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10 Hollywood Actors Who Served in World War I

When the United States entered World War II, many Hollywood actors put their careers on hold to enlist in the armed forces and serve their country. But did you know that some male stars actually served in World War I before they become famous? Here are 10 of them.
 

1. Humphrey Bogart

Bogart joined the U.S. Navy in May 1918. After four months of boot camp at the Pelham Bay Naval Training Station in New York, he was assigned as a helmsman to the transport ship SS Leviathan. Just as the crew was about to be shipped off to Europe, Germany surrendered and the war came to an end. However, he still sailed with the Leviathan from Hoboken, New Jersey to Liverpool, England. In the six months that followed the armistice, the ship was tasked with ferrying U.S. servicemen back from France and England. Reportedly, it was during this time that Bogart got the scar on his lip, which gave him his iconic lisp. He was discharged in June 1919.

LEFT: Humphrey Bogart in his Navy uniform. He was a Seaman 2nd Class. RIGHT: The SS Leviathan in dazzle camouflage leaving Hoboken in 1918.
 

2. Buster Keaton

Keaton was drafted into the U.S. Army in July 1918. He was assigned to the 159th Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division, and attended basic training for two weeks at Camp Kearny in San Diego County, California. In August, he sailed with the American Expeditionary Forces from Long Island, New York to Liverpool, England aboard the HMS Otranto. His unit was stationed in France, but never saw any action. Keaton mostly entertained the troops drawing from his experience in vaudeville. During his time on the Western Front, surrounded by rain and mud, he suffered an ear infection that permanently impaired his hearing. He returned to the United States in February 1919 and was discharged as a Corporal two months later.
 
LEFT: Buster Keaton in his Army uniform. RIGHT: A scene from Doughboys (1930), which was inspired by Keaton's own experience in the war.
 

3. Ronald Colman

Colman joined the London Scottish Regiment in 1909 as a Territorial Army soldier and was mobilised as a Private into the 14th Battalion when the war broke out in July 1914. In September, he was sent to France to take part in the action on the Western Front. On October 31, 1914, during the Battle of Messines, fought in the Flanders region of Belgium, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel in his ankle after an exploding mortar shell threw him into the air. As he was no longer physically fit for combat duty, he was medically discharged in May 1915. Colman's injuries left him with a permanent limp that he tried to hide for the rest of his career.
 
LEFT: Ronald Colman in the 1920s. RIGHT: Detachment of the London Scottish Regiment after their action in defending the Messines Ridge on October 31, 1914.
 

4. Maurice Chevalier

Chevalier enlisted in the French Army before the war and was in the middle of his service when hostilities commenced. He was sent to the front line and was wounded by shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat. He was subsequently taken as a prisoner of war and incarcerated for two years at the Dörnitz Altengrabow POW camp in the Saxony region of Germany. In 1916, he was released through the top-secret intervention of King Alfonso III of Spain, who used his diplomatic and military network abroad to intercede for thousands of prisoners on both sides.
 
LEFT: Maurice Chevalier in his Army uniform. RIGHT: Group portrait of Australian POWs standing beside a grave at Altengrabow in 1918.
 

5. Herbert Marshall

Marshall enlisted in the London Scottish Regiment in June 1916 and was assigned to the 14th Battalion, the same as Colman. In January 1917, he was sent to France and on April 9, the first day of the Second Battle of Arras, he was shot in the right knee by a German sniper. He was taken to a medical unit at Abbeville, in northern France, and shipped back to England in May. After a series of operations, doctors decided to amputate his leg below the hip and he remained in hospital for a year. He was discharged from the British Army in May 1918 and fitted with a prosthetic leg, which caused him to walk with a slight limp for the rest of his life.

LEFT: Herbert Marshall c. 1920s. RIGHT: Men of the British Machine Gun Corps firing on German aircraft during the Second Battle of Arras.

6. Basil Rathbone

Rathbone joined the 14th Battalion of the London Scottish Regiment in November 1915. After basic training, he was assigned to the 2/10th Battalion of the King's Liverpool Regiment, where he served as an intelligence officer and attained the rank of Captain. In April 1917, he was posted to Bois-Grenier, in northern France. In June 1918, after receiving news that his brother John had been killed in combat, Rathbone persuaded his commanding officer to allow him to scout for enemy positions near the town of Festubert. This reconnaissance mission was particularly dangerous because it would be carried out during daytime, and Rathbone and his platoon would be disguised as trees. They were spotted while crossing no man's land, but despite the heavy machine gun fire, Rathbone led his men to safety and the mission was a success. For his «conspicuous daring and resource on patrol,» Rathbone was awarded the Military Cross.
 
LEFT: Basil Rathbone in his uniform. RIGHT: Members of the 2nd Australian Division (possibly the 17th Battalion) in the trenches in the Bois-Grenier sector.
 

7. Claude Rains

Rains joined the London Scottish Regiment in February 1916 and was also assigned to the 14th Battalion in France. In April 1917, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, his unit was bombarded with heavy artillery and poison gas. Sustaining damages to his vocal chords and right eye, he was taken to the British Army's General Hospital 20 in Camiers, in northern France. His voice gradually returned, with the huskiness that would become his cinematic trademark, but he lost nearly all of the vision in his eye. He was shipped back to England to recuperate and, as he was still fit for service (although not for battle), he was commissioned as a Captain with the 13th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was discharged in February 1919.
 
LEFT: Claude Rains in his Captain uniform. RIGHT: Canadian machine gunners during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which was part of the Battle of Arras.
 

8. Bela Lugosi

Lugosi joined the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry shortly after the outbreak of war and was sent to the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, where he served with a ski patrol and attained the rank of Lieutenant. He was wounded twice: first in Rohatyn (now part of Ukraine), during a series of counterattacks against the Russian Empire; and then on campaign in the Carpathian Mountains, in another surge against the advancing Russian troops. During the battle, exploding shells caused the trenches to collapse and Lugosi found himself trapped under a mound of corpses. In April 1916, he was discharged from the Army for «mental collapse.»
 
LEFT: Bela Lugosi in his uniform. RIGHT: Austrian-Hungarian troops advancing in the Carpathian Mountains (c. 1914 or 1915).
 

9. Conrad Veidt

Veidt enlisted in the Imperial German Army in December 1914 and was assigned to the Eastern Front, near Warsaw. In August 1915, he took part in the Battle of Warsaw, a German offensive against the Russian Empire. Afterwards, he contracted jaundice and pneumonia, and had to be evacuated to a military hospital in East Prussia. He was re-examined in late 1916 and declared medically unfit for further active duty. He was given a full discharge in January 1917.
 
LEFT: Conrad Veidt in 1920. RIGHT: German cavalry entering Warsaw in August 1915.
 

10. Raymond Massey

Massey enlisted in the Canadian Army when the war broke out. Commissioned as a Lieutenant, he was sent to the Western Front as part of the 4th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. In June 1916, he was wounded and shell-shocked in the Battle of Mont Sorrel, near Ypres in Belgium. He returned to Canada for recovery and was assigned as an Army instructor for American officers at Yale University. In September 1918, he was called back to active duty and joined the 85th Battery Canadian Field Artillery, an unit of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force that participated in the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. He was discharged in 1919.
 
LEFT: Raymond Massey in his Army uniform. RIGHT: Canadian troops advancing under smoke during the Battle of Mont Sorrel.

Several other Hollywood legends served during World War I on both sides of the conflict. These include: Adolphe Menjou (United States Army Ambulance Service); Walter Brennan (101st Field Artillery Regiment, United States Army); William A. Wellman (Lafayette Flying Corps, French Air Force); Fritz Lang (Austro-Hungarian Army); Michael Curtiz (Austro-Hungarian Army); Leslie Howard (3/1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry Regiment, British Army); and Randolph Scott (2nd Trench Mortar Battalion, 19th Field Artillery Regiment, United States Army).


__________________________________________
SOURCES:
Claude Rains: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference by John T. Soister (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015)
Conrad Veidt on Screen: A Comprehensive Illustrated Filmography by John T. Soister (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015)
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi by Arthur Lenning (The University Press of Kentucky, 2013)
The Secret Life of Humphrey Bogart: The Early Years (1899-1931) by Darwin Porter (The Georgia Literary Association, 2003)
«Buster Keaton: Comedian, Soldier» by Master Sergeant Jim Ober (California State Military Museum)
«Conrad Veidt» in The German Way & More
«Dracula Goes to War» by William Poole (Military History Now, October 29, 2019) 
«Lieutenant Raymond Hart Massey» (Canadian Great War Project)
«Major Raymond H. Massey» (Vancouver Gunners)
«My Career at the Rear: Buster Keaton in World War I» by Martha R. Jett (worldwar1.com)
«Roll of honour: 15 movie legends who served in the First World War» by David Parkinson (BFI, November 7, 2018)
«The Hollywood Battalion» by James Cronan (The National Archives, October 7, 2014)
«The Hollywood Battalion - part 2» by James Cronan (The National Archives, October 20, 2014)

Comments

  1. What a cool post! The only one I really knew about was Herbert Marshall. I didn’t know about how Bogie got his lisp! Also, baby Claude Rains lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Phyl.
      I knew about Herbert Marshall, Bogie, Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains and Buster Keaton. The others I had no idea.

      Delete
  2. I kind of wonder if Bogart's lip got in the way of someone's fist. Seems like the sort of thing that would happen on a ship full of soldiers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I've read, that's one of the possibilities of how it might have happened, yes. However, there are a lot of conflicting stories about what really happened, so I guess we'll never know for sure how he got the scar on his lip.

      Delete

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