Category Archives: World War 2

To Which We Serve

There are times when ‘doing what you plan to do’ gets done – and there are also times when ‘what you planned to do’ didn’t get done – and today I am not sure which of these apply – so I’ll leave it to you to decide!  It’s a part of our ‘Music for Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ story – but doesn’t specifically contain either!  Last week our 1942 story had two new singers on the scene. This week we are all at sea with the story of HMS Kelly- a K-class destroyer of the British Royal Navy and the flotilla leader of her class. She had served through the early years of the Second World War in Home Waters, off Norway and in the Mediterranean. Throughout the ships service it was commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The vessel was lost in action in 1941 during the Battle of Crete.

In 1942 a British patriotic war film, directed by Sir Noël Peirce Coward and Sir David Lean, with the assistance of Britain’s Ministry of Information, came on screen.  It was called ‘In Which We Serve’ with a screenplay inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten.  In the Box Office the film was the second most popular movie at the British box office in 1943 and was one of the most successful British films ever released in the US, earning $1.8 million in rentals.  Noël Coward had composed the music as well as starring in the film as the ship’s captain. The film also starred John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson and Richard Attenborough – it was Richard’s first screen role. ‘In Which We Serve’ also received a full backing by the Ministry of Information which offered advice on what would make good propaganda.  The film remains a classic example of wartime British cinema through patriotic imagery of national unity and social cohesion within the context of war.

However – there were ‘responses’. 

A New York Times writer observed, “There have been other pictures which have vividly and movingly conveyed in terms of human emotion the cruel realities of this present war. None has yet done it so sharply and so truly as In Which We Serve… For the great thing which Mr. Coward has accomplished in this film is a full and complete expression of national fortitude … Yes, this is truly a picture in which the British may take a wholesome pride and we may regard as an excellent expression of British strength.”

Variety called the film “a grim tale sincerely picturized and splendidly acted throughout” and added, “Only one important factor calls for criticism. It is that all the details are too prolonged. The author-producer-scriptwriter-composer and co-director gives a fine performance as the captain of the vessel, but acting honours also go to the entire company. Stark realism is the keynote of the writing and depiction, with no glossing of the sacrifices constantly being made by the sailors.”

Despite largely positive reviews by audiences and critics alike, the film was not well received by some within the Admiralty who dubbed it “In Which We Sink“.  None-the-less – on Christmas Eve 1942 in New York, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures honoured the film as the ‘Best English Language Film of the Year’ citing Bernard Miles and John Mills for their performances.  The film was nominated in the 1943 Academy Awards but lost to ‘Casablanca’ for Best Picture and ‘Princess O’Rourke’ for Best Original Screenplay. However, Noel Coward was presented with an ‘Academy Honorary Award for “his outstanding production achievement.”   In 1943 ‘In Which We Serve’ also won the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award’ for Best Film’, beating Casablanca’, and the ‘Argentine Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Film in 1943.

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1942 sees two ‘new’ singers on the scene

The war was now across the whole world but the music of the US in 1942 brought a top five tracks that would last long after the conflict had ended.  These were:

At number 5 was ‘A String of Pearls’ by Glenn Miller while, at number 4, Jimmy Dorsey was telling the story of ‘Tangerine’ with Vaughn Monroe’s version very close behind.

Glenn Miller was also at number 3 – this time with ‘Moonlight Cocktail’ – with Paul Whiteman ‘Traveling Light’ at number 2.

At number 1 was Alvino Rey – or Bing Crosby – or Horace Heidt – or the Merry Macs – but, which ever we chose, all will tell us the same story – the story that was ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’!

Meanwhile in Britain, without any question, the most popular vocalist of the time and place was Vera Lynn“the forces’ sweetheart”.  She sang just about every well-known wartime song in her concerts and in her travels to the troops.  I remember my Dad sending a message back to mum and me at home saying they had enjoyed ‘Vera Lynn singing and talking to everyone out in the desert one afternoon – but he could not say where it had happened’. I know he also had two or three more ‘shows’ from Ms Lynn – but he never did say where they were!

There was, however, more than one side to all of this – and that came to the fore in February 1942 when bandleader Tommy Dorsey said of an singer:  ‘He’s a great singer, but ya know, you can’t make it without a band.  Every singer has got to have a band behind him’. Tommy was talking about a twenty-six-year-old singer who was riding the crest of phenomenal popularity.  Wherever this singer appeared with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra he would be greeted with screams, sighs, and fainting spells from a faithful contingent of over-stimulated female bobby-soxers greeting his every phrase, motion, and intonation with loud and rapturous delight.

Having spent the previous seven years paying his musical dues – a tour with a Major Bowes’ amateur unit; a stint as a singing waiter, a year as vocalist with the struggling Harry James orchestra – one Frank Sinatra now felt he was ready for a solo career, even if his boss Tommy Dorsey said he was ‘a damn fool’ for considering it!

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12th December 1915 – an American singer, actor, and producer who would become one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.  He became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide and would find success as a solo artist after he signed with Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers” when he released his debut album, ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’ in 1946.

Noel Coward and London Pride

Noel Coward wrote “London Pride” in the spring of 1941, during the Blitz. According to his own account, he was sitting on a seat on a platform in Paddington station, watching Londoners going about their business quite unfazed by the broken glass scattered around from the station’s roof damaged by the previous night’s bombing: in a moment of patriotic pride, he suddenly recalled an old English folk song which had been apparently appropriated by the Germans for their national anthem, and it occurred to him that he could reclaim the melody in a new song. The song started in his head there and then and was finished in a few days.

The song has six verses. The opening lines, repeated three times within the song, are:

London Pride has been handed down to us, London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it forever will be.

The flower mentioned is Saxifraga x urbium, a perennial garden flowering plant historically known as ‘London Pride’. The song was intended to raise Londoners’ spirits during the Blitz. It was also circulated after the July 2005 bombings.

Coward acknowledged one of the traditional cries of London – “Won’t You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender” as the starting-point for the tune, but he also pointed out the similarity with “Deutschland uber alles”, which he claimed was based on the same tune. It contrasts with many of the major-key, grandiose melodies used to celebrate patriotism, including God Save the King and Land of Hope and Glory. Its orchestration also contrasts with those anthems, employing muted strings and a celeste, rather than a pipe organ and a choir.

The words above – the story above – are an introduction to today’s story line. In an hour or so time the full words for London Pride will appear for you – just as it would had done so many years ago!

Here are the lyrics for London Pride as promised a short time ago:

London Pride has been handed down to us.  London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it for ever will be.
Woa, Liza, see the coster barrows, vegetable marrows and the fruit piled high.
Woa, Liza, little London sparrows, Covent Garden Market where the costers cry.
Cockney feet mark the beat of history. Every street pins a memory down.
Nothing ever can quite replace The Grace of London Town.
INTERLUDE

There’s a little city flower every spring unfailing

  Growing in the Growing in the crevices by some London railing,
Though it has a Latin name, in town and country-side
We in England call it London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Hey lady, when the day is dawning, see the policeman yawning on his lonely beat.
Gay lady, Mayfair in the morning, hear your footsteps echo in the empty street.
Early rain and the pavement’s glistening; all Park Lane in a shimmering gown.
Nothing ever could break or harm the charm of London Town.

INTERLUDE
In our city darkened now, street and square and crescent,
We can feel our living past in our shadowed present,
Ghosts beside our starlit Thames Who lived and loved and died
Keep throughout the ages London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Grey city, Stubbornly implanted, Taken so for granted For a thousand years.
Stay, city, Smokily enchanted, Cradle of our memories and hopes and fears.
Every Blitz Your resistance Toughening, From the Ritz To the Anchor and Crown,
Nothing ever could override The pride of London Town.

Songwriters: Noel Coward / Noel Pierce Coward   London Pride lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Two war-time happenings in one day in May 1941

Last week we were talking abought war in Britain and great music in the USA.  This week we have a surprise when a man from Germany arrived in Scotland with no music but had tea and chatter with a local family.

It was on the night of Saturday 10th May 1941 that David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmidt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmidt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defenses!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.  We’ll take this a little further another day.

While this was happening in Scotland the worst air raid on London during the Blitz was taking place.  Destruction was spread out all over the city, with German bombers targeting all bridges west of Tower Bridge, factories on the south side of the Thames, the warehouses at Stepney, and the railway line that ran north from Elephant and Castle.  Over 500 bombers flew to London on the night of 10 May, the full moon lighting their snaking path along the Thames. The pilots had 15 minutes to locate and bomb their targets once they reached London.  However the bombing lasted nearly seven hours, starting at 11pm on 10 May and continuing until the all-clear sounded at 5.50am the next morning. The British anti-aircraft batteries and RAF night-fighters managed to shoot down 33 planes, but despite their best efforts, 10th -11th May 1941 was one of the most destructive raids of the war.

Meanwhile – on that same night – David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmitt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmitt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defences!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.

I’ll come back to this – and the responses – later

War in Britain – great music in the US

Last week we were looking at three very different individuals and their music in the early months of the war – Noël Coward; Michael Carr (real name Maurice Alfred Cohen) and Hughie Charles an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre.   So, during the same time, what music was coming out from the USA music?

Well, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the crooner sound as well as its most iconic, defining artist. By the 1940s he was an entertainment superstar who mastered all of the major media formats of the day, movies, radio, and recorded music.  Not too far behind Bing we can find Cabell Calloway – an American jazz singer and bandleader who was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem in New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Another man and performer of the times was Eddie Cantor (born Edward Israel Itzkowitz in January 1892). He was an American illustrated song performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor, and songwriter.  Familiar to Broadway, radio, movie, and early television audiences, this “Apostle of Pep” was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, “Banjo Eyes”.  His eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical ‘Banjo Eyes’ in 1941.

I could carry on with regard to the USA and a possible war but the US ‘powers that be’ were watching what was happening there and across in Europe but not taking the next step.  That may well come next week but for this week we can look at the top 5 songs recorded via the limited chart positions by the USA watchers:

At number 5 in the ratings was Billie Holiday with ‘God Bless the Child’   

At number 4 was Jimmy Dorsey with ‘Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)’. Jimmy was also in place at 3 with ‘Green Eyes’

At number 2 we can find ‘A String of Pearls’ from Glenn Miller who was also in place at number 1 with ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Numbers two and one would be noted by, and listened to, by people all over the world and Glenn Miller would receive the praise – but who actually composed ‘String of Pearls and ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’?  They were Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.

Harry Warren was an American composer and lyricist and was the first major American songwriter to write for his composing primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song eleven times and won three Oscars for composing “Lullaby of Broadway”, “You’ll Never Know” and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”.  Over a career spanning four decades, Harry was one of America’s most prolific film composers with his songs have been featured in over 300 films.

Mack Gordon was a Jewish-American composer and lyricist of songs for stage and film and was nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times in eleven years, including five consecutive years between 1940 and 1944, and won the award once, for “You’ll Never Know”.

So – let’s finish this week’s story with the number one of 1941 – the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare
You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are
There’s gonna be a certain party at the station
Satin and lace, I used to call funny face
She’s gonna cry until I tell her that I’ll never roam

 

In Britain the majority feel alone – but VERY determining.

Although the 2nd World War began with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939, the United States did not fully enter the war until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 7th December 1941. The 1940 and 1941 conflict in Europe had received help and support from the USA – but mainly from a distance.  In Britain the majority felt alone – but VERY determining.  Music was a great support for all and as the conflict moved on into 1941 music was all around.  On 29th March Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was premiered in Carnegie Hall conducted by John Barbirolli.  On Saturday 10th May 1941 London’s Queen’s Hall – the venue for the Promenade Concerts – was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Proms re-locate to the Royal Albert Hall and carried on with their performances.

Let’s have a look at three – different – individuals

One key member of the community was an individual that could displays skill at wordplay and evokes a feeling of both good humour and patriotic pride.  He was Noël Coward and the song poked fun at the disorder and shortages of equipment, supplies and effective leadership that the Home Guard experienced during the Second World War. The song was “Could You Please Oblige Us with a Bren Gun?” – a humorous song written and composed by Noël in 1941.  The subject of the song was the Bren light machine gun – a weapon in high demand and short supply in wartime Britain, especially in 1941, when the British military was still recovering from the massive loss of materiel and supplies at Dunkirk. First priority was given to the British Army and the Royal Marines, with the result that the units of the Home Guard, the very last line of defence, were quite unlikely to get one. As a result, members of the Home Guard often had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on- frequently old and outdated weapons.

Michael Carr – real name Maurice Alfred Cohen – was a British popular music composer and lyricist perhaps best remembered for the song ‘South of the Border Down Mexico Way’ for the 1939 film of the same name.  However – during World War II he served in the army and wrote “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings” with Eric Maschwitz.  He was also ‘responsible for’ “Somewhere in France with Youin 1939.  He worked together with Jimmy Kennedy for ‘We’re Gonna Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line” and “A Handsome Territorial” in 1939; in 1941 with Popplewell on “The First Lullaby“; “A Pair of Silver Wings” (1941with Eric Maschwitz) and “I Love To Sing” (1943 with Paul Misrake & Tommie Connor)

Hughie Charles was an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre. Born Charles Hugh Owen Ferry in Manchester, he is best known for co-writing with Ross Parker the songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “There’ll Always be an England”. In 1938 he and Ross Parker had enjoyed their first hit, ‘I Won’t Tell A Soul (That I Love You)’ and followed that in 1939 with the defiantly optimistic ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ and ‘We’ll Meet Again’, both of which were successful for Vera Lynn, and many other artists.  Throughout the war years, Charles wrote more than 50 songs, mostly ballads, in collaboration with a number of other writers.

We’ll come back to these when the war has ended.

Music tells us stories as conflict begins

The years 1939 & 1940 are difficult to really put together in our story.  Britain was at war – the USA stood out of it.  On 31st August in Britain many civilians were evacuated from London while, in the USA, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the ‘Crooner’ sound and was on his way to becoming a superstar of the 1940s.

In the USA ‘charts in 1939 at number 5 we find Louis Armstrong with ‘When the Saints Go Marching Home’ .  Billie Holiday is at number 4 with ‘Strange Fruit’  while number 3 gives us – Kate Smith with ‘God Bless America’  Number 2 delivers – Glenn Miller with ‘Moonlight Serenade’  and number 1 gives us – Judy Garland with ‘Over the Rainbow’

In early 1939s Britain still had the Depression to concern large parts of the population but a new “high society” had a developing and golden age of culture dawning.  The cinema industry was booming, with many people attending more than once a week to seek escapism from their daily struggles.

The 1939 Academy Awards saw 10 films nominated for Best Picture, among them classics that are still highly regarded today, including Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr Chips and the winner Gone With the Wind.  Britain in 1939 also had their own popular music – but in no particular order – that contained:  ‘Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major’ by Art Noel & Don Pelosi; ‘On the Outside Always Looking In’ with words and music by Michael Carr who also wrote ‘Somewhere in France with You’‘South of the Border’ had words and music by Jimmy Kennedy & Michael Carr as had ‘We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’.   Two more numbers – ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘There’ll always be and England’  – with words by Hughie Charles & music by Ross Parker. 

To closed off this set let us have Gracie Fields, with Harry Parr Davies’s words and music, asking us all – and especially our fighting forces – to ‘Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodby’.

Before the conflict began Britain was importing about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries and a typical breakfast for a middle-class Brit consisted of porridge and milk or bacon and tomatoes. Lunch might be veal cutlets and boiled potatoes and, for dinner, a meal of creamed chicken and vegetables with baked rice pudding for dessert.  That food importation was halted in late 1939 when German submarines started attacking British supply ships. There was a worry that this would lead to shortages in food supplies, so in 1940, rationing was introduced. The Ministry of Food drafted in the original “celebrity chef” Marguerite Patten to devise lean wartime recipes, and radio shows such as the BBC’s Kitchen Front encouraged the nation’s housewives to wash – rather than peel – vegetables to increase their nutritional value and avoid unnecessary wastage.

It was on 7th May 1940 that the British House of Commons began a debate about the disastrous British campaign against the Germans in Norway. This turned into a vote of confidence in Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. Although Chamberlain won the vote it was clear he had lost the confidence of his colleagues in the Conservative Party and the field became clear for Winston Churchill to take office. He took the post on 10th May 1940 – the same day that Germany invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg!

It was on 7th December 1941 that Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and very shortly after that the United States entered World War II

A British Prime Minister; a German Chancellor and a USA Ambassador in the background – and we can listen to music!

 

We now read and write today in the year 2018 – but for today I want to take you back 80 years to the year 1938 and see what was happening in Britain.

On 17th January 1938 Joseph P Kennedy had been appointed United States Ambassador to the UK while, on 20th February, Anthony Eden had resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain’s policy towards Italy.  Lord Halifax took over Eden’s role and just under 2 months later, on 16th April 1938, the Anglo-Italian Treaty and Britain recognised Italian government over Ethiopia in return for Italian troops withdrawing from Spain.

In a different field – from the 13th to 20th August 1938 – Great Britain and the United States contested the inaugural Amateur World Series in baseball, played in the north of England. Britain won every match! This was closely followed on 23rd August when English cricketer Len Hutton scored a record Test score of 364 runs in a match against Australia.

Let’s finish this look at 1938 from a different angle that we shall return to later.

On 13th September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.  On 29th September Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement and a resolution with Germany determining to resolve all future disputes between the two countries through peaceful means. On 30th September Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Munich, memorably waving the resolution signed the day earlier with Germany, and later in Downing Street giving his famous ‘Peace for our time’ speech.

We’ll have to wait for the stories above for different places but we can clearly enjoy the musical delight that was available in the year of 1938…

Just outside the top 5 were “A Gypsy Told Me” by Ted Weems and his Orchestra with Perry Como; “Cry, Baby, Cry” by Larry Clinton and “Don’t Be That Way” by BennyGoodman.

In 5th place we have Roy Acuff with the ‘Wabash Cannonball’. – In 4th place are Bob Hope & Shirley Ross saying ‘Thanks for the Memory’ while in 3rd place has Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb telling us all about ‘A-Tisket A-Tasket’.   At number 2 we find, we find  the Andrew Sisters going German with ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and, at number one we have Artie Shaw telling us all to ‘Begin the Beguine’.

BUT – when we look at the music of 1938 in a different way – the creators – we get a different scene.  There we find: “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” by Tommie Connor, W. G. Haines & James S. Hancock and “Boomps-A-Daisy”, with words and music by Annette Mills.  There is also “Cinderella, Stay in my Arms” with words by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Michael Carr.

“Dearest Love”;   “I went to a Marvellous Party”;   “The Stately Homes of England” and “Where are the Songs we Sung?” were in words & music by Noël Coward.

You’re what’s the Matter with Me” was on words and music by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr and was introduced by Harry Richman and Evelyn Call in the film ‘Kicking the Moon Around’

Next week we could be kicking something much more serious.

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.”