The truth about Hollywood draft deferments during WW2 (1942)

WW2 Hollywood deferments actors 1942

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The truth about Hollywood draft deferments

by “Fearless” – Photoplay, December 1942

Yes, a lot of the stars have been deferred — and they haven’t been able to tell the public why! Here’s the inside information. 

Celebrities and military service

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 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, nightclubs 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.

The truth about Hollywood draft deferments during WW2 (1942)

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.

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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 present 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 have 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 head-on into an unyielding wall of pressure.

Clark Gable WWII Air Corps
Clark Gable WWII Air Corps

For that is the paradox of Hollywood deferments. The stars are, in the main, deferred — not by request, but because of 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 Service Act. There is, of course, no law against a man with a family volunteering.

But there has been, in a surprising number of cases, the ceaseless, urgent plea of the studios, of fellow workers, of friends and well-meaning advisers to “stay on the job.”

Then Clark Gable kicked the floodgates 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.

Actor Henry Fonda - US Navy WWII 1940s
Actor Henry Fonda – US Navy WWII
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But not all 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.

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Actors/celebrities who have not gone into military service

Draft deferment information below is about Bud Abbott, Don Ameche, Humphrey Bogart, George Brent, James Cagney, John Carroll, Gary Cooper, Lou Costello, Bing Crosby, Robert Cummings, Brian Donlevy, Nelson Eddy, Errol Flynn, Glenn Ford, John Garfield, Cary Grant, Jon Hall, Van Heflin, Bob Hope, John Howard Alan Ladd, Fred MacMurray, Joel McCrea, Ray Milland, George Montgomery, Dennis Morgan, George Murphy, Lloyd Nolan, John Payne, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Preston, George Raft, Roy Rogers, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Robert Stack Robert Sterling, Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller, Orson Welles, Robert Young.

Hollywood deferments - actors WWII - 1942

WW2 Hollywood deferments actors 1942 B

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Comments on this story

13 Responses

  1. it is ironic when film stars who did not go into the services in wartime were given leading rolls in wartime movies showing them to be heros i.e. errol flynn and john wayne to name just 2, it is an insult to all men & women who did serve in the forces in wrtime when this happened,they should not have been given the leading rolls in these movies, they benefited from other peoples misery

    1. To encourage young men to walk into a buzz saw or a sausage grinder like D-Day at Omaha Beach. The term applied Errol Flynn (who was an Aussie anyway and should have been with his ‘digger’ mates) and John Wayne who obviously made a living out of being a Hollywood ‘War Hero’, is ‘Judas Goat’. Both men were Judas goats.
      They were employed to lead the rubes into the meat grinder. To anyone who has seen real combat; it ain’t pretty.

      1. Errol Flynn couldn’t pass a physical. He had so much heart damage from malaria, the doctors doubted he would live beyond 25. No military doctor in the world would take a man in his 30s with that condition. Every day of his life was borrowed time and everybody knew it and kept it quiet.

        Studios squawked about losing actors to the war but Wayne is the only star of that era who was threatened with lawsuits if he broke his contract. Republic wouldn’t have lasted 6 months without him. His best professional friend John Ford ran the film unit for the OSS. You really think he couldn’t have used Wayne in his outfitt? And yet Ford told Wayne to stay in Hollywood. How do you know Wayne wasn’t working for an intelligence agency? Cary Grant did, and so did several others on that list. Why do you think so many spies were exposed in the late ’40s? It wasn’t a sham, although McCarthy was; see the Venona Files.

  2. errol flynn tried desperately to enlist but he failed their physicals.
    john wayne on the other hand, talked about joining but put it off so bad, that John Ford got mad at him (and that is saying a lot as john ford was his biggest booster).

  3. My understanding was John Wayne Couldn’t get excepted because of football injuries to his knees. Plus he was also married with children.

    1. john wayne was having an affair with marlene dietrich in 42.. he was literally in the middle of becoming the country’s biggest star while jimmy stewart was part of the 8th flying bombing rades over berlin… wowowowoww.. lets just be honest.. the movies are just movies.. what we do in life matters…

  4. I was relliably informed by many of my relatives who themselves personally knew
    Medical Officers carring out examinations on a regular basis that many of these ‘stars’ gave their greatest performances to be rejected, appearing with self-inflicted ‘injuries’ while others had their studio heads bribe Senior Officials. IF they had REALLY wished to enlist most could have.

  5. Errol Flynn wanted to serve but even as a young man he already had heart trouble so he couldn’t pass the physical.

  6. John Garfield had a serious heart condition that eventually killed him when he was still a young man. Tyrone Power was a war hero. enlisted and came home with medals. Louis Hayward led a crew to photograph major battles and returned shell shocked and very ill. Some stars had illnesses that they did not wish to reveal ..they were exempt from draft but were afraid they would lose movie jobs so they kept mum. Carole Landis contracted. a deadly amoebic blood disease entertaining troops in North Africa Kirk Douglas Paul Newman Lee Marvin Tony Martin all enlisted ..Errol Flynn had heart disease tried to enlist

  7. Errol Flynn had contracted malaria earlier in life as a plantation manager in New Guinea. The reason for being medically unfit.
    Missing from the list is Merian C. Cooper the filmmaker. He went back into colors prior to hostilities and was assigned to the project for the land based attack on Japan from China in coordination with the Doolittle Raid. Robert Scott (God is my Copilot) was also on that mission that was eventually scrubbed. When the AVG was absorbed into the Army Air Corps he became Chennault’s executive officer and planned many of the missions including the bombing strikes on Hong Kong joining them as an observer. He had prior military service in WWI (Silver Star) and as a founding member and executive officer of the Kosciusko Squadron in the Russo-Polish War (1920-22). Eventually becoming a Brigadier General while in post war reserve status, but was hindered from getting it earlier by a like Marshall had on him.

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