… Ken Burns’ The War which began last night on PBS. Let’s not forget Tinseltown’s small role in this production. Narrated by actor Keith David, the 7-part series also features the first-person voices of Tom Hanks, Josh Lucas, Bobby Cannavale, Samuel L. Jackson, Eli Wallach, Robert Wahlberg, Carolyn McCormack, Adam Arkin, and Kevin Conway. But, sadly, I’m sure there will be no mention of William Morris Agency’ legendary leader, Abe Lastfogel, who reluctantly took over, after much prodding, Hollywood’s USO shows. At first in November 1941 he refused to accept a title (he finally accepted the presidency in December 1942), feeling that he couldn’t afford to spend enough time away from the Morris office to deserve one. But Lastfogel soon devoted himself full-time to the war effort and left the running of the agency to the men below him. (Well, at least those who weren’t being drafted, like Johnny Hyde — Norman Brokaw’s uncle — who had a bad ticker.) Lastfogel’s daunting task was to establish order among a number of earnest but bewildered citizens of the entertainment community who were anxious to do their part for every U.S. soldier on every battlefield on every war front. Largely because of Lastfogel, the United States never had to enact Great Britain’s and Russia’s national service laws which made most performers subject to the wishes of their governments. In all, there were 17 fatalities among these performers known as “soldiers in greasepaint” who forged the largest production entity in the history of the world. After the war, Lastfogel refused all official and military honors, but did accept the nation’s highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, which he received from President Harry Truman.
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