Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts

Khalid Elhassan - September 14, 2022

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind. Cultura Estadao

The ‘King of Hollywood’ Left His Realm to Go Fight the Nazis

Once known as “The King of Hollywood”, William Clark Gable (1901 – 1960) was one of the silver screen’s greatest legends. He starred in over 60 movies, and is probably best known for his role as Rhett Butler in the blockbuster Gone With the Wind. He won an Oscar as Best Actor for his lead in It Happened One Night. Other notable films in which he starred and that met both critical and commercial success include Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hucksters, and The Misfits, his last film, as well as that of his co-star, Marilyn Monroe. When America entered WWII, Gable was Hollywood’s biggest star at the time and its greatest box office draw. He gave it all up, and took a break from the silver screen to go and fight the Axis.

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Clark Gable, right, in The Painted Desert. Turner Classic Movies

Gable had quit school at age sixteen to work in a tire factory, and decided to become an actor after he saw a play. As he nursed his dream, he took acting lessons and worked a variety of jobs, from oil field roustabout to necktie salesman. In 1924, he married his acting coach and the couple moved to Hollywood so he could focus on his dream. He began his Hollywood career as an extra. After years of bit parts and stints in the theater, he got a contract from MGM in 1930, and garnered notice for a powerful performance in his first starring role in The Painted Desert.

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Clark Gable in uniform in WWII. History Network

Clark Gable Flew Combat Missions in WWII

Clark Gable built on his success in The Painted Desert. When MGM paired him with established female stars such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, the combination steamed the screen and he instantly became a star. By the time America entered WWII, he was MGM’s biggest earner. When his wife died in an air crash as she returned from a war bonds tour, a devastated Gable decided to enlist. Despite MGM’s reluctance to let its most lucrative star go, he joined the US Army Air Forces in 1942, with the hope of becoming an aerial gunner.

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
B-17 waist gunner Clark Gable. American Air Museum

The Hollywood star was sent instead to Officer Candidate School. He graduated in October, 1942, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. On personal orders from the Air Forces’ chief, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, Gable was sent to the Eighth Air Force in England, with orders to make a combat recruitment film for aerial gunners titled Combat America. In 1943, to obtain the combat footage needed for his recruitment film, Gable flew five combat missions as a B-17 gunner, including a bombing raid into Germany.

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Clark Gable and crew next to a B-17. Pinterest

Clark Gable Wanted to Fly More WWII Combat Missions, but MGM Wouldn’t Allow It

Clark Gable’s presence in the WWII bomb missions was for propaganda and PR purposes. However, the dangers he ran were all too real. In one mission, his B-17 lost an engine and had its stabilizer damaged after it was hit by antiaircraft fire and was attacked by enemy fighters. Over Germany, his B-17 had two crewmen wounded and another killed after the airplane was hit by flak. Shrapnel went through Gable’s boot, and almost took off his head. When MGM heard of its most valuable actor’s brushes with death, it worked its connections – despite his objections – to have him reassigned to noncombat duty.

Obi Wan Kenobi Took On the Third Reich and Other Lesser Known World War II Facts
Combat America, Clark Gable’s WWII aerial gunner recruitment film. Amazon

For his service in Europe, Gable was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal. In late 1943, he was ordered back to the US to edit the film. He tried to get another combat assignment, but none came. By the summer of 1944, after the Normandy invasion came and went without a combat assignment, he finally gave up and requested to be relieved from active duty on grounds that he was 43-years-old by then, and overage for combat. He stayed in the Air Forces reserves until 1947, when he finally resigned his commission.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Air Museum in Britain – Clark Gable

Arlington National Cemetery – Lee Marvin, Private First Class, United States Marine Corps, Movie Actor

Association for Iranian Studies – Gevork Vartanian and Tehran 43: What Do We Know About the Legendary Soviet Spy?

BBC, January 11th, 2012 – Soviet Spying Legend Gevork Vartanian Dies at 87

Coe, Jonathan – Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life (1994)

Daily Mail, June 30th, 2017 – The Worst Traitor of All: How an East End Jailbird Lied and Cheated His Way Across France, Joined the Nazis and Condemned 150 Resistance Fighters to Death

Defense Media Network – Actor Clark Gable Served in Uniform, Flew Combat Missions in WWII

Encyclopedia Britannica – Alec Guinness

Harris, Tomas – Garbo: The Spy Who Saved D-Day (2004)

History Collection – Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic Was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk

History of Yesterday – What Happened to the Nazi National Treasure?

Independent, The, January 14th, 2012 – Gevork Vartanian: Spy Who Helped Foil Churchill Death Plot

Los Angeles Times, October 8th, 1987 – Lee Marvin is Buried With Military Honors

Macintyre, Ben – Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman, Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy (2007)

Macintyre, Ben – Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (2012)

Military dot Com – Famous Veteran: Jimmy Stewart

Military dot Com – The Story Behind the Real Events That Inspired ‘Kelly’s Heroes’

Murphy, Brendan M. – Turncoat: The Strange Case of British Sergeant Harold Cole, the Worst Traitor of the War (1987)

National Archives, Prologue Magazine, Spring 1999, Vol. 31, no. 1 – Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure

Saturday Evening Post, June 23rd, 2020 – The True Story of Kelly’s Heroes

Sayer, Ian – Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery, and the Greatest Criminal Coverup (1984)

War History Online – A Soviet Spy Who Saved the ‘Big Three’ at the Tehran Conference Was 19 Years Old at the Time

World War II Database – Alec Guinness

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