For the fallen: Performers and Artists killed during World War II

This article was updated on May 25, 2020. 

During World War II, some of Hollywood’s top stars went overseas to fight. From Clark Gable, James Stewart and Robert Taylor, each returned home to their careers, though they also were changed people from their war experiences.

But some performers didn’t return home from World War II.

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to highlight those who were killed during World War II, whether it be on the battlefield, in training camp, helping with the war effort, or surrounded by mysterious circumstances. some of these people were actors who enlisted, while others were taking part in the war effort:

Phillips Holmes

Phillips Holmes (July 22, 1907 – August 12, 1942) Phillips Holmes was an American actor who starred in 48 films from 1928 to 1938, though the bulk of his films were made in the 1930s. Some of his filmography includes An American Tragedy (1931), Dinner at Eight (1933) and Great Expectations. In 1938, Holmes decided to turn his attention to the stage. However, when World War II began, Holmes and his brother Ralph enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 before the United States entered the war. Holmes graduated from Air Ground School in Winnipeg. On Aug. 12, 1942, while flying to another base in Ottawa, their plane collided with another aircraft in Ontario and killed everyone on board. Holmes was 33 years old.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Vera Ralston

Vera Hrubá Ralston

At the start of World War II, Olympic athlete Vera Ralston found herself without a country. The Nazis invaded her home country of Czechoslovakia while she was touring in the United States with ice skating shows. The United States became her home, and she turned to acting as her ice skating contemporaries Sonja Henie and Belita had.

Born Vera Hrubá, Vera studied ballet as a child and turned to ice skating when she was 10 years old, according to her 2003 Los Angeles Times obituary.

She competed for Czechoslovakia in the women’s figure skating singles in the 1936 Winter Olympics, which are now famous because of Adolf Hitler’s attendance. Vera came in 17th place at the Olympics.

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Musical Monday: Reveille with Beverly (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

beverly4This week’s musical:
Reveille With Beverly (1943)– Musical #323


Charles Barton

Ann Miller, William Wright, Dick Purcell, Andrew Tombes, Franklin Pangborn, Adele Mara, Douglas Leavitt, Barbara Brown, Larry Parks, Doodles Weaver (uncredited), Irene Ryan (uncredited), Lee and Lynn Wilde
As themselves:

  • Bob Crosby and his orchestra
  • Freddie Slack and his orchestra with Ella Mae Morse
  • Duke Ellington
  • Count Bassie
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Mills Brothers
  • The Radio Rogues

A switchboard operator, Beverly Ross (Miller), at the local radio station KFEL has dreams of having her own jive radio show. She eventually gets her own time slot and features all of the top jive music. While on the radio, Beverly catches ear (and eye) of soldier Barry Lang (Wright), who is wealthy and switches places with his chauffeur buddy Andy Adams (Purcell) to see if he can win Beverly without his millions.

Andrew Tombes and Ann Miller in "Revellie with Beverly"

Andrew Tombes and Ann Miller in “Revellie with Beverly”

-The film is based off the radio show Reveille with Beverly which was hosted by Jean Ruth Hay. Jean Hay served as technical adviser to the film and narrates the trailer for the film.

-All of the musical performances

Notable Songs:
-“Cow Cow Boogie” performed by Ella Mae Morse
-“Big Noise from Winnetka” performed by Bob Crosby and his Bobcat Orchestra, singers Lyn and Lee Wilde
-“Take the A Train” performed by Duke Ellington, sung by Betty Roche
-“One O’Clock Jump” performed by Count Bassie
-“Night and Day” performed by Frank Sintra

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My review:
“Reveille with Beverly” is one of those guilty pleasure musicals. It has very little plot but for fans of 1940s big band and jive, it’s a dream.

“Reveille with Beverly” is based on a real radio show called “Reveille with Beverly” which was DJed be a young lady named Jean Ruth Hay. The Los Angeles radio show was on the air from 1941 to 1944 for soldiers fighting in World War II. They could hear it on ships, fighting or in the air.

Advertisement for Jean Ruth Hay's radio show.

Advertisement for Jean Ruth Hay’s radio show.

The idea of the radio show came when soldiers Jean knew said they hated starting their day with the blast of a bugle. Hay also said that government officials would sometimes provide a script to read which included names of songs that didn’t exist. These scripts turned out to be code for the French Underground. Hay even married bandleader Freddie Slack, who is featured in this film.

The real show is merely a premise for the plot and all else is fictional. The movie has multiple laugh-out-loud funny scenes, particularly with Franklin Pangborn who is furious that Beverly’s show is in his time slot. While there is a bit of a plot, the majority of the film are musical performances of 1943 hits. When Beverly’s record starts spinning, we’re transported to a video of Bob Crosby and his band or Duke Ellington performing “Take the A Train” on a train.

All the songs had me dancing in my seat. I saw this movie for the first time in 2009 and it introduced me to Ella Mae Morse, who I wasn’t familiar with prior. Now she is one of my favorites.

Admittedly, there may be some who don’t enjoy this style of movie. If you aren’t interested in a string of jive musical numbers, you should probably stay away.

This isn’t your usual Ann Miller film, who was still early in her career. Ann only tap dances once and it’s a patriotic number at the end of the film.

Just writing this review makes me want to watch “Reveille with Beverly” again. It’s a brief hour and 18 minutes that will leave you dancing and humming by the end.

Ann Miller in her tap dancing finale.

Ann Miller in her tap dancing finale.

If anyone knows where to listen to some of Jean Ruth Hay’s original broadcasts, leave me a message! I would love to hear them.

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Memorial Day Musical Monday: Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Hollywood Canteen” (1944) –Musical #139

Sierra Exif JPEG

Warner Brothers

Delmar Davies

Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton, Dane Clark
Bette Davis, John Garfield ,The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joan Crawford, Helmut Dantine, Faye Emerson, Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, Sr., Paul Henreid, Joan Leslie, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Dorothy Malone, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Eleanor Parker, Roy Rogers (with Trigger), S.Z. Sakall, Zachary Scott, Alexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Dorsey, Donald Woods, Andrea King, Joyce Reynolds and The Golden Gate Quartet.

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Actress takes break from screen for war effort

Publicity photo of Madeleine Carroll from the 1930s.

Publicity photo of Madeleine Carroll from the 1930s.

She went from being one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood at $250,000 a year to working for the Red Cross at $125 a month.

After starring in two Alfred Hitchcock films and the star studded “Prisoner of Zenda” (1937), English actress Madeleine Carroll left films for six years.

Carroll said she had a new career: helping win the war.

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the United States, Carroll’s sister Marguerite Guigette Carroll was killed on Oct. 7, 1940, in a German air raid in London.

“My younger sister learned how to be a very excellent typist but was killed at her typewriter by a direct hit from a German bomb in London’s Blitz,” Carroll said in a 1949 Rotary Club speech. “It seems to me that had the generation previous to hers been more interested in encouraging good neighborliness between countries, there is a chance my sister might be alive today.”

But before her sister was killed, Carroll turned over her French chateau for children removed from Paris and other French cities. She also started holding benefits in Hollywood to send money to Europe, according to a Jan. 21, 1940, article in the Pittsburgh Press.

In 1942, Carroll married newcomer actor Sterling Hayden. Hayden felt his place was fighting in the war and after two roles in Hollywood he enlisted in the Marines.

Madeleine Carroll training at the American University in Washington for service in the Red Cross in 1943.

Madeleine Carroll training at the American University in Washington for service in the Red Cross in 1943.

“I’m the proudest woman in the world because my husband will be a buck private in the Marines,” Carroll was quoted in an Oct. 23, 1942, article in the Milwaukee Journal, “Madeleine Carroll Shelves film career for duration” by Sheliah Graham.  “I want to participate in the best of my ability to winning the war. We both feel that glamour has no place during this difficult period.”

Carroll and Hayden even changed their names, because they felt their star status could be detrimental to their new wartime careers. The two became Sterling and Madeleine Hamilton, according to a June 1943 article in the St. Petersburg Times, “Two Film Stars Change Their Names.”

Carroll’s first job in war work was in the newly formed US Seaman’s Service in New York as the director of entertainment, which was like the USO for Merchant Marines.

“I chose this work because while a great deal is done for the boys in the Army and the Navy, people are inclined to forget the boys not in uniform who risk and lose their lives on the ships taking food and supplies to the allied soldiers,” Carroll was quoted in the 1942 Milwaukee Journal article. “We want to raise enough money to open clubs and recuperation centers in all the big cities and American ports…we want to take care of the merchant seaman who are maimed, or otherwise ill, after the war as well as during.”

After spending 18 months with the US Seaman’s Service, Carroll worked over seas with the Red Cross.

She worked with the American Red Cross at the 61st station Army hospital in Foggia, Italy, where she hoped to be assigned as a staff aid in an evacuation hospital.

“I’m grateful to be in the Red Cross, because none of the girls stare or act like I’m a celebrity,” Carroll said in a March 20, 1944, Associated Press brief in the St. Petersburg Times.

Madeleine Carroll looking after war orphans in her French Chateau

Madeleine Carroll looking after war orphans in her French Chateau

Along with working in the hospital, Carroll worked on the hospital train for four months taking wounded men to ships that took them home, according to a May 9, 1945, Milwaukee Journal article.

Each train carried 300 to 400 men with three bunks on each side holding a wounded man. Carroll estimated working with 25,000 military men, the article described.

She recalled a time when a man with a leg injury helped on the train by shining a lantern on a man in a lower bunk with a chest injury so bad that his ribs were exposed, according to the 1945 article.

Carroll was not trained as a nurse, but tried to keep the men’s morale up with cookies, music or comforting them.

madeleine3“I never have known a man too wounded to eat a cookie,” she said.

“How nice it is to be served by Princess Flavia,” one soldier said, reaching his arm out to her, referencing her role in “Prisoner of Zenda.”

After V-E Day, Carroll helped unwed mothers in France, according to a Nov. 14, 1945, Milwaukee Journal article, “Madeleine Carroll caring for war babies born in France out of wedlock.”

Carroll received letters from girls worried about bringing up a baby on their own with an unknown father. She met girls with babies at her door step in France.

At the time the article was published, Carroll helped 40 mothers. Carroll helped with hospital bills, background checks on potential parents and adopting out the children, according to the article.

In each article written between 1942 and 1946, Carroll was credited as “the former actress” or “retired star.”

Several times she was quoted as saying she was incredibly happy and never wanted to return to films.

Hayden and Carroll divorced in 1946, and they both eventually returned to Hollywood, both making their first film back in 1947.

While Hayden’s career took off in the 1950s, with films like “Asphalt Jungle,” Carroll made three more films and made four television appearances. She retired from acting in 1955 and lived the remainder of her life out of the public eye.

Even while helping with the war effort, whenever a soldier would ask her “Are you really Madeleine Carroll,” she replied “Don’t let them kid you.”

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Veteran’s Day Musical Monday: “Stage Door Canteen” (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Stage Door Canteen (1943)

Stage Door Canteen (1943) –Musical #138

United Artists

Frank Borzage

Lon McCallister, Marjorie Riordan, Cheryl Walker, William Terry, Sunset Carson, Margaret Early
Judith Anderson, Kenny Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, Ralph Bellamy, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Ray Bolger, Helen Broderick, Ina Claire, Katharine Cornell, Lloyd Corrigan, Jane Darwell, William Demarest, Gracie Fields, Arlene Francis, Virginia Grey, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, Hugh Herbert, Jean Hersholt, Sam Jaffe, Allen Jenkins, George Jessel,Otto Kruger, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Aline MacMahon, Ralph Morgan, Harpo Marx, Elsa Maxwell, Helen Menken, Ethel Merman, Peggy Moran, Alan Mowbray, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Franklin Pangborn, George Raft, Selena Royle, Martha Scott, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Ned Sparks, Ethel Waters, Johnny Weissmuller, Dame May Whitty, Ed Wynn, Count Basie, Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo

Gypse Rose Lee performs for the soldiers at the Stage Door Canteen

Gypse Rose Lee performs for the soldiers at the Stage Door Canteen

The film follows young women (Riordan, Walker, Early) who volunteer at the Stage Door Canteen in New York. Volunteering involves dancing with soldiers, talking to them and serving food. However, the canteen has strict rules-no dating servicemen. Eileen (Walker) admits to only volunteering, because she is hoping to be discovered as an actress by one of the celebrities. But her selfish ways are shaken when she meets soldier Dakota (Terry). Innocent soldier, California (McCallister) doesn’t have a girl back home, writes letters to his father and has never been kissed. He meets Jean (Riordan) at the canteen and tells her she has given him his happiest moments since he has joined the service.
The majority of the film is made up of cameos by famous Broadway and Hollywood stars including Gypsy Rose Lee, George Raft, Johnny Weismuller and Katharine Cornell. The romances are a backdrop for the performances, stringing the film together.

Eileen (Walker) and Dakota (Terry) realize they are in love at the Stage Door Canteen

Eileen (Walker) and Dakota (Terry) realize they are in love at the Stage Door Canteen

-The real Stage Door Canteen was on 44th Street in New York, but the movie was filmed in Hollywood.
-Stage actress Katharine Cornell’s only film appearance.
-The story line was inspired by the Irving Berlin song “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen.”
-A portion of the money that the film made was donated to the Stage Door Canteen. “Stage Door Canteen” was the top grossing film of the year, making $4,339,500, according to George Raft: The Films by Everett Aaker
-Katharine Hepburn’s only musical film, though she is never in a musical number.
-Peggy Lee’s second film appearance
-Ruth Roman’s first film appearance.

Jean (Riordan) gives California (McCallister) his first kiss

Jean (Riordan) gives California (McCallister) his first kiss

-Katharine Cornell plays a scene from Romeo and Juliet with Lon McCallister.
-Cornell gives a young British soldier cake and an orange. He is overcome with joy because of the orange and says “I haven’t seen one of these in two years. It’s like Christmas!” Tear worthy.
-Katharine Hepburn gives Eileen (Walker) a talking to of why she needs to continue serving in the canteen even though her fiance is fighting overseas. Probably the most dramatic scene of the film.
-Ventriloquist Edgar Bergan with his puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.

Notable Songs:
-“The Girl I Love to Leave Behind” sung by Roy Bolger
-“She’s a Bombshell from Brooklyn” performed by Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay
-“We Mustn’t Say Goodnight” sung by Lanny Ross
-“Sleep, Baby, Sleep in Your Jeep” performed by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra
-“Quick Sands” performed by Count Bassie and Ethel Waters
-“Goodnight Sweetheart” performed by Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo and sung by Kenny Baker
-“Ave Maria” performed by violinist Yehudi Menuhin

My Review:
I love this movie. Before seeing this movie for the first time several years ago, I wasn’t familiar with stage stars such as Helen Menken or Katharine Cornell. But the film opened shows the other side of entertainment, showing the past celebrities of the east coast. Though the main story line is brief and thin, I still enjoy it. A boy and girl becoming attached after dancing and talking all night and the boy not knowing if he will return from the war? I think that’s believable.
The movie also has several scenes that are very touching and make me tear up: the British boy having an orange for the first time in two years, Lon McCallister getting his first kiss. Yep, the waterworks are running.
If you are looking for a film with a strong plot line and character development, “Stage Door Canteen” probably isn’t for you. But if you are hoping to get a glimpse into the past-to see how soldiers may have spent their leave and what songs and stars were popular-this movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes of your day well spent.

The forgotten Hollywood war hero: Wayne Morris

Warner Brothers star, Wayne Morris in he 1930s

Warner Brothers star, Wayne Morris in he 1930s

He can be seen playing alongside Bette Davis as a boxer in “Kid Galahad” (1937) or a cadet running amok at the Virginia Military Institute in “Brother Rat.”

Wayne Morris may not be a name you’re familiar with but you have most likely seen the husky, affable blond in Warner Brothers 1930s and 1940s films.

But you may not be familiar with Morris’ war time record.
We frequently hear about Hollywood actors such as James Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney who enlisted and were decorated for their bravery during World War II.

However, Morris is rarely recognized for his service and was one of World War II’s first flying aces.

His interest in flying started in Hollywood.

While filming “Flying Angles” (1940) with Jane Wyman and Dennis Morgan, Morris learned how to fly a plane.

Morris in 1944 in his plane "Meatball." The decals show how many Japanese planes he shot down.

Morris in 1944 in his plane “Meatball.” The decals show how many Japanese planes he shot down.

Once World War II began, Morris joined the Naval Reserve and became a Naval flier in 1942 on the U.S.S. Essex. He put his career on hold to fight. The same year he was married to Olympic swimmer Patricia O’Rourke.

“Every time they showed a picture aboard the Essex, I was scared to death it would be one of mine,” Morris said. “That’s something I could never have lived down.”

Morris flew 57 missions-while some actors only flew 20 or less- and made seven kills, which qualified him as an ace.  He also helped sink five enemy ships.

He originally was told he was too big to fly fighter planes until he went to his uncle-in-law, Cdr. David McCampbell who wrote him a letter, allowing him to fly the VF-15, according to “McCampbell’s Heroes: the Story of the U.S. Navy’s Most Celebrated Carrier Fighter of the Pacific”, Edwin P. Hoyt.

Three of his planes were so badly damaged by enemy fire that they were deemed unfit to fly and were dumped in the ocean, according to IMDB.

“As to what a fellow thinks when he’s scared, I guess it’s the same with anyone. You get fleeting glimpses in your mind of your home, your wife, the baby you want to see,” Morris said. “You see so clearly all the mistakes you made. You want another chance to correct those mistakes. You wonder how you could have attached so much importance to ridiculous, meaningless things in your life. But before you get to thinking too much, you’re off into action and everything else is forgotten.”

For his duty, Morris was honored with four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.

When he returned to Hollywood after four year at war, his once promising career floundered and Warner Brothers did not allow him to act for a year.

Jack Warner welcoming actors home from the war in 1945 including Wayne Morris, Ronald Reagan, Army Air Forces; Jack Warner; Gig Young, Coast Guard; and Harry Lewis, Army.

Jack Warner welcoming actors home from the war in 1945 including Wayne Morris, Ronald Reagan, Army Air Forces; Jack Warner; Gig Young, Coast Guard; and Harry Lewis, Army.

Morris’s most notable post-war films include “The Voice of the Turtle,” “John Loves Mary” and “Paths of Glory.” His career ended with several B-westerns.

At the age of 45, Morris passed away in 1959 from a massive heart attack.

But his service to his country was not forgotten. Morris is buried in Arlington Cemetery and was given full military honors at his funeral.

Morris with his wife Patricia and daughter Pamela in 1946.

Morris with his wife Patricia and daughter Pamela in 1946.

Though I am thankful for all men and women who serve our country, I wanted to recognize Wayne Morris.

For years I saw Wayne Morris in films and knew nothing about him except that I liked him. He is one of those character actors that can make a movie special.

Morris seemed like a regular guy. Before he started out in Hollywood, he played football at Los Angeles Junior College and worked as a forest ranger.

After I researched him and discovered his war record, I wanted to honor his service and his work in films.

Thank you to Wayne Morris and men and women in the military for serving our country.

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Bedtime for Bonzo is not the only movie Ronald Reagan made

This is another post I wrote early in my blogging career on blogger. It is a little better than the Susan Slade one, but yet again just a plot summary. Hopefully you can see the improvements of the blog from then to now.

It has once again been another long absence from my blog. I didn’t mean for it to be this way; I actually have several movies in mind to blog about, but I end up watching more movies instead of blogging. Movie watching is what I do, as lazy it may be-but sometimes I do exercise while watching movies!

Today’s blog is the Ronald Reagan/Joan Leslie movie “This Is the Army” (1943).

Now I can already hear some of you groaning, “Ronaaald Reeeeaaaggan. Uggggggh.” Well I don’t know much about how he was politically, but I do know that he was a top notch actor for Warner Brothers back in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Those politicians and late night talk show hosts just look like uneducated film boobs when they talk about Ronald Reagan’s sub-par career, because they obviously know nothing about classic film or Warner Brothers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Ronald Reagan was actually the star of the month for March on Turner Classic Movies-which is nothing to sneeze at. Usually it is someone like Spencer Tracey, Sean Connery or Bette Davis.

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