Should Movie Stars Be Drafted or Deferred?

The end of the war seemed far away in the spring of 1943, and a majority of Americans started to resent what they perceived as film stars' preferential treatment.

Background: Started in September 1940 and later expanded after the country entered the war in 1941, the draft applied to all men ages 18 to 64 years. By the end of the war in 1945, 50 million had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military. While it discriminated against African Americans and Japanese Americans, the draft brought together men from all corners of the United States and from all professions. Surveys taken early in the war show that between 70% and 80% of those surveyed were satisfied with the work of their local draft board. The main complaint, however, was favoritism. As the end of the war seemed still far away in 1943, many started to resent the special treatment and deferments some professions, from baseball players to Hollywood professionals, were perceived to get.

How do you think the average American responded to this April 1943 poll about drafting Hollywood stars?

Movies are widely used to entertain men in the armed forces. Some people think Hollywood stars can do as much for the country by making movies as by going into the service. Do you think movie stars should be drafted or should they be deferred?
______   Should be drafted
______   Should be deferred
______   No opinion

Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant at Moffett Field, Calif., on January 19, 1942. National Archives


The Results:


Source: Gallup Poll, April 1943, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

What Happened: The debate between, on one hand, film stars being vital for morale and, on the other hand, the need for them to set an example and join the army continued until the end of the war. Stars like James Stewart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, and Henry Fonda enlisted while some like Errol Flynn wanted to but could not due to medical issues. Most stars were actively engaged in charity work and bond drives, as well as entertaining troops. The Hollywood Victory Committee, chaired by Clark Gable, was founded in December 1941 as a way to provide a means for stage, screen, television, and radio performers who were not in military service to contribute to the war effort through bond drives and improving morale for troops. The committee was segregated; Hattie McDaniel chaired the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee.

One of the committee's big successes was the Hollywood Victory Caravan, which made a whistle-stop tour across the country to sell war bonds, visiting 14 cities and putting on over 300 performances. Among the more than 50 stars who participated were Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Laurel and Hardy, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, and others.Other initiatives included the Stage Door Canteen, which opened in New York in 1942, followed by the Hollywood Canteen, started by actors Bette Davis and John Garfield, where servicemen could dance with Betty Grable, be served a sandwich by Shirley Temple, and watch performances by Bob Hope. Other canteens opened in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Newark and Washington, DC, as well as in London and Paris. Starting in 1941, the United Service Organization (USO) had over 20 locations around the world in 14 countries and stars such as Bob Hope to Edward G. Robinson were eager to help entertain the troops.

The final report of the War Activities Committee (WAC) shows that some 7,000 studio employees or about "one-third of the men normally employed in the motion picture industry" entered the military during the Second World War.

To learn more about Bob Hope’s work with USO, visit the Museum’s special exhibit “ So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope


WWII Polls

Public opinion polls give us unique insight into America in the WWII era. Each week, historians from the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy work with the archives of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University to explore what Americans believed and how they felt about events and people related to the WWII years.

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Christelle Le Faucheur

Christelle Le Faucher, PhD, is a Research Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. She came to the Institute in 201...
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