Movie star art

“Armies do not fight wars; nations fight wars. War is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, but rather a social activity that involves entire nations.” Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, U.S. Army

With nose art rife throughout the second World War it was the perfect billboard for Hollywood studios to promote their stars and the Air force were not adverse to a little visit from a gorgeous starlet. Such as Jane Russell seen below visiting P-47 ‘Russell’s Raiders’ which was adorned with a publicity still of herself.

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During the 1940’s movies were big business as the ‘normal’ person on the street looked for a way to remove themselves from their everyday life if only for a few hours, to delve into the world of Hollywood glamour and the escapism of celluloid and the lives of the rich and famous…rather than thinking of rations and their loved ones over seas. The big hitters like MGM, Fox, Universal, Warner and Columbia employed the best of the times public relations and marketing executives and they were well aware of the power of the public’s love and support for their boys over seas. The studios were not the only institution who could see how useful a connection between movie stars and men at war could be, the Air force too had a public relations machine who concerned themselves with continuing to boost morale and the public’s support for the men in the firing line. Two of the biggest ever industries, giants of public relations and quite possibly the two most important industries America as ever had, coming together to form an alliance, though not at all an unlikely one.

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(Bob Hope seen here entertaining the troops in 1944)

A smorgasboard of stars were encouraged to be photographed with aircraft, to visit bases around the world to perform on USO tours and to even hold naming ceremonies for the aircraft. Some lucky stars were even allowed the honour of naming the aircraft themselves. Unfortunately although it was publicised that the name was chosen specifically by the star in question, quite often it was actually the result of a boardroom full of suits and a bit of all night brainstorming, the name and subsequent photographic opportunity used to publicise either an up and coming movie or a star.

Some would have been planned for a while before the actual unveiling ceremony, if for no other reason than the amount of work which go in to it, such as B-17 ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy‘, named and produced to coincide with the release of the James Cagney film of the same name. Cagney christened the aircraft in 1944 at Framlingham airfield in England.

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Some stars in particular were very popular as inspiration for nose art pieces, for example “the girl with the million dollar legs” Miss Betty Grable was one of the favoured pin ups of the time and as such appeared on a few airplanes. As was “Sweater girl” Lana Turner and Gone with the Winds Vivien Leigh. Having such a beautiful woman gracing the side of your aircraft must have done a lot of moral for the crew and also the hope of the star in question putting in a personal appearance.

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(Betty Gable on B-17 ‘Sentimental Journey‘)

Of course many male movie stars joined up during the war, putting their careers on hold to go abroad and fight, it must have felt to them almost like a merging of their two worlds. Could this have been comforting for them, knowing that the world they knew and loved, which they were all fighting for, was there, not only waiting for them but also supporting them. Or would they have compartmentalized the two worlds in their heads to make the separation from the lives they knew more bearable?

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(Clark Gable with an 8th Air force B-17 in England during 1943)

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(and seen here with B-17 ‘Delta Rebel no.2’)

Apparently Adolf Hitler considered Gable to be his favorite movie star and offered a substantial reward for his safe capture.

However much this connection between studio and air force was part of the publicity machine it does not diminish the effect it must have had on the moral for both the men at war and those left at home. Nor does it diminish the spectacular art work produced by this pairing.  As the quote I started with states, the whole nation was at war, in the firing line, not merely the men and women in uniform. The alliance between the Air force and the film factory connected the nation even more. The two loves of the ‘common’ person!!

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7 comments

  1. gpcox · March 24, 2015

    Outstanding site! I have got to pass on your web address on to a dear friend of mine, Pierre!

    Liked by 1 person

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