Whimsical, at times poignant memoir of the WWII.
Hotchner (Louisiana Purchase, 1996, etc.) provides an example of an all but vanished “laughter-in-uniform” genre that grew from America’s last widely supported war. A St. Louis native and graduate of Washington University Law School, the author eyed his opportunity to get into uniform right after Pearl Harbor. When flat feet and poor depth perception kept him from being a combat pilot, he accepted life as a lowly GI and was suffering his way through boot camp when a commanding officer, noting that Hotchner’s resumé included student theater, ordered him to write a patriotic musical to raise money for war widows. For the rest of the war he tried to make his way to the front lines but was thwarted when the military found him useful for writing company rousers, arranging skits, or making a movie about US anti-submarine patrols. Along the way, he comforted Clark Gable, who had enlisted after his wife, Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash; fired Alan Ladd as narrator of his anti-sub film; and befriended the acid-penned Dorothy Parker. He’d known Tennessee Williams as a student in St. Louis, and rubbed shoulders with such Hollywood types making films for the war effort as Frank Capra, William Holden, and Ronald Reagan. (Today, Hotchner is a partner in actor Paul Newman’s line of food products.) Hotchner’s descriptions of 1930s complacency about Hitler, isolationism, attitudes toward the draft, young men’s Hollywood-shaped illusions of war and glory, and women’s economic and sexual “liberation” as they assumed war-related jobs are all evocative. And he has a good eye for the telling detail, as when he runs his hand over the wooden railing on the Queen Mary with its scratched initials from the thousands of GIs the ship has previously transported to their uncertain fate.
Amusing, readable, occasionally moving account of life during wartime by a frustrated would-be hero.