Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in American's Sea Services
Kolb, Charles C., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. James E. Wise, Jr., and Anne Collier Rehill. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997.
When motion picture stars who served their country during wartime are mentioned, many people inevitably think of the late actor Jimmy Stewart who served in the Air Force. When recalling public figures who served in the United States Navy, others imagine President John F Kennedy and his PT-109 experience. Stars in Blue considers many cinema stars who answered, often eagerly, their nation's call to service in our country's time of need. This unique book documents the wartime experiences of men and whose stories range from truly heroic efforts to those of enlistees who performed mundane but essential services and helped to ensure victory.
Authors Wise (a naval aviator, intelligence officer, and author of three other naval books) and Rehill (an experienced magazine writer and editor, and former acquisitions editor for the Naval Institute Press) divide their book into four sections and provide five informative appendices, a selected bibliography, an eight-page index, and 117 black-and-white illustrations. They employed official records, archival sources, interviews, letters, books, and periodicals to document their profiles of stars who served in the United States sea services (the Navy, Navy Reserve, Coast Guard, or Coast Guard Reserve) from the 1920s through Korea. I understand that Wise and Rehill are preparing a sequel which will profile movie stars who served in the Marine Corps. We should look forward to it in 1999.
The inspiration for this book came from research on Pacific carrier operations by James Wise during which he learned of the exploits of actor and naval aviator Wayne Morris, who preferred to be called Bert. Some of the men whose sea services careers are documented in this volume were already established entertainers, film stars, or theatrical performers before "the war" or became famous subsequent to their military service. A few of these men were "larger than life" both in the cinema and theater of war (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., for example), others used the GI Bill to further their education (Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis, and Paul Newman, for example). There are a few pleasant surprises-Cesar Romero, grandson of Cuban hero Jose Marti, was a Coast Guard enlistee, who by 1946 played the part of Hernando Cortez in the epic film "Captain from Castile." The late Aldo Ray (recall his roles in the 1950s films "Battle Cry" and "The Naked and the Dead") was UDT frogman Aldo DaRe who served at the invasion of Okinawa.
The volume begins with six essays collectively called "Above and Beyond." This is the heart of the volume and details the exploits and heroism of wellknown stars who enlisted when in their 30s: Edward Albert (Heimberger), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Henry Fonda, John Howard, Henry (later Robert) Montgomery, and Wayne Morris. Eddie Albert, a landing craft commander, performed numerous rescue missions during the bloody Tarawa amphibious campaign-a far cry from "Green Acres." Fairbanks was an envoy to Latin America, served on the ill-fated North Atlantic Convoy PQ-17, trained as a naval commando, became a flotilla commander in the English Channel, was a special operations and planning officer for the North African invasion, and served as a sub-task group commander during naval numerous major engagements in the Mediterranean near Sicily, at Salerno, and the invasion of southern France. Hollywood writers could not script a better adventure.
Henry Fonda enlisted as a seaman, was resworn as an officer, and became an air intelligence officer during the Marianas campaign, earning a Bronze Star long before his role in "Mister Roberts." During his theatrical appearances and in filming "Mister Roberts," Fonda wore his original campaign cap. John Cox, on-screen known as John Howard, was a star in the 1937 blockbuster "Lost Horizon" and became the Executive Officer on a minesweeper in Mediterranean amphibious invasions, winning a Navy Cross for exceptional heroism. …