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39 3 A Theatrical Warrior Lieutenant Richard Barr B arr’s involvement in World War II began with a Sunday morning brunch at his home on 7 December 1941. He had invited an eclectic circle of friends, including actors Forrest Tucker, Alexis Smith, and even Marina Koshetz Schubert, the actress daughter of the celebrated Russian opera singer Nina Koshetz, to celebrate his freedom after having served Orson Welles for three years. When the radio blared news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Koshetz rushed to the phone to contact her mother, who was visiting La Jolla, just south of Los Angeles, stating, “Mother! Mother! Come home at once! You’re directly in the line of fire!” Barr sought to enlist immediately but was rejected because of poor eyesight, having applied to the US Army Air Corps. His 20/200 vision made him legally blind, but as US involvement in the war expanded, as Barr notes in his memoir, “they were not so particular.”1 Despite his rather conservative upbringing, Richard believed the United States should have been engaged in the war from the beginning. He was close to both Leonard Spigelgass and Dore Schary, who were involved with the prewar interventionist group called Fight for Freedom, an organization with few members in the conservative entertainment industry. In fact, during this time, there was a series of Senate hearings exploring whether Hollywood was guilty of disseminating “war propaganda” even as Europe was falling under the sway of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The hearings fell apart after 40 A Theatrical Warrior the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and support that had been clandestine before the war became immediately energized and active.2 Barr’s desire to enlist, however, was a way to defend his liberal credentials. He felt it important to contrast his beliefs with those of his colleagues in Hollywood who would later stand accused of communism. He had serious doubts about communism , a political system that many in 1930s Hollywood took seriously as a possibility for American government. Barr had given the matter some thought, having studied history and communism in particular at Princeton, and his greatest fear was any limitation of free speech, especially in terms of theatre and film.3 Hollywood united quickly and effectively against the war. The rollout of various operations included the newly formed Office of War Information (OWI), which came to involve itself in every aspect of film production. OWI’s functions included the promotion of certain types of films and later filmmaking itself with the Army Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit (AACFMPU), to which Barr was assigned.4 Despite the sixty-five-mile drive from Los Angeles , he enlisted at March Field, a relatively little used facility, expanded in the decade before World War II to provide operational facilities for the Army Air Corps. Undaunted by basic training, which was not dissimilar to the kind of “close-order drills” he had experienced as a cadet at Western High School, Barr did well and was quickly moved to administrative duties. During his three months of basic training, he was under the benevolent dictatorship of a certain sergeant whose daily “gravelly” muster orders included: “Fall in! Quickly, quietly, and with a minimum of confusion!” These words became a personal mantra, and Barr put up with the regimen of drills, orders, and training in order to apply for Officers’ Candidate School, after which he might secure a possible specialty assignment within his field. Richard successfully passed his qualifying exams and was flown to OCS in Miami, where he continued his training, now as a young officer candidate. He was miserable about the heat, the tedious classes he was forced to take, and “the foolishness that tried to train a potential Air Force administrative officer into a miniature version of a West Point cadet.” A. E. Hotchner, who later worked with Barr at the AACFMPU, was also in OCS training in Miami that summer, noting that it was the hottest summer ever thus recorded.5 Both Barr and Hotchner were quartered in local Miami hotels, which had been stripped of comfort and turned into barracks for the officer candidates, with “army cots, bare rooms, and mess halls.”6 The training was only made worse when his “friend,” the sergeant from March Field, arrived and began his mustering techniques once again. After the grueling experience of OCS, Barr was able to procure a West Coast assignment. Through Leonard Spigelgass, 41 A Theatrical Warrior Richard was sent to the...


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MARC Record
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