Category Archives: 1940s

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”



The birth of the United Nations

It was on Wednesday 24th October 1945 that the United Nations officially came into existence.  The charter had been signed by delegates from 50 member nations in San Francisco on Tuesday 26th June 1945 at the end of the United Nation Conference on International Organization.

The preamble to that Charter said:
‘We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, … and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.’

A United Nations resolution of 1947 stated that 24th October would henceforth be known as United Nations Day ‘and shall be devoted to making known to the people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations, and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nation.’

Chris Tarrant – a man of many rolls

Christopher John Tarrant was born on Thursday 10th October 1946; was educated as a boarder in Choir House at the King’s School, Worcester where he represented the school at hockey and cricket. He briefly became a researcher for the Central Office of Information before becoming a newsreader on ATV Today.  It was in 1974 that things progressed. For 8 years between 1974 & 82 he hosted the ITV children’s television show Tiswas.  Two years later – in 1984 – he joined Capital Radio and was host for 20 years.  He is probably best remembered, though, for his 16 years on the ITV game show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’

In March 2014 he suffered a stroke at 39,000ft on a work flight from Thailand to London.  Doctors at Charing Cross Hospital, London, told him he’d had a stroke, and did emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his right leg. Chris recalls: “They were brilliant. I’m always aware that if I hadn’t gone I could be in a wheelchair. What happened makes me want to enjoy my life. I take medication and pills. I keep pretty active.  I’ve got a big rambling estate in Berkshire so I walk around hills as I can’t stand the gym. I think I’m mentally fit, too.”

A lady records a wartime scene in England’s conflict in 1941

Mrs Nella Last of Barrow-in-Furness was one of the many volunteer members across Britain of the Mass Observation Archive team – a community that had been set up in 1937 to observe British life by recording a day-to-day account of their everyday lives. These archives now give us a unique insight into the stories and experiences of British civilians going through a time when their country was at war.

This is from her diary for Saturday 13th September 1941 and Nella simply records seeing a child:

‘He was undersized, dirty, tousled and ragged. His poor little eyes were nearly closed with styes and when I touched his cheeks, his flesh had the soft, limp feeling of malnutrition.’

The war was having an impact on people no matter what their age.

Charlie’s daughter Geraldine is born.

On Monday 31st July 1944, Geraldine Chaplin was born in California. Her father was Charlie Chaplin and her mother, Oona O’Neill, was the daughter of the Irish playwright Eugene O’Neill. Charlie was in his mid fifties and Oona was just 18 when they married and Geraldine was the first of the eight children they had together.

Geraldine became multi-talented – before becoming an actress she studied ballet – and also became a successful  model.

However, she soon made herself multi-skilled becoming fluent in French and Spanish.  This enabled her to appear in films made by French, Spanish and English directors and, as a result, she was able to win awards for performances in all three languages!  One of her early roles was that of Tonya, the wife of Dr Zhivago in David Lean’s film.