Actually it was not too unusual in the period between the wars for people in the motion picture industry to be around the people of the Axis. The Axis powers had agents all over the world, which of course included California.
Hal Roach's involvement with these people would have gone back further than is commonly believed.
Although this story is not well known today, Charlie Chaplin's butler Kono, who he hired back in the silent era, was actually a Japanese spy.
Chaplin saw nothing wrong with Kono, but Paulette Goddard disliked him and in 1934 prevailed on Chaplin to release him from his employ.
Hal Roach seems to have been fingered as a facist sympathizer mainly because of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who claimed that he would restore to his country the glory that was Rome, and as an ally of Hitler was on the wrong side during World War II.
But at the time that Roach's association with Mussolini began, things were different.
Before war broke out in Europe, Mussolini was not always thought of as an enemy. Some people said they admired his accomplishments. You even see Mussolini depicted as one of the good guys in some old cartoons.
Benito Mussolini in I LIKE MOUNTAIN MUSIC, 1933
American movies were very popular in Italy at the time. Including Laurel and Hardy movies. Mussolini decided to bring Hal Roach to Italy to make a movie. Roach, who traveled to Europe but hadn't actually made a movie there before, thought at the time that it sounded like a good idea.
The thought that I have is that Roach thought it was all just business, but seeing the son of Mussolini posed with the Our Gang kids doesn't seem quite right to me, either.
Roach didn't make another movie with Rosina Lawrence after PICK A STAR in 1937, which I consider the end of what had been the Thelma Todd series. But he did send her to Italy to make a movie as part of his "Roach and Mussolini" operation. That deal was called off because of opposition by the rest of the film industry, but she did make another movie while she was in the country.
Which was a fictional story about an American movie star who came to Italy.
Meanwhile, Roach ( as well as Walt Disney ) was also criticized for publicly greeting Leni Riefenstahl when she came to Hollywood in 1938 to promote her documentary OLYMPIA while the rest of the movie industry shunned her because what she had made was Nazi propaganda.
Another Hollywood personality who got mixed up with Mussolini in this period was the Countess Difrasso*, frequently described in glowing terms in Hollywood histories for being associated with Gary Cooper and various other movie stars.
Difrasso and Bugsy Siegel both went to Italy and attempted to sell Mussolini what was supposed to be a revolutionary explosive which fizzled out when tested. Bugsy Siegel seems to have decided he didn't like Mussolini after that, but none of the gangsters over here liked Mussolini anyway. It seems the mafia was another bunch he'd been fighting with over there.
But to get back to Hal Roach: is there any indication that he really learned his lesson after his experiences with Axis filmmakers?
In 1942, Hal Roach released THE DEVIL WITH HITLER, which could be compared to the Three Stooges Hitler parodies that were released around that time.
During the war, Hal Roach was called back into the army and his studio was taken over by the army and used for making training films. They called it "Fort Roach".
So it is clear that Roach himself was actually involved in the war effort. As were some of the people who had been working for him before the war.
Laurel and Hardy were part of "The Hollywood Victory Caravan" in 1942, the first big group of entertainers that toured army bases and entertained the troops.
They traveled by train,
And they traveled by plane.
Mayfair, Louis Polanski, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jane
Pickens, Benay Venuta, and Show M.C. John Garfield.
Paulette Goddard, who had worked for Hal Roach, traveled to the China-Burma-India theater with the USO in 1944 to entertain the troops.
And Carole Landis, who became famous at the Roach studio, went on to become one of the movie stars who spent the most time entertaining the troops during the war years.
Carole Landis went on one tour with Mitzi Mayfair ( who had been in the Hollywood Victory Caravan with Laurel and Hardy ), Kay Francis, and Martha Raye.
The movie FOUR JILLS IN A JEEP was based on their experiences on this tour.
Finally, a word from author William Donati about the story that Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy.
Reblogged from http://www.theerrolflynnblog.com/2012/05/04/william-donati-chimes-in/
Noted hoax biographer Charles Higham is dead.
For decades Higham feasted on the corpses of dead celebrities: Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, Cary Grant, and others were victims of Higham’s degenerate imagination.
I proved that Higham engaged in the most heinous crime a non-fiction writer can perpetrate: he engaged in literary fraud to prove his thesis. Higham rewrote and published a government surveillance document to lie to readers that Flynn had been identified by authorities as a Nazi spy. The Los Angeles Times published my findings in “Shadows on a Legend” by Garry Abrams, March 24, 1989. Higham crowned himself as the worst hoax biographer in modern times.
* The Countess Difrasso was also alleged to be an axis spy.
Charlie Chaplin Assasination plot:
THE DEVIL WITH HITLER:
Countess Defrasso and Bugsy Siegel involved with Mussolini:
Errol Flynn - William Donati On Charles Higham:
Paulette Goddard google news:
PORTRAID OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL ( Google Books ):
Hal Roach and Mussolini ( A HISTORY OF THE HAL ROACH STUDIOS ):
Hal Roach and Mussolini ( LIFE ):
Hal Roach defends Mussolini deal:
Hollywood, Hal Roach, and the Anti-Nazi League:
Hal Roach Studio leased by the army ( Fort Roach ):
Thelma Todd mentioned in Bund-related FBI file:
USO camp shows: