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 last updated July 28, 2013

Don Abney (1923-2000) [Pete Kelly's Blues (1955); Cindy (1978) (TV)] was born in Baltimore, Maryland and became a jazz pianist accompanist to Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Thelma Carpenter, and the Billy Williams Quartet. He studied music privately in Baltimore and later at the Manhattan School of Music. While serving in the US Army Band during World War II he played French horn and later performed with the orchestras of Bubby Johnson, Eddie Gibbs, Snub Mosely, Wilbur De Paris, Chuck Wayne, the Bill Harris-Kai Winding combo, Sy Oliver, and Louie Bellson.

Don Adams (1923-2005) [Get Smart, tv] served with the U.S. Marine Corps during WW II in the Pacific. He was wounded during the Battle of Guadalcanal and he contracted malaria, nearly dying of blackwater fever. Upon his recovery and return to the States, he served as a drill instructor.

Charles Aidman (1925-1993) [Pork Chop Hill (1959); Uncommon Valor (1983)] originally planned a career as an attorney, but was sidetracked during World War II and naval officer training at DePaul university. During a speech class the instructor, who also headed the drama department, saw Aidman as ideal for a role in an upcoming play. "I did the play and enjoyed it. It was the first play I was in, in my life...I've been acting ever since."

John Agar (1921-2002) [The Woman on Pier 13 (1949); Chisum (1970); Fear (1990)] was born in Chicago, the eldest of four children. In World War II, Sgt. John Agar was a United States Army Air Force physical instructor. His 1945 marriage at the Wilshire Memorial Church to "America's Sweetheart" Shirley Temple put him in the public eye for the first time, and a movie contract with independent producer David O. Selznick quickly ensued. Agar debuted opposite John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple in John Ford's Fort Apache (1948), initial film in the famed director's "Cavalry Trilogy".

Claude Akins (1926-1994) [From Here to Eternity (1953); The Killers (1964) -- tv, The Night Stalker (1972); Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979)]. Served with the US Army Signal Corps in World War II in Burma and the Philippines.

Eddie Albert (1906-2005) [tv: Green Acres; Film: The Longest Day]. Served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard in the Pacific during WW II. A genuine war hero, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of Tarawa in Nov. 1943, when, as a landing ship pilot, he rescued several hundred wounded Marines while under heavy enemy machine-gun fire.

Robert Altman (1925-2006) [The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947); co-wrote screenplay: Bodyguard (1948)] was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to B.C. (an insurance salesman) and Helen Altman. He entered St. Peters Catholic school at the age six, and spent a short time at a Catholic high school. From there, he went to Rockhurst High School. It was then that he became interested in the art of exploring sound with the cheap tape recorders available at the time. He was later sent to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri where he attended through Junior College. In 1945, he enlisted in the Air Force and became a B-24 co-pilot with the 307th Bomb Group.. After his discharge from the military, he became fascinated by movies and he and his first wife, LaVonne Elmer, moved to Hollywood.

Michael Joseph Anderson (1920- ). [Director: Around the World in 80 Days (1956); Logan's Run (1976)]. After serving in World War II (he was with The Royal Corps Of Signals), Anderson first developed his career in British films, becoming a director in 1949 and enjoying his first success with the war movie The Dam Busters (1954). The Dam Busters made good use of limited special effects and is often cited as an inspiration for the climax of the first Star Wars film. Anderson directed the first cinema adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 (1956) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his direction. He also directed the 1968 film The Shoes of the Fisherman starring Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. He settled in Hollywood, California, making such science fiction offerings as Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975) and Logan's Run (1976). Logan's Run was an expensive box-office success, contributing a box office of $50 million worldwide and boosting sales for its distributor, Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

Keith Andes (1920-2005) [Project X (1949); Back From Eternity (1956); ...And Justice for All (1979)] was born John Charles Andes in Ocean City, New Jersey. While serving with the Air Force during World War II, he performed in the patriotic 1943 Broadway stage show Winged Victory and, after being seen by studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, was given a minor part in the film version the following year. Andes returned to Hollywood in the post-war years and won the role of one of Loretta Young's brothers (the others being Lex Barker and James Arness) in the classic film The Farmer's Daughter (1947). In Clash by Night (1952), one of his best roles, he dallied hot and heavy with a young Marilyn Monroe and in Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952) he demonstrated some expert swashbuckling skills.

James Arness (1923-2011) [Island in the Sky (1953); tv Gunsmoke (1955-1975)]. Served in the U.S. Army during WW II and was severely wounded in the Battle of Anzio, leading to a lifelong limp. His military awards and medals include: the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze star devices; World War II Victory Medal; and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

Bea Arthur (1922-2009) [All in the Family (TV 1971-1972); Mame (1974); Maude (TV 1972-1978); The Golden Girls (TV 1985-1992)] was born Bernice Frankel of a Jewish family in New York City but grew up in Maryland where her parents ran a dress shop. By the time she was 12 she had grown to 5'9" and was the tallest girl in her school. Before she was a successful actress and comedienne, Arthur was one of the first women to become an active-duty United States Marine. She volunteered and served during World War II as a truck driver and a typist in the Marine Corps. She was stationed at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina. During her military career, Arthur's rank went from private to corporal to sergeant to staff sergeant, the title she held upon her honorable discharge in September 1945.

Richard Attenborough (1923- ) ["Big X" in The Great Escape (1963); Jurassic Park (1993)], actor, director, producer, was born in Cambridge, England. Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). His film career began in 1942 as a deserting sailor in In Which We Serve, a role which would help to type-cast him for many years as a coward in films like London Belongs to Me (1948), Morning Departure (1950), and his breakthrough role as a psychopathic young gangster in the film of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock (1947). During World War II Attenborough served in the Royal Air Force. Lord Attenborough was appointed a CBE in 1967, knighted in 1976 and created a life peer in 1993.

Gene Autry (1907-1998) [singing cowboy in westerns] joined the Army Air Forces in 1942 and became Sgt. Gene Autry. During the war he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms in the China-India-Burma theater of war and flew over the Himalayas, the hazardous air route known as "The Hump." When the war ended, Autry was reassigned to Special Services where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific before resuming his movie career in 1946.

Lew Ayres (1908-1996) [Young Dr. Kildare (1938); Johnny Belinda (1948)]. Star of the 1930 antiwar film All Quiet on the Western Front, he was so affected by the film's message he became a conscientious objector. Ayres' star status was boosted in 1938 when he was hired to play Dr. Kildare in MGM's long-running series of Kildare B-pictures. After appearing in nine Kildare films, he declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to bear weapons when called to duty in World War II. He was publicly perceived to be a coward and MGM dropped his contract. After the war, the public learned of Ayres' bravery under fire as a non-combatant medical corpsman and he was permitted to resume his career.

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