This Is the Army

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This Is the Army is a 1943 American motion picture produced by Hal B. Wallis and Jack L. Warner, and directed by Michael Curtiz, and a wartime musical designed to boost morale in the U.S. during World War II, directed by Sgt. Ezra Stone. The story and original music were written by Irving Berlin. The movie features a large ensemble cast, including George Murphy, Joan Leslie, Alan Hale, and Lt. Ronald Reagan, while both the stage play and film included soldiers of the U.S. Army that were actors and performers in civilian life.

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[edit] Basis

In May of 1941, ex-Sergeant Irving Berlin was on tour at Camp Upton, his old base in Yaphank, New York. There he spoke with the commanding officers about restaging his original Army play, Yip, Yip Yaphank.<ref name="Irving Berlin Comes to Yaphank">Middle Island Mail. "It May Be "Yip, Yip, Yaphank" Again After Irving Berlin Visits Camp Upton" at [1]. May 28, 1941. Retrieved on September 17 2006</ref> Gen. George Marshall approved a Broadway production of a wartime, morale boosting musical for the army, allowing for Berlin to conduct the arrangements and rehearsals at Camp Upton much like he had done so during WWI. Sgt. Ezra Stone was selected as director for the new contemporary play, and the two setup on base during the weekdays to put together the story and crew. Insisting on integration, Berlin was granted the chance to add African Americans into this play, which he was not allowed to do so in "Yip, Yip Yaphank." This would not be unconventional for Berlin, but it would be for the Army—no whites and African Americans would appear on stage simultaneously. Though progressive in that regard, Berlin was still planning on opening with a minstrel skit. Ezra Stone told his civilian boss that it would be impossible to get 110 men out of black-face in time for the next number. It would be a saving grace for an admired songwriter who was stuck on old ideas. Casting aside his minstrel show, Berlin instead wrote a 'new' Puttin' on the Ritz, calling it That's What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear.

The retooled play ran on Broadway, at the Broadway Theatre from July 4, 1942 to September 26, 1942. <ref name="This Is the Army Production Credits">Internet Broadway Database. "This Is the Army" at [2]. Retrieved on September 17, 2006</ref> The show was directed by Sgt. Ezra Stone, choreographed by Cpl. Nelson Barclift and Sgt. Robert Sidney.

The show was such a success, that it went on the road. The national tour of the revue ended in San Francisco on February 13, 1943. By that time, it had earned $2 million for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. <ref name="Irving Berlin This Is the Army, Part 2">NARA, by Laurence Bergreen at [3] 1996.</ref> The company of men that staged the play were the only Army outfit to be fully integrated, but only behind the scenes.

[edit] Story

The story follows the life of Jerry Jones (Murphy) and his son Johnny (Reagan) over the course of two wars. In the beginning of the movie, Jones is a professional dancer drafted into the Army during World War I. At the request of his commanding officer, and against the grudging opposition of his cantankerous drill instructor Sgt. McGee (Hale), Jones produces a patriotic musical revue called Yip Yip Yaphank with music by Irving Berlin. The second part of the movie follows his son (Reagan) who is charged with undertaking a similar but grander production to inspire troops in World War II. The explicitly stated message of the movie is that the purpose of United States involvement in World War II is to fulfill the unfinished result of the previous war. The title of the movie is from the well-known Berlin song that is featured in the movie, which is also the title of the musical-within-a-movie staged by the younger Jones.

The movie features appearances by Irving Berlin, Kate Smith, Frances Langford and Joe Louis as themselves. Smith's full-length rendition of Berlin's "God Bless America" is arguably the most famous cinematic rendition of the piece. Louis appears in a revue piece called "The Well-Dressed Man in Harlem" with other black entertainers, the only revue piece that includes African-Americans (the U.S. armed forces were segregated during World War II).

Perhaps the most famous song is Berlin's Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning:

Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning
Oh how I hate to get out of bed...
. . .

Someday I'm going to murder the bugler
Someday I'm going to strike him dead...

The revue pieces also include acrobat routines, several comedy pieces, including one with Hale in drag, a minstrel show sketch, and tributes to the Navy and the Air Corps.

The movie can be viewed in many ways as a forerunner of the 1954 movie White Christmas, which also used Berlin's music and featured many similar sketches and scenes, including songs praising Army life and the dramatic marching of soldiers through a theater.

Although the core of the movie consists of the musical numbers, the movie also contains a veneer of a plot involving the wartime love interests of both the father and the son.

[edit] Plot summary

In World War I, the musical Yip Yip Yaphank is a rousing success. During the show, it is learned that the troop has received its orders to ship off to France, and thus the end number is changed so that the soldiers march through the theater with their rifles and gear and out into the waiting convoy of trucks. Jones kisses his new bride on the way down the aisle.

In the war, several of the soldiers in the production are killed. Jones is injured by a bomb blast and loses the full use of one of his legs, ending his career as a dancer. Nevertheless he is resolved to find something useful to do. Sgt. McKee and the bugler also survive.

Twenty-five years later, with World War II raging in Europe, Jones' son Johnny is drafted into the war. He tells his sweetheart that they cannot marry until he returns, since he doesn't want to make her a widow. He grudgingly accepts the order to stage another musical, just as his father did. The show goes on tour around the United States and eventually plays in front of President Roosevelt (unseen) in Washington, D.C.. During the show, it is announced that the Washington, D.C. performance will be the last night, and that afterwards the soldiers in the production will be ordered back to their combat units.

Johnny's erstwhile fiancé, who has since joined the Red Cross auxiliary, appears at the show. During a break in the show, she brings a minister and convinces them that they should marry - which they do, in the alley behind the theater, with their fathers as witnesses.

[edit] After the curtain

The ending of the war saw the ending of the road show, the last performance being on Maui, Hawaii October 22, 1945 with Irving Berlin once again singing his Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning song. The Army Emergency Relief Fund collected millions of dollars, but the total amount was never accounted, nor released to the public. By the mid-'70s, the movie itself fell into the public domain, occasionally airing on television to a new generation of viewers. Renewed interest in some of the actors helped those players that might have been considered down-and-out, most notably Stump and Stumpy's Jimmy Cross and Harold Cromer.

George Murphy would later run for U.S. Senate, and Ronald Reagan for governor and then president, with both contributing to each other's campaigns.

Many of the soldiers who had participated in the show held reunions every five years after the end of WWII. Their 50th and final reunion was held in New York's Theater District.

[edit] Trivia

  • If Washington, D.C. officials did not like the idea of a musical/revue about the Army, playwright Irving Berlin was ready to call it This Is the Navy, or This Is the Air Corp.

[edit] Notes

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[edit] External links

This Is the Army

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