Dan Dailey (1913-1978) [Dizzy Dean in The Pride of St. Louis (1952); The Wings of Eagles (1957)]. Born in New York City, Dailey started his career in vaudeville, later making his Broadway debut in the stage version of Babes in Arms. When signed to MGM, the studio initially casted him as a Nazi in The Mortal Storm (1940). The studio realized their mistake and cast him in musical films thereafter. Then, after serving in World War II, Dailey later returned to acting to make more musicals.
Royal Dano (1922-1994) was born in New York. He ran away from home at age 12 and lived in such states as Texas, Florida and California. He struck a deal with his father to continue his education, but still be able to travel around the country. Dano eventually attended NYU. His performing career began as part of the 44th Special Service Provisional Company during World War II. A few of Dano's more memorable roles include the Tattered Soldier in The Red Badge of Courage, a sickly bookworm bad guy in Johnny Guitar, Elijah in Moby Dick, Peter in King of Kings, a cattle rustler in The Culpepper Cattle Company, a coroner in Electra Glide in Blue, a profanity-spewing preacher in Big Bad Mama and Ten Spot in The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Helmut Dantine (1917-1982) [The Pied Piper (1942); The Fifth Musketeer (1979)] was an actor/ director/ producer born in Vienna, Austria. He made a name for himself as an actor during World War II playing German soldiers and Nazi villains in Hollywood films, most notably, Mrs. Miniver (1942). The young Dantine was a fervent anti-fascist/ anti-Nazi activist in Vienna. As a leader in the anti-Nazi youth movement the 19-year old was summarily rounded up and imprisoned at the Rosserlaende concentration camp. Family influence persuaded a physician to grant him a medical release that June and he was immediately sent to Los Angeles to stay with a family friend and he quickly found work in movies.
Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) [Sweet and Low (1947) (as Will Maston Trio); The Cannonball Run (1981)] was an American all-around entertainer. He danced, sang, played vibraphone and drums, did impressions, and acted. He was born in Harlem, New York City to a Puerto Rican mother and an Afro-American father who were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents split up. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. As a child he learned how to dance from his father, Sammy Davis, Sr. and his uncle Will Mastin, who led the dance troup his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a young child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his long career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing. Mastin and his father had shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance, but during World War II, Davis served in the United States Army, where he was first confronted by strong racial prejudice. While in the service, however, he joined an entertainment unit, and found that the spotlight removed some of the prejudice. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.
Dennis Day (1916-1988) [Buck Benny Rides Again (1940); The Girl Next Door (1953)] was born Owen Patrick McNulty in the Bronx, New York, the son of an Ireland-born stationary engineer. The strength and promise of his lilting tenor voice was first discovered while performing with his glee club at St. Patrick's Cathedral High School. Graduating from Manhattan College, he first had designs on a law career and starting singing in order to earn money for tuition. Jack Benny gave him a break in 1939 and kept him employed as a singer and naive comic sidekick until Benny's death. His "Gee, Mr. Benny!" became a well-known catchphrase on the show. Dennis in fact would play second-banana to the comedian until Benny passed in 1974. He served as a Lieutenant (j.g.) in the Navy during World War II from 1944-1946.
Doris Day (1922- ) [Calamity Jane
(1953); Love Me or Leave Me (1955); Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)] was born, Doris Mary Ann Von Kapplehoff, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her parents divorced when she was about 10 and she lived with her mother. She liked to dance and aspired to become a professional ballerina, but an automobile accident that crushed a leg ended whatever hopes she had of dancing on stage. It was a terrible setback, but after taking singing lessons she found a new vocation, and began singing with local bands. Day's agent talked her into taking a screen test at Warner Bros. and she starred in her first film, Romance on the High Seas (1948). To this day she has a fear of flying that stemmed from tours with Bob Hope to entertain the troops during World War II that resulted in some close calls in impenetrable winter weather. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2004 but could not attend the White House award ceremony because of her intense fear of flying. She called President Bush with an apology. She almost turned down her role in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) because it was to be filmed in London and Marrakesh. Her husband and manager, Martin Melcher talked her into accepting the role. Devoted to the well being of pets, she has spent her years in retirement running pet shelters in Carmel, California.
Richard Denning (1914-1998) [An Affair to Remember (1957); Some Like it Hot (1959)]. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, as Louis Albert Denninger Jr. After graduating from Woodbury College in Los Angeles, California he joined his father in the garment business and worked his way up from office boy to vice president. He never liked accounting and looked for diversions in little theater groups as a hobby. Acting suited him so well he switched careers. He starred in such movies as Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) but he's most famous for his role as Governor of Hawaii Paul Jameson in the CBS television network series Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980). During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on a submarine as Yeoman 1st Class.
Andy Devine (1905-1977) [The Spirit of Notre Dame (1931); Myra Breckinridge (1970)] was born Andrew Vabre Devine in Flagstaff, Arizona. The later-to-be Rotund comic character actor was raised in nearby Kingman, Arizona, the son of Irish-American hotel operator Thomas Devine and his wife Amy. Devine was an able athlete as a student and actually played semi-pro football under a phony name Jeremiah Schwartz, often erroneously presumed to be his real name. Devine used the false name in order to remain eligible for college football. At 36 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he was too old for active duty but he was an avid pilot and owned a flying school that trained flyers for the government during World War II.
Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) [Destry Rides Again (1939); The Flame of New Orleans (1941)]. Best remembered during WWII, Dietrich -- a German who had renounced her country following the rise of the Nazis and rejected Hitler's request that she return -- became an ardent and fearless supporter of the Allied Forces, performing hundreds of times for the troops as near the war zone as she could get.
James Doohan (1920-2005) ["Scotty" on Star Trek]. Landed in Normandy with the U. S. Army on D-Day. Landed on Juno Beach on D-Day as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Soon after, while walking across a mine field, he and his unit were attacked by enemy fire, as the Germans shot at them with machine guns. He was hit by four bullets to the leg, his middle finger of his right hand was shot off, and a bullet struck his chest. His life was saved when it hit a silver cigarette case which had been given to him by his brother.
Kirk Douglas (1916- ) [Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957); In Harm's Way (1965)]. He only appeared in a handful of minor Broadway productions before joining the U.S. Navy in 1941, and then after the end of hostilities in 1945, returned to the theater and some radio work. On the insistence of ex-classmate Lauren Bacall, movie producer Hal B. Wallis screen-tested Douglas and cast him in the lead role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). His performance received rave reviews and further work quickly followed, including an appearance in the low-key drama I Walk Alone (1948), the first time he worked alongside fellow future screen legend, Burt Lancaster. [Lancaster and Douglas acted together in 7 movies: Victory at Entebbe (1976) (TV); Tough Guys (1986); Seven Days in May (1964); The List of Adrian Messenger (1963); I Walk Alone (1948); Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957); and The Devil's Disciple (1959)]
Andrew Duggan (1923-1988) [Patterns (1954); A Return to Salem's Lot 1987] was born in Franklin, Indiana on December 28, 1923, he was raised in Texas and went to college at Indiana University. There, on a speech and drama scholarship, he began to act and perform however this was interrupted by being called into the service. In World War II where he saw action overseas, he was befriended by actor Melvyn Douglas who led his division. With such encouragement, as well as meeting and becoming familiar with some Broadway folks, Duggan went into acting. From 1953 through practically the time of his death in 1988, he was a fixture in both movies and television. It is impossible to list all the different shows this prolific actor was part of either as support, guest or star. But to give an idea, he was General Ed Britt on Twelve O'Clock High, he was Cal Calhoun in Bourbon Beat and his most famous role as Murdoch Lancer in Lancer and the original John Walton opposite Patricia Neal in The Homecoming, A Christmas Story. Many people will remember him as "Howitzer" Al Hoolihan, the father of Hotlips in MASH. It was in 1954 that he married the Broadway actress Elizabeth Logue whom he always called "Betty". Both Andrew Duggan and his wife were cremated, their ashes scattered at Lake Arrowhead, California.
Charles Durning (1923-2012) [Dog Day Afternoon (1975); The Choirboys (1977)]. A genuine World War II hero , he served with the 1st Infantry Division. Drafted early in the war at age 21, he was first assigned as a rifleman with the 398th Infantry Regiment, and later served overseas with the 3rd Army Support troops and the 386th Anti-aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion. He participated in the Normandy Invasion of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and was among the first troops to land at Omaha Beach. He was wounded in the hip and legs three days after he got off the boat. His valor earned him several decorations, including both the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals, three Purple Hearts and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. For the rest of his life, Durning carried a bullet in his hip, and it also took him 50 years before he was able to talk about his D-Day experiences. He was one of a few survivors to the infamous massacre of American POWs by German SS troops at Malmedy, Belgium, during World War II. The surrendering engineering battalion, captured behind enemy lines when the main American forces retreated, were gathered together and brought to a large field. As the German guards backed away from the prisoners, machine guns that were hidden in trucks opened fire on them. Approximately 88 US soldiers died, a good number of them by a single shot at close range through the head, indicating that those who survived the initial volley were subsequently executed. Only about 20 of the group of approximately 100 managed to escape the massacre and make their way to American lines. The incident was re-created in Battle of the Bulge (1965) starring Henry Fonda.
Dick Van Dyke (1925- ) was born in West Plains, Missouri but grew up in Danville, Illinois with brother Jerry Van Dyke and fellow celebrities Gene Hackman and Bobby Short. Was a graduate of Danville High School, where he was in the drama club. He was launched to stardom in the 1960 musical Bye-Bye Birdie, for which he won a Tony Award, and then later in the movie based on that play, Bye Bye Birdie (1963). He has starred in a number of films throughout the years including Mary Poppins (1964), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Fitzwilly (1967), as well as a number of successful television series which won him no less than four Emmys and three made-for-CBS movies. He enlisted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, but initially did not make the cut because he failed to meet the weight requirement, as he was underweight. He tried 3 times to enlist, before barely making the cut. He actually served as a radio announcer during the war, and he did not leave the U.S.
...more next week...