWII Museum in 2009.|
Mickey, however, was determined to actually wear the uniform. He tried again in 1944. This time, Rooney entered military service as a Private. He served more than twenty-one months, until shortly after the end of World War II. Both during and after the war he helped entertain the troops in America and Europe, and spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network.
Rooney was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. He also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his military service.
Mickey Rooney was a top box-office champ at the time of his induction, the long-time star of the popular "Andy Hardy" movies. Working with Shirley Temple and Judy Garland was nothing special to him, but after the war, things changed. Rooney, who had been famous for his boyish roles and playing teenagers, had grown up. Like many former child stars (though he was a special case), Rooney endured a long career slump. He worked through it, however, and managed to find work every year. When he took on some television work, it became classic, such as an appearance as a down-on-his-luck jockey in "The Twilight Zone." Mickey Rooney remained a force in Hollywood until his unfortunate passing in April 2014. Among his better Hollywood stories is that during the 1940s he apparently came up with Marilyn Monroe's stage name, though that is highly doubted by some.
|Sammy Davis Jr. performs for members of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in an undisclosed location in Vietnam during February of 1972.|
My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking.After the war, of course, Sammy Davis Jr. became a legendary entertainer. He performed with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio. Davis became an "overnight sensation" after a performance in Ciro’s nightclub after the 1951 Academy Awards. He continued entertaining troops through the Vietnam era long after he had become a global celebrity.
|Harry Dean Stanton|
This one comes as a real surprise. This fellow just did not seem old enough to be a World War II Vet - but sure enough, he was.
Harry Dean Stanton (born July 14, 1926) was a US Navy veteran of World War II. Drafted into service, Stanton served as a cook aboard an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) during the Battle of Okinawa.
Harry was acting by the early 1950s on television, and was in the classic 1970 Clint Eastwood World War II film "Kelly's Heroes." However, he did not really start getting noticed until his 1973 part as Homer Van Meter in "Dillinger" with Warren Oates. That got him noticed, and the next year he was in "The Godfather: Part II." Harry Dean Stanton is perhaps best remembered for his lead role as Bud in the cult favorite "Repo Man" (1984).
Harry Dean Stanton worked his way up to everything he achieved, grinding it out in total obscurity. He would do three or four films or television projects every year, decade after decade.
Harry passed away at age 91 on September 15, 2017. He was working right up until the end, with his final film, "Frank and Ava" (2017), still awaiting release.
|J.D. Cannon in "Scorpio" (1973).|
After the war, he achieved fame as Ed Norton on the Jackie Gleason television show "The Honeymooners." He won an Academy Award in 1973 for "Harry and Tonto."
After the war, J.D. kicked around for a while. He worked as a store clerk at Sears and tried his hand at ranching. Ultimately, J.D. joined the Dallas, Texas police department as an ordinary patrolman. He was driving a squad car on 22 November 1963 during a routine visit by the President of the United States when the worst possible news came over the radio. Alerted to be on the lookout for a suspect in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 45 minutes earlier, J.D. spotted someone matching the description walking down the street. J.D. stopped, questioned the man, and then got out of his car to question the suspect further. The man was Lee Harvey Oswald, who waited until J.D. was out of his car before drawing his revolver and firing four shots, killing J.D. Now recognized as a national hero, J.D. Tippit is buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas. He was buried on the same day as both President Kennedy and Oswald.
|Henry Fonda in uniform|
|"Lieutenant Henry Fonda, former Hollywood movie star, relaxes in a South Pacific area, July 10, 1944 where he is now on active duty on the staff of Vice Adm. J.H. Hoover, U.S. Navy commander of the forward area, Central Pacific."|
|Lt. jg Henry Fonda (1905 - 1982) during his military service on board the USS Bearss, summer 1945.|
|Navy Lieutenant Henry Fonda with his precocious daughter, Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda (1943).|
As an officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter-bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning six Air Medals, including some in an F-9 Panther. After the Korean war, he again stayed with the Marines as a reserve officer, finally retiring in 1966 as a colonel. In 1982, Col. McMahon received a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard, an honorific awarded to recognize his support for the National Guard and Reserves.
Ed McMahon, of course, went on to become best known as Johnny Carson's sidekick on "The Tonight Show" and a participant for many years in the Labor Day MD Telethons.
After his service, he joined the Actor's Studio in New York, got some Broadway parts, and ultimately became one of the top character actors in Hollywood. Many will remember Hingle from his appearances in such Clint Eastwood (a good friend) films as "Hang 'em High," "The Gauntlet," and "Sudden Impact."
Red Buttons (1919 - 2006) was a successful Broadway actor when he was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces in 1943. He appeared in the Army Air Forces' Broadway show Winged Victory, along with several future stars, including Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. A year later, Buttons appeared in Darryl F. Zanuck's movie version of Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor. Buttons also entertained troops in the European Theater in the same unit as Mickey Rooney. Buttons went on to a storied acting career after the war, and my favorite performance was his role as the retiring suitor in "The Poseidon Adventure."
I bet that you have no idea who the pert lass is in the above picture. Well, let's get to that in a moment.
Her first acting gig was on radio in 1930, playing an adopted child. She was a television star when World War II broke out. Yes, before the war. Unfortunately for her, there were only a few thousand television sets in the world at that time, so her exposure on an experimental Los Angeles TV station in 1939 did not translate into the big bucks. But if you're talking "pioneer"... you're looking at one. She was on television before World War II.
After kicking around for a while doing whatever modelling and stage acting gigs she could find, the lady enlisted in the American Women's Voluntary Services (AWVS) right after Pearl Harbor and stayed in for 4 years. She drove a PX truck. In 1945, she married Dick Barker, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, but divorced quickly.
After that, she did a lot of radio, which still was a bigger gig than television. Then, she returned to television as more people bought sets and programming hours grew. It wasn't until 1962 that she got her first film role, but film work really was never her style and Television remained her bread and butter.
The '60s turned into the '70s, and she became a character actress on shows such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." She gained a reputation for being "sickeningly sweet," which turned into some fabulous sitcom bits - and got her the Mary Tyler Moore gig, which fully and knowingly exploited that reputation and made her a household name.
So, it was the mid-70s and she was a World War II Vet, one of the first people ever to appear on television - and she was just now hitting her stride. From that point on, more character parts beckoned. It turned out that television was the right place for her all along. Eventually, she became the second Golden Girl to appear on this page and remains active in the business today - yes, one of the very first people ever to appear on television before World War II is still working as I type this in 2016. In fact, she has multiple TV appearances this year and shows no signs of slowing down, 86 years after getting her start in show biz.
|Do you recognize her now?|
In 1941, Lee enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. His eyesight prevented him from flying. Undeterred, Lee served as an officer in the RAF’s Intelligence Branch in Africa, which involved selecting targets and planning missions. At one point, he was strafed by a German fighter and wounded in the buttocks. However, it seems Lee may have got much closer to the action with his apparent involvement in secret units such as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the forerunner to the legendary SAS. The LRDG was later immortalized on television in the series "The Desert Rats," though Lee had nothing to do with that.
Lee gets little public recognition of his war efforts because he never talked about them. He explained it thus:
I’ve been entrusted with many secrets during World War II, and if I spoke, people died. I was in the intelligence service, special ops, and I’m not going to tell much more. I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act, which binds me for life. And what I mean by this is that I’m able to keep a secret, and if I’m asked to say nothing, I say nothing. Never.Lee, of course, went on to become a legendary actor, first in the Hammer horror films and later in such epic series as James Bond ("The Man with the Golden Gun"), Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. He was knighted, became Sir Christopher, and passed away, working hard to the end, in 2015.
Robert Ryan-Marines-WW2-served with the OSS in Yugoslavia. This guy was a real war hero. He reached what many consider his peak playing the adversarial General in 'The Dirty Dozen.'
After the war, Sheybal was fairly aimless until he tried acting and was cast in a Polish television show in 1957. After building a little career momentum, he shortened his stage name to Vladek Sheybal. His career built slowly after that, but Shebyal got a huge boost by being cast as Kronsteen in "From Russia With Love." That is the role by which most people will remember him, even if they don't know his name. After that, Sheybal worked steadily in a constant stream of vaguely creepy roles. He was sort of the second coming of Peter Lorre, invariably playing sinister Eastern Europeans who often had vulnerabilities that made them charming and even sympathetic. Sheybal on occasion played German World War II soldiers, as in "Mosquito Squadron" (1969), which must have been somewhat surreal for him. Sheybal became a semi-regular on the British TV show "UFO" and appeared in the 1982 miniseries "Smiley's People." Vladeck Sheybal continued his character roles up until his passing on 16 October 1992 in London, England.
Towards the end of the war, Haley was assigned to edit an official Coast Guard periodical. He eventually became the editor of the Coast Guard publication ‘Helmsman‘ in New York City, advancing to the rank of Chief Petty Officer before his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He then began to publish novels.
After the war, Rod became a top television writer, presenter and producer. Among many other projects, he created the legendary "Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" series of the 1950s-1970s. He later joined a college faculty in upstate New York and passed away in June 1975.
|Lieutenant Gene Kelly and wife Betsy Blair. October 1945.|
The first shot above is a portrait of Lieutenant (JG) Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996) of the United States Naval Air Service, August 1945. The photo was probably taken in Washington, DC. Below that is Gene with his wife, Betsy Blair.
Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Service at the end of 1944 and was commissioned as lieutenant junior grade after going through San Diego boot camp. He enlisted after helping to sell war bonds and entertain wounded troops. He did receive some deferments because the Board figured he was more valuable acting than shooting bullets.
This enlistment was particularly laudable because it happened shortly after MGM loaned him out to Columbia to work with Rita Hayworth in "Cover Girl" (1944), which turned out to be Gene Kelly's breakthrough role.
Kelly was stationed in the Photographic Section, Washington D.C. He helped to write and direct many documentaries, which encouraged his interest in the production side of film-making. Some of his wartime films included "Combat Fatigue Irritability," "Submarine Warfare. Now It Can Be Told," and "Treasury Salute no. 314. What’s the matter with Steve." Kelly received a certificate on satisfactory completion of active service in 1946.
After the war, Kelly returned to Hollywood and resumed his career as if World War II never happened. Some of Kelly's first post-war films were "Living in a Big Way" (1947) and with Judy Garland in "The Pirate" (1948).
|John Coltrane's enlistment photo.|
John Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on August 6, 1945. It was an auspicious day, when the first U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. The war was over within a matter of days, but this list does not differentiate on the amount of time served during the war - Coltrane did, and that is that.
Coltrane trained as an apprentice seaman at Sampson Naval Training Station in upstate New York before being assigned to Pearl Harbor late in 1945. Coltrane was stationed at Manana Barracks, the largest posting of African-American servicemen. Coltrane joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. It happened to be an all-white group, but he integrated it as a perpetual "guest performer." Coltrane mustered out as a seaman first class in August 1946. After the war, of course, John Coltrane became a legendary jazz performer. He passed away on July 17, 1967.
|Bill Blass, left, with fellow grunt Bob Tompkins. Credit via Bob Tompkins.|
Another name I did not expect on this list is William Ralph "Bill" Blass (June 22, 1922 – June 12, 2002), better known simply as Bill Blass. He enlisted in the US Army in 1942, not long after Pearl Harbor. The Army assigned Blass to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion, and he was in the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. This unit employed "creative types" in designing items intended to mislead the enemy. They used recordings, inflatable tanks, and other false materials to create an illusion, such as with the completely phony "First US Army Group" (FUSAG) in Dover prior to D-Day. Blass served along with many other creative celebrities, including artist Ellsworth Kelly, the photographer Art Kane, and the watercolorist Arthur Singer. The unit became the subject of “The Ghost Army,” an hourlong documentary by Rick Beyer shown on PBS some years ago.
Bill Blass, of course, came back to New York in 1945 and began his legendary fashion career. By the 1970s, he was one of the top names in the industry. He also branched out into areas such as automotive design for the Ford Motor Company before retiring to his home in Connecticut shortly before his death.
Kulp became interested in acting when her husband was working at a Hollywood studio. Director George Cukor thought she had the right look and urged her to act, so Kulp began seeking parts and had quick success. She eventually got the plum role of Mr. Drysdale's assistant Miss Jane Hathaway on the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Taylor held a variety of positions in the army, including MP, but most revolved around entertaining troops in the Australian Army Entertainment Unit. During the war, he appeared in many propaganda films. Discharged on 26 February 1946, Taylor picked up his acting career again, but his breakthrough moment had passed. He became a solid supporting actor in both television and films but never became a global star. One might call Taylor a "working actor," which required a great deal of craftsmanship and effort without much celebrity. He continued his supporting and guest-starring roles through the 1950s and 1960s, returning to the UK in 1963. He is perhaps best remembered as General Henderson in British production TV "UFO" (1970). Grant Taylor passed away from cancer in 1971, his chance of stardom a casualty of the war. Grant Taylor, someone you probably never heard of, represents exactly what this page is all about, someone who deserves a sliver of recognition at last.
George Reeves served in the Army during World War II. He was in the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) First Motion Picture Unit during 1943, where he made training films. Reeves already was a big star before the war, having appeared in "Gone With the Wind." Reeves resumed his film career after the war with mixed success, appearing in classic World War II film "From Here To Eternity." Reeves is best known as the title star of television series "The Adventures of Superman," and for the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death by gunshot at his home in 1958.
|George C. Scott.|
Scott, of course, went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for playing World War II hero General George S. Patton Jr. in 1970 classic "Patton."
|William DeWolf Hopper Jr.|
After the war, Hopper did not resume his acting career, which apparently he had never taken very seriously. Instead, Hopper tried various things, including being a car salesman (there was a lot of pent-up demand for new cars due to their prohibition during the war). However, in 1953 an old friend, director Bill Wellman, convinced him to appear in "The High and the Mighty" (1954), and Hopper immediately got right back into his old acting career as if it had never stopped. Once again, the parts were small but the films were great (including "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955)). After testing for the lead in "Perry Mason," Hopper was given the role of investigator Paul Drake, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. Many consider Hopper's portrayal of the dashing Drake as a key part of the classic series, providing some levity and action in what could have become a dull and dry exercise. After "Perry Mason" was canceled in 1966 after nine seasons, Hopper did little acting and instead enjoyed his semi-retirement with wife Jane Kies (Jane Gilbert). William Hopper passed away in 1970 at age 55 in Palm Springs from complications following a stroke.
|Walter Matthau, showing his rank of Staff Sergeant.|
|Walter Matthau in 1952, publicity photo for Broadway play "Fancy Meeting You Again."|
Walter Matthau (October 1, 1920 – July 1, 2000) served in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force in England as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. While Matthau served in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart, there is no record of their ever having met or flown together - though that is as likely as not. Certainly, Matthau must have seen Stewart during his service.
There are few photographs of Matthau from the World War II era available. It was not something that he later talked about or publicized. Many veterans were like that. That doesn't mean his service was any less important than that of the others on here, and it may have been very intense for all we know.
Walter always was a bit cagey about his real past on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and during the war. For instance, he allowed a rumor to stand for many years that his real birth name was "Walter Matuschanskayasky," under which he was credited for his bit part as a drunk in "Earthquake." This was accepted as fact for many years, while the reality was that his original last name was Matthow, which does not sound nearly as exotic or colorful. No doubt, Matthau (or Mathow) got quite a kick out of putting that one over as a kind of inside joke about how easy it was to con people about your past, how little people actually knew about stars like him, and how quickly people would swallow some unlikely edifice of a name for someone with a vaguely ethnic look. In this sense, he was a bit like James Doohan (see below). Matthau did not consider himself some big star who put on airs; instead, he liked to come across as just any old Matuschanskayasky you might meet on the street.
Matthau's life changed drastically because of his World War II service. While mildly interested in theater before the war, he became much more interested while stationed in England. He began acting for real afterwards, quickly moved on to Broadway, and eventually became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in such films as "The Odd Couple" and "The Fortune Cookie," his breakthrough role in 1966.
|Jack Hawkins in "The Cruel Sea" (1953).|