The Stars Go to War

The Hollywood propaganda machine did not limit itself to turning out films for the war effort. Hollywood stars literally joined up, enlisting in the armed services and touring with the USO. Whether for publicity, or out of a genuine desire to contribute to the war effort, Hollywood personalities fought, sang, and danced their way across the war fronts, bolstering the spirits of the American service men and civilians.

The most popular service for the stars to join was the Air Force-perhaps the theatrics and drama of flying appealed to those accustomed to life on the screen. Although he was technically too old for the draft, Clark Gable joined up and became a Major. Cable flew missions over Europe in B-17s to obtain combat footage, although he was neither required nor expected to do so. James Stewart flew combat missions for the Air Force in both B-17 and B-24 bombers. Stewart was recognized for his leadership during a raid on German aircraft factories, and was awarded many medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross,at left (12), and the French Palme de Guerre. After World War II, Stewart continued to serve in the reserves, eventually becoming a Brigadier General. At a memorial service held after Stewart's death, the Air Force praised the actor, calling him the "embodiment of the citizen-warrior."(14)

Clark Gable (center) on return from a combat mission over Nazi Europe, 1943 (13)

The USO was formed in response to a 1941 request from President Roosevelt. FDR determined that it would be best if private organizations handled the on-leave entertainment for the rapidly expanding Armed Services. By 1944, the USO ran over 3,000 clubs. Hollywood stars took to serving and entertaining service men at these clubs, an activity which became the focus of many films (Hollywood Canteen, Stage Door Canteen). The USO truely made history with its campaign to entertain the troops on the front, the traveling camp shows. Between 1941 and 1947, the USO put on 428,521 shows for the members of the armed forces. Here the role of the Hollywood celebrity was indispensible. Hollywood stars provided entertainment and escape, in an effort to sustain the morale of troops stationed on the front lines. Hollywood's jokester, Bob Hope, became one of the most influential propaganda figures of the war effort through his participation in the USO camp shows.

Bob and Dolores Hope on break from a USO performance, WWII (15)

Bing Crosby sings to troops at the London stage door canteen (16)

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