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Imaging/Imagining Air Force Identity: Hap Arnold, Warner Bros., and the Formation of the USAAF First Motion Picture Unit

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Imaging/Imagining Air Force Identity: Hap Arnold, Warner Bros., and the Formation of the USAAF First Motion Picture Unit
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  IMAGING/IMAGINING AIRFORCE IDENTITY: “HAP”ARNOLD, WARNER BROS.,AND THE FORMATIONOF THE USAAF FIRST MOTION PICTURE UNIT  D O U G L A S C U N N I N G H A M  On Sunday, March 8, 1942, JackL. Warner, vice presidentin charge ofproduction atWarner Bros., and Owen Crump, a rising star in the Warner Bros. shortsubjectsdepart-ment, metwith LieutenantGeneralHenryH. “Hap” Arnold, Chief, United StatesArmyAirForcesin Washington, DC. 1 The meeting would markthe conception ofthe FirstMotionPicture Unit(FMPU)—an officialU.S. ArmyAir Forces(USAAF) organization charged withthe production ofdocumentary, training, and orientation filmstargeted specificallyfor aworldwide Air Force audience. 2 Comprising Hollywood directors, actors, editors, writers,cameramen, and other artisan talentswho had traded studio overallsand tailored suitsfor the khaki ArmyAir Force uniform, the FMPU would ultimatelyproduce more than threehundred filmsin supportofthe war effort. 3 Itsformation also marked an importantmo-mentin Hollywood history; after all, itsestablishmentseta precedentfor a new type of cooperation between Hollywood and the U.S. government.While countlessarticlesand bookshave explored the historicaland socialsig-nificance offilmsproduced during World War II (mostnotablyThomasDoherty’s Projec-tionsof War  and Clayton R. Koppesand GregoryD. Black’s Hollywood Goesto War   ), nonehasyetdevoted proper attention to the historyor influence ofthe FMPU. Thisfactisevenmore ironicconsidering thatthe unitincluded so much creative talent, particularlywriters.Granted, some ofthese individualshave discussed their personalFMPU experiencesinarticlesor larger memoirsabouttheir Hollywood lives, asRichard Bare doesin hisbook, Memoirsof a Hollywood Director; in such cases, however, the men often followed theirmilitaryservice with such successfulcareersthattheir FMPU daysgeteclipsed bytheirlater achievements(Ronald Reagan, ofcourse, being the mostobviousexample). Evencomprehensive studiesofcombatcamera operationsor massive treatiseson U.S. mili-tarycooperation with Hollywood make onlyscantmention ofthisunique filmmaking organization. The FMPU filmsrepresented some ofthe firstUSAAFattemptsto mediateitsown image for itsown personnel. Indeed, these filmsprovided a sense ofgroup iden-tityto advocatesand membersofthe USAAF—a sub-branch ofthe War Departmentthencontinuing a decades-long struggle to secure operationalautonomyfrom itsmilitary“parent,” the U.SArmy.The cinematicbattle for thatgroup identityand operationalautonomy—and forthe heartsand mindsofairmen and their families—began monthsbefore the FMPU wasfinallyactivated on July1, 1942; indeed, we can find the veryrootsofFMPU filmmaking in the USAAF–Warner Bros. shortsubjectswritten, produced, and (atleastin some cases)released during the four monthsWarner, Arnold, Crump, and othersspentplanning andforming the new film unit. Each ofthese filmsalso involved personnelactivelyworking toform and activate the FMPU, and the eventualservice ofthese men asuniformed mem- CUNNINGHAM 96  bersofthe FMPU significantlyinfluenced the resulting training, orientation, and documentation filmspro-duced during the following three years. In addition, theaviation-specificimagesofmasculinitypresented inthese shortfilmshelped to reifythe USAAF’sgrowing sense ofidentityand separateness.Within the limited scope ofthisessay, then, I seekto accomplish two goals.First, I willexplore the waysin which the ongoing politicalstruggle for Air Force autonomyduring the prewar yearsresulted in the formation ofthe FMPU between March and Juneof1942. Second, while chronicling thisformation, I willalso examine the two USAAF–Warner Bros. shortsubjectsproduced and released during the same period (  WinningYourWings and Men of the Sky   )  , in an effortto understand how these recruiting filmssetimportantprecedentsfor the Air Force image seen in the training and orientation film worklater accomplished bythe FMPU. A closer lookatthese Warner Bros. shortsilluminatesthewaysthe USAAF–Warner Bros. alliance helped pave the wayfor the establishmentofanArmyAir Forcesmotion picture unitthatwould operate independentlyofthe U.S. Army’sSignalCorps—an actthat, in itsown right, represented a not-so-subtle salvo in the po-liticalbattle to free the USAAFfrom Armycontrolatlarge. Examining these contracted97 IMAGING/IMAGINING AIR FORCE IDENTITY  Jack L. Warner,  right, vicepresident in charge of produc-tion at Warner Bros. withLieutenant General Henry H.“Hap” Arnold, Chief, UnitedStates Army Air Forces inWashington, DC, at a WarnerBros. dinner party, May 1,1942. Courtesy Jack L. WarnerCollection.  shortsubjectsalso revealshow such filmshelped develop and perpetuate a cinematicsense ofAir Force identitythatwould ultimatelycontribute to the realization ofAir Forceindependence.  A PRELIMINARYNOTE ON THE USE OF ARCHIVALRESOURCES While thisessaydealsexclusivelywith the effortsundertaken to  form the FMPU, itisnever-theless(and necessarily) the firstchapter ofa book-length projecton the entire historyofthe FMPU. Myresearch on thislarger topic—much ofwhich isincluded here—hastaken me to variousarchives, museums, reunions, and collections(both publicand pri-vate) around the country. Since the intended audience ofthisessayconsistsofpeopleaccustomed to using archivalmaterials(both paper and film), some explanation ofmyprimarysourcesisin order.Writing abouta topicofthissortischallenging, I discovered, chieflybecauseaccessto primarysource materialsisso limited. Indeed, I suspectthatone ofthe reasonsa comprehensive historyofthe FMPU hasyetto be written isthe factthatthe materialsnecessaryto effectivelyreconstructthathistoryare so widelyscattered among variouscollectionsthroughoutthe United States. For example, I wrote thisparticular essayfirstnotonlybecause itcovered the eventsin FMPU historythatoccurred firstchronologicallybutbecause information aboutthisperiod in the unit’shistorywasreadilyavailable andorganized in the JackL. Warner Collection atthe UniversityofSouthern California’sCinema-Television Library. Because Warner oversaw the formation ofthe unitand evenserved asitscommander for approximatelythree months, hisinvolvementensured effec-tive documentation ofthe eventsduring thattime. I experienced greater difficultyin thearchivestrying to learn specificsaboutunitactivityfollowing Warner’stenure asthe FMPUcommander, so I eventuallyturned to sourcesatthe Air Force HistoricalResearch AgencyatMaxwellAir Force Base, Alabama, and the NationalArchivesand RecordsAdministra-tion (NARA) atCollege Park, Maryland, where I found detailed monthlyproduction prog-ressreportsand countlessrelevantpiecesofWar Departmentcorrespondence. Asonemightexpect, then, the film archive’smaterialsfocused on personalities, memorabilia,and creative products, while the governmentarchivesfeatured more intricate accountsof dailyactivity, interagencycorrespondence, and concern with the larger issuesofthe warand the missionsto train soldiersand documentcombat. Thismaterialwillhelp to fillinmanyofthe gapsfor the yearsfollowing Warner’sstintasFMPU commander.During the course ofmyresearch on the historyofthe FMPU, I interviewed sev-eralFMPU veterans, and these men were mostgraciousand forthcoming with time, mate- CUNNINGHAM 98  rials, and encouragement. None ofthe veteransI interviewed, however, had anyinvolve-mentwith the actualformation ofthe FirstMotion Picture Unit(mostofthe living veter-ansofthe FMPU joined the unitfollowing itsactivation in Julyof1942). Granted, JackL.Warner and Owen Crump documented their experiencesin forming the unit(Warner onlyin passing in hismemoir, MyFirstHundred Yearsin Hollywood   ). Crump’smemoriesabouteffortsto form the FMPU are effectivelycaptured in hisextensive oralhistorywith Doug-lasBell, which isfiled atthe MargaretHerrickLibraryofthe AcademyofMotion PictureArtsand Sciences. 4 Crump also participated in videotaped interviewsconducted byGre-goryOrr (for Orr’s1996 documentaryon the FMPU, Hollywood Commandos  ) and RobertLarr (for Larr’sas-yet-unaired documentary, The True Storyof Special Film Project186  ).Both Orr and Larr found keymaterialfor their respective documentariesatNARA.Incidentally, NARA boaststhe largestcollection ofextantFMPU films(no smallfeatconsidering the factthatmanyofthe FMPU’sfilmswere destroyed after the closureofthe unitin December 1945). While manyremaining FMPU filmscontinued to see wideuse in the Air Force beyond the war, advancesin Air Force technologyeventuallyrenderedallthese training filmsobsolete; those notdestroyed satfor decadesin the vaultsoftheAir Force AudiovisualService atNorton Air Force Base, California (relocated in the mid-1990sto March Air Force Base, California, and renamed the Defense VisualInformationCenter). 5 These organizationsdestroyed a good portion ofthe FMPU inventorybeforeforwarding the remainder to NARA for storage and transfer to videotape. 6 (In some cases,then, NARA ownscopiesofFMPU filmsthatare unavailable for viewing or study.)The two filmsstudied in thisessay, however (both made prior to the activationofthe FMPU), proved relativelyeasyto access. Winning YourWings, asone ofthe mostfamousrecruiting filmsmade during the war, can be purchased easilyin videotape for-maton the Internetor viewed atanyofa number offilm archives(including NARA). Printsof  Men of the Sky, while more rare, can neverthelessbe viewed atthe UniversityofWis-consin Center for the StudyofTheater and Film (in a blackand white printonly) or attheUCLA Film and Television Archives(in a Technicolor print). UCLA also ownsa smallnum-ber ofFMPU filmson videotape, 16mm, and 35mm. 7 MITCHELL, ARNOLD, AND THE PREWAR AUTONOMYSTRUGGLES One cannotfullyappreciate the politicalsignificance ofthe USAAF’sdecision to form theFMPU withoutfirstunderstanding the decades-long struggle to establish the U.S. AirForce asa separate service. Effortsto achieve operationalindependence for the air arm of the War Departmentwaged from the early1900sto the signing ofthe NationalSecurity99 IMAGING/IMAGINING AIR FORCE IDENTITY 
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