Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War

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9780143126836: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War

Now a Netflix original documentary series, also written by Mark Harris, premiering on March 31,2017: the extraordinary wartime experience of five of Hollywood's most important directors, all of whom put their stamp on World War II and were changed by it forever 

Here is the remarkable, untold story of how five major Hollywood directors—John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra—changed World War II, and how, in turn, the war changed them. In a move unheard of at the time, the U.S. government farmed out its war propaganda effort to Hollywood, allowing these directors the freedom to film in combat zones as never before. They were on the scene at almost every major moment of America’s war, shaping the public’s collective consciousness of what we’ve now come to call the good fight. The product of five years of scrupulous archival research, Five Came Back provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood’s role in the war through the life and work of these five men who chose to go, and who came back.


“Five Came Back 
. . . is one of the great works of film history of the decade.” --Slate

“A tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism. Like the best World War II films, it highlights marquee names in a familiar plot to explore some serious issues: the human cost of military service, the hypnotic power of cinema and the tension between artistic integrity and the exigencies of war.” --The New York Times

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About the Author:

Mark Harris is the author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, which was a New York Times notable book of the year and was named one of the ten best nonfiction books of the decade by Salon. An editor at large at Entertainment Weekly, a columnist for Grantland, and a contributing editor at New York Magazine, he has written about pop culture and film history for many other publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostTime, and GQ. A graduate of Yale University, Harris lives in New York City with his husband, Tony Kushner.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue:
Pearl Harbor

John Ford was the first of the five to go. By the time the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, he was already three thousand miles from Hollywood and had been in uniform for three months. When news of the bombing came, Ford, now a lieutenant commander in the navy, and his wife, Mary, were guests at a Sunday luncheon at the home of Rear Admiral Andrew Pickens in Alexandria, Virginia. A maid nervously entered the room holding a telephone. “It’s the War Department, animal,” she said, stumbling over her employer’s rank. The visitors braced themselves as the admiral left his table to take the call. He returned to the party and announced, “Gentlemen, Pearl Harbor has just been attacked by the Japanese. We are now at war.” As the guests dispersed, the admiral’s wife tried to save the afternoon. “It’s no use getting excited. This is the seventh war that’s been announced in this dining room,” she said. She showed the Fords a bullet hole in the wall left by a musket ball during the American Revolution. “I never let them plaster over that,” she told them.

Mary Ford later remembered that for “everybody at that table, their lives changed that minute.” But Ford had already changed his life, drastically and unexpectedly. By late 1941, most people in the movie industry, like most people in the country, believed that it was only a matter of time before the United States entered World War II. But what many of his colleagues viewed as a vague shadow spreading across the distant horizon, Ford accepted as a certainty that would require, and reward, advance preparation. For months before he left Hollywood for Washington, D.C., that September, he had been spending his nights and weekends overseeing the creation of a group he called the Naval Volunteer Photographic Unit, training camera operators, sound technicians, and editors to do their jobs under wartime conditions in close quarters; he even used gimbaled platforms in order to simulate attempts to develop film on ships while they pitched and listed. If war was inevitable, he believed the effort to record that war would be essential, and its planning could not be left to amateurs or to the bungling of War Department bureaucrats.

Still, Ford was an unlikely candidate to lead Hollywood’s march toward battle. He was old enough to be the father of a typical draftee; at forty-six, he was just a couple of years from welcoming his first grandchild. And although he had done his part in Hollywood over the years on several of the industry’s various committees—toiling among the interventionists, the fervent anti-Nazi campaigners, the leaders of ad hoc groups trying to provide aid in the Spanish Civil War—he hadn’t been on the front lines of those battles recently. Since 1939, he had spent most of his time and energy directing a string of movies—among them Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, and The Grapes of Wrath—that had turned him into Hollywood’s most respected filmmaker.

What moved Ford, just three weeks after completing production on How Green Was My Valley, the picture that would win him his third Best Director Academy Award in seven years, to step away from his thriving career and request a transfer from the Naval Reserve to active duty? Was it lingering shame at having failed the entrance exam for the Naval Academy at Annapolis as a high school student a quarter of a century earlier? Was it embarrassment about having missed America’s entry into the First World War in 1917, when he was busy trying to break into the movie business as a stuntman, actor, and fledgling director? Ford’s motivation was an enigma even to those closest to him—his wife, the colleagues with whom he made movies, and the drinking buddies at his favorite haunt, the Hollywood Athletic Club. “Is the ace director . . . tired of the tinsel of Hollywood?” one news story queried. Ford seemed to delight in withholding any explanation at all, burnishing his public image as a taciturn and cryptic man by accepting an invitation to be interviewed about his decision and then declining to offer anything more expansive than, “I think it’s the thing to do at this time.”

It may have been that simple—a sense of duty, combined with a fear of how he might feel if he shirked it. That September, he had boarded a train for Washington, D.C., predicting misery and remorse for the able-bodied men in Hollywood who were still waiting, wondering what the war would mean and hoping the draft might leave them untouched. “They don’t count,” he wrote. “The blow will hit them hard next year.” He checked into the Carlton Hotel, hung his uniform in the closet, and installed himself in his modest room with its single window of old, runny glass, stacking a couple of books on the bureau along with his pipes and cigars and living out of an open wardrobe trunk. He had the air, wrote a reporter who visited him, “of a man who might set out to sea with an hour’s notice.” In fact, that was just what he was thinking and even hoping; as Ford awaited orders from his mentor, intelligence chief “Wild” Bill Donovan, his mind was only on what was to come. “Things are moving apace here,” he wrote to Mary, admonishing her to avoid the needless expense of late-night long-distance calls to him whenever she felt lonely or sad or angry, and telling her of the “hum of preparation and excitement” that the city was experiencing. “It would take volumes to say what I think of your unselfish courageous attitude in this present emergency,” he added as he awaited her arrival in the capital. “Words literally fail me. I am very proud of you.”

When Mary finally joined her husband in Washington, Ford gave his wife of twenty-one years something she had always wanted, a proper Catholic wedding ceremony. It was a preparatory gesture, a gift before what they both knew might be a long separation. And when the moment finally came, Ford and the men he trained, who had been streaming into Washington in the last few weeks, could barely contain their enthusiasm. Just hours after the news of Pearl Harbor broke, his Photo Unit recruits began showing up at the Carlton, knocking on the Fords’ door, wanting to know what was going to happen next. The drinks started to flow, and as dusk fell on December 7, Ford and his men welcomed America into the war with cocktails.

•   •   •

The sense of urgency that had led Ford to upend his life was not shared by most of his colleagues in Hollywood until that December Sunday. William Wyler was at home in Bel Air the morning of Pearl Harbor, playing tennis with his friend John Huston. Wyler was a few weeks into shooting Mrs. Miniver, a drama about the gallantry of one middle-class British family and the inspiring home-front unity of their traditional village in the face of what, until that day, Americans still felt comfortable referring to as “the war in Europe.” Huston, who was Wyler’s junior and in many ways his protégé, was riding a wave of acclaim as his breakthrough directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon, was opening around the country. During their match, the two friends talked about an idea they had cooked up for a celebratory men-only trip they hoped to take later that winter, once Wyler completed Mrs. Miniver. That afternoon, they planned to join another friend, director Anatole Litvak, and meet with a travel agent about a visit to the Far East. “Willy and I wanted to get out of Hollywood for a while. I suggested it would be great to go on a proper trip to China,” said Huston. “We wanted to see a bit of the outer world.”

When Wyler’s wife, Talli, who was pregnant with their second child, received a call telling her that Hawaii had been attacked, she ran out of the house and onto the tennis court, telling her husband and Huston to stop playing. The outer world was now at their doorstep. Later that day, the two men drove to Litvak’s Malibu beach house, their prospective jaunt abroad already forgotten, and started making plans: How soon could they wrap up their professional commitments? How quickly could they walk away from the Hollywood work that now seemed to them like a silly game?

Wyler, who was thirty-nine, was exempt from military service because of his age. At thirty-five, Huston was a year under the cutoff and therefore eligible for the draft according to the Selective Service and Training Act of 1940, but the aftereffects of a childhood defined by frail health would probably have gotten him an easy 4-F exemption. However, there was no hesitation or second-guessing for either man. Wyler was a Jewish immigrant whose first sight of Americans had been the troops who liberated his hometown in Alsace at the end of World War I. He had relatives trapped in Europe. Eleven days after Pearl Harbor, he was awaiting his first assignment from the Signal Corps, the army’s communications unit. Huston’s attitude was more devil-may-care; he had been making up for lost time since his bedbound youth—he had ridden with the Mexican cavalry as an adolescent—and he was sure the war would offer more opportunity to reinvent himself as a man of action. Less than a month after Wyler, he accepted his own Signal Corps commission—“a distinct loss to the Warner studios,” noted the New York Times, “where he is the directorial find of the year.” When he had saddled up in Mexico, Huston said, “I was only a kid . . . I was more interested in going horseback riding than learning how to fight. This time it’s different.”

The men were seeking adventure, but more than that, they were reaching for relevance in a world that had become rougher and more frightening than anything their studio bosses would allow them to depict on film. Hollywood’s best moviemakers shared a growing concern that they were fiddling while Europe burned, using their talents to beguile the American public with diversions—means of escape from the churn and horror of the headlines—rather than striving to bring the world into focus. Hollywood had never been interested in anticipating the news or leading public opinion, but recently its ability to react to changing circumstances had felt agonizingly slow. Wyler had intended Mrs. Miniver, a paean to the British national spirit, to galvanize American support for its closest ally; now that the United States itself was at war, he fretted that what he had once intended as a bold statement would seem embarrassingly behind the times. And Huston had spent much of that autumn working with his friend Howard Koch on the script for a Broadway play called In Time to Come, about Woodrow Wilson’s vision for the League of Nations after World War I. When their drama opened three weeks after Pearl Harbor and, despite good reviews, closed a month later, Huston wasn’t surprised. It “seemed dated,” he wrote.

Suddenly, Hollywood’s most skilled filmmakers faced the possibility that their movies would be of significantly less interest to audiences than the newsreels that preceded them. At MGM, George Stevens was busy making Woman of the Year, the comedy that initiated what would become one of the screen’s most beloved sparring partnerships by teaming Katharine Hepburn with Spencer Tracy. Over the last several years, Stevens had demonstrated an extraordinary knack for creating light-spirited movies that nonetheless seemed to take place in the here and now; he knew how to use the economic grind of the Depression and the buzz of modern urban life as context for deft romances that delighted moviegoers. His new film would be no exception—his heroine, Tess Harding, was a journalist, a staunch anti-Hitler interventionist whose must-read opinion pieces had themes like “Democracies Must Stand Together or Collapse.” (One ad for her columns shouted, “Hitler Will Lose, Says Tess Harding.”) The tone of Woman of the Year was perfect for a country engaged by world events but not yet ensnared in them. As the script had it, Tess’s professional passion was merely a distraction on the way to her real destiny; her meetings with Churchill and Roosevelt would ultimately be exposed as busywork for a woman who was uneasily attempting to avoid a more meaningful future as a wife and mother.

But the picture wasn’t working. The weekend of Pearl Harbor, Stevens was coming off a disappointing test screening of Woman of the Year. His producer at MGM, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, had told him that audiences had rejected the movie’s last scene, in which Hepburn and Tracy reconciled while covering a prizefight. They wanted to see Hepburn brought low, humiliated for her careerism. Reluctantly, he was preparing to shoot a new ending, in which Tess was to be shamed by her inability to find her way around a kitchen and cook a simple breakfast. Stevens had shot some of Laurel and Hardy’s funniest short comedies when he was coming up in the 1920s, and he knew how to execute the pratfalls the scene required, but not how to refute Hepburn’s bluntly stated conviction that the new ending was “the worst bunch of shit I’ve ever read.” He and Hepburn both went through with the reshoot, but by the time Woman of the Year was in theaters two months later, Stevens was already thinking about turning his cameras on the war. That winter, he had sat alone in a Los Angeles screening room and watched, with horror and enthrallment, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary tribute to Aryan invincibility, Triumph of the Will. After that, he knew he could not make another movie that could possibly be used to divert anyone’s attention from the war. Stevens often said that he decided to enlist that night, but what he saw stirred more than just his patriotic desire to beat the Germans. Watching the movie, he said years later, he realized that “all film,” including his own, “is propaganda.”

It was no longer a dirty word, although it had been until recently. In the fall, a group of isolationist senators had responded to a simmering combination of antiwar passion, anti-Hollywood rhetoric, and no small amount of anti-Semitism by summoning the movie industry’s studio heads to Washington for hearings on whether a small handful of the hundreds of movies they produced every year were barely concealed agitprop, dramas designed to exacerbate paranoia or spark a public appetite for militarism. Now, propaganda—documentaries, dramas, comedies, features, shorts, movies for public consumption, and movies for servicemen only—was being discussed in both Hollywood and Washington as a matter of strategic necessity. Sometimes the projects were given the less tarnished label “morale films,” but there was no longer any argument about the rectitude of their purpose.

For Frank Capra, the shift in public sentiment brought about by Pearl Harbor confirmed the wisdom of a move he had been planning to make for months. Capra, already a three-time Academy Award winner, was Hollywood’s most successful director, and its richest. At forty-four, he was, virtually alone in his profession, a millionaire, and he had gotten there via a series of comedies—Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and the more dramatic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—that were expert at rousing a kind of generic populist high-spiritedness in movieg...

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Descripción Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Now a Netflix original documentary series, also written by Mark Harris, premiering on March 31,2017: the extraordinary wartime experience of five of Hollywood s most important directors, all of whom put their stamp on World War II and were changed by it forever Here is the remarkable, untold story of how five major Hollywood directors--John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra--changed World War II, and how, in turn, the war changed them. In a move unheard of at the time, the U.S. government farmed out its war propaganda effort to Hollywood, allowing these directors the freedom to film in combat zones as never before. They were on the scene at almost every major moment of America s war, shaping the public s collective consciousness of what we ve now come to call the good fight. The product of five years of scrupulous archival research, Five Came Back provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood s role in the war through the life and work of these five men who chose to go, and who came back. Five Came Back . . . is one of the great works of film history of the decade. --Slate A tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism. Like the best World War II films, it highlights marquee names in a familiar plot to explore some serious issues: the human cost of military service, the hypnotic power of cinema and the tension between artistic integrity and the exigencies of war. --The New York Times. Nº de ref. de la librería ABZ9780143126836

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Descripción Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Now a Netflix original documentary series, also written by Mark Harris, premiering on March 31,2017: the extraordinary wartime experience of five of Hollywood s most important directors, all of whom put their stamp on World War II and were changed by it forever Here is the remarkable, untold story of how five major Hollywood directors--John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra--changed World War II, and how, in turn, the war changed them. In a move unheard of at the time, the U.S. government farmed out its war propaganda effort to Hollywood, allowing these directors the freedom to film in combat zones as never before. They were on the scene at almost every major moment of America s war, shaping the public s collective consciousness of what we ve now come to call the good fight. The product of five years of scrupulous archival research, Five Came Back provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood s role in the war through the life and work of these five men who chose to go, and who came back. Five Came Back . . . is one of the great works of film history of the decade. --Slate A tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism. Like the best World War II films, it highlights marquee names in a familiar plot to explore some serious issues: the human cost of military service, the hypnotic power of cinema and the tension between artistic integrity and the exigencies of war. --The New York Times. Nº de ref. de la librería ABZ9780143126836

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Descripción Softcover. Estado de conservación: New. The extraordinary wartime experience of five of Hollywood's most important directors, all of whom put their stamp on World War II and were changed by it foreverHere is the remarkable, untold story of how five major Hollywood directors—John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra—changed World War II, and how, in turn, the war changed them. In a move unheard of at the time, the U.S. government farmed out its war propaganda effort to Hollywood, allowing these directors the freedom to film in combat zones as never before. They were on the scene at almost every major moment of America’s war, shaping the public’s collective consciousness of what we’ve now come to call the good fight. The product of five years of scrupulous archival research,Five Came Back provides a revelatory new understanding of Hollywood’s role in the war through the life and work of these five men who chose to go, and who came back. Nº de ref. de la librería BAA-B-3248971

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