We’ve touched before on the way Hollywood threw its collective self into the war effort (and we probably will again). Whether it was enlisting, going on bond tours, doing Red Cross work, volunteering at a canteen, doing special radio shows–Hollywood was busy. Of course, the stars also did camp shows and tours of hospitals. Only one such tour was immortalized on film, at least somewhat, and that was the USO trip taken by Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Carol Landis, and Mitzi Mayfair in 1944’s Four Jills In A Jeep. First chronicled in a book of the same title by Carole Landis, the film is a nice little snapshot of a highly successful trip.
Most of the principal cast play themselves, and the film opens with Kay, Carole, Martha, and Mitzi recording an episode of Command Perfomance at CBS. The bill that night features not only our four principles, but Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra and Betty Grable singing “Cuddle Up A Little Closer.” Afterwards, Carole, Mitzi, and Martha are talking, and Martha is thinking out loud about how she wishes they could take the entertainment right to the men in the field. Kay overhears them, and it just so happens that she’s putting together an entertainment troop.
The ladies jet off to an undisclosed location in England and are met by Sergeant Eddie Hart (Phil Silvers), who’s rather the explosive type. Not that he has a bad temper, but he just does things in a big way. Eddie zooms them off to their first Army camp, where they have to get used to the cold and the sound of distant gunfire. The troops are, naturally, overjoyed to see them, and the ladies perform whenever and wherever they can. Jimmy Dorsey and his band are also along, as is Dick Haymes (called Lieutenant Dick Ryan in the film). The plot is as simple as that.
Well, not quite. Carole meets a captain, Ted Warren (John Harvey). They fall madly in love and get married, natch. Mitzi and Dick were former partners on the vaudeville circuit who have a mildly contentious relationship. Martha wants to throw things at Eddie every time he opens his mouth. At least at first, anyway. Kay and a captain have a sweet but understated sorta-romance. Martha’s enthusiasm for following the troops leads the ladies from relatively quiet England to not-so-quiet Algiers, where they help take care of wounded soldiers. Amidst all of this, there’s time to squeeze in cameos appearances from Alice Faye, George Jessel, and Carmen Miranda.
Nostalgia is the order of the day with this film. The songs are charming but, with the exception of “You’ll Never Know” and “No Love, No Nothing,” are of the time. Although, I do have memories of one of my grandpas playing one of the Dick Haymes numbers, “You Send Me” on the organ. It might be dated, but that’s half the fun. I always enjoy filling out my knowledge of a time period with details that go beyond the usual stuff.
As far as accuracy goes, while the film gives an idea of what the tour was like, it’s not the total picture. The show that these ladies put on for the troops must have been truly memorable. Their performances were very often spontateous and never failed to raise morale. The music in the film was likely not performed on the actual tour–what the G.I.s heard may have been closer to this:
Still, there was a small measure of authenticity. Carole wore her real-life wedding dress in the movie, but her captain was named Thomas Wallace. The marriage was short-lived, and they divorced in July of 1945. They loved each other, but Wallace wanted Carole to give up acting and be a housewife, which Carole wasn’t interested in at that point in her career, even though she did want children.
The film also shows the ladies taking shelter in a slit trench during a bombing raid in Algiers. However, while the film shows them sitting nervously but prettily in a slit trench hanging on to their helmets, the reality was quite a bit different. Carole remembered it this way:
We were all dressed to the hilt for the boys, with our last remaining pair of stockings, high-heeled shoes and the best dresses we could muster… Suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose…Across the pitch-black field, with the ack-ack blazing away like sixty…we stumbled, fell, and were flung into a hole, and crawled the rest of the way through the mud on our hands and knees…We were in a trench that had been boarded up overhead for protection against shrapnel. At either end…was an entrance, and the boys kept piling in from both sides, with the four of us in the middle. Kay and Mitzi were lucky; they were wearing their trench coats. But I had on my silver fox and Martha was wearing her mink. And we were sitting in about three inches of mud.
Some have said that it’s unfortunate the film glosses over the hardships the women went through. There were critics that were disappointed in the lack of factual detail, and Carole Landis was unhappy that her book was all but ignored except for the title. On the other hand, 20th Century Fox may not have wanted to weigh down what was supposed to be wartime escapism with gritty realism. There’s no doubt that the media of the day were selective as to how much detail they gave about what the men went through on the battlefront, and considering all they got from the news, the public would have been looking for a release. In that sense, Four Jills In a Jeep can be forgiven for its omissions. Sure, it could have been better, but for what it is, it’s a fun movie.
All righty, see you on Monday for the Robin Williams Blogathon! Thanks for reading…
Yellin, Emily. Our Mothers’ War. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2004.