Hollywood Goes To War

Have you ever seen this photo of Buster Keaton serving drinks at the Hollywood Canteen? Neither have I. It’s just one of the many pictures, posters, scripts, audio

Buster Keaton serves drinks at the Hollywood Canteen. (courtesy AMPAS)

interviews, lectures, and complete short subjects now available online from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I must confess that I’m way behind the curve, as the Academy launched the project in early May, leading up to Memorial Day. (Fortunately, it’s not being taken down any time soon.) The informal study is broken into five chapters: Hollywood Helps, Women During War, Stability During Wartime, The Homefront, and Chronicles of Overseas Efforts. This is by far the most extensive multimedia project I’ve seen from the Academy, drawing on its diverse—

Original poster for a propaganda-minded Warner Bros. short (courtesy AMPAS)

—library and archive holdings, and it’s not to be missed.

The centerpiece of the project is a generous selection from the Academy’sWar Film Collection. Most old-movie buffs know that Hollywood produced a vast number of war-related short subjects in the 1940s; many of them have circulated, and been utilized in documentaries, for years. What I didn’t know is that the industry donated prints of these films to the Academy, eventually creating a unique library of 230 titles, some intended for public consumption on the home front, others meant for specific use by branches of the armed forces. The Academy is now streaming a number of these on its site, ranging from such classics as John Ford’s The Battle of Midway to rarities like Two Down, Two to Go featuring General George Marshall. Some of them showcase Hollywood stars like Jennifer Jones, Eddie Bracken, Lionel Barrymore, and George Reeves, in some cases as themselves, in other instances playing roles in wartime stories. One of my favorites was made by Universal: Prices Unlimited is meant to educate consumers about the reasons behind rationing and the evils of the black market. It features Leon Errol as a neighborhood butcher, Martha O’Driscoll and Lois Collier as his over-eager customers, and Milburn Stone as The Devil!

Because so many foods were rationed, guards were on duty as Billy Wilder shot this scene for Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray to make sure no one walked off with the goods! (courtesy AMPAS)

The Academy has opened the doors to its invaluable oral history collection, providing excerpts from the reminiscences of producer Owen Crump. He helped form the renowned First Motion Picture Unit, which was headquartered at the Hal Roach studios, better known at the time as Fort Roach. You can read some of his transcript and listen to portions of the actual interview as well.

Marlene Dietrich cuts a cake commemorating the Hollywood Canteen’s first anniversary. (courtesy AMPAS)

(Another link leads to moments from the first wartime Oscar ceremony as broadcast on radio in 1942.) There is also streaming video of a 2008 tribute to John Huston and a speech by his son Tony about his father’s extraordinary wartime films, including the long-suppressed Let There Be Light.

Don’t click HERE unless you’re ready to lose yourself in a sea of vintage photos, movie posters, and rare footage!

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April 2024