Brent hailed from County Galway, Ireland where he entered this world as George Nolan in 1904. Questions remain regarding the extent of his involvement in the Irish War of Independence (1919-22) and his record with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), mainly because there were three men named George Nolan in the IRA at that time and no-one seems too sure who did what. Nevertheless, he is believed to have left Ireland with a bounty on his head, travelled to Canada and then across the border into the USA. By the time America entered WW2, he was 37 years old and a qualified pilot. For a while he worked as a civilian flight instructor, but spent most of the war as a pilot with the US Coast Guard. He died in 1979 from emphysema.
Some sources argue that Bronson drove a truck throughout WW2 and never left the States, but evidence suggests this is not accurate. He did drive a truck for a while after enlisting in the USAAF in 1943, but then he served in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron. In 1945 he was assigned to a B-29 Super-fortress as a gunner. The Guam-based 61st Bombardment Squadron conducted combat missions against the Japanese home islands and Bronson flew 25 missions, receiving a Purple Heart for wounds received in action. His marriage to English actress Jill Ireland took place in 1968 and lasted until her death from cancer in 1990. Thirteen years later, Charlie died from respiratory failure at 81.
The Jewish funny man who created Blazing Saddles (1974) served as a corporal in 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion of the 78th Infantry Division during World War Two after being drafted as an 18 year-old. Part of his duty involved diffusing land mines, and he saw action in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Towards the end of the war he helped organize shows for captured German and American troops as the Allies swept through Germany. At the time of this writing (August 2019), he is in his 93rd year and still going strongly.
For a number of years TV’s Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) ran with the story that he had been married three times, had served in the US Navy, and was wounded (a bullet in the stomach) on Okinawa during WW2. He even said that one of his wives, Annette Sutherland, died in the same 1943 plane crash that claimed British actor Leslie Howard, even though the aircraft’s passenger list does not mention her. These stories were all part of Burr’s endeavors to mask his homosexuality. Even his naval service and the Okinawa wounding appear to have been fabrications. I include him in these lists simply because many fans are familiar with the yarn he spun and probably still believe it. It needs to be refuted. Cancer claimed him at 76 in 1993.
Drafted into the USAAF, Buttons appeared in the Army Air Force’s Broadway show ‘Winged Victory’, along with a number of other stars. A year later he was in the movie version of Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor. He also entertained troops in the European Theater in the same ‘Jeep Show’ unit as Mickey Rooney. He lived to be 87 before dying from cardiovascular disease in 2003.
By 1944, Cagney had wowed movie audiences with his singing and dancing as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, so he worked up a routine with Fred Astaire on a 1944 USO tour, the highlight being one of his own numbers from Yankee Doodle Dandy. He was 45 years old at the time when a young GI challenged him, yelling, ‘Hey, Jim, you’re getting old.’ It was like a red rag to a bull. Jimmy had the young man simply hop from one foot to another in time with Cagney’s dancing. Before Jimmy was through the first chorus the kid was ready to collapse! Most unusually for Hollywood, Cagney was proud of the fact that he never once cheated on his wife of 64 years, but admitted that he nearly gave in to a seduction attempt by Merle Oberon while the two stars were on tour entertaining US troops during the war. His marriage to Frances, incidentally, ended only with his death in 1986 at the age of 86.
Carey appeared in the 1942 movie Wake Island, and it inspired him (and a few of his fellow players) to enlist in the US Marine Corps. His enlistment halted the momentum of his fledgling acting career, but he was nevertheless commissioned and served in Air Warning Squadron 2 in the Pacific, where he remained on active duty until 1947, attaining the rank of captain along the way. For almost three decades (1965-94) he was Dr. Tom Horton, the central character, in television’s Days of our Lives. He was still doing the show when lung cancer ended his life in his 81st year.
The British actor who played Lord Peter Wimsey on television (and radio for that matter), put his acting career on hold to take a commission in the 22nd Dragoons, Royal Armored Corps and served in the Normandy Campaign. He lost the tip of one finger in an accident with the hatch turret of a Valentine Tank, finishing the war with the rank of major. Carmichael was enjoyable in a smallish in the 1955 film The Colditz Story and was Bertie Wooster on the BBC. He died of natural causes at 89 in 2010.
The actor known to all baby-boomers as Ed Norton from the fifties TV series The Honeymooners, was drafted into the US Army as an infantryman and a machine-gun crewman during the Second World War. Serving with the 28th Infantry Division at the Battle of Normandy in 1944, he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel. As the result of an operation, one leg was left almost an inch shorter than the other and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. For many years he was addicted to alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates, but he died in his sleep in 2003, just five days short of his 85th birthday.