Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The USO and War Bonds, Hollywood Entertains

The USO, United States Service Organization, was established at the request of military authorities on October 30, 1941, to bring celebrity entertainment to troops in the U.S. and abroad during World War II.

During World War II, the USO became the G.I.'s "home away from home," and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today.

The organization became particularly famous for its live performances called Camp Shows, through which the entertainment industry helped boost the morale of its servicemen and women,

Hollywood in general was eager to show its patriotism, and lots of big names joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They entertained in military bases both at home and overseas, often placing their own lives in danger by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions.

At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs, and curtains were rising on USO shows 700 times a day.

Al Jolson, the first entertainer to go overseas in World War II, lost a lung and caught malaria, cutting short his tour.

During World War II, more than 7,000 entertainers were sent overseas and gave more than 428,000 performances. Some Hollywood stars took their shows on the road to entertain the troops close to the front lines. Entertainers included Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Hattie McDaniel, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, James Cagney, Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, The Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Ray Bolger, Lucille Ball, Martha Raye, Hedy Lamarr, Ann Sothern, Betty Hutton, John Wayne and of course, Bob Hope.

During the Korean War, some 126 entertainment units put on more than 5,400 shows in Korea. Entertainers included Errol Flynn, Debbie Reyonds, Donald O'Connor, Jane Russell, Paul Douglas, Marilyn Monroe, Danny Kaye, Mickey Roonery, Jayne Mansfield, Al Jolson and Bob Hope.

During Vietnam, 5000 USO shows, with nearly 3,000 celebrities. Entertainers included John Wayne, Ann-Margaret, Sammy Davis Jr., Jayne Mansfied, Redd Foxx, Nancy Sinatra, and Bob Hope.

Bob Hope performed his first (USO) show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, California. He continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War.

War Bonds and World War I: The government used famous artists to make posters, and used movie stars to host bond rallies. Al Jolson, Elsie Janis, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin were among the celebrities that made public appearances promoting the patriotic element of purchasing Liberty Bonds.

World War II: Bond rallies were held throughout the country with famous celebrities, usually Hollywood film stars, to enhance the advertising's effectiveness. Free movie days were held in theaters nationwide with a bond purchase as the admission. Such popular Hollywood stars as Greer Garson, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Abbott & Costello, and Carole Lombard (who died in a plane crash returning from a war bond rally).

Finally, a special mention to Cary Grant. During the war years, Grant donated his entire salaries from several movies (The Philadelphia Story and Arsenic and Old Lace among others) to British war charities and the U.S. War Relief Fund.

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