With Remembrance Day around the corner we’d like to share some WWII facts about Hollywood and the stars who helped the war effort. While many stars performed for the troops and helped support their country by selling war bonds, some had more notable achievements that have been largely forgotten over the years.
German-born performer Marlene Dietrich was a staunch anti-Nazi who became an American citizen in 1939. The outspoken actress was one of the first stars to start selling war bonds, and is said to have sold more than any other. She refused multiple requests to return to her native country and instead performed for American troops, sometimes dangerously close to enemy lines. She was awarded the US Medal of Freedom in 1945 which she said was her “highest honour”.
Actress Hedy Lamarr is mostly remembered for her stunning good looks, and for her risque nude scene, but the Austrian born actress contributed much more than pinups to the Allied war effort. Along with the help of George Antheil, an Avant Garde composer, Lamarr created a device that could prevent the enemy from throwing their torpedoes off-course. By utilizing a piano roll to unpredictably change frequencies, they made it nearly impossible for the enemy to scan and jam frequency signals. This frequency hopping spread-spectrum invention would become the basis for modern technologies such as GPS and Bluetooth.
Comedian Mel Brooks was drafted into the army and served as a corporal combat engineer. In addition to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Brooks had the nerve-wracking task of diffusing land mines. Always a comedian, he kept up his fellow soldiers spirits by broadcasting Al Jolson music over the loud-speakers in response to the German propaganda playing (Jolson, like Brooks, was a Jewish performer).
Born in St.Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker moved to France in the 1920s and became enormously popular. During the war Baker served as part of the French Resistance, working as a secret informer and smuggling messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music. Upon her death in 1975 she was buried with military honours.
Jimmy Stewart was eager to join the war effort and reapplied after initially being rejected due to being underweight. While initially his star status delegated him to tasks such as paperwork and making training videos, Stewart pushed for the chance to see combat and in four short years moved up the ranks from private to colonel. Stewart flew a B-24 into German and for his bravery twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross; three times received the Air Medal; and once received the Croix de Guerre from France. After the war, Stewart remained a part of the Air Force, reaching the rank of Major General (two star general) after 27 years of service.