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From the Battlefield to the Big Screen (Hardback)

Audie Murphy, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Dirk Bogarde in WW2

Military > Frontline Books > Frontline: WWII WWII

By Melody Foreman
Frontline Books
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 16 black and white
ISBN: 9781526737717
Published: 10th October 2022

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Look closely behind the lives of the stars who appeared in a host of legendary war films and discover how memories of their real-life experiences in the armed forces were haunted with heartbreak and yet filled with extraordinary heroism. Just what did America’s most decorated soldier Audie Murphy go through in battle which led him to star as himself in the classic war film, To Hell and Back?

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Murphy joined the US Army aged just 17. He went on to fight at Anzio, the Colmar Pocket, and Nuremberg. And for single-handedly holding off an enemy attack he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But Murphy’s military and celebrity stardom did little to extinguish the pain of his private battle to fit in to a new post-war world he perceived as disappointing, shallow and unfulfilling. Tormented by PTSD Murphy was a man unable to escape from his past. Only the great director and decorated wartime documentary maker John Huston gained Murphy’s true respect.

When war broke out on 3 September 1939, a number of British stars, including Laurence Olivier, his future wife Vivien Leigh, and David Niven, were in the United States under contract to the Hollywood Studios. Keen not to ‘shirk their duties at home’, and against advice from the British Consul, they made their way back to Blighty.

Olivier joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. Then with Churchill’s approval he directed and starred in powerful propaganda films, including Shakespeare’s Henry V. In 1943 the beautiful Vivien Leigh ruined her health by enduring the brutalities of the North African climate to entertain the troops in the desert. Meantime, Dirk Bogarde was a British Army intelligence officer seconded to the pioneering RAF Medmenham where he studied aerial photographs and pinpointed enemy targets for Bomber Command. As Lieutenant van den Bogaerde he was posted to France just after D-Day. He went on to star in many leading war films such as Appointment in London (1953) and King and Country (1964). Years later in 1991 Sir Dirk Bogarde was interviewed by the author of this book. He had witnessed the horrors of Belsen in April 1945 and said it changed his attitude to life forever.

In this book, the author honours the real-life stories of some big screen idols who showed true grit behind the glamour.

The book was an interesting one and it was nice to read about their experiences.

Read the Full Review Here

The History Fella

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Very interesting and insightful with lots of facts I had not known previously….. In this book, the author honours the real-life stories of some big screen idols who showed true grit behind the glamour.

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

A fascinating look at the gigantic stars of the silver screen and how their careers in the cinema were put on hold as they served with the allied forces during the war.

Books Monthly

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an intriguing book that features three film stars who were also deeply involved in WWII. Audie Murphy was a genuine war hero whose many awards and citations made him a star before he ever graced the screen. As he said the distance between bravery and cowardice is narrow and it took a lot of courage to pursue an acting career. He died young in an airplane crash but he would never have reached the theatrical heights of the other two main characters in the book.

Laurence Oliver (and Vivian Leigh) were not only stars of the stage but movie stars in Hollywood when war broke out. All Brits over the age of 30 were encouraged to stay where they were and use their talents to sway opinion in favour of Britain. But Sir Larry wanted to get into the fray. He had learned to fly and saw himself as a swashbuckling aviator. Sadly for him, his time in uniform was brief and uneventful. He learned that his greatest contribution would be on the screen to motivate and inspire.

The third actor is Dirk Bogarde who did serve in several theatres of war. His skill as an interpreter of aerial shots was important work and he was good at it. He also, like Murphy, saw the carnage of war and the Nazi regime. He entered Bergen Belsen shortly after it was liberated and the sights would haunt him throughout his life. After the war, he resumed his theatrical career but it was when the movies discovered him, he became one of the biggest British box office draws.

All three were private, complex men whose performances on screen would help shape the perceptions of war for decades to come. Where the book really digs deep is in covering the stories of both the artistic and military people whose lives intersected their own. There are several stories included in the book that really touched me. One was the way Dirk Bogarde made it his mission to make sure young people understand what happened in the Holocaust. All three of them took their roles in portraying their experiences and those of others as honestly as they could. That was not always the case on the silver screen and that alone separates them from the crowd.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book, and was not at all disappointed. Such a fascinating look into the bizarre world of film-making at an incredibly tumultuous time. Brimming with amazing stories, well-researched and written wonderfully.

NetGalley, Madeleine Foster

I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in WWII, WWII films, and cinematic stars of the period. There really is a lot here to engage with.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this, it was a interesting concept and the title was what drew me in. I could tell that Melody Foreman has a great writing style and I could tell that she researched the topic. It was engaging and did what I wanted on this type of book. I liked that this was about a variety of actors and actresses so it worked in the read.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer
 Melody Foreman

About Melody Foreman

MELODY FOREMAN is a journalist with experience in newspapers and television documentaries. She also works as a book sommelier and public speaker. Melody is the author of the best-selling Bomber GirlsA Spitfire Girl, the biography of Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Mary Wilkins Ellis, The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain and the Blitz, and two books about the history of Kent. Melody is a regular contributor to national publications including Britain at War magazine. She maintains an avid interest in the social history of both the First and Second World Wars, literature, art, film and theatre studies. www.melodyforeman.co.uk

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