From the Battlefield to the Big Screen
Audie Murphy, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Dirk Bogarde in WW2
by Melody Foreman
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Pub Date 31 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 12 Oct 2022
Pen & Sword, Frontline Books
Look closely behind the lives of the stars who appeared in a host of legendary war films and discover how memories of their real-life experiences in the armed forces were haunted with heartbreak and yet filled with extraordinary heroism. Just what did America’s most decorated soldier Audie Murphy go through in battle which led him to star as himself in the classic war film, To Hell and Back?
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Murphy joined the US Army aged just 17. He went on to fight at Anzio, the Colmar Pocket, and Nuremberg. And for single-handedly holding off an enemy attack he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But Murphy’s military and celebrity stardom did little to extinguish the pain of his private battle to fit in to a new post-war world he perceived as disappointing, shallow and unfulfilling. Tormented by PTSD Murphy was a man unable to escape from his past. Only the great director and decorated wartime documentary maker John Huston gained Murphy’s true respect.
When war broke out on 3 September 1939, a number of British stars, including Laurence Olivier, his future wife Vivien Leigh, and David Niven, were in the United States under contract to the Hollywood Studios. Keen not to ‘shirk their duties at home’, and against advice from the British Consul, they made their way back to Blighty.
Olivier joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. Then with Churchill’s approval he directed and starred in powerful propaganda films, including Shakespeare’s Henry V. In 1943 the beautiful Vivien Leigh ruined her health by enduring the brutalities of the North African climate to entertain the troops in the desert. Meantime, Dirk Bogarde was a British Army intelligence officer seconded to the pioneering RAF Medmenham where he studied aerial photographs and pinpointed enemy targets for Bomber Command. As Lieutenant van den Bogaerde he was posted to France just after D-Day. He went on to star in many leading war films such as Appointment in London (1953) and King and Country (1964). Years later in 1991 Sir Dirk Bogarde was interviewed by the author of this book. He had witnessed the horrors of Belsen in April 1945 and said it changed his attitude to life forever.
In this book, the author honours the real-life stories of some big screen idols who showed true grit behind the glamour.
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