DURING WWII, STAR SOLDIERS DID CELLULOID SERVICE.
Many of them never made it overseas in person but were seen by many troops.
They were the members of the First Motion Picture Unit, a special group of U.S. servicemen who were stationed in Culver City (at the old Hal Roach Studio on Washington Boulevard, demolished in 1963) and made films that have been credited with playing a vital role in the U.S. war effort.
The soldiers included Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart plus many screenwriters, producers and directors. The group churned out almost 300 recruiting and training films from 1942 to 1945.
Stewart and Reagan were pulled against their will out of active units of the Army Air Corps to serve in the picture unit. Stewart, however, continued to fly a bomber.
Others such as Gable flew airplanes - for research purposes, not to drop bombs.
The unit is the subject of a documentary, ``Hollywood Commandos,'' on AMC at 5 and 9:30 p.m. Friday. It will repeat at 6 and 9:30 p.m. Monday. Ronald Reagan Jr. is the host.
According to one famous story, Alan Ladd stopped to salute a superior officer, who in turn asked the actor for his autograph. Army protocol was put aside. Many soldiers were drafted straight off the soundstages of Hollywood and had to do six weeks of basic training.
``I was one of the few guys who had prior Army experience,'' said screenwriter Malvin Wald of Sherman Oaks. ``I had to be a drill master for Alan Ladd and George Montgomery. They were great movie stars. I was embarrassed to say `Pvt. Ladd.' A few years earlier he was a war hero in films, and now I had to go into a gym and make him go left, right, left, right. George Montgomery had played a West Point cadet.''
Gen. Hap Arnold decided that if training films were to be useful at all, the soldiers would have to be able to stay awake during them and pay attention. Arnold hooked up with his friend and ultra-patriot, studio mogul Jack Warner, whom he made a lieutenant colonel, and the unit was born.
Out of Culver City came the notion of survival films. Wald says that many of the techniques used by U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady in 1995 after he was shot down in Bosnia were first discussed in a survival film.
The First Motion Picture Unit, which also included Bunny Summers of Sherman Oaks, Howard J. Smit of Studio City and Pierre Wilson of Woodland Hills, was honored by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Gov. Pete Wilson, the Army and the Air Force at a recent reception and screening at the Television Academy in North Hollywood.
``Hollywood Commandos'' details how the unit was put together, what types off films they did and how they were inspired by the success of Nazi propaganda films.
``It was Hitler's secret weapon, and then we had it,'' Wald said.
After the war, the First Motion Picture Unit was disbanded, and many of its members went back to work in pictures.
Wald wrote the 1948 film ``Naked City,'' the basis for a spinoff television series of the same name. From it came at least one catch phrase: ``There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This is one of them.''
Photo: (1) Screenwriter Marvin Wald found himself barking orders at well-known Hollywood actors in Culver City's First Motion Picture Unit during World War II.
(2) Though he was pulled from active duty to serve in the picture unit, actor Jimmy Stewart continued to fly bombers.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 22, 1997|
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