It was the best of times and the worst of times for Hollywood before the war. The box office was booming, and the studios’ control of talent and distribution was as airtight as could be hoped. But the industry’s relationship with Washington was decidedly uneasy - hearings and investigations into allegations of corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too "un-American" in its values and causes. Could an industry this powerful in shaping America’s mind-set really be left in the hands of this crew? Following Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had the chance to prove its critics wrong and did so with vigor, turning its talents and its business over to the war effort to an unprecedented extent.
No industry professionals played a bigger role in the war than America’s most legendary directors: Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, and Stevens. Between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war, and in every branch of service - army, navy, and air force; Atlantic and Pacific; from Midway to North Africa; from Normandy to the fall of Paris and the liberation of the Nazi death camps; to the shaping of the message out of Washington, D.C.
As it did for so many others, World War II divided the lives of these men into before and after, to an extent that has not been adequately understood. In a larger sense - even less well understood - the war divided the history of Hollywood into before and after as well. Harris reckons with that transformation on a human level - through five unforgettable lives - and on the level of the industry and the country as a whole. Like these five men, Hollywood too, and indeed all of America, came back from the war having grown up more than a little.
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Had a lot of fun with this book!
Isn't the electronic world wonderful. I am 68 years old. Born in 1946, I grew up in the aftermath of WW II in a small rural community. Almost every one of the males over the age of 30 had participated in the war - yet they did not talk a lot about it or if they did discuss it the conversation was very superficial. I also did not have exposure to the prewar or even war movies produced by these five directors. Thus I enjoyed the opportunity to hear their stories and at the same time to view the documentaries produced for the war departments (You Tube) and the movies (YouTube or purchased/rented online), both before, during and after the war. I spent probably 75 hours over a several month period working my way through the book and the movies. It was a most enjoyable experience. I was particularly struck by the psychologic damage caused by war (highlighted in the unreleased Wilder film), most recently highlighted by the long-term studies of Vietnam veterans. I also enjoyed watching the color movies recently released from George Steven's personal collection (History Channel 2 over Memorial and D-day anniversary), but the impact on his health, both psychologic and physical, as he collected these images was sad.This was a good read, but to appreciate it fully you will have to do some work.
There were many. I did not realize John Ford was at the Battle of Midway.
Billy Wilder. What a story.
- Detail-oriented "Detail-oriented"
The book contains a lot of interest facts. However by choosing to follow 5 directors simultaneously, the story telling felt fragmented. I had trouble keeping track of which director did what, when. Also since each director experienced different series of failure and success at different times and took away different lessons from the war, the story did not built up to any sense of suspense. Felt more like a text book than most historical non-fiction I read. A set of interesting facts presented by a good narrator, but oddly boring for the subject matter: Hollywood and WWII.