Review by C.J. Bunce
This time the appeal of the latest chronicle of Hollywood in the Turner Classic Movies home library isn’t the movies. The movies actually take a back seat to the people who made them, specifically men and women who gave their blood, sweat, tears, and even their lives for Democracy during World War II. Many who portrayed heroes in the movies and many who produced and directed them dropped everything when the United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and writer-historian Christian Blauvelt compiles the big picture with personal stories in his new expertly crafted history text, TCM’s Hollywood Victory. Holding a degree in history I’ve read many a college history book and TCM’s Hollywood Victory is a solid course in history, sharing the truth including some of the bruises as some of Hollywood’s greats–like Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, John Ford, Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, and more–showed their character when the world needed it most. TCM’s Hollywood Victory arrives just in time for Veteran’s Day, available now here at Amazon.
Blauvelt’s presentation makes this book one you won’t want to simply absorb by selecting an interesting chapter as you may find in other books on film. He sets the stage for more than a dozen key players and then revisits their status and contributions from before the war, as with Jimmy Stewart who enlisted months before Pearl Harbor, and follows their efforts until the war ended, splicing in films that reflected the attitudes of America before the war, and tracking the national mindset as it changed. Movies are absolutely part of this history, with Mrs. Miniver echoing the feeling of the homefront, the politics of Casablanca, landing at The Best Years of Our Lives putting a cap on the years of war and lives of those with PTSD before it was called as such. Yes, you’ll want to read this history cover to cover.
TCM’s Hollywood Victory doesn’t shy away from the politics and uncomfortable realizations of America’s past, like the internment of Japanese Americans, Holocaust deniers, and Nazi sympathizers. It also celebrates aspects many an account previously skipped over, like FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy, how Hollywood participated, with some good, some not as good results. It tracks the documentarians and U.S. propaganda and nationalism films created by the likes of Frank Capra and first-hand accounts of the war, including John Ford filming D-Day. Mayer, Zanuck, Wyler, Wilder, Capra, Disney, and Welles–all like you probably haven’t seen them before.
Clark Gable is one of the book’s heroes for his military service and personal tragedies, including the loss of his wife Carole Lombard whose plane crashed on its ways to a USO show, and his Gone with the Wind co-star Leslie Howard, who was shot down and killed by the Luftwaffe over the Atlantic. The greatest contributions came from Jimmy Stewart, who overcame efforts to keep him out of the actual war to raise in the ranks of the Air Force to colonel (later brigadier general), piloting a B-24 Liberator and conducting bombing runs over Germany. But don’t discount the story of Marlene Dietrich and her contributions, who raised more war bonds than anyone, and whose over-zealous methods even got the attention of FDR.
Back home Bette Davis helped create the Hollywood Canteen, enabling service members to interact with celebrities, as Bob Hope went overseas to entertain the troops sometimes in harm’s way. Other actors contributed in unique ways, like James Cagney starring in Yankee Doodle Dandy and singing the war anthem “Over There,” and Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Walt Disney recorded the war for those back home. And then there were the famous “pinup girls” like Betty Grable.
The book highlights the efforts of Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, Carmen Miranda, Anna May Wong, Edward G. Robinson, Mickey Rooney, Irving Berlin, Hedy Lamarr, Henry Fonda, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin mocking Hitler on film, women in the workforce, German and Chinese immigrant actors relegated to Axis roles on the big screen, discrimination in all its aspects, the unique perspectives of Jewish film executives and recent immigrants behind and in front of the camera, the role of blacks, Chinese and Japanese Americans, and South Americans in the Allied war effort, and blacklisting and the pathway to McCarthyism as it affected and changed movies and moviemaking.
The year 2021 has seen an impressive volume of content from the TCM library from publisher Running Press. Blauvelt’s addition of TCM’s Hollywood Victory is a unique and valuable contribution for any classic film aficionado’s library. It’s available in a jacketed hardcover here at Amazon.
Don’t forget to check out other books in the TCM library reviewed here at borg: TCM’s 20th Century Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio, TCM’s Essential Directors, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, 52 Must-See Movies That Matter, 52 More Must-See Movies That Matter, Must-See Sci-Fi, Dynamic Dames, Forbidden Hollywood, Christmas in the Movies, Fright Favorites, and Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics.