Movie Stars of World War II
How Hollywood joined the war and fought for freedom

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

Hollywood stars of the 1940s that put careers on hold to fight for freedom. Movie stars of World War II earned more than 300 medals and awards that honor their valor. U.S. awards and medals include Silver Stars, Distinguish Service Crosses, Air Medals, Bronze Stars, Presidential Unit Citations, Purple Hearts, and a Congressional Medal of Honor.

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Page updated October 27, 2013

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1909-2000) [Gunga Din (1939); The Fighting O'Flynn (1949)]. During World War II Fairbanks became a lieutenant in the British Navy (where he made his way up to captain in 1954). He was posted to Lord Louis Mountbatton's staff where he devised gadgets to confuse the Germans. He later led a commando assault on the Casquet lighthouse on the coast of France. Two months later he conducted a desert raid on Sened Station in North Africa. He took part in the Allies' landing in Sicily and Elba in 1943. He also commanded a detachment of PT boats that sailed toward the coast of France to deceive the Germans about an invasion. He was awarded the Silver Star and the British Distinguished Service Cross.

Peter Falk (1927- ) [Murder, Inc. (1960); Columbo (tv 1971~)]. Falk lost his right eye as a child due to a tumor. In 1945 he tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps by memorizing the eye chart so that he could pass the physical. The examiner became suspicious since his right eye didn't move. The Marines would not let him join so he became a cook in the Merchant Marine.

Norman Fell (1924-1998) [Inherit the Wind (1960); The Naked Truth (1992)] was an American TV & film actor most famous for his role as landlord Mr. Roper on the popular sitcom Three's Company and its spin-off, The Ropers. Fell was born to a Jewish family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied drama at Temple University after serving in the Pacific as a tail gunner in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Though he mostly acted on television he also had small roles in several motion pictures including Ocean's Eleven (1960), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Graduate (1967), in which he also played a landlord, and Catch-22 (1970). He appeared alongside Ronald Reagan in Reagan's last film, The Killers (1964). Norman Fell died of cancer at the age of 74 in Los Angeles, California, and was interred there at the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery.

Cliff Ferre (1920-1996) [About Face (1952); The Helen Morgan Story (1957)] was born in Waitsfield, Vermont as Clifford R. Ferre and became an actor, composer, dancer, singer and author, educated at Deerfield Academy. He was a singer and dancer in Billy Rose's Aquacade and in many other Broadway musicals. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and appeared in the service show This Is the Army. After his Army service he joined The Dunhills, and appeared in nightclubs and on television throughout 1949. He also was a staff announcer for a Miami television station between 1957 and 1962, and was program director for WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio.

John Fiedler (1925-2005) served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. A versatile actor on stage, in film and television, Fiedler is perhaps most recognized for his recurring roles on television's "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Odd Couple." He also performed in the Broadway, film and TV productions of A Raisin in the Sun. He made his Broadway debut in The Seagull with Montgomery Clift, and since appeared there in Our Town, The Crucible and Little Hotel on the Side. His first feature film was opposite Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men (1957). Other film roles among his 37 features include That Touch of Mink (1962), The World of Henry Orient (1964), True Grit (1969) and Sharkey's Machine (1981). His television credits include the series Star Trek, Cheers, The Golden Girls, L.A. Law, Buffalo Bill and the soap opera One Life to Live.

Paul Fix (1901-1983) [Hoodoo Ranch (1926); The Fighting Seabees (1944); The High and the Mighty (1954); To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)], the well-known movie and TV character actor who played "Marshal Micah Torrance" on the TV series "The Rifleman" (1958), was born Peter Paul Fix on March 13, 1901 in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Just-turned-17-year-old he joined the U.S. Navy on March 12, 1918, and spent his state-side service time during World War I in Newport, Rhode Island and Charleston, South Carolina. Fix was assigned as an able-bodied seaman to the troopship U.S.S. Mount Vernon, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of France but did not sink as it was run aground. The rest of Fix's naval career was less exciting, and he was demobilized on September 5, 1919.

Joe Flynn (1924-1974) [The Babe Ruth Story (1948); The Strongest Man in the World (1975)] was born in Youngstown, Ohio and after attending Northwestern University, Flynn began his entertainment career as a ventriloquist and as a radio performer. During World War II, he served in the Army's Special Services Branch (formerly the Morale Branch) entertaining the troops in the United States. After the war, Flynn moved to Hollywood. He made his film debut as Joseph Flynn in the bottom-of-the-barrel, beneath-B-picture potboiler The Big Chase (1954), which co-starred Lon Chaney Jr., which he followed up with a part as a priest in The Seven Little Foys (1955) starring Bob Hope.

Henry Fonda (1905-1982) [12 Angry Men (1957); On Golden Pond (1981)]. Fonda enlisted in the U.S. Navy in August 1942. He was stationed on the destroyer USS Satterlee as a quartermaster third class. He was later commissioned a Lt.(j.g.) in Air Combat Intelligence in the Central Pacific.

Glenn Ford (1916-2006) [Blackboard Jungle (1955); The Fastest Gun Alive (1956); Cade's County (tv 1971-72)]. Ford's career was interrupted when he volunteered for duty in WW II with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. On Dec 13, 1942 he became a photographic specialist with the rank of Sergeant. In March 1943 he went to active duty at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego and later served at Quantico, Virginia and in Europe. During his service he helped build safe houses in France for those hiding from the Nazis. He was honorably discharged from the Marines on Dec 7, 1944. In 1958, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and was commissioned as a lieutenant commander. He was promoted to commander in 1963 and captain in 1968. Ford went to Vietnam in 1967 for a short tour as a location scout for combat scenes in a training film entitled Global Marine. He traveled with a combat camera crew from the demilitarized zone south to the Mekong Delta. For his service in Vietnam, the Navy awarded him a Navy Commendation Medal. His WW II decorations are: American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Rifle Marksman Badge, and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Medal. He retired from the Naval Reserve in the 1970s with the rank of captain. In 1992 France awarded him the French Legion of Honor Medal for his WW II service.

John Ford (1894-1973) (Movie Director) [My Darling Clementine (1946), many John Wayne movies]. Ford enlisted in U.S. Navy and became head of photograpic unit with the rank of commander. He was on the USS Hornet and filmed the departure of Doolittle's Raiders for their Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Ford was wounded during the Battle of Midway and received a Purple Heart. He moved to the ETO as head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services. In preparation for D-Day he crossed the English Channel on the USS Plunkett (DD-431) and anchored off Omaha Beach at 0600. He observed the first wave land on the beach from the ship, landing on the beach himself later with a team of US Coast Guard cameramen who filmed the battle from behind the beach obstacles with Ford directing operations. After the war, Ford became a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy Reserve. -- Ford's war-time footage was used for many of the action scenes in Midway; Tora, Tora, Tora; In Harm's Way; The Longest Day; as well as other films about WWII.

Phil Ford (1919-2005) [The World Premiere of Finian's Rainbow (1968); Fake-Out (1982)]. Comedian Phil Ford was the epitome of the never-say-die entertainer who, over the course of a seven-decade-long career, played every place there was to play--from the most obscure dives to the top Vegas showrooms. The wily, energetic vaudeville performer was born in San Francisco and started out young (age 12) playing "big band" clarinet. A college student at the University of California at Berkeley, Phil joined the Army during World War II and, at one point, served as the military band leader while also seeing action. Following his discharge he returned to show business and hit the boards as a song-and-dance man and musician.

Steve Forrest (1924- ) [Take the High Ground! (1953); The Wild Country (1970); tv -- S.W.A.T.] is the younger brother of actor Dana Andrews. Forrest was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II while his brother (17 years Steve's senior) was starring in such films as The Purple Heart (1944) and Laura (1944). Upon his return to America, Steve went to Hollywood to pay a social call on Dana, decided he liked the movie colony, and opted to stick around for a while. Though he'd previously played bits in such films as Crash Dive (using his given name of William Andrews), Forrest never seriously considered acting as a profession until enrolling at UCLA. He tried regional theatre work and scriptwriting then received a brief but showy bit part in MGM's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). This led to further film work in second leads then several years' worth of villainous roles. When asked why he accepted so many bad-guy assignments, Forrest would cite the comment once made to him by Clark Gable: "The hero gets the girl but the heavy gets the attention". [Text excerpted from]

John Forsythe (1918-2010) [The Captive City (1952); ...And Justice for All (1979)] was born John Lincoln Freund in Penn's Grove, New Jersey. He is probably best known for his role of Blake Carrington on the ABC prime-time soap opera, Dynasty (1981-1989). He attended the University of North Carolina, after graduation he moved to New York City and studied with the Actor's Studio. He began his career as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, quickly moving on to radio soap operas. He eventually drifted towards Broadway. Prior to the war he had a contract with Warner Brothers studio but he left his movie career for service in the US Army Air Corp during World War II. He made his first film during this time, Destination Tokyo (1943) with Cary Grant. In 1957 he moved to Hollywood to star in the television program, Bachelor Father (1957-1962).

Preston Foster (1900-1970) [Heads Up (1930); You've Got to Be Smart (1967)] was born in Pitman, New Jersey, and died in La Jolla, California. He was an actor, composer, songwriter, guitarist and author. He moved from Broadway acting (1928-1932) into films, touring America with his wife and daughter, and did some recordings. He was the executive producer at the El Camino Playhouse in California. Joining ASCAP in 1953, his chief musical collaborator was Perry Botkin. His popular-song compositions include "Good Ship Lalapaloo" and "Two Shillelagh O'Sullivan." He held the honorary rank of Commodore in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Douglas Fowley (1911-1998) ['Kipp' Kippton in Battleground (1949); the judge in Walking Tall (1973)] was born in the Bronx, New York. As a young man, he moved to Los Angeles and studied at Los Angeles City College. He served in the Navy during World War II. Fowley played everything from cowboys to gangsters, appearing alongside stars like Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He debuted in The Mad Game (1933), with Spencer Tracy and Claire Trevor. In his best-known performance, the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, he played a film director trying to ease a silent-film star into her first talking picture. His best-known television role was as Doc Holliday in the popular ABC western series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" during the 1950s and early '60s. His last film was The North Avenue Irregulars (1979). He played Grandpa Hanks in the CBS comedy "Pistols 'n' Petticoats" in 1966-67. Other television credits included "The Streets of San Francisco" (1972), "Perry Mason" (1957) and "The Rockford Files" (1974). He died at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital, aged 86. [Excerpted from IMDB]

Arthur Franz (1920-2006) [Submarine Command (1951); The Young Lions (1958); That Championship Season (1983)] was born in Perth Amboy, NJ and died of heart failure in Oxnard, CA. During World War II, Franz served as a navigator in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He was shot down over Romania and incarcerated in a POW camp, from which he escaped. Franz's interest in acting had developed in high school so after the war he pursued his dream and became a reliable character actor in many '50s B pictures, often cast as a friendly small-town businessman or professional (as in The Doctor and the Girl (1949)) or the lead's sympathetic friend (as in Invaders from Mars (1953)). However, in The Sniper (1952), he turned in an outstanding performance as a mentally unstable ex-soldier who, after being rejected by a woman he was interested in, snaps and terrorizes the city of San Francisco by stalking and picking off women. He lived in New Zealand for many years but wished to return to California during the last stages of his illness: emphysema.

Paul Frees (1920-1986) [Red Light (1949); Twice Upon a Time (1983) (voice) .... Narrator/ Chief of State/ Judges/ Bailiff] was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Solomon Hersh Frees and became an actor, composer, songwriter, voiceover artist and author. His early radio career was cut short when he was drafted into World War II. He was at Normandy on D-Day. He was wounded in action and was returned to the United States for a year of recuperation. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute under the G.I. Bill. His first wife's failing health forced him to drop out and return to radio work. Portrayed the title role on CBS Radio's The Green Lama (1949). His character's real name was Jethro Dumont, a crimefighter with special powers. He provided voices for well over 300 movies and TV shows.

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