October 27, 2017

1941. Hollywood Stars Return to Britain to Contribute to the War Effort

Hidden Celebrities in World War II Britain
"Hollywood actors Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh with Lieutenant Mary Churchill and Colonel Harry Lebar, commanding officer of the 381st Bomb Group on the control tower at Ridgwell, during a visit 21 April 1944" (source)
Hollywood Stars Join the Fight
United Press Staff Correspondent

London, May 30, 1941 (United Press) — Diligent inquiry for George Arliss, he of the suave diplomacy and disconcerting monocle, was getting exactly nowhere.

The people who ought to have known where the famous actor was, didn't. Finally a harried agent, in a fit of pique or an honest effort to be helpful:

"I believe he is flying a Spitfire in the RAF."

Since the record books say George Arliss was born in London on April 10, 1868, there didn't seem to be much use in following that line of investigation, so the search was abandoned.

Life among the theatrical folk is like that in Britain these days. Second only to a Nazi, the hardest thing to find is one of the dozen movie stars who returned from the United States to do their bit.

It's no trouble at all to find the King of Norway, Queen of Holland, half a dozen countesses, or even the office janitor if you have a spare couple of hours to throw in the effort. But just try to find out where Robert Donat or David Niven, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard or Ann Dvorak, Arliss or Clive Brooke, Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon are hiding.

Most of them have secret telephone numbers and leave orders with their favorite bartenders not to whisper a soul where they hang their hats.

To make it tougher, as if it weren't tough enough already, many of them are doing so much traveling that not even their press agents know where they are. Which is just about the ultimate in toughness.

All the well-known entertainers, including those with the secret telephone numbers, really are doing a great job keeping up with the spirit of the Tommies. That's one of the reasons they are so hard to find. Between radio concerts, plays, and films, there just isn't time to go around leaving calling cards.

For instance, Robert Donat is doing regular broadcasts aimed at Australia. He also is getting ready to make the picture "Pitt the Younger," which he hopes to crowd in between charity shows.

It looked like a big victory finally to get hold of the telephone number and address of Vivien Leigh, the Scarlett O'Hara girl. The bubble burst with the discovery that the house had been bombed out, and Miss Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, had moved to the country.

Further research brought out that Miss Leigh is a "service widow" with Olivier in training for service in the Fleet Air Arm. Which branch he was in was not disclosed, but the boys who should know say his 33 years would prevent him from becoming a "glamor boy"—or fighter pilot—but he might qualify as a "bus driver"—or bomber pilot.

Niven is a captain in the Scots Guards. He may get a leave soon to make a picture about bomb disposal squads. He has a special clause in his contract providing that "work on any picture is to be suspended so Niven may return to his regiment. Work will be started immediately after an invasion attempt has failed."

Leslie Howard lives in a Surrey country house and has been busy making a picture called "'Pimpernel' Smith."

And Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon are known throughout Britain since they started a radio series with the comedian Vic Oliver. Proceeds from the program go to the troops. They are making a picture with the program's title, "Hi Gang!"