WORLD WAR TWO – The stars & their stories – PT60.

WORLD WAR TWO – The stars & their stories – PT60.

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GEORGE TAKEI (1937- )                                                                                                                                     

George Takei portrayed Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the original TV series of Star Trek (1966-69). He was born in Los Angeles in 1937 and his father named him George after England’s King George VI, whose coronation had taken place shortly after young Takei’s birth. The boy’s Japanese mother was a native-born American from Sacramento, California, while his father hailed from Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, George and his family were rounded up and forced to live in converted horse stables at Santa Anita Park before being transported from their home in Los Angeles to the Rohwer Relocation Centre in Arkansas, as per Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. As the war drew to an end in 1945, eight year-old George and his family were moved again, this time to a camp at Tule Lake, Northern California. The Takei family had several relatives living in Japan during the war, including an aunt and baby cousin in Hiroshima. Their burnt corpses were discovered in a ditch after the atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945.

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George & Brad Altman

‘I went to school in a black tar-paper barrack’, he told an interviewer in 2006, ‘and began the day seeing the barbed-wire fence, and thank God those barbed-wire fences are now long gone for Japanese-Americans. But I still see an invisible, legalistic barbed-wire that keeps me, my partner of 19 years, Brad Altman, and another group of Americans separated from a normal life. That’s what I have been advocating on the Human Rights Campaign Equality Tour – I call it the ‘Equality Trek’.’ George and Brad were legally married in 2008. At 83 (in 20120), George is still fighting for LGBT rights. His internment during the Second World War, has also given him a platform to speak out against the Trump Administration’s rhetoric about immigrants and immigration policies.

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ROBERT TAYLOR (1911-69)                   

A native of Filley, Nebraska, Bob Taylor was lumbered with the abominable birth name of Spangler Arlington Brugh. Fortunately, his good looks and athletic prowess as a teenager seemed to counteract any adverse reaction to his rather effeminate handle. Needless to say, once he signed with MGM in 1934, the studio quickly discarded it and dubbed him Robert Taylor. By the time America entered the Second World War, he had emerged as an established leading man and one of the hottest matinee idols of his day.  

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Taylor & Deborah Kerr in Quo Vadis (1950)                                          

He was thirty when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor and, despite his age, was quick to enroll in the US Navy. He held a civilian pilot’s license and had clocked up 110 hours in the air, enabling him to be commissioned a lieutenant junior grade, although not in a flying capacity. Not in the beginning anyway. Before long, he was sent to Livermore, California, where he made no fewer than seventeen training films for naval air cadets. His biographer insisted that Taylor really preferred the Navy over Hollywood and tried hard to get combat duty. The authorities steadfastly turned him down, claiming he was too old. Besides, by that time he was too valuable as an instructor anyway. The frustrated actor was discharged in November ’45 without ever having fired a shot in anger. In 1944, much to his chagrin, he even found himself narrating the documentary titled The Fighting Lady.

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Stanwyck & Taylor

After peace was declared he resumed his Hollywood screen career and soon re-established his position near the top echelon of bankable stars. Hit movies such as Quo Vadis (1950), Ivanhoe (1951) and Knights of the Round Table (1953) followed in quick succession. Back in ’39 he had wed actress Barbara Stanwyck amid rumors that the union was ordered by studio heads to ward off suspicions that both bride and groom were either gay or bisexual. Neither party ever confirmed the rumors throughout their lives. They divorced in 1951. Taylor’s habit of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day since his youth eventually took its toll in the late sixties. In October 1968, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and by June the following year he was dead.

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TERRY-THOMAS (1911-90)                     

This beloved, gap-toothed British comedian was not born as Terry-Thomas, of course. He greeted this world as Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens in Finchley, London in July 1911. Deemed by his school’s dramatic society to be without any acting talent, he took to music instead and was soon fronting his own jazz band. Determined to break out of what he referred to as ‘middle-class mediocrity’, he developed a crusty upper-class accent, performed comedy monologues and impersonations; then gave himself the hyphenated name Terry-Thomas.

The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) was formed in 1938 and was the British equivalent of the USO. Terry-Thomas and his then wife joined ENSA and were initially posted to France where they appeared in a variety show until, in April ’42, TT was called up. He reported to the Royal Corps of Signals in Yorkshire and after basic training was promoted to corporal. At the start of ’43, his fitness was downgraded following the discovery of a duodenal ulcer, although he continued to appear in cabarets and variety shows while still in the British Army. He and his ‘Stars in Battledress’ unit traveled in Britain and Europe on a tour that lasted several months. He finished the war with the rank of sergeant.

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As J. Algernon Hawthorne

His movie career hit its peak in the sixties (on both sides of the Atlantic), as he often portrayed toffee-nosed English bounders and cads. And he was hilarious. In 1963, he was the unscrupulous J. Algernon Hawthorne in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and, two years later, was even more dastardly as Sir Percy Ware-Armitage in the enjoyable Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. On a more serious note, he was about to co-star in a movie called Easy Come, Easy Go with pop-singing duo Jan Berry and Dean Torrence when tragedy struck. There was a car wreck during shooting, in which Berry suffered severe brain damage and paralysis. The picture, which would also have marked the screen debut of Mel Brooks, was canceled, and the successful recording duo of Jan & Dean were no more.

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TT as the dastardly Sir Percy Ware-Armitage

At the apex of his popularity TT purchased a villa in Ibiza and moved there with his twenty-six year old second wife. They led an exorbitant and fun-filled lifestyle on the island for several years until he was diagnosed in the seventies with Parkinson’s disease. The crippling treatment costs forced the couple to sell their villa and move back to a tiny bedsit in Britain. The destitute but beloved actor became the beneficiary of kind-hearted show business friends who raised 51,000 pounds for him at a benefit! He died at a high care nursing home in Surrey in 1990, at the age of seventy-eight.

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