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Hollywood and World War II

by Roy Hoopes

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-41423-1
Publisher: Random House

Nostalgia reigns in this account of how the film industry responded to WW II. Hoopes (Ralph Ingersoll, 1985, etc.), Washington bureau chief of Modern Maturity, has written extensively on the ``good old days,'' and his latest effort is in the same vein of mildly revisionist memorabilia. Even before the start of the war, some members of of Hollywood's acting community—notably the British and progressive-minded Jews—were already alert to the dangers posed by the Nazis, and it is with these farsighted individuals that Hoopes begins his chronicle. Vienna-born actor Helmut Dantine, for example, spent three months in a concentration camp as a result of his anti-Nazi activism before coming to America. After Pearl Harbor, however, the entire filmmaking community pitched in eagerly with bond drives, USO tours, and enlistments. ``In many ways, World War II was Hollywood's finest hour,'' Hoopes asserts. ``Just about every male star not in the service went on at least one USO tour; among actresses, participation was close to 100 percent.'' (A notable exception was Greta Garbo.) Although the reaction of the industry to the war is a potentially fascinating story, and Hoopes has some splendid anecdotes, this book suffers from a warmed-over feeling. The first and biggest problem is Hoopes's working method: By his own admission, the entire book was gleaned from secondary sources, most of them movie-star autobiographies—not notably reliable sources of information. As a result, where two reports of events conflict, Hoopes merely repeats both versions and leaves it to readers to decide who is telling the truth; and where a star is not forthcoming about his war record, Robert Montgomery for instance, Hoopes offers silence. This is just lazy reporting. Finally, although the book is organized in a loose chronology, it has no real structure, and meanders aimlessly, if amiably, from anecdote to anecdote. A disappointing failure to explore a rich topic.