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Celebrity Veterans

Before you knew them as actors, musicians, politicians and important personalities, these brave men and women served their respective countries in both times of war and times of peace. This page serves as nothing more than a way to honor that legacy of commitment and service.

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Entries in Actors (20)

Sunday
Mar162014

Desmond Llewelyn, British Army, 1939-1945

Llewelyn, third from left, in the production of Noel Coward's "Post Mortem"

Colditz Castle, 1945Desmond W Llewelyn
b. 12 Sep 1914  d. 19 Dec 1999
1939-1945
(World War II, Prisoner of War) 

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, a 25 year old Desmond Llewelyn took a break from his stage career and joined the British Army. He was soon commissioned a second lieutenant, serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force, he was captured in the massive German attack on France in May-June 1940, and spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War in Germany. He spent some time at Colditz Castle and was held in Camp Oflag IX-A/Z near Hesse in Germany. 

Desmond was fortunate enough to be in a position to participate in acting roles with the other prisoners, putting on entertainment shows, and polishing his acting skills along the way. In 1942, while at Eichstatt, he participated in the world premier staging of Noel Coward's "Post Mortem" with his fellow prisoners. Llewelyn was mentioned in the King's College collection of fellow prisoner Captain Bobby Loder:

For most POWs life in a prisoner of war camp was characterised by boredom, frustration, hunger and dreams of better days once the war was over. The Loder archive shows that theatre provided a brief escape from this life. Strangely, this was done with the support and aid of the German authorities. Perhaps the Germans felt that if the prisoners were busy with concerts and variety shows they would think less about digging tunnels.

Capt Loder's performances began in the summer of 1940, when the Senior British Officer in Laufen suggested that Loder and his choir should entertain the camp. Loder put together a committee that went on to produce theatrical performances. Details of the entertainments were carefully recorded by Loder in journals like the one shown below, given by the Canadian Junior Red Cross and sent home to his mother. 

Initially the group had very little to work with, no makeup, no costumes and no lighting but they still played to full houses. There were some professional actors within the camp, such as Desmond Llewelyn (Q in James Bond) and Michael Goodliffe (a Shakespearean actor who appeared in some episodes of Inspector Morse). As time went by Capt Loder's productions became better resourced. The costumes for Dossing Dulcie (shown above) were credited as 'supplied by Messrs Diringer of Munich'. The group even managed to stage a production ofHamlet, and Eichstätt saw the world premiere of Noel Coward's play Post Mortem. Source

When he was finally liberated in 1945 by the American Army, he returned to Great Britain to resume his theatrical career. He most notably enjoyed a lengthy career as James Bond's gadget-guy and colleague, Q. 

Source: http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/archive-centre/archive-month/december-2009.html

Saturday
Mar152014

Adolphe Menjou, US Army 1917-1919 

Adolphe Menjou, film star, made his first public appearance since his arrival in England, when he visited Trafalgar Square in London, England June 12, 1943 and addressed a huge crowd from the bridge of a model tanker. He was mobbed by the crowds when making a tour of he exhibits in connection with the salvage drive. Adolphe Menjou inspecting a sea mine, one of the exhibits on display in connection with the salvage drives. (AP Photo)

Adolphe Jean Menjou
b. 18 Feb 1890 - d. 29 Oct 1963
1917-1919
(World War I, Ambulance Service) 

In 1906, young Menjou's father, a hotel manager, disapproved of his boy's early interest in show business and him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana for his senior year of high school in the hopes of dissuading him from such a reckless and disreputable career.  He went on to Cornell University where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and returned to his early interest of stage and screen work. World War I interrupted his fledgling career and he enlisted in to the US Army Ambulance Service in June of 1917. 

In my search for information on his time in service, I uncovered a few Service Abstracts and can follow where he rose from Corporal to first Lieutenant on October 15, 1917 and again to Captain on May 11, 1918. He served overseas from June 7, 1918 to May 1, 1919. He was honorably discharged from the Army on May 10, 1919 and awarded the Italian War Service Ribbon. 

Following his discharge, Menjou resumed his career and proceeded to appear in over 100 productions culminating with his 1958 performance of the ruthless General George Broulard in WWI war film, Paths of Glory. He toured with USO groups during World War II entertaining troops in England and participated at the Hollywood Canteen in California.

In 1947, Menjou shifted his focus to the defeat of Communism and its' associated politics. He cooperated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in its creative witch hunt.  Menjou was also a leading member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a group formed to oppose communist influence in Hollywood thatincluded fellow Hollywood Republicans Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor and John Wayne. 

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge

Adolphe Menjou, the famous film star, is seen making friends with three A.T.S. girls and A.W.A.A. girls at his first troop concert in England on June 14, 1943. (AP Photo)

 

Sunday
May062012

James Doohan, Royal Canadian Army (1938-1945)

James Doohan
b. 30 Mar, 1920 – d. 20 Jul 2005
Royal Canadian Army, 1938-1945
(World War II, Lieutenant 18th Field Artillery Regiment)

Star Trek’s loveable engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, AKA James Doohan, attended high school at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School (SCITS) in Ontario, Canada where he excelled in mathematics and science. His proficiency in these areas prompted him to join the 102nd Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in 1938.

When Canada entered World War II, Doonan was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the Royal Canadian Army. Doohan headed to England for additional training where he didn’t get to put it to real use until 1944. His first combat mission was a biggie, the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach (the Canadian one) on D-Day.

"The sea was rough," he recalled. "We were more afraid of drowning than of the Germans."

Shooting two snipers, Doohan led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds of friendly fire courtesy of a Bren gun and an overzealous Canadian gunman. He took four shots in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger.  His right middle finger had to be amputated, something he kept hidden during his career as an actor. Miraculously, the bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case, a gift from his brother he kept in his breast pocket. He would later give up smoking, but unlike almost every other ex-smoker, he could say that smoking actually saved his life once. 

It took a while, but Doohan recovered from his injuries and received his new orders. He trained as a pilot graduating from Air Observation Pilot Course 40, and flew Taylorcraft Auster Mark V aircraft for 666 (AOP) Squadron, RCAF, in support of 1st Army Group Royal Canadian Artillery. All three Canadian (AOP) RCAF Squadrons were manned by Artillery Officer-pilots and accompanied by non-commissioned RCA and RCAF personnel serving as observers.

Although never actually a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Doohan was once labelled the "craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force." As the story goes Doohan was boasting of his piloting prowess and in the late spring of 1945, he dared to slalom a plane between mountainside telegraph poles to prove it could be done. The stunt, performed in a Mark IV Auster on the Salisbury Plain north of RAF Andover, earned him a serious reprimand. 

Perhaps his experience as a pilot allowed him to better connect to fans in his out-of-this-world role on Star Trek. Regardless, he inspired a new generation of engineers and was given an honorary degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1966. Apparently half of the students polled cited him as the inspiration for entering the field.

Source 

Sunday
Mar112012

Leonard Nimoy, US Army Reserves (1953-1955)

Leonard Nimoy (Actor)
b. 26 Mar 1931 - d.
US Army Reserves, 1953-1955 

In 1953, Leonard Nimoy served as a member of the United States Army Reserves. He received his final discharge in November 1955 with the rank of Sergeant. According to the National Archives, Nimoy's Army personnel file was destroyed in 1973 during a major fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri... and as a result, there's not much public information about his service.

During the time of his enlistment, Nimoy appeared uncredited in, Them, Gordon Douglas' 1954 thriller about giant mutant ants birthed from radiation resulting from atomic testing. He played the role of a Air Force Sergeant, which was his real-life ranking at the time (albeit in the army)... perhaps as an extra in this film - he got the gig because he owned his own passable wardrobe? 

After his 1955 discharge, Nimoy went on to international fame in the 1960sas Mr. Spock from Star Trek and subsequently as any true artist, he has tried his hand at various artistic endeavors including photography and music. In 1967 the Armed Forces Radio & Television Service released several recordings of Nimoy's including "Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space." Source

Sunday
Apr242011

Humphrey Bogart, US Navy - 1918-1919

Humphrey Bogart (Actor)
(Humphrey DeForest Bogart)
b. 23 Jan 1899
d. 14 Jan 1957
US Navy, World War I
1918-1919
 

This hard-boiled actor, with an admirable anti-hero quality, had plenty of true life experience in the military to bring an authenticity to his performances in movies like Casablanca and The Caine Mutiny.

In the spring of 1918, Bogart left, or was asked to leave, prep school to serve in the U.S. Navy at the end World War I. He served as a signalman aboard the USS Leviathan, a troop transport ship. Much of Bogart’s service in the Navy entailed ferrying soldiers back and forth between Europe and North America after the official end of the hostilities.

While on assignment in the military police, it is rumored that a prisoner struck Bogart in the mouth, and left him with his lip scar and slight lisp which became an enduring trademark of his on-screen persona. The story, not officially confirmed, is recounted here from the book Stars in Blue:

Bogart was ordered to take a U.S. Navy prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison, New Hampshire. The two traveled side by side, with the prisoner handcuffed. As they changed trains in Boston, the con asked Bogart for a Lucky Strike, a supply of which Bogie always had and was happy to share. As he dug for matches, suddenly his ungrateful companion smashed him in the mouth with his manacles and jumped up to escape. Bogart, his upper lip badly torn and bleeding, reacted quickly, drawing out his .45 automatic and dropping the prisoner. Initial Navy surgery on the lip was badly botched, and subsequent plastic surgery did not help.

Later in the same year, for reasons unknown, Bogey missed a connection on the USS Santa Olivia (SP-3125) that was sailing for Europe and was subsequently jailed for failing to show for duty. The AWOL sailor turned himself in and served a three-day prison sentence on a ration of bread and water. He was honorably discharged in 1919.

During World War II, Bogart again tried to serve officially in the military but was supposedly turned down due to his age. Instead, he joined up with the USO and toured North Africa and Italy in 1943, including a stop in Casablanca, as well as extensive touring for the war bond effort.

As Bogart was a truly seaman at heart, he enrolled his yacht, Santana, into the US Coast Guard Temporary Reserve Auxiliary where he routinely provided security patrol services off the coast of California for the duration of the war.

Source 1, Source 2

Sunday
Apr242011

Norman Fell, US Air Force - World War II

Norman Fell (Actor)
(Norman Noah Feld) 
b. 24 Mar 1924 - d. 14 Dec 1998
US Army Air Force  (World War II, B-25 Tail Gunner, Pacific)

There is very little published information about Norman Fell’s time in the US Air Force.  We do know he served as a tail gunner in the World War II Pacific theater. After his service was complete, he enrolled and studied drama at Temple University.  During his long television and film career, Fell played a few choice parts in military films including Catch-22, PT 109 and Pork Chop Hill.

In this funny scene from Catch-22, of Fell playing straight man to Bob Newhart’s neurotic Major Major, he looks like a natural soldier.

 

 

Sunday
Apr242011

Desi Arnaz, US Army, 1943-1945

Desi Arnaz (2nd from left) plays the Soldier Bowl in 1944 along with Lucille Ball (center)

Desi Arnaz  (Actor, Musician)
(Desiderio Alberta Arnaz) 
b. 2 Mar 1917  – d. 2 Dec 1986
US Army 1943-1945 (World War II, Special Services)

Dashing Desi Arnaz received his draft notice in 1943, but before reporting he dislocated his kneecap in an army baseball game. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service during World War II. He was assigned to direct United Service Organization (U.S.O.) programs at an army hospital in Birmingham, California. 

Desi was quoted as saying, “The way the Army does things is sometimes a little strange.” Seeming to prove his own point – after discovering the first thing the wounded soldiers requested was a glass of cold milk, Desi used his connections and arranged for movie starlets to meet them and pour the milk for them.

Monday
Mar282011

Hollywood Canteen - a place to write home about.

Judy Garland at the Hollywood CanteenThe Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California between October 3, 1942 and November 22, 1945 (Thanksgiving Day) as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas. Even though the majority of visitors were U.S servicemen, the Canteen was open to servicemen of allied countries as well as women in all branches of service. The serviceman's ticket for admission was his uniform and everything at the Canteen was free of charge.

 

The driving forces behind its creation were Bette Davis and John Garfield, along with composer Jules Stein, President of Music Corporation of America. Bette Davis served as its president and devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the project . The various guilds and unions of the entertainment industry donated the labor and money for the building renovations. The Canteen was operated and staffed completely by volunteers from the entertainment industry. By the time the Canteen opened its doors, over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers. Source Source

John Garfield Takes the stage with troopsBette greeting soldiers at the Canteen

 

Here's a short newsreel featuring footage from the Hollywood Canteen in its' heydey. Chock full of stars including Bette Davis, John Garfield, Marlene Dietrich, Jack Benny, Diana Durbin and more.

 

 

Mel Blanc, Claudette Colbert, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby