The Truth About Hollywood Deferments
By “Fearless,” Photoplay Magazine, December 1942,
reprinted on OldMagazineArticles.com
Yes, a lot of stars have been deferred—and they haven’t been able to tell the public why! Here’s the inside information. While it is true that publicity often overemphasizes Hollywood happenings and that the smallest mistakes of stars are exaggerated, draft deferments in the film industry will take explaining.
The personalities of the fabulous films are on the spot in the matter of serving their country. It is useless to deny that motion-picture stars have been getting the best of it (as to immunity from the draft). Some have been given special deferments and choice assignments and, even when taken, often have been allowed extra months to finish pictures before having to report for active duty.
Husky film heroes without dependents or physical disabilities have frequented sporting events, night clubs and social gatherings, apparently without fear of the draft board—while their country cousins and city pals were being called from their jobs and their homes by the Army, or were cleaning up their affairs to enlist in the Marines or the Navy.
Nor were other members of the film industry so immune. Pictures were held up because technical men, crew hands and laboratory workers were drafted or had volunteered for service—while the ranks of the stars seemingly thinned not at all.
As late as August of this year  few important players were to be seen in uniform.
Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery, Doug Fairbanks, Wayne Morris, Ronald Reagan, Bill Holden, Jeffrey Lynn, Gene Raymond, Burgess Meredith, Tim Holt and one or two others were notable exceptions—an amazingly low percentage in view of the statements regarding those supposed to be on the verge of going.
Months passed with the stars still among those resent and the public began to ask why. Wives, sisters, parents and sweethearts of drafted men who had little worldly goods to fight for wondered why their loved ones should face danger and death while the men to whom America had given so very much remained behind.
The stars had sensed this growing resentment, rubbed to a rawer edge by the actions of those few who pulled strings to get commissions in behind-the-lines jobs as Army, Navy and Marine press agents, intelligence officers and “specialists,” this latter covering a multitude of assignments such as Tony Martin’s job of running a theater.
Yet, when a star would have responded to this spur of public opinion and joined the fighting forces, he ran on into an unyielding wall of pressure. For that is the paradox of Hollywood deferments. The stars are, in the main, referred—not by request, but because of new circumstances. No more than in Milwaukee or Spokane have Hollywood’s “draft” boards put into 1-A men who are married, who have children, or who live under other special circumstances allowed for by the Selective Services Act.
There is, of course, no law against a man with a family volunteering. But there has been a surprising number cases, the ceaseless, urgent plea of the studios, of fellow worker of friends and well-meaning advisers to “stay on the job.”
Then Clark Gable kicked the flood gates open by joining up as a private in the officers training school for the Air Corps. Tyrone Power, who had been none too happy over the failure of his attempt to enlist as a non-commissioned officer in the Navy and the publicity that followed his move, threw off the shackles and enlisted in the Marines. At the same time Henry Fonda signed up as a seaman with the Navy and the movement of star enlistments began in earnest. But not all the stars who would willingly have followed the example of the Three Musketeers were free to do so. Yet in no case has a star been able to speak and say why.
Even those whose physical disabilities placed them out of the draft have had to keep their mouths shut. Some who might better have gone into service but who took advantage of technicalities to stay out have welcomed the cloak of censorship Hollywood flung over itself.
So “Fearless,” who feels it is only fair to tell the whole truth about Hollywood deferments, has compiled as complete, as authentic and honest a list of Hollywood men who have not yet gone into service, together with their draft status, as it has been possible to make. Not every Hollywood personality is covered, due to lack of space, but you’ll find most of the significant ones represented here. Also, our chief concern is with Americans not those of other nationalities.
“Fearless” now asks, in return for this information, obtained from a hundred different confidential sources, that with the evidence before you, you bring in an unprejudiced verdict.
Name of Star–Dependents–Status, War Activities, Etc.
Bud Abbott–Wife, 1 child–Active in Bond drives, Govt. shorts, camp tours.
Don Ameche–Wife, 4 children–Radio programs for different charities & govt. “Command Performance” show & USO appearances.
Humphrey Bogart–Wife–Radio for patriotic & war programs. Personal appearances Coast Guard Auxiliary. Turned boat over to Coast Guard.
George Brent–Wife (not dependent)–Going on FT duty as civilian instructor with Army Air Force
James Cagney–Wife, relatives–Executive member of Hollywood Victory Committee. Was on caravan. Made personal appearances, went on radio.
John Carroll–Wife (divorced), 1 child–Radio shows & personal appearances for Bond sales.
Gary Cooper–Wife, 1 child–Radio appearances for charity and Bond shows.
Lou Costello–Wife, 2 children–Active in Bond drives, Govt. shorts, camp tours
Bing Crosby–Wife, 4 children–Favorite entertainer for all branches of service. Has appeared at many camps. Also toured for Red Cross and other causes. Tours with Crosby-Hope Golf Circus.
Robert Cummings–Wife, mother–Flight Commander with Civil Air Patrol. Capt. in Air Corps Reserves awaiting assignment to active duty.
Brian Donlevy–Wife–Personal appearances on road.
Nelson Eddy–Wife, mother–Air-raid warden.
Errol Flynn–Wife (divorced), 1 child–Rejected physically after trying to enlist. Radio programs for govt.
Glenn Ford–Mother–In training for Coast Guard. Radio and personal appearances.
John Garfield–Wife, 1 child–Toured Army camps.
Cary Grant–Wife (not dependent)–Personal appearances; Victory Caravan; “Command Performance” radio shows; Very large contributor—first to British, now to American relief organizations.
Jon Hall–Wife (not dependent)–On radio for Treasury Department. Also personal appearances; awaiting call.
Van Heflin–Wife–Entering service within 60 days.
Bob Hope–Wife, 2 children–Probably has done more charity and service shows than anyone else in country. Radio shows & recordings for service use. Tours with Crosby-Hope Golf Circus. Toured camps with own show in NW, Alaska & Aleutian Islands.
John Howard–Mother & father–Radio shows.
Alan Ladd–Wife (not dependent) 1 child–Reported physical disability.
Fred MacMurray–Wife, 1 child–Radio shows for govt. Very active worker for Hollywood Victory Committee. Active in civilian defense service.
Joel McCrea–Wife (not dependent), 2 children–Government air programs and show for Mexican army.
Ray Milland–Wife, 1 child–Considerable radio work for govt.
George Montgomery–Single, family dependents–Radio and personal appearances for Bond selling.
Dennis Morgan–Wife, 3 children–Air-raid warden.
George Murphy–Wife, 1 child–Camp & Govt. air shows. Hollywood Victory Committee.
Lloyd Nolan–Wife, 1 child–Personal appearances for Treasury Dept.
John Payne–Wife (divorced), 1 child–Has just enlisted in Air Corps as a Private. Reports for duty on completion of “Hello Frisco, Hello.”
Walter Pigeon–Wife, 1 child–Bond-selling tours.
Robert Preston–Wife–Radio, war program shows.
George Raft–Wife–Has a group of young boxers that he takes from camp to camp—at his own expense-to entertain service men.
Roy Rogers–Wife, 1 child–Personal appearances, selling Bonds, cam tours.
Cesar Romero–Single, family dependents–Personal appearances, Govt. radio programs. Air-raid warden. Lt. In State Guard. Member of the Evacuation Corps.
Mickey Rooney–Wife (divorce pending)–Radio programs, camp tours, personal appearances.
Red Skelton–Wife–More than 200 personal appearances. Toured small camps and barracks not big enough to draw regular shows.
Robert Stack–Single–Just received commission as ensign in Navy. Now training in serial gunnery.
Robert Sterling–Single, family dependents–Going into Air Corps training school for pilots as soon as called. Radio war program show. Active in civil defense services.
Robert Taylor–Wife (not dependent), mother–Does considerable privately for men in uniform.
Franchot Tone–Wife–Victory Committee and San Diego Navy show.
Spencer Tracy–Wife, 2 children–Radio shows for govt.
John Wayne–Wife, 4 children–Air-raid warden.
Johnny Weissmuller–Wife, 2 children–Radio “Command Performance” & has made Red Cross golf appearances, filling in for Bing Crosby or Bob Hope.
Orson Wells–Wife (divorced), 1 child–Rejected because of physical disability. Good-Will Ambassador to South America, govt. radio programs. “Stars Over America.” Bond selling tour.
Robert Young–Wife, 2 children–Bond-selling tours, radio programs for govt., active in civil defense organizations.
St. Petersburg Times March 7, 1943
Litvinoff Gets Robert Taylor Released for Movie on Russia
By Drew Pearson
Hollywood–Hollywood’s Gregory Ratoff called on Soviet Ambassador Litvinoff the other day in connection with a film on Russia which he is directing. Ratoff complained that he had hoped to get Robert Taylor to play the leading role in the picture, but Taylor was now in the Navy.
“I don’t understand this country,” observed Litvinoff. “You take the men who can do most for morale and send them off to shoot a rifle. In my country we exempt leading actors from military service.”
Whereupon the Russian ambassador picked up the phone, called War Information Chief Elmer Davis. Davis in turn, telephoned Secretary of the Navy Knox, who readily released Robert Taylor for the Russian picture.
This has brought to the front again the whole question of Hollywood draft deferments. In the last war, key actors were deferred on the ground that they were important for morale. Britain formerly called up movie actors, but has now realized its mistake and has decided to defer them. In the United States, a start was made toward deferment, there was a certain amount public resentment, several actors volunteered, and the whole thing has been in a jumble ever since.
Result is that the army has a handful of soldiers who turn the troops into autograph
seekers, while the country is minus stars who could do a great job for morale.
At present, for instance, the Army doesn’t want Mickey Rooney, first because he is too short, second because he would disrupt any army camp. Everybody would be watching him instead of the commanding officer. Likewise Clark Gable. President Roosevelt himself wrote Gable a letter asking him not to enlist. Gable patriotically enlisted, however, and is now a bombardier. Only trouble is that a 43-year-old bombardier doesn’t have the quick reflexes of a younger man and might endanger the entire crew of the bomber.
So the Army is up against what to do with Patriotic Clark Gable, and unofficially, they think he could do a better job entertaining troops via the screen in Hollywood.
The movie industry would like to see the whole question decided one way or the other by the government. Then there would be no stigma on an actor for sticking to the job he knows best.
Note-Gen. Eisenhower has just cabled from North Africa emphasizing the importance of motion pictures for morale building.
Note: Robert Taylor was sworn into the United States Navy in February 1943. Against his will, he was released to make Song of Russia.
I have read that Robert Taylor wanted combat duty but was denied it because of his age (31 in early 1943). Clark Gable was 10 years older but got the Army Air Corps combat duty he requested. Jimmy Stewart was also older than RT, but not by as much. Did the Navy Air Corps have stricter physical fitness standards than the Army’s? It is a well-known fact that in any case, RT did not want to do “Song of Russia,” a seldom televised, blatant propaganda film with an actor playing Stalin addressing his people by radio regarding maintaining their freedom from Hitler. As we all know, they also needed their “freedom” from Stalin & his many successors up until the time of Gorbachev. And now they have Putin & who knows where that will lead?
I wonder if MGM didn’t pull strings to keep Mr. Taylor out of combat without his knowledge. I’ve watched part of “Song of Russia” but didn’t like the propaganda. And, as you say, here we go again. Good to hear from you.
As an American, during the 1960’s I, received my draft noticed for selective service. I had two alternatives, pack of and go to war,or become UNAmerican and go to,….jail. These, actors,were called to duty and refused to sing up. AS an actor.they felt “privileged”,…not,..me. At this moment.they, became cowards,got there deferments via,money.phone calls or,….not,me.
Robert. In Mr. Taylor’s case, he volunteered to serve in WW II as a Navy pilot but MGM held him back. He finally did join the Navy in 1943 and served for 3 years. He also volunteered for Korea but was turned down as too old. Thanks for writing. Judith
How about Louis Hayward, served in the United States Marine Corps, notably at The Battle of Tarawa, awarded a Bronze Star, Presidential Citation, and produced With The Marines at Tarawa, winner of the 1945 Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. As for John howard,. he actually served and won the Navy Cross. As did Eddie Albert. Bogart was born in the 19th century and served in the First World War. Same with Randolph Scott. I am certain if you look carefully, you can find more Hollywood people in active service.
I guess I’m not sure of your point. As you say, a lot of Hollywood luminaries served bravely in both World Wars. However, this is a Robert Taylor blog and he is always the focus. He was also probably the only star to be kept out of the service by the Russians. Thanks for writing. Judith
My point was related to the list above. Nothing more.