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Hollywood at War: The Female Front

When the United States entered World War II, so did Hollywood. Studios began churning out films that emphasized patriotism and a large contingent of male stars sacrificed their careers to join the armed forces. Women at the time were obviously excluded from combat duty, so they used their celebrity status to raise funds or even to work in the underground. Here are 5 female stars that contributed to war effort, both at home and overseas. 

 

1. Myrna Loy

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Myrna Loy was one of the many Hollywood celebrities that lent her presence and name to raise money for overseas relief. After the attack on Pearl Harbor forced the U.S. into the war, she joined the Screen Actors Division of the Hollywood Victory Campaign and coordinated talent for hospital tours, bond rallies and camp shows. In April 1943, she took an unpaid full-time job with the American Red Cross as assistant to the director of the Military and Naval Welfare Service for the North Atlantic Area. Her duties involved serving as a liaison between entertainers and military hospitals, and setting up visits by Hollywood and Broadway performers to wounded or disabled members of the armed forces. She also helped run a Naval Auxiliary canteen and made countless hospital visits herself.
 
LEFT: Myrna Loy in her Red Cross uniform. RIGHT: Myrna Loy at the Hollywood Canteen.
 

2. Marlene Dietrich

In 1939, Marlene Dietrich, a staunch anti-Nazi, renounced her German citizenship and began dedicating her time to the war effort. She worked at the Hollywood Canteen and toured the United States from January 1942 to September 1943 to help sell war bonds. During two extended USO tours in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands. In spite of the obvious danger, she entered Germany with General James M. Gavin, a commanding officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, and General George S. Patton, commander of the Third Army. For her services during the war, Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom and the French Légion d'honneur.
 
LEFT: Marlene Dietrich with airmen of the 401st Bombardment Group after a ride in a B-17 Flying Fortress (September 1944). RIGHT: Marlene Dietrich meets a wounded American soldier at a U.S. hospital in Belgium (November 1944).
 

3. Carole Lombard

As part of the Hollywood Victory Committee, Lombard toured the U.S. to promote the sale of war bonds. In January 1942, she travelled to her home state of Indiana and raised over $2 million worth of bonds. While returning to California, the plane in which she was flying crashed in Mount Potosi, Nevada, killing everyone on board. Lombard's death was mourned across the nation and President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared her the first woman to die in the line of duty in the war. In December 1943, the U.S. Maritime Commission launched the Liberty ship SS Carole Lombard, which was involved in rescuing hundreds of survivors from sunken ships in the Pacific.
 
LEFT: Carole Lombard promoting war bonds in Chicago (January 14, 1942). RIGHT: Carole Lombard upon arrival in Indianapolis (January 15, 1942).
 

4. Hedy Lamarr

Besides actively participating in the national war bond drive and serving in the Hollywood Canteen, Lamarr invented a frequency-hopping system that could have potentially helped the Allies win the war. Along with her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, she developed a mechanism that used identical piano rolls to manipulate radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, forming an unbreakable code that prevented classified messages from being intercepted by the enemy. This could be used to prevent radio-controlled torpedoes from being jammed and set off course. She patented her invention in August 1942, but the U.S. Navy dismissed it and the system was never implemented during the war. Lamarr's early version of frequency-hopping would later serve as the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
 
LEFT: Hedy Lamarr autographs the cement court at the Hollywood Canteen surrounded by servicemen (December 1942). RIGHT: A page of Hedy Lamarr's patent case file.
 

5. Josephine Baker

Although not a Hollywood star per se, Baker's work with the French Resistance is worth mentioning. In September 1939, after France declared war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland, Baker was recruited by the Deuxième Bureau, the French military intelligence division. Her mission was to gather whatever information she could about the location of enemy troops from officials she met at parties. Her café-society fame enabled her to talk to anyone from high-ranking Japanese officers to Italian bureaucrats without raising suspicions. When the Germans invaded France in 1940, she provided shelter and visas for people who wanted to help the Free French Forces led by Charles de Gaulle. She also performed for British, French and American soldiers stationed in North Africa. For her services during the war, Baker was awarded the French Croix the Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by de Gaulle himself.
 
LEFT: Josephine Baker in her Free France Air Force uniform. RIGHT: Josephine Baker in her military uniform as a member of the Fighting French Women's Corps in North Africa.

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Comments

  1. Great idea for a post! I read a biography on Baker last month. I really wonder why Netflix hasn’t developed a series on her yet!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The reason Netflix hasn't done a long-form TV show on her is because there's already a TV movie biopic of her starring Lynn Whitfield that aired on HBO in 1991 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Josephine_Baker_Story), and there may be no more current interest in doing a TV show about Baker.

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