Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hollywood And The Axis Powers

There are stories about certain Hollywood personalities being somehow linked to the people who brought you World War II, an alliance of warmongers who termed themselves the Axis powers, because they claimed to be the axis upon which the rest of the world would revolve.

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.

Doesn't Kono look friendly here with Chaplin?
Many of the people who were around Chaplin in this period would also have been familiar with Kono, who amoung other things seems to have been his chauffer and drove him around.
Kono ( third from the left ) in a picture with Laurel and Hardy.

Chaplin saw nothing wrong with Kono, but Paulette Goddard disliked him and in 1934 prevailed on Chaplin to release him from his employ.

Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in Tokyo, 1936.

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.

 September 23, 1937. Original caption: "The first member of his famous family to visit these United States, Vittorio Mussolini, 20-year-old son of Italy's Premier, is pictured (center) on board the S.S. Rex on his way to New York. At right is Hal Roach, pioneer comedy movie maker, who will be Mussolini's mentor during his study of American film making. At left is Charles C. Puttyjohn. A scheduled Communist protest demonstration to greet the son of Il Duce on arrival at New York was foiled when the Coast Guard cutter Manhattan disembarked the visitor from the liner down the bay and brought him to the city by an unobtrusive route."
The communists opposed the Facists and there were many battles between them in Europe even before the war began. Here in the United States the communists agitated against the son of Mussolini as he was their enemy. Their outcry against Mussolini came to the attention of the general public.
September 26, 1937. Original caption: "What foreign dictator is often photographed in a pose strikingly similar to the gentleman on the right? Il Duce, of course. And the speaker in this instance is Vittorio Mussolini, hero of the Italian campaign in Abyssinia, is pictured at Burbank Air Terminal with his host, Hal Roach, noted film producer."
"Il Duce" was what Mussolini was called in Italy. "Hero of the Italian campaign in Abyssinia" refers to the part Vittorio played in the conquest of Ethiopa. 
Above: "Vittorio Mussolini, son of Italy's dictator who is here to study motion picture production technique, is shown being greeted by "Our Gang" when he visited Hal Roach Studios. Left to right: "Alfalfa" Switzer; Hal Roach, Jr., "Porky" Lee; "Spanky" McFarland; Vittorio Mussolini; Baby Patsy May (on Vittorio's knee) and Darla Hood with Pete the pup."

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.

The caption for this photo merely mentions the role she actually got.

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.

But for a filmmaker to greet another filmmaker might not mean much of anything. It could be that this too was related to business.

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.

Countess Difrasso and Gary Cooper in the thirties

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.

 THE DEVIL WITH HITLER had a story involving a ( literally ) hellish plot to replace the Devil with Hitler.

Not surprisingly, the Devil was prominently featured in the publicity.
As were axis leaders Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini.
 One of the stars was Marjorie Woodworth, who was in BROADWAY LIMITED with Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly, both of whom had costarred in two-reel comedies with Thelma Todd.

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".

                                                                       Fort Roach

Ronald Reagan at "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.

The Hollywood Victory Caravan included Eddie
                                      Dowling President of Camp Shows, Ray Bolger, Mitzi
                                       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

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.
William Donati

* The Countess Difrasso was also alleged to be an axis spy.

Charlie Chaplin Assasination plot:


Countess Defrasso and Bugsy Siegel involved with Mussolini:

Errol Flynn:

Errol Flynn - William Donati On Charles Higham:

Paulette Goddard:

Paulette Goddard google news:,2348003

Leni Riefenstahl


Hal Roach and Mussolini ( A HISTORY OF THE HAL ROACH STUDIOS ):

Hal Roach and Mussolini ( LIFE ):

Hal Roach defends Mussolini deal:,1732948

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:


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