Friday, July 26

Movie Stars from WWII

  At Gas Lamp I found a Ziploc bag full of photos with a note saying they were a soldier’s entire private photo collection from World War Two. Needless to say, I was excited about the potential story the photos contained. This guy could have literally served anywhere in the world, faced any number of dangers, fought in one of the many famous encounters from the war. That almost limitless possibility is exactly why I’m drawn to old photographs. Each one is its own historical rabbit hole. They dictate the terms of the adventure, all I have to do is find and learn about them. It’s basically brain TV and I really wanted to watch this show…

  If I was drunk on possibilities when I bought the collection, I was hung-over from expectations when I looked through the pictures for the first time. Most were images of various demolition sites along a barren coastline. Similar to the image at the top of this post, except without the crashing waves, shack, machinery or anything else that isn’t land. (A few of them are of explosions, which is kind of cool.) This is more representative of the average photograph from the collection.

  As unfair as it was to the photographer and his service, I was disappointed by the pictures. I had been expecting an adventure story but got a construction site. It appeared mundane and boring. Later on I’d learn that wasn't the case but, at the time, I was pretty bummed out. Only one photo from the collection seem worth looking into after that first viewing, so I pulled it out and put the rest away.

  The first thing that jumps out about this image is obviously the autograph. It turns out that Martha O’Driscoll was a B-list movie start from the era, which meant that this photo was probably taken of a USO show she performed on the photographer’s base. In looking up her history with the USO, I learned that Martha O’Driscoll did most of her touring with Errol Flynn. It was likely that he was the man in the photograph but I wanted to get confirmation. So I sent an email to David DeWitt, who runs The Errol Flynn Blog. Not only was David able to confirm it was Errol Flynn in the picture but he was also able to verify Martha O’Driscoll’s signature. From there, I sent him the following email...
"After writing you, I went back through the rest of the photos and found one more picture that may or may not be related...
Although her name was completely unfamiliar to me until yesterday, I'm wondering if the young woman in the fur coat might also be Martha O'Driscoll? She's clearly the center of attention and all the soldiers seem to have goofy I-can't-believe-I'm-standing-next-to-a-movie-star smiles on their faces. Perhaps this was taken in the Officer's Club before or after the performance? I'm curious to know what you think.  -R"
...and was not expecting his reply...
"Russell! This is a picture of Olivia de Havilland, Flynn's most famous co-star. She is Maid Marion in the classic Robin Hood of 1938 and played opposite Flynn in several other movies including They Died With Their Boots On their last film together; she is still living (in Paris) and is the subject of a book about herself and Errol called Errol & Olivia, although another book has come out with this name, in the meantime ... my friend, author Louis Kraft is writing this book and he has visited Olivia several times in her home in Paris (she is 96) ... this is a rare photo.  -D"

  Movie stars, Robin Hood, Paris!? These were not subjects I was expecting to come up when I first viewed the barren landscapes. My disappointment had been completely unfounded. What's more, I was able to use the information from David to pin down the photographer's location during the war and uncover another surprise hidden in the collection.

explosion photos = kind of cool
  But that's a story for another day.

UPDATE - Click here for Part 2 of this post

No comments:

Post a Comment