Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney gaze at one another in "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942)

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney (1920-1991) gaze at one another in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, actress Gene Tierney, age 21, and film star Henry Fonda were filming “Rings on Her Fingers” on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the southern California coast.

The cameras were getting ready to roll when a man came running down the beach screaming:

“The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! “

Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, just west across the Pacific from Catalina. Catalina was a dangerous place to be. No one knew exactly what was happening – or what would happen next – just as Americans felt as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Everyone had to get off that island. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor had come without warning and a formal declaration of war by the Japanese, the American people were in shock. They expected more attacks, possibly on California.

Gene Tierney, her husband Oleg Cassini, costar Henry Fonda and the rest of the film’s cast and crew piled into a boat and sailed hurriedly for the mainland. It was a nervous crossing. Rumors flew that the waters had been sabotaged with mines.


On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. (2)

The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Overnight, the United States was plunged into war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The U.S. government enlisted the help of Hollywood stars to aid the war effort by boosting morale at home. Americans were urged to plant backyard “victory gardens” – vegetable patches – to help feed civilians at home. Suddenly, farm production was heavily burdened by having to feed millions of military personnel, as well as coping with fewer men on the farms.

War is expensive. The U.S. government encouraged people to buy War Bonds. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government used that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and for the military.  Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25.

Gene Tierney did her part for the war effort, whether it was planting a “victory garden,” promoting war bonds, or entertaining the troops.

Gene T tends her own "victory garden," in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed in the army.  She is pregnant with her first child, Daria. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney tends her own “victory garden,” in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney encouraged Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney appeared in posters and went on campaign drives to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney took time to entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen. From 1942-45, three million service personnel on leave – men and women, black and white – would pass through the doors of that converted barn to rub elbows with the stars. On any given night, Bob Hope might be on the stage cracking jokes while Rita Hayworth made sandwiches, Harry James played trumpet, or Hedy Lamarr danced with the soldiers.

Film star Shirley Temple gives cookies to the soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

Shirley Temple passes out cookies at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

During the war years, Gene Tierney was at the height of her popularity. Her image graced countless magazine covers.Gene T Life Mag Nov. 10, 1941 Shanghai Gesture wardrobe gene-tierney-movie-stars-parade-magazine-cover-1940-s_i-G-54-5494-2D3WG00Z March 1946 mag cover tierney april 1943

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene’s best pictures were made in the forties. Her beauty was extraordinary then. Her presence on screen was fresh and captivating. She had expressive green eyes, high cheekbones, lustrous, dark hair, and a sensual full mouth that revealed, when parted, an unexpected yet terribly endearing overbite. (Her contract with 24th Century Fox forbid her from correcting the crooked teeth.)

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

And she could act. She was only 23 when she appeared in “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, a stunning film noir masterpiece, so richly layered with plot twists and great casting (Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Clifton Webb) that you can enjoy it again and again. It is her signature film. Also fantastic are “The Razor’s Edge” with Tyrone Power (1946) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison (1947). All three are available to rent on Amazon Instant Video. She plays against type – still classy in manner, yes, but devious in heart – in the film she received an Academy Award nomination for: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945).

Gene Tierney smolders as "Laura." (1944),

Gene Tierney is smoldering as “Laura” (1944), one of my top five favorite films of all time. Gripping.

In the spring of 1943, Gene finished filming “Heaven Can Wait” in Hollywood. She was expecting her first child and, gratefully, not yet showing signs of pregnancy. She had kept that a secret for fear of being replaced in the film. She longed to be with husband Oleg in Kansas, where he was stationed in the army.

Before leaving Los Angeles and starting her maternity leave, Gene decided to make one last appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. So, that night, Gene showed her support of American troops by signing autographs, mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands. The troops were homesick and sad; a little stardust lightened their load.

A few days after that visit, Gene woke up with red spots covering her arms and face. She had the German measles, or rubella. In 1943, there was no vaccine to prevent contracting the measles. That would not be available for 22 more years. Obstetricians advised patients to avoid crowds in their first four months of pregnancy, to avoid contracting the measles. At the time, it was believed that measles was a harmless childhood disease.

Little did Gene know at the time, but, just two years earlier,

“…[B]y studying a small cluster of cases in Australia, [eye doctor] Dr. N. M. Gregg first noted that the rubella virus could cause cataracts, deafness, heart deformities and mental retardation [in an unborn child].” (3)

Of course, this was before TV and Internet gave us 24/7 news cycles that would have immediately alerted the public to this critical finding. Gene didn’t know that her small act of kindness at the Canteen would have tragic and long-term consequences for both her and her baby’s health.

After a week of doctor-ordered rest, Gene rested, got better, then packed her bags for Fort Riley, Kansas, to join Oleg. The next several months were devoted to making her Junction City home ready for the baby and being a couple.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini celebrate the birth of their first child with a night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini await the birth of their first child with a celebratory night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

By the fall, Gene was living in Washington, D.C., while Oleg was awaiting orders in Virginia. On the morning of October 15, 1943, Gene gave birth to a premature baby girl, weighing only two and a half pounds. Oleg flew to Washington and joined his wife at Columbia Hospital. They named their baby “Daria.”

Doctors informed them that Daria was not in good shape. She was premature and going blind. She had cataracts in both eyes. After reviewing Gene’s medical chart, the doctors concluded that Gene’s measles were responsible for the baby’s defects. They cited the studies done by the Australian eye doctor, Dr. Gregg.

Daria continued to have health problems and delayed development. She had no inner ear fluid and became deaf. It was clear that she suffered from mental retardation. Gene and Oleg hoped against hope that a doctor somewhere could cure Daria. But, after consulting one specialist after another (much of it paid for by Howard Hughes), they had to face the fact that Daria was permanently disabled and needed more care than they were capable of giving her at home.

When Daria was about two years old, Gene got an unexpected jolt. She was at a tennis function. A fan approached her.

“Ms. Tierney, do you remember me?” asked the woman.

Gene had no memory of having met the stranger. She shook her head and replied, “No. Should I?”

The woman told Gene that she was in the women’s branch of the Marines and had met Gene at the Hollywood Canteen.

Gene never would forget what the woman said next.

“By the way, Ms. Tierney, did you happen to catch the German measles after that night I saw you at the Canteen?”

The woman revealed that she had had the measles herself at the time but had broken quarantine just to see Gene at the Canteen.

Gene was dumbstruck. That woman had given her the measles! She was the sole cause of Daria’s disabilities. Gene said nothing. She just turned and walked away.

When Daria was four, Oleg and Gene made the difficult decision to institutionalize Daria (1943-2010). Daria spent most of her life at the ELWYN, an institution for specially disabled in Vineland, NJ.

Gene Tierney never fully recovered from the blow that Daria was disabled. Although she gave birth to another daughter that was healthy, her marriage to Oleg ended in divorce, and her mental health began to deteriorate. She couldn’t concentrate. On the movie set, she would forget her lines. She began to fall apart and live a life of “stark misery and despair,” said ex-husband Oleg.

In much of the 1950s, Gene went from one mental health facility to another seeking help with her bouts of high and low moods and suicidal thoughts. She received 27 shock treatments, destroying even more of her memory. It is believed that Gene Tierney suffered from bipolar depression during a time when effective treatment for that disease was in its infancy.

If Daria had been born after 1965, Gene Tierney would have been vaccinated against the German measles and Daria would have been born healthy.

Currently, in Mexico and California, there is an outbreak of measles due to the antivaccination movement. Some parents in the western part of the United States have decided not to vaccinate their children due to unfounded worries about it causing autism. These few anti-vaxers are putting our whole population at risk.

Make no mistake. Measles is a highly contagious disease and is anything but harmless:

“Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, redness of eyes, and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.” (4)


“Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.” (5)

Postscript: In 1962, Dame Agatha Christie published the detective fiction, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, using the real-life tragedy of Gene Tierney as the basis for her plot.


(1) Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005.

(2) wiki: Attack on Pearl Harbor

(3) Altman, M.D., Lawrence K. “The Doctor’s World; Little-Known Doctor Who Found New Use For Common Aspirin.The New York Times, July 9, 1991.

(4) LA Times

(5) New York Times


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Members of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company leave Victoria Station, London, for a tour of Holland, May 1940

Members of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company leave Victoria Station, London, for a tour of Holland, May 1940. Director Ninette de Valois is on the far right.

When the Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, Ninette de Valois found herself trapped in The Hague. She was the director of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company from England. She and her 42 dancers had been on a Dutch tour. On the day of the invasion, de Valois had been sitting at a sidewalk café with two members of the dance company. It was noon. Suddenly, a stray bullet ricocheted from the pavement, passed between their heads, and crashed through the café’s plate glass window behind them. The bullet had been fired from a German plane swooping over the city square. The diners were rushed inside to safety.

That morning, some of the dancers had flocked to the rooftop of their hotel to watch German parachutists float down and land in the area around the Hague, where Queen Wilhelmina resided.  Thousands of leaflets also fluttered down from the enemy aircraft, some landing on the rooftop, that proclaimed:

Strong German troop units have surrounded the city. Resistance is of no use. Germany does not fight your country but Great Britain. In order to continue this battle the German Army has been forced to penetrate your country. The German Army protects the life and goods of every peace-loving citizen. However, the German troops will punish every deed of violence committed by the population with a death sentence.” 1

For five days, the Dutch army fought bravely, but it was no match for the German war machine. The Netherlands had a policy of neutrality and had had no recent experience of resisting outside invading forces. Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Royal Family from the Royal House of Orange-Nassau refused to accept the Nazi offer of protection and sailed to England on the HMS Hereford sent by King George VI.

The Exiled Royals with the King and Queen of England, WWII (photo undated). From left to right: Queen Marie of Yugoslavia,Miss Benesj,Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands,Miss Raczkiewicz,King George VI of England,King Peter of Yugoslavia,King Haakon of Norway, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen mother) of England, the President of Poland, M. Raczkiewicz and Dr. Benesj, President of Tsjecho- Slovakia.

The Exiled Royals with the King and Queen of England, WWII (photo undated). From left to right: Queen Marie of Yugoslavia,Miss Benesj,Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands,Miss Raczkiewicz,King George VI of England,King Peter of Yugoslavia,King Haakon of Norway, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen mother) of England, the President of Poland, M. Raczkiewicz and Dr. Benesj, President of Tsjecho- Slovakia.

The Netherlands surrendered on May 15.

For the next seven weeks, the citizens of Holland did not resist the German occupation. They buried their dead and mourned their losses. They were shocked and demoralized. They felt abandoned by their queen.

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1941 (age 12)

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1941 (age 12)

Audrey Hepburn was eleven years old when the Germans took over her town of Arnhem, Holland:

“The first few months we didn’t quite know what had happened.”

But Queen Wilhelmina reached out to her subjects across the North Sea via newsreels and BBC radio broadcasts, revitalizing Dutch hope for Allied liberation, and condemning German aggression. She urged them to resist the moffen (German Huns). For the next five years, the radio voice of the Queen would be the main source of inspiration for the Dutch Resistance Movement.

Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard celebrate their engagement 1936. Note the white carnation in the Prince's lapel.

Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard celebrate their engagement 1936. Note the white carnation in the Prince’s lapel.

An opportunity for the Dutch citizens to protest the German occupation arrived on June 29. It was the birthday of Prince Bernhard, the Queen’s son-in-law. Since he had been a student, the Prince had worn a trademark white carnation in his lapel.

So, on June 29, the Dutch people demonstrated their loyalty to Queen and country and their defiance of Nazi rule. People participated all across the country, but the activity was strongest in Amsterdam and The Hague.

People displayed vases full of carnations in the windows of homes and stores. Women and girls wore orange skirts, orange being the national color, symbolic of the Royal House of Orange. The Dutch flag was flown. Men pinned white carnations in the buttonhole of their coats, in imitation of Prince Bernhard, a German who was anti-Nazi.  Some people rode bicycles around town all dressed in orange.

Crowds gathered at the statue of Queen Emma, Wilhelmina’s mother, in Amsterdam to lay flowers.

The Queen Emma monument is festooned with flowers on Carnation Day, 1940

The Queen Emma monument is festooned with flowers on Carnation Day, 1940

At first, only single flowers were placed on the statue’s lap. Then others arrived carrying great pots of flowers. Soon the area at the base of the statue was covered in flowers. On the nearby lawn, the letter B was formed with a clever flower arrangement. People brought cut-out pictures of the royal family and laid these beside the flowers.

A street organ began to play the national anthem. Softly at first, people began to sing. Shortly, though, more people lifted their voices in patriotic song. Emotion was running high.

Men belonging to the WA, the military arm of the Dutch Nazi organization (NSB), shoved into crowds and started fights. The WA goons wore black shirts. Many people were injured.

NSB members (Dutch Nazis or collaborators) show up at a statue of Queen Emma on Carnation Day, giving the straight arm salute.

NSB members (Dutch Nazis or collaborators) show up at a statue of Queen Emma on Carnation Day, giving the straight arm salute.

People gathered at the Queen’s residence in the Hague, the Noordeinde Palace, to lay flowers on the balcony and to sign the birthday register.  The German commander of the Wehrmacht feared a riot. He ordered German fighter planes to fly above the city, diving now and then, but not to shoot, to get the crowd to disperse.

This day became known as Anjerdag, “Carnation Day.”

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is shown at the entrance to Queen Wilhelmina's residence, the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague on Carnation Day. The nonviolent protest demonstration by the Dutch citizens greatly alarmed their German occupiers. Hitler was informed and the Nazis began their crackdown on Dutch life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (center) is shown at the entrance to Queen Wilhelmina’s residence, the Noordeinde Palace, in The Hague on Carnation Day. The nonviolent protest demonstrations by the Dutch citizens greatly alarmed their German occupiers. Hitler was informed and the Nazis began their crackdown on Dutch life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Germans were furious with this civil act of disobedience. They ordered images of the Dutch Royal Family to be removed from all public places. Street names were renamed. The Prince Bernhard Square, for example, became “Gooiplein.” The Royal Library was soon referred to as the National Library. On the first of August, the top Nazi in Holland, Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart, announced that it was forbidden to celebrate a birthday of a member of the Dutch Royal family.

Postnote:  In early 1941, a baby girl was born to a Mr. and Mrs. Niehot of The Hague. They wanted to name their newborn baby Nelia after their midwife, Nelia Epker, but she suggested they give their child an ‘Orange‘ name. The result was announced in the newspaper in a birth advertisement: Irene Beatrix Juliana Wilhelmina Niehot.

This announcement was met with great joy. Irene and Beatrix were the young daughters of Crown Princess Juliana.

May 1940, London. Elizabeth Van Swinderen, wife of the former Dutch minister to Great Britain, points out London barrage balloons to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. Juliana is with her children, Beatrix by her side and Irene in the baby carriage.

May 1940, London. Elizabeth Van Swinderen, wife of the former Dutch minister to Great Britain, points out London barrage balloons to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who is pushing the stroller. Juliana is with her children, Beatrix is by her side and Irene is in the baby carriage.

Perfect strangers sent cards, flowers, cakes and even money to the Niehot family. When the midwife Nelia Epker placed a thank-you advertisement in March 1941, listing the baby’s royal names once again, Nelia was arrested. She would not return to the Netherlands until August 1945, a survivor of Camp Ravensbrück. 2

1 Gottlief, Robert, ed. Reading Dance: A Gathering of Memoirs, Reportage, Criticism, Profiles, Interviews, and Some Uncategorizable Extras. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

2 Dutch Resistance Museum



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Corrie’s father turned on the old table radio to warm it up. Corrie felt that the small, portable one would have worked just fine, but her father insisted on using this old one. It was to be a major broadcast, he said, and the old radio had an elaborate speaker. The prime minister of the Netherlands was to address the Dutch nation.

It was 9:15 on a Thursday night, an hour when Corrie, Father, and Corrie’s sister Betsie normally would be heading upstairs to bed. As was their custom, they had already said their prayers and read a passage from the Bible. But, this evening, they would stay up a little later.

Corrie, Betsie, and Nollie Ten Boom

Corrie, Betsie, and Nollie Ten Boom

The Ten Boom family lived above their watch shop in Haarlem in the Netherlands (Holland).

Casper Ten Boom in watch shop

Casper Ten Boom in watch shop

It was May 9, 1940. World War II was raging in Europe. The aggressive German army had invaded and occupied Poland, Norway, and Denmark. As a result, England and France had declared war on Germany. The Netherlands, however, did not and would not enter the conflict. They had declared their neutrality, the same as they had done in the first world war. Germany had respected their neutrality then and would do so again, they expected.

But every day fresh rumors reached their ears of an impending German invasion. Would Holland be drawn into the war? To calm these fears, the German Nazis repeatedly pledged goodwill to the people of the Netherlands. Many times Corrie had heard Hitler himself on the radio, promising the Dutch people that he would not invade their country.

Finally, it was 9:30, and time for the prime minister’s speech. The Ten Booms pulled their wooden, high-backed chairs closer to the radio, leaning in to listen, tense.

The parlor of the Ten Boom house in Haarlem, the Netherlands

The parlor of the Ten Boom house in Haarlem, the Netherlands

The prime minister’s voice filtered over the air waves. Tonight, it was pleasant and soothing. He told the Dutch people that there was no reason to worry. There would be no war. He knew it for a fact. He had spoken to people in high places.

In spite of the prime minister’s encouraging words, The Ten Booms were not comforted. The broadcast ended. They went upstairs to bed.

Five hours later and 37 miles south down the coast, 19 year old Diet (Deet) Eman woke up to noise outside her bedroom window. It was about 3 in the morning. It sounded as if someone was beating a rug. It was a steady, staccato sound – “pop-pop-pop” – only much faster. Deet lived in The Hague, Netherlands, where Queen Wilhelmina and her government were established.

Diet Eman was 19 years old when the Germans invaded the Netherlands.

Diet Eman was 19 years old when the Germans invaded the Netherlands

“This is crazy!” She thought. “Some idiot is beating rugs right now, and it’s pitch dark outside.” It’s true it was Friday morning and Friday was the day of the week that Dutch women typically beat rugs. But who would beat rugs at three in the morning?

What Diet heard was the first sound of the war. The Germans had invaded the Netherlands. The skies were filled with German parachutists falling. German Stukas dive-bombed the airfield, wiping out the Dutch biplanes. Diet’s sister’s fiancé, part of the weak Dutch army, was killed that day in the German bombing.

German parachutists attack the Netherlands May 10-14, 1940

German parachutists attack the Netherlands May 10-14, 1940

The Dutch people had been caught off guard. So many times they had readied for invasion only to discover it was a false alarm. Over time, they had grown complacent, caught in the net of Nazi lies and deception.

Some of the invading German soldiers crossed the border and parachuted from planes in disguise. They wore Dutch, French, and Belgian military uniforms and carried machine guns. Their disguises allowed them to roam freely behind the Dutch lines. It was Hitler’s idea to deceive and infiltrate the enemy; the Dutch army would be confused and not know who to shoot, the French and the Belgians being their allies. Dutch Nazis met them upon arrival and aided their sabotage activities. Other German soldiers dressed up as nuns, bicyclists, priests, peasants, and schoolboys in order to move undetected among the Dutch population. They seized key strongholds like water controls and bridges to pave the way for the German infantry.

Peace talks were underway when the Germans went ahead and ruthlessly bombed Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This was the message: If the Netherlands doesn't surrender, we will do what we did to Rotterdam to every one of the Dutch cities until you surrender.

Peace talks were underway when the Germans went ahead and ruthlessly bombed Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This was the message: If the Netherlands doesn’t surrender, we will do what we did to Rotterdam to every one of the Dutch cities until you surrender.

The German blitzkrieg crushed the Dutch defenses in five days, allowing the Germans to turn their attention then to invading France. On May 14, 1940, the Netherlands surrendered and the German occupation began in earnest. Germans moved swiftly to prepare Dutch airbases to send missiles to destroy England.

With the May 1940 occupation of Holland, Germany is poised to attack England.

With the May 1940 occupation of Holland, Germany is poised to attack England.

Queen Wilhelmina broadcasts over the BBC to her people in the Netherlands during WWII.
However, Queen Wilhelmina had foiled the Nazi plot to kidnap her and escaped, by boat, to England, where she set up a government in exile. Thanks to the BBC radio network, she was able to speak to her people for the next five years over the radio, urging them to resist the Germans.

It was revealed that the Nazis who had been trained to capture her – but had failed – had taken lessons in how to correctly address royalty. After capturing her, the plan went, a German general would come calling, a bouquet of flowers in hand, and attempt to persuade her to call off all resistance activity.

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Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

It was May 9, 1940, and Audrey Kathleen Hepburn (Ruston) had just turned eleven years old. She was living in Holland with her mother, her two older brothers, and other relatives. Her father lived in London. Her parents were divorced.

To celebrate Audrey’s birthday, her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra Ruston, had bought tickets for her and Audrey to see a performance by the great English dance troupe, The Sadler’s Wells Ballet. The company was touring Holland, France, and Belgium. Audrey’s town of Arnhem was to be one of their stops.

Audrey (1929-1993) had been living in Holland for only nine months. Previously, she had been in boarding school in England. But, in September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. All at once, England was no longer a safe place for a little girl, as it had declared war on Germany. At her mother’s request, Audrey’s father scooped up Audrey from her school and put her on a big orange plane to Holland (also known as the Netherlands), where her mother’s family lived. Holland intended to stay neutral in the war with Germany and was considered a safe place for riding out the conflict.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey had not seen her dad since that day at the airport. She missed him so! Her parents’ divorce had left an aching hole in her heart. But on this particular May day, Audrey was not sad. She was looking forward to the ballet! Her mother had given her more than one reason to smile:

My mother had our little dressmaker make me a long taffeta dress. It went all the way to the ground, and it rustled. There was a little round collar, a little bow here, and a little button in front. The reason she got me this, at great expense, was that I was to present a bouquet of flowers at the end of the performance to…the director of the company.”

The evening finally arrived. Audrey wore her beautiful new long dress and got to see the famous Margot Fonteyn dance in “Horoscope” and “Façade” by choreographer Frederick Ashton. It was marvelous.

Margot Fonteyn in the Polka from Ashton's Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company for 20 years.

Margot Fonteyn as the Polka from Ashton’s Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company (originally the Sadler’s Wells) for 20 years.

Afterwards, Audrey’s mother took the stage and gave a formal thanks to the troupe first in Dutch, then in English. Next was Audrey’s big moment. To her surprise, her bouquet of tulips and roses was hurriedly accepted. A quick supper followed, as the dancers hustled about afterward, gathering up their props and costumes, to get on their bus to leave Arnhem that very evening. According to the British consul, there was suspicious German military activity nearby. The dancers didn’t want to get stuck in Holland if the Germans did attack and closed off the borders.

As Audrey’s head lay on the pillow that night, the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Dutch were totally shocked. They never dreamed Hitler would attack them, his “Dutch cousins”! Just the night before, matter of fact, Hitler had made a radio broadcast, promising to all who listened that he had no plans whatsoever of attacking Holland. For five days, the Germans came down on the Dutch with the force of Hell. They never bothered issuing a formal declaration of war either.

 German parachutists invading the Netherlands, May 10-15, 1940

This is the city center of Rotterdam, Holland, following the German Blitz of May 14, 1940. A ceasefire was already in progress but the Nazis bombed anyway.

They blasted the city of Rotterdam with an air attack that killed 1,000 Dutch civilians and left 85,000 homeless (accounts vary as to the exact number).

Incendiary bombs were dropped on the Hague. Nazi troops tore through Audrey’s town of Arnhem, looting and despoiling as they pleased. The Germans threatened to bomb every Dutch city until they were demolished until Holland surrendered. The Dutch military, though terribly outnumbered, fought back anyway, but they were no match for the conquering horde, and were forced to surrender. After five days, Holland capitulated. It would be occupied by the Nazis for five very long years. The Germans wanted to take over the world and destroy the Jewish population.

At first, Audrey’s family was allowed to remain at their regal ancestral home, Castle Zypendaal (or Zijpendaal). Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility.

Audrey Hepburn's mother's family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Over the next ten months, the van Heemstra bank accounts, securities, and jewelry would be confiscated by the Nazis. Rations were imposed on food and fuel which were soon in short supply for the suffering Dutch people. Food became completely nonexistent during the Hunger Winter of 1944 as the Germans cut off all imports of foods to punish the Dutch Resistance (secret group that fought back against the Nazis from inside Holland). During that time, Audrey confessed to eating bread made from flour from tulip bulbs and grass to keep from starving to death like 20,000 other Dutch citizens did that winter.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The German occupiers spread anti-English sentiment, banning the import of British jams and biscuits and outlawing the Girl and Boy Scouts. The Germans hoped they could whip the Dutch into a hatred for the English and recruit them in the battle against Britain.

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston was an English name and Audrey spoke English. She carried a British passport. With the Nazis cracking down on the English, the Baroness was worried. Quickly, Audrey’s mother gave Audrey a new identity as a little Dutch girl. For the war years, the Baroness changed her daughter’s name to Edda van Heemstra. Audrey – now Edda – took Dutch language lessons so she could pass as Dutch and not be arrested for being English. Audrey did not risk speaking English for the rest of the war.

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey was keen to be a famous ballet dancer and her mother was the quintessential stage mom. In 1941, Ella sent Audrey to the Arnhem Conservatory to study dance. It was then that Audrey decided that she wanted to grow up to become a ballerina. Her dream was to

“wear a tutu and dance at Covent Garden.”

Her mother made her ballet slippers from scraps of felt, as materials became scarcer and scarcer, since the Nazis took the best for themselves, always.

As a child of war, Audrey learned to cope with hunger, fear, and deprivation through art, music, and dance. Soon, though, she and some other dancers began staging private, secret dance shows to raise money for the Dutch Resistance.

I designed the dances myself. I had a friend that played the piano, and my mother made the costumes. They were very amateurish attempt – but…it amused people.”

The recitals were given in houses with windows and doors closed, and no one outside knew what was going on. Afterward, money was collected and turned over to the Dutch Resistance. To keep from being discovered, the audiences did not clap.

“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Sometimes at these “black performances,” resistance workers attended. They gave the young performers money and folded messages to be stuffed into the children’s shoes and transported the next day to resistance workers. The children risked death to save the lives of resistance workers and Audrey was one of these children.

One winter day, Audrey was walking along a city street when three truckloads full of German soldiers toting rifles stopped suddenly. The soldiers ordered all the girls in their sight to line up and get in the trucks. Audrey did as she was told. As the trucks drove off, Audrey kept saying the Lord’s Prayer to herself in Dutch. Then the convoy stopped unexpectedly. Some soldiers jumped out and began abusing some Jews. Audrey said:

“I remember hearing the dull sound of a rifle butt hitting a man’s face. And I jumped down, dropped to my knees, and rolled under the truck. I then skittered out, hoping the driver would not notice me – and he didn’t.”

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

And where was Audrey’s father all this time? He was arrested in England and accused of peddling Nazi propaganda for the notorious leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley. He remained under house arrest for the duration of the war on the Isle of Man with other suspected Nazi sympathizers.

Below are some beautiful drawings Audrey made during the war.

Audrey Hepburn's childhood artwork

Audrey Hepburn’s childhood artwork

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Carolyn King Waller (b.1934)

Carolyn King Waller (b.1934)

My mother underwent a hip replacement last week. While waiting for Mom to be wheeled off to surgery, I had an opportunity to talk with both Mama (Carolyn) and Daddy (John) about their growing-up years in the thirties and forties.
Carolyn:You want to remember that in the 30s and later, the iceman brought ice to your doorstep. The garbage trucks would come by and the men would be standing in the truck beds knee-deep in garbage. It wasn’t very hygienic! Mother used to make me sugar and butter sandwiches. People ate a lot of cheap foods like butter beans, rice pudding, bread pudding. Think how cheap rice pudding would be. (My grandmother) Nona used to make cooked onions.
You would open a box of soap powder and you would find a little trinket in the flakes. There might be a dishcloth in it or a Shirley Temple spoon, or maybe a piece of depression glass. It cost 12 cents for a child to go to the movies and 30 cents for an adult. Think how cheap that was – to be transported into another world for two hours for only pennies! Hollywood stars would be dressed up (in the movies) in oh so fancy clothes. We didn’t have much money for clothes but we didn’t begrudge them (the stars) for that. don-winslow

The forties were a time of serial movies on Saturday afternoon. When you went to the movies on Saturday, you would get a serial thrown in. They were probably continuing week-to-week narratives, little short ones, about twenty minutes each. There was “Don Winslow in the Navy,” “The Green Hornet,” “The Green Lantern,” cowboy serials, “Zorro.”  They were always full of action. The serials came on at intermission. The serials had someone fighting against the enemy overseas or some other bad guys. The bad guys usually wore black hats; the good guys usually wore white hats. Our family wasn’t shallow but movies were our thing.

John A. Waller, Jr. (b.1930)

John A. Waller, Jr. (b.1930)

Lisa: Changing the subject, Dad, did you have a car when you went to UT in the early fifties?
John: My first car was the big white Oldsmobile that my parents had had before my wedding. They gave it to us before we got married. They’d bought it in 1947.
Carolyn: It had an automatic shift in the days when a lot of cars didn’t.
John: In 1937, my father had bought another car in Yoakum (Texas) that had an automatic shift. It was also an Oldsmobile. He didn’t buy another one for ten years, until he bought that big white one in 1947, the one he gave us. You couldn’t buy cars during the war years. All the metal, rubber and everything that had been used in car production went to the war vehicles.
Carolyn: In those days, everyone was on foot. Cars were useful, very important, if you had one. Drive-ins were a big deal. When you had a car, you went to a drive-in movie or a drive-up hamburger shop.
Lisa: Was gas rationed in the 40s?
Carolyn: Yes. There were different levels. Some people had As, some had Bs, and maybe Cs. When your grandparents passed away, Lisa, we found their ration books. They had saved them. The amount of gasoline rations you were issued depended upon your level of importance to the government. We had meatless Tuesdays. We cut down on our food consumption to save more “for the boys” (fighting the war). We had victory gardens to grow food for ourselves. In Hollywood, there had to be less fabric in the dresses so costumes were less sumptious. My mother’s cookbook at the time had recipes that were tailored to “the fighting forties.” They didn’t call for so much sugar and butter, or eggs, for that matter. They were more stringent recipes. We had sugar and meat coupons. Except for these cutbacks, we were really sheltered from the war.
John: It was all a newsreel war.
Carolyn: A gold star mother was someone in the community who had lost her son. Mrs. Pyle was one, maybe Mrs. Roscoe. Daddy and I didn’t pay any price.
John: I lived in Yoakum and they didn’t connect to anything.
Carolyn: I lived in Corpus Christi (Texas) where they had the largest naval station in the country. There may have been submarines in the Gulf of Mexico. We had black-out curtains. There was a rumor about a guy named Poenisch who was signaling Germans out on the water.
Lisa: Dad, back to your comment a while ago about World War II being “all newsreel war.”
John: That’s where we saw pictures of the war – at the movies. We saw newsreels that came on between the features. They were about 10 to 15 minutes long. Most of them were of the war, the battles. We saw pictures and heard the audio by Edward R. Murrow or Eric Severeid.
Carolyn: Oh, my gosh, he (Eric Sevareid) reported from the tops of burning buildings! Hollywood had been asked by the government to make happy propaganda. FDR asked the movie industry to do that. So we got movies like “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” “So Proudly We Hail,” “Edge of Darkness,” “Bataan.”
best-years-of-our-livesJohn: After the war, there was “The Best Years of Our Lives.” That movie showed what it was really like for those soldiers coming home. They got the GI bill and went to college. That’s who I went to school with.
Carolyn: All through the war, we weren’t touched by the war personally, but we were affected by it because so many of the movies were about it. Oh, we can’t forget to mention “Casablanca.”

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Carolyn King Waller

Carolyn King Waller

My mother Carolyn King Waller stopped by Lisa’s History Room this afternoon for a little chat. Carolyn was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1934. She has a mind like a steel trap; her ability to recall stories from the past is legend.

Lisa: Thanks for stopping by today, Mom. Everyone knows that you love history. What would you say is your favorite period?
Carolyn: Probably the World War Two years, 1941 to 1945. And of course World War Two for other countries was longer that. 1941 to 1945 were America’s war years.
Lisa: And why is that your favorite period?
Carolyn: The fate of the world hung in the balance. It was a lot of drama – really, truly, good against evil.
Lisa: So it fascinates you.
Carolyn: I’m not the only one…others are fascinated by it still…of course, we didn’t know about the Jews being exterminated, 6 million…then the Stalin thing…Stalin moved in from the east, we (the Allies) moved in from the west. The countries that Stalin occupied in the east became known as the countries behind the Iron Curtain. Churchhill coined the phrase. The poor people who had been under Germany were then under Russia! We didn’t really free them. The people in those countries had no freedom. We slowly woke up to who Stalin was. The Russians never left, including East Berlin, so World War II strengthened the Russians, it helped one problem, it created a worse one though, by increasing the strength of the Communists. Roosevelt was blamed for that but there wasn’t much he could do. It was said that Roosevelt gave too much away to Stalin at the 1945 Conference of Yalta,

1945 Conference at Yalta

1945 Conference at Yalta

but there really was very little he could do about it. They (the Communists) were there – they had occupied Eastern Europe – they had “boots on the ground.” We didn’t know then that Stalin had murdered millions of his own people, that he was a monster. In the early days, Truman even said, “I like Old Joe.”
Lisa: What else makes it an interesting period?
Carolyn: Outsized personalities of Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchhill – huge . Churchhill was a fabulous orator, Roosevelt knew about ships, had knowledge of the military, selected good generals. Hitler was a poor strategist; he entered all those countries at once. He told the generals what to do but he wasn’t good at military strategy. He was just a madman.
Lisa: To learn more, are there some books you would recommend?
Carolyn: Books about the period abound, certainly the biographies of those four men, stories of the war itself would be good.
Lisa: Does a particular book come to mind?
Carolyn: Kennedy’s thesis that became a book, While England Slept, No Ordinary Time, the Churchill bios by William Manchester – The Last LionA Man Called Intrepid
Lisa: What films capture the flavor and the truth of the war?
Carolyn: “The Best Years of Our Lives” showed the problems of returning servicemen from the war. “Edge of Darkness,” with Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan depicts the Norwegian struggle. Norway was given away by the Quisling leader. The Norwegians had to fight Germany in an underground movement. There may be another movie, “A Moon is Down,” by John Steinbeck about occupied Norway, but I’ve not seen it.
Lisa: What else?
Carolyn: “Escape” which was a book by Ethel Vance, with Robert Taylor and Norma Shearer; “Night Train to Munich,” with Rex Harrison; and, of course, “Casablanca; “Ministry of Fear,” with Ray Milland; “Cloak and Dagger,” with Gary Cooper and Lily Palmer,night-train-to-munich “Watch on the Rhine,” with Bette Davis and Paul Lucas, and “OSS,” with Alan Ladd. All of those are great movies.
Lisa: What was it like to be a young girl in the war years?
Carolyn: In elementary school, our room would get the American flag for the week if our class bought the most war stamps and bonds that week. The classes competed to have the flag on display at the front of the room. It was a big deal. I was at Fisher School two years. Stamps were ten cents, bonds were $18.75 redeemable in ten years for $25. You had a book of stamps and you would try to fill the book with stamps. You would turn in a certain amount of stamps to redeem for a bond. That paid for the war! My grandparents sold cattle during the war years and they gave me money to do it because I was always a big stamp buyer. The government was smart to do that. It was an easy way for the government to get money from the citizens to finance, to fight the war. So many (citizens) had schoolchildren. While boys – women and men were fighting and dying in the war around the world – I was a young girl busy doing cartwheels in the front yard and joining little clubs – I was totally isolated. I didn’t know anyone who died in the war.
Lisa: Changing the subject, you wanted to say something about (actress) Carole Lombard.

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable

Carolyn: Yes. Japan attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941. In January 1942 Carole Lombard went on a war bond tour – to Indiana I think. She wanted to get home to see (her husband and actor) Clark Gable afterward, in a hurry, because they had had a fight over Lana Turner. She insisted on flying out to California late at night when it was dark and foolish to fly over the Rockies. She should have waited for a better plan but she insisted on flying out. She crashed in her plane in the Rockies. She was only 33. All they found of her were her earrings. Clark went to the scene and was distraught. He was always a good drinker, but he isolated himself for a few days afterward or so and drank heavily before he came back out. Roosevelt said she (Lombard) was one of our first casualties of the war or maybe even first hero. Before she had left, she had said to Clark Gable, “Pappy, you need to join this man’s army (meaning the United States Army).” After she died, Gable did just that; he enlisted. He was about 41. He didn’t need to sign up. They were not drafting men of his age. But he was distraught and he did it. He was made a captain or something at the top – he became brass right away – he was too important to be just a regular fellow. He may have been in the Army but he was still a celebrity.
Lisa: Was Clark Gable decorated?
Carolyn: He was stationed in Great Britain, he was an officer, he may have been in some forays over Germany.
Lisa: What will we be talking about during your next visit to Lisa’s History Room?
Carolyn: What should we talk about? Should we talk about history?
Lisa: Well, if you had something you wanted to tell, what would it be?
Carolyn: I’d tell about the depression years. We had butter beans at Mother’s, and (my grandmother) Nona cooked cheap things, rice pudding, bread pudding, onions….the hobos, I don’t want to say that, the homeless people, they would come to the back door. Nona would give them a plate of food and they would to go and sit out under a tree in the backyard and eat their food. People weren’t afraid of other people back then.
Lisa: Okay, save those stories for next time. Thank you so much for stopping by today.
Carolyn: Well, bless your heart, you make me feel like a celebrity!

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