|Capt. Glenn Miller leads an unidentified Army band at Fort Meade. Photograph by Lt. Col. Moses N. Thisted, secretary of the School for Special Service. Courtesy of Edward F. Polic.
A War Department memorandum issued on the fourth anniversary of Japan 's attack on Pearl Harbor stated that any curtailment of stage shows for American servicemen and women "would in all probability be a serious blow to troop morale."
Throughout the Second World War, the U. S. Army recognized and fulfilled the need for entertainment, athletics, and other recreational activities to fill the idle time of servicemen who were training in U.S. camps, stationed at isolated outposts overseas, or were pulled back front the front lines of battle for rest or reequipment. The Army was concerned that inactivity and isolation, especially overseas, would cause boredom and dissatisfaction, jeopardize servicemen's physical stamina and mental alertness, and lead them into demoralizing activities. Recreational programs were needed to occupy, strengthen, and refresh the fighting man.
Late in 1941 the Army formulated an innovative and elaborate plan to organize amateur theatre, music and athletic programs among GIs and provide reading and instructional material far them. In 1942 the Army began commissioning civilian actors, musicians, theatre managers, dramatics professors, and others to serve as recreation officers. It established a school at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, to teach these individuals, as well as regular military officers, to conduct recreational activities according to Army specifications, to deploy suitable activities using improvised facilities in remote areas of the world, and to encourage GIs to participate. Under a separate program, the Army also trained companies of enlisted men at Fort Meade to support recreational activities in the field. The officers school moved to Virginia late in 1942, but training of enlisted men in Special Service units continued at Fort Meade until late 1944.
During their training at Fort Meade, officers and enlisted men alike learned about equipment and procedures, entertained Army personnel on base, and staged impromptu musical events outdoors. Upon completion of their training, many of them traveled to remote outposts and areas near the front lines of battle where they performed, recruited other GIs to perform in amateur plays and revues, distributed song books, games, musical instruments, and athletic equipment, and set up motion picture projectors, radios, and portable libraries, exchanges and canteens.
A few Special Service officers who trained at Fort Meade escorted famous civilian entertainers on overseas tours sponsored by Camp Shows, Inc., the show business subsidiary of the United Service Organizations (USO). Motion picture and radio stars such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown and Martha Raye presented their monologues, wisecracks, songs and dances to thousands of GIs, and Special Service officers guided them from one remote spot to another. Though comparatively few in number, these entertainers and their Special Service companions best reflect the role that entertainment played in offsetting the tension and tedium of war. American GIs in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific were half of a world away from home, and they were highly subject to the stresses of danger, homesickness, and deprivation. Moreover, while civilians they had been accustomed to a steady diet of humor and music through radio and motion pictures. In his autobiography, Laughter is a Wonderful Thing, comedian Joe E. Brown summed up the special importance of humor to GIs overseas: "Our kids were living under constant tension, day after day, night after night. It was a grilling and galling combination: extreme danger and extreme monotony... Humor to Americans is daily bread. They've got to have it if they're going to stay normal. If they haven't got it, they make it up - - not very good humor always, but the best they can do."
The Special Service program and the USO brought the home front to the battlefront and were two of America's most effective secret weapons. The wartime activities of the USO are familiar to many Americans today, but those of the Army's entertainment program are not as well known.
Part I - The School for Special Service
In 1941 the War Department established the Morale Branch of the U.S. Army to direct morale, recreation, and welfare services for servicemen. In October of that year, the Morale Branch directed that there be a fulltime recreation officer in each regiment and separate battalion. In December 1941 a study made for the Branch by the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation recommended the creation of a school to train officers for recreational duty.
The Morale Branch, renamed the Special Services Branch early in 1942, considered three sites for the school. One of these, a group of buildings at Fort George G. Meade, recently had been vacated by a Tank Destroyer group and was available immediately. The site was selected for the school on January 21, 1942.
The Special Service Branch School was activated in February 1942 under Col. Taylor E. Darby, Commandant, and Lt. Col. Leon T. David, Assistant Commandant. An allotment of 19 officers for staff and faculty, 64 enlisted personnel and several civilian clerks was authorized to administer and operate the school.
On February 27, 1942 the Chin Strap, the weekly newspaper of Fort Meade's 29th Infantry Division, reported that recreation and Special Service officers from all over the United States were being chosen by Army and corps commanders to attend the school. Officials planned to locate the school in several buildings near Taylor and Rock Avenues. The stated purpose of the school was to train recreation officers, particularly those with combat units, to provide morale, recreation, athletic and theatre entertainment for servicemen. Emphasis was placed on using improvised facilities in areas of operation and producing texts and instructional material. Three of the 17 officers chosen for the faculty were Special Service personnel, and some of the curriculum was derived from the experience of morale officers at various camps. Civilians, however, served as instructors in theatricals, education, athletics, and recreation.
Recreation Officers` Course No. 1 opened on March 1, 1942 and ended on March 28, graduating 112 officer students. In all, seven consecutive courses, each lasting 28 to 30 days, were held at Fort Meade in 1942, involving a total of 918 graduates, all of them male officers. Each officer attended only one four-week course.
On April 17, 1942, prior to the opening of the second course, the Fort Meade Post, successor to the Chin Strap, reported that students at the school were recreation officers who had been assigned to Army tactical units and that they represented every section of the United States. The curriculum, according to the Post, stressed the "applicatory method" and active participation. Five departments focused on military art, facilities, education, military recreation, and physical training. Classes instructed students in the use of improvised equipment for recreational activities in areas of military operation and methods of training servicemen in the field. Students also engaged in outdoor athletic activities, such as running an obstacle course.
During the third course, which ran from May 18 to June 15, it became evident that the site selected for the school was inadequate in several ways, one being excessive distance between the classrooms and the athletics field. Between June 15 and July 6, the interim between the third and fourth courses, the school was moved to a new site in Fort Meade. Housing for the school was built using material from dismantled Civilian Conservation Corps camps. Effective May 1942 the curriculum was renamed the Special Service Officers' Course, and the school itself was renamed the School far Special Service.
In mid-1942, according to the Special Service Handbook, issued by the War Department, the school emphasized "plans, procedures and programs to aid combat troops of all arms in active theatres of operation. Officers are trained to aid commanders in organizing activities and games contributing to combat efficiency, as well as in morale and welfare matters affecting the command. The physical and mental conditioning of men in overseas areas, particularly isolated areas, is given special attention. Officers for Special Service Units are instructed in their special service functions and in the use of organic equipment for providing recreational, athletic, theatrical, library and exchange facilities in the field. Officer students were being chosen by the commanding generals of the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and Services of Supply (the Army's management, training, procurement, and distribution branch) according to allotments established by the Training Division of Services of Supply.
The Seventh Course
According to a history of the School for Special Service prepared by the Army in 1945, the curriculum of the seventh and final course at Fort Meade, held between October 19 and November 16, 1942, was revised and expanded to include specialized instruction in theatricals, music, [and] education. The seventh course consisted of 208 fifty-minute periods of instruction in four instructional areas: Organization and Military - 17 periods, Organization and Recreation - 21 periods, Recreation - 152 periods, and Morale of the Soldier - 18 periods.
In the expanded student body of 176 men attending the seventh course were some civilian professionals, including two of the nations most popular and famous performers, bandleader Glenn Miller and Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans, and two well-known theatrical producers, Edward Dowling and John Shubert. Unlike their Army schoolmates, these professionals had been commissioned as captains or lieutenants in the Army Specialist Corps. The ASC was an auxiliary unit formed by the Army in February 1942 to create a pool of civilian professional, technical, scientific, and administrative talent able to provide non-combat services and thereby relieve military personnel for combat and command duties. ASC officers did not follow certain Army procedures, were not considered member of the regular Army, and wore uniforms that differed slightly from those of Army officers. The ASC experiment was abandoned in November 1942 at which time its members, including students in the School for Special Service, joined the Army with the same ranks they had held in the ASC.
According to the Fort Meade Post, October 30, 1942, the head of the school's theatre department during the seventh course, Capt. Jerome B. Coray, had been a producer, director and actor at the Hollywood Playhouse in Hollywood, California. Under Coray's direction, the ten officer students in the department studied methods and problems involved in improving theatre facilities at Army posts, providing theatrical entertainment for and by servicemen, and creating live entertainment for men overseas. "Some of the officers," said Coray, "will go overseas where the need is greatest for providing live entertainment for and by men in isolated outposts and theatres of operation. Several of them will be assigned to Service Commands in the United States where they will travel from one post to another assisting Special Service officers in their selection of staffs of enlisted men responsible for the production of theatrical entertainment for and by the soldiers." Coray also wrote a theatre manual for use by Special Service officers.
Among the students in the theatrical department of the seventh course were Paul Baker, a dramatics professor at Baylor University in Texas; Sidney H. Piermont, booking manager and producer for all of the Loew's theatres that presented stage shows; Max Flowers, director and dramatics faculty member at Williams College in Massachusetts; C.R. Kase, director of the dramatics program at the University of Delaware; Jerome H. Cargill, producer of historical pageants, amateur shows, and society revues; Earl G. Thomas, director of radio programs for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency; and Michael J. Cullen, western division manager for Loew's theatres presenting stage shows. All of these men had been appointed captains in the Army Specialist Corps except Flowers, who had been appointed a first lieutenant.
Eddie Dowling (1894-1976), a student in the theatre department, was an actor, producer, director and playwright. He appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918;1919 and 1920. He also appeared in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," produced the hit sang-and-gag revue "Hellzapoppin" in 1938, and produced and acted in William Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life" in 1940. From about 1925 to 1942 Dowling was general stage director for the Shubert chain of theatres, and he directed several movies for Paramount Pictures. Early in 1942 Dowling served as the unpaid president of Camp Shows, Inc., the branch of the USO that brought live civilian entertainment to troops.
John Shubert (1908-1962) studied law at Harvard University, then joined Shubert Enterprises, the legitimate theatre business founded by his uncle, Sam S. Shubert. In the 1930s and early 1940s John Shubert wrote the books and lyrics for several Broadway shows and was associated with the Lee and J.J. Shubert productions of "Life Begins at 8:40," "Streets of Paris," and "The Student Prince." Early in the war he served as Editor and Chairman of the Writers and Material Committee of USO-Camp Shows, and during the war he secured performing rights for the presentation of stage plays to servicemen and women. He was associated with the civilian production of "Ten Little Indians," a star-studded Broadway murder mystery that came to Fort Meade's Theatre No. 4 in 1944.
Maurice Evans (1901-1989), the theatre department's most renowned student, was born in Dorchester, England and became a United States citizen in 1941. He had become an actor at age 25 and worked in London from 1927 to 1935, playing Shakespearean roles toward the end of that period. Late in 1935 he toured the United States in "Romeo and Juliet," playing Romeo opposite Katherine Cornell. The two appeared in New York in the same roles. Evans produced and starred in "King Richard II" in New York in 1937, appeared as Sir John Falstaff in "Henry IV" in 1937, and produced and starred in the first full-length Broadway production of "Hamlet" in 1938-39. He also produced and starred in a production of "Macbeth" that opened at the National Theatre in November 1941 and toured the United States in 1942.
During the tour of "Macbeth," Evans was classified 1-A by the American draft board, and he decided to offer his services to the U.S. Army toward establishing a program of worthwhile dramatic entertainment "of an adult nature" for servicemen - - plays that would inspire them instead of "spoon-feeding ... the men on movies." During a stop in Washington, D.C. to lecture on behalf of British War Relief, he met with a general in the Special Services Branch and offered to present "Macbeth" at one Army pastas an experiment. The general consented, and at Evans' expense "Macbeth," staring Evans and Judith Anderson, was presented at Fort George G. Meade in Theatre No. 4 (one of five indoor theatres in the fort) on June 5, 6, and 7, 1942. The play was well received by Army officials and by the thousands of Fort Meade servicemen who were in attendance.
The Army invited Evans to participate in its entertainment program, and on August 15, 1942 he joined the Army Specialist Corps in Washington. He first toured camps in the Seventh Service Command, assessing the need and potential for theatrical entertainment. During this tour he visited such diverse places as Fort Francis E. Warren, Wyoming and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where two servicemen had started an amateur theatre project using their civilian experience in summer theatre.
In the fall of 1942 Evans was assigned to Fort Meade, where he enrolled in the seventh course of the School for Special Service. In his autobiography, All This ... and Evans Too!, he described a training session that illustrates the school's emphasis on improvisation and the experimental nature of the curriculum: "One uninspired experiment was an `impromptu concert' to take place in a wooded grove somewhere in Maryland. It was an odd assortment of actors, musicians, stagehands, and so forth, who got into file for that cross-country hike. At the alfresco gathering it was very funny to see Glenn Miller struggling to produce from an Army-issue trombone the seductive tones for which he was so famous, and, for that matter, to listen to me spouting `Once more unto the breach' to an audience of GIs and Baltimore Orioles - - the birds that is."
Glenn Miller (1904-1944), trombonist, arranger and band manager, was a student in the music department of the school's seventh course. Miller had become nationally prominent in the spring of 1939 when his swing orchestra played at the prestigious Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York and Meadowbrook ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Soon the band's tunes topped the charts of radio listenership and phonograph record sales. The Miller orchestra's precision, its distinctive, reedy blend highlighted by clarinets and saxophones, and its sprightly tunes, languorous ballads, and choral arrangements ingratiated the band with its national audience. At the height of the nationwide dance craze, Miller and his instrumentalists and vocalists were the musical idols of millions of young people. Danceable tunes such as "Moonlight Serenade," "Tuxedo Junction," "In the Mood," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "Little Brown Jug," and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," the first million-selling song since the 1920s, vibrated over every radio and jukebox in the nation. Until it disbanded in 1942, the Miller orchestra was by many counts the nation's favorite swing band.
As America geared for war, Miller became sympathetic to the recreational needs of servicemen and tried to provide them with additional listening pleasure. In 1941 and 1942 Millers Sunset Serenade radio program was heard each week over the Mutual Broadcasting System and was dedicated to those in service. Each broadcast featured the results of a poll in which Army personnel at five camps were asked to name their favorite songs. Special Service personnel conducted the poll and forwarded the results to the program. Listeners to "Sunset Serenade" then chose their favorite song from those submitted, and the camp whose song was selected received a radio-phonograph and 50 records. Other camps polled received records only. On March 13, 1942 the Fort Meade Post announced that the 29th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Meade, had won a Victor radio-phonograph in the weekly Miller radio contest. The radio-phonograph, which bore a metal plate reading "Presented by Glenn Miller for the entertainment of the men in service," was placed in Service Club No. 2.
On April 17, 1942 the Post reported that Miller had arranged for Mutual Music Publishers to purchase a song, "Soldier Let Me Read Your Letter," written by two Fort Meade privates, Timothy Pasma and George P. "Pat" Fallon, both members of the 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. Miller stated that the song had all the makings of a soldiers' classic. His orchestra had recorded it on April 2 and played it on the "Chesterfield Moonlight Serenade" radio program on April 15 and April 24.
During the summer of 1942, Miller's music still poured from radios and jukeboxes throughout Fort Meade and Boomtown, a strip of restaurants, bars, Coney Island-style amusements and military supply stores on Annapolis Road just outside the fort. During the first week of September, the motion picture "Orchestra Wives," starring Miller and his orchestra, was being shown to GIs in Theatre No. 1 and Theatre No. 3 inside Fort Meade.
During this period Miller's thoughts turned to military duty. In June 1942 he requested a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve but was refused. On August 12 he wrote to Brig. Gen. Charles D. Young expressing his belief that Army morale could be improved by a program of swing music and offering to join the Army if he could lead a swing band. Young enthusiastically agreed, and on September 10 Howard C. Bronson, an Army music officer, sent Miller a telegram stating that his appointment had been approved. Miller took his oath the same day in New York City and received a commission as a captain in the Army Specialist Corps. He registered under his full name, Alton Glenn Miller.
On September 27, 1942 the Miller civilian orchestra played its last engagement. On October 7 Miller reported for duty in Omaha, Nebraska with the Seventh Service Command. Five days later he received orders to report for temporary duty in the Army Specialist Corps Replacement Pool, School for Special Service, at Fort George G. Meade. He arrived at Fort Meade on Saturday, October 17, 1942, and the school's seventh course began on Monday, October 19. The following weekend Miller visited his home in Tenafly, New Jersey, where the disciplinarian bandleader wrote a sarcastic letter to a Col. Sterling expressing his dismay for the Army school and the routines of Army life. "Not much music is being discussed," he complained, "[but] I know how to make an Army bed, shine my own shoes, sweep under my bed and march in formation..."
Indeed, the frustrations were many. Attending the school gave Miller no immediate opportunity to advance his plan to add contemporary music to the Army's tradition-bound music program. Given his natural ambition, drive and impatience, he chafed at being forced to endure prosaic instruction in conservative musical approaches. Miller, the master of swing music, must have felt miscast when the school tried to "teach us tempos by making us watch those bouncing balls on a movie screen all day long." Physical training was another seemingly irrelevant part of his course work. John King, a student of the seventh course, remembers seeing Miller putting shot in one set of exercises. Despite his discontent, Miller "rendered effective service during special entertainments at the Station Hospital and elsewhere" at Fort Meade between October 17 and November 13.
George T. Simon, Miller's friend and one of his biographers, observed that the physical and emotional toll of giving up a famous band, popularity, and a leadership position for a subordinate role and a regimen of drilling and exercising may have contributed to an illness that plagued the bandleader toward the end of his Fort Meade duty. On Saturday, November 14 Miller was in bed with strep throat at his home in Tenafly. He sent a telegram to Col. Darby saying that he was unable to report for duty. On November 17 his physician, E.T. Seymour, stated that the patient was unable to move to a military hospital. By November 24, however, Miller was in Ward M8 of the Fort Meade Station Hospital suffering from a severe cold, sore throat, and acute pharyngitis. He remained in the hospital until December 4.
Meanwhile, the Army was arranging Miller's next assignment, the seventh course having ended on November 16. The Army Specialist Corps was being dissolved, and its members were being offered commissions in the regular Army. On November 23 Miller was temporarily appointed a captain in the Army, and on November 27 he was reassigned from the ASCRP to Headquarters Army Air Forces South east Training Center at Maxwell Field near Montgomery, Alabama, where he was to serve as Assistant Special Service officer at the request of the AAF. He took his oath of office in the Army at Fort Meade on December 2, 1942, and on December 4 he left Fort Meade for Maxwell Field.
Miller was not alone in criticizing the School for Special Service. Students and officials alike thought that the curriculum was inadequate and redundant. Maurice Evans noted in his autobiography, "It was typical of the Army that we who had been teaching in the field were then brought together at Fort Meade to be taught how to teach." The Army's 1945 history of the school stated, 'While the school was still located at Fort George G. Meade, it had been apparent that its operations were none too successful. A committee had been appointed by Brig. Gen. Frederick H. Osborn with the concurrence of the Director of Military Training "to review and make recommendations ... concerning organization and curriculum of the School..." Among the problems encounted [sic] during the first twelve month[s] of the school were:
Lack of training doctrine. "Special Service was a military innovation -- a program without precedent. Policies and procedures had to be evolved."
Inadequacy of instruction. "The majority of instructors lacked military experience, relevant professional training, and were without field experience. None had served overseas. Lack of sufficient personnel impaired administrative efficiency and made large instructional groups necessary, with the result that the quality of instruction also suffered."
Mediocre standards of proficiency and inadequacy of testing program for the evaluation of student accomplishment.
Unsatisfactory selection of student personnel. "The entire program of Special Services operations was hampered by the practice on the part of some commanding officers of sending unqualified students to the School as mere quota fillers."
Unfavorable student attitudes as reflected by lack of courtesy and discipline in the classrooms.
In addition to curriculum problems, the new facilities at Fort Meade were deemed inadequate. Housing and mess halls were overcrowded, and more classrooms were needed. Services of Supply had adopted a policy of relocating some training schools from Army installations to civilian educational institutions. On November 14, 1942 it was announced that the School for Special Service would move to Washington and Lee University in Lexington Virginia. Lt. Col. Leon T. David, the assistant commandant, served as acting commandant during the transition, replacing Col. Darby. The school reopened in its new location on December 7, 1942.
Although it was still plagued by deficiencies in instruction, the school, renamed the School for Personnel Services in September 1944, continued to train entertainment and athletics officers, as well as enlisted men and women in these fields, through September 19, 1945. John Robinson, one of the Historical Society's members, attended the school at its Lexington location while a second lieutenant in the 78th Infantry Division. Numerous celebrity entertainers, including Red Skelton and Melvyn Douglas, also attended and performed at the relocated school, which was nicknamed the "country club of the Army."
Activities of Fort Meade Graduates
Officers' experiences after leaving Fort Meade's School for Special Service varied greatly. John King returned to his unit, the 36th Infantry Division at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. Other graduates also returned to their units, according to King. Lt. Garland W. Stone, who had served with the 111th Field Artillery, 29th Infantry Division, graduated from the first course and commanded the Army's first company of Special Service enlisted men during their training at Fort Meade.
Miller drew attention by adding to his marching band such unorthodox elements as string bass players and swing drummers, and by adding swing rhythm to John Philip Sousa's marches. The latter experiment actually had begun in April 1942 when the Miller civilian orchestra recorded a swing version of a Sousa standard, "American Patrol." Miller's striking innovations and his adaptions of Sousa marches for the AAF band prompted Time magazine to claim that he had rankled traditionalists in the field of Army music and had desecrated the late, great march king. The magazine also criticized Miller's injection of casual enjoyment into the disciplined cadences of military music, stating that the Army was "swinging its hips instead of its feet." Miller defended his program of modern music, and while the conflict was blown out of proportion, the exchange of words underscored an obstacle that theatrical officers in Special Service did not face: an established Army program with its own time-honored methods and policies. Miller not only had to create a new type of Army band; he also had to prove that interesting arrangements of civilian popular tunes could serve as inspirational war anthems and could replace, or at least coexist with, marches from another time and another war.
Fortunately the GIs loved Miller's type of music, and contrary to Time's allegations, the Army sanctioned and supported Miller's activities. Non-commissioned officers were forming GI swing bands to play at camp dances, and swing programs were aired over radio to GIs relaxing in service clubs and barracks day rooms. The "Continentals," a 17-piece dance band composed of GIs in the Army Air Forces, toured American camps in Europe in 1944-45. Miller's ultimate goal was to take his AAF band overseas to perform for GIs in person and over the local airwaves. In June 1944 the Miller AAF band sailed for the United Kingdom. Enduring German buzz bomb attacks and inferior production equipment, they performed for British and American soldiers at bases on the beleaguered island. On December 15, 1944 Miller boarded a general's private airplane to fly to Paris and make arrangements for his AAF band's first appearance there. The airplane was never seen again, nor were its occupants found. Glenn Miller was one of at least 18 American entertainers who lost their lives while touring Army camps.
Captain Maurice Evans also received a favorable response from the Army brass in his effort to organize GI dramatics. Upon the dissolution of the Army Specialist Corps, Evans accepted a commission as a captain in the regular Army and hoped to become the liaison officer between the Special Service Division (as the Special Services Branch was renamed in July 1942) and its British counterpart. Instead, he was placed in charge of Army entertainment in the Territory of Hawaii late in 1942. The quiet atmosphere and constant readiness played havoc on the nerves of the island's residents. "The whole island of Oahu was in a state of siege for fear of a second Japanese attack," Evans wrote in his autobiography. "All the beaches were ringed with barbed wire. Coastal guns were everywhere and military police much in evidence. Worst of all a total blackout was rigidly enforced and, since it was November when I arrived, the nights were to seem interminable."
Evans tried to brighten those nights and provide relaxation with stage shows presented by GIs. At first, some generals in Hawaii scoffed at the selection of a Shakespearean actor to entertain GIs; but Maj. Gen. Ralph E. Smith, commanding officer of the New York Division troops in Hawaii, encouraged Evans and gave him access to his men and facilities. Following a procedure mentioned in the Special Service Unit Training Guide, Evans checked Maj. Gen. Smith's personnel file and found only one serviceman with civilian theatre experience, Technical Sergeant Howard Morris. Morris and a composer friend in the same unit had outlined an original musical show entitled "Hey, Mac!" concerning GIs' efforts to adjust to Army life in the Pacific.
Evans recruited and trained other GIs to produce and act in "Hey, Mac!" and other light and serious fare: "Five Jerks in a Jeep," "Shape Ahoy," "Macbeth," and even "The Mikado." For almost three years Evans and his troupe built sets, wrote scripts, rehearsed shows, and presented them before appreciative audiences composed of other GIs and civilians. Costumes, props, and stage equipment were borrowed, improvised, adapted from Army issue, and even scavenged from the sunken battleship Oklahoma. Evans imported civilian celebrities to co-star with his GIs, including Judith Anderson, who co-starred with Evans and the GIs in "Macbeth," and Boris Karloff, who joined the GI cast of "Arsenic and Old Lace." As many as six of Evans' GI shows -- comedies, revues, vaudeville programs and legitimate plays -- simultaneously toured the Pacific islands.
When civilian entertainers sponsored by USO-Camp Shows began to arrive in Hawaii, Evans was responsible for booking, transporting, and housing them. Among the noted stars whom he escorted were comedians Bob Hope and Jack Benny, violinist Yebudi Menuhin, and playwright - actor Moss Hart. In his autobiography, Evans expressed his preference for GI entertainers, claiming that some big-name stars lacked rapport with the servicemen. Their visits were too brief, he complained, and celebrity performers were required to spend time with military brass that should have been spent mingling with enlisted men. Moreover, USO performers did not assume total responsibility for productions, a point Evans made in connection with the visit of Irving Berlin's patriotic show, "This Is the Army." "Unlike my own men," Evans wrote, "who built and painted their own scenery...the New York visitors had no duties except to perform in their show."
There was growing demand in Hawaii for the steady entertainment supplied by Evans and his troupe. "After a time conditions became more normal in Hawaii," Evans wrote. "The blackout was terminated and the barbed wire removed from the beaches. A new and in some ways more potent enemy began to take charge -- sheer, unadulterated boredom." He added to the ranks of the Entertainment Section such talented GIs as Carl Reiner, later a television comedy writer and actor, and Hal David, later a popular music lyricist.
Evans, now a major, was writing and producing lightweight GI shows with titles like "Shoot the Works," "Campus Capers" and "Mainland Follies," and he was growing as contemptuous of them as he was of "B" grade movies that churned out of Hollywood and into Army theatres. In 1944 he and his island troupe presented a condensed version of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," starring Evans and his GIs. It became Evans' last hurrah as an Army officer. On June 30, 1945 he turned over his Hawaiian command to Allan Ludden, who was later host of television's "G.E. College Bowl" and "Password," and returned to the mainland.
Evans summed up his Special Service experience in his autobiography: "The American soldier remained very much an individual throughout the war, and the only way to get him to respond favorably was to treat him as an individual ... We gave him a chance to laugh at things that he, in particular, found amusing, or to get a lump in his throat about things he found sad, thereby doing something obliquely to relieve the intellectual desolation that was the companion of life in the Army."
In 1953 Evans produced the hit play "The Teahouse of the August Moon," a satiric comedy about the Army's occupation of the Pacific island of Okinawa. In 1955 he produced the equally successful play "No Time for Sergeants, "another Army comedy-drama that brought actor Andy Griffith to prominence.
Two other graduates of the seventh course at Fort Meade's School for Special Service assisted Bob Hope on overseas tours during World War II. When Hope arrived in England for a performing tour, Capt. Edward bowling had newsreels made of him for distribution to the U.S. Army bases in advance of Hope's visits. Capt. Michael Cullen escorted Bob Hope and Frances Langford on a tour of North Africa and Sicily. In one of his memoirs of the war years, I Never Left Home, Hope credited Cullen with finding the entertainers places to live and prepare their radio broadcasts as well as notifying them of the time and place of each stage performance for GIs. Cullen also helped Hope and Langford through German bombing raids at Bizerte, Tunisia and Palermo, Sicily. At Palermo, Hope heard the Nazi planes over his hotel, the Excelsior, and watched them dive-bomb the city's docks a few blocks away. Langford's room was showered with fallen plaster during this attack. Fortunately, none of the troupers were hurt in these incidents.
The motion picture industry immortalized the Army's Special Service escorts in a 1944 movie entitled "Four Jills in a Jeep," a comedy dramatization of an actual USO-Camp Shows tour in England and Africa by Martha Rage, Carafe Landis, Mitzi Mayfair and Kay Francis. In this motion picture, comedian Phil Silvers played the Army Special Service sergeant who accompanied the four entertainers on their trek. Coincidentally, in the late 1950s Silvers achieved his greatest fame as the scheming Army Sergeant Bilko on television's "The Phil Silvers Show."
From the cream of Hollywood came other motion picture and radio stars who toured overseas for USO-Camp Shows: A] Jolson, Bing Crosby, Adolphe Menjou, Pat O'Brien, Martha Tilton, Clifton Fadiman, Danny Kaye, Edgar Bergen, Ingrid Bergman, Ray Bolger, Stubby Kaye, Frank Sinatra, and Phil Silvers. Some of these unpaid performers were recruited by the Hollywood Victory Committee, whose chairman, motion picture actor-dancer George Murphy, had turned down a commission as a lieutenant colonel in Special Service in order to take the civilian post.
The popularity of live variety shows had been on the wane since the advent of talking pictures and network radio in the early 1930s, but personal appearances by entertainers encouraged GIs and reminded them of happy moments of relaxation and family entertainment back home. From a base office in New York, USO-Camp Shows sent almost 5,000 lesser-known performers to U.S. Army camps, outposts, and areas of operation in 42 nations to try to meet the widespread demand for entertainment. They presented musical revues and variety shows reminiscent of vaudeville shows of the 1920s, as well as songs, plays, band music and monologues. They presented their shows on board troopships and on improvised stages in jungles and deserts, at isolated posts and beachheads, and within yards of battle fronts. Seventeen USO-Camp Shows entertainers were killed in accidents and other tragic circumstances during the war.
Parts II and III of this article, dealing with the training of enlisted men in Special Service activities, and Special Service programs for the enjoyment of servicemen and women at Fort Meade, will appear in subsequent issues of History Notes.
SOURCES FOR PART I
The Chin Strap, February 27, 1942
Fort Meade Post, March 13, 1942; April 17, 1942; October 30, 1942; February 5, 1943.
Joe E. Brown, Your Kids and Mine, 1944
Joe E. Brown, Laughter is a Wonderful Thing, 1956 Maurice Evans, All This... and Evans Took A Memoir, 1987
Bob Hope, I Never Left Home, 1944
Maryland Historical Society, Maryland in World War II, 1950
John D. Millett, The United States Army in World War 11: The Army Service Forces, 1954
George Murphy, Say, Didn't You Used to be George Murphy?, 1970
National Cyclopedia of American Biography The Officer's Guide, 1942
Edward F. Patio, The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, 1989
George T. Simon, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, 1974 United Service Organizations, USO: Five Years of Service, 1946
U.S. Army, History of the School for Personnel Services, 1945. A copy is in the library of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
James Speraw and Robert Johnson, Fort Meade Museum
Edward F. Polic for copies of Army records pertaining to Glenn Miller and various notes and suggestions.
Virginia Smyers, Washington and Lee University library.
Mrs. J.H. Starling, Lexington, Virginia, for her recollections of the School for Special Service.
John "King, Elmira, New York
Wilda Martin, Glenn Miller Birthplace Society, Clarinda, Iowa
Jack McGurk, former drummer with the Continentals.
James Roan, librarian, National Museum of American History
Staff of the Odenton branch library, Anne Arundel County public library.