1. Marlene Dietrich
1. Marlene Dietrich
Born in Schöneberg, Berlin on 27 December 1901, Marlene Dietrich found fame by appearing in Germany's first feature-length talking film, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) in 1929. On the back of this success, Dietrich moved to the United States and starred in many successful films during the 1930s. Her fame led Nazi officials to ask her to return to work in the German film industry, but Dietrich refused. She was an outspoken critic of Nazism, once declaring 'Hitler is an idiot!' She successfully applied for US citizenship in 1937. Dietrich's opposition to the Nazi regime earned her its condemnation – her films were banned and she was labelled a traitor.
During the Second World War she entertained Allied troops with the United Services Organisation (USO). She made more than 500 appearances to entertain and boost the morale of servicemen, starring in shows featuring music and sketches. One of her most famous songs was the love song, Lili Marlene, which became a favourite of both German and Allied troops. Dietrich travelled with USO to Africa, Italy and North-West Europe and contributed to anti-Nazi propaganda broadcasts as part of her wartime role. In 1945, she returned to her homeland to appear in shows as Allied forces advanced into Germany. After the war, Dietrich returned to the United States and continued her long career in films and on the stage. After many years living in Paris, Marlene Dietrich died there in 1992 but she was buried in Berlin.
2. Clark Gable
2. Clark Gable
Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio in 1901. He moved to Hollywood in 1924 and starred in his first movies in the early 1930s. His career soon took off and he won the Best Actor 'Oscar' for his role in It Happened One Night (1934). By the outbreak of the Second World War, Gable was the 'King of Hollywood', having portrayed Rhett Butler in his most memorable role in Gone With The Wind (1939).
In 1942, Gable's wife, and fellow Hollywood star, Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash when returning from a promotional trip to sell government war bonds. After this devastating loss, the actor launched himself into wartime service for his country. Gable joined the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and was posted to Britain as an air gunner. He was part of the 351st Bombardment Group and was stationed at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire. As part of his wartime service, Gable worked with the First Motion Picture Unit on a 'special assignment' to capture footage of USAAF in England. This resulted in the 1943 film Combat America, which Gable narrated. The film was made to encourage Americans to join up as air gunners, of which there was a shortage. Gable officially flew five combat missions during his service, once coming under very close attack, and he received the Air Medal. His presence in Northamptonshire, though not reported in the press, caused great excitement amongst the local population and he was popular with his fellow airmen.
After returning to the United States in November 1943, he worked on promotional films and helped with US Army public relations. He resigned his commission in 1947 and resumed his Hollywood career. Clark Gable died of a heart attack in 1960.
3. David Niven
3. David Niven
Born in London in 1910, David Niven went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1928 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry the following year. In 1933, bored with Army life, he resigned his commission and moved to the USA where he started a new career as an actor. By 1939, he had achieved Hollywood success with a number of popular movies to his name. Despite this, Niven returned to England when the Second World War broke out to re-join the Army. He served initially with the Rifle Brigade in France and later with the 'Phantom' special reconnaissance GHQ Liaison Regiment. Niven's other notable wartime achievements included arranging for fellow actor M E Clifton Jones to impersonate Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery so as to confuse German intelligence.
Niven was able to star in several films during the war, including The First of the Few(1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). In 1944, he took part in the D-Day landings and subsequently accompanied the US 1st Infantry Division as the unit progressed through northern Europe until it reached the River Rhine. Niven was awarded the American Legion Of Merit. He left the Army once more in August 1945 and returned to his acting career.
Niven starred in over 60 more films, including wartime love story A Matter of Life and Death (1946). He won the 1958 Oscar for Best Actor in Separate Tables. He also became a successful writer, publishing his best-selling memoir The Moon's A Balloon in 1971. In it, he detailed his wartime career, including his role with special reconnaissance, the D-Day landings and what he witnessed of Germany at the end of the war. David Niven died in 1983.
4. Audrey Hepburn
4. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1929 to a British father and a Dutch mother. Her parents later divorced and in 1939 Hepburn, her stepbrothers and her mother went to live in Arnhem in the Netherlands. During the Second World War, German forces occupied the Netherlands and, like the rest of the population, Hepburn and her family suffered great privations during these years. Her mother was involved with the Dutch Resistance and Hepburn also played a part in the movement. An aspiring ballet dancer, the young Audrey performed in recitals and gave money she earned to the resistance. She also acted as one of the child couriers employed by the resistance, her youth making her of minimal suspicion to the German occupying forces. She was known during the war as 'Edda', as her English-sounding name may have attracted the attention of the Nazis. 'Edda', at some risk, carried documents, coded messages and other items between members of the resistance. She remembered, 'Once I had to step in and deliver our tiny underground newspaper, I stuffed them in my woollen socks and my wooden shoes, I got on my bike, and delivered them.' Life under Nazi occupation was one of ever-present danger. Hepburn's uncle was executed in 1942 in reprisal for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. She later recalled 'It was worse than you could ever imagine. We saw young men put against the wall and shot.'
In 1944, a German food blockade in the Netherlands resulted in a famine known as the 'Hunger Winter'. Hepburn and her family were some of the millions affected by it, and this experience had a lasting impact on her. They subsisted on tiny amounts of food, even eating tulip bulbs to survive, and, by the end of the war, Hepburn was close to starvation. Finally, in May 1945, Arnhem was liberated. She remembered, 'We lost everything, of course… but we didn't give a hoot. We got through with our lives, which was all that mattered.' Two years later, Hepburn and her mother moved to England. She secured her first film role in 1948 and went on to star in over 25 movies. Hepburn later worked as special ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations humanitarian mission for children. She died in 1993.
5. Alec Guinness
5. Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness was born in London in 1914. After he had left school, he took acting lessons and studied dramatic arts at the Fay Compton School. He began his successful theatre career soon after and appeared in a number of plays in London during the 1930s. In early 1941, he received his call up papers and joined the Royal Navy as a rating. He successfully applied to become an officer and, after training, he was commissioned as a sub lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve in May 1942. His first posting was to Combined Operations at Troon in Ayrshire. He found this role dull so it was with some relief that he was given orders later that year to proceed to New York to take delivery of a landing craft being built there and sail it to Britain. Whilst in the USA, he was offered a role in Terence Rattigan's wartime play about RAF Bomber Command, Flare Path. Guinness was given special leave by the Admiralty to appear in the Broadway production, but it was not a critical success and closed after two weeks. Soon after, his landing craft – LCI (L) 124 – was ready and he returned to England.
In April 1943, Guinness was promoted to lieutenant and a few months later took part in the Allied landings on Sicily. His landing craft took on 200 soldiers and then led a number of other landing crafts into the shore. Despite a mix-up with orders and a near miss with another craft, the men got ashore and Guinness's craft escaped unscathed. In the last months of 1943, LCI (L) 124 was engaged in transporting supplies to partisan groups working against the Germans in Yugoslavia. In December, after picking up several hundred Yugoslav women and children from the island of Vis, Guinness's landing craft was caught in a hurricane and he had to give the order to abandon ship. He later took command of LCI (L) 272 and saw action in the Mediterranean theatre, taking part in the Allied invasion at Anzio. In February 1945, Guinness returned to Britain, resuming his acting career after the war's end. In 1957 he starred in one of the most well-known Second World War films, The Bridge on the River Kwai as British prisoner of war Colonel Nicholson, and he also took on the role of Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973). Knighted in 1959, Sir Alec Guinness enjoyed a long career in the film industry. He died of cancer in 2000.