DOCUMENTING WORLD WAR II: HOLLYWOOD SUPPORTS THE WAR EFFORT
As America plunged into World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, members of the motion picture community rushed to assist in the war effort. Many of these highly-skilled film industry professionals lent their talents to the Army Pictorial Service (APS), a division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Established in 1942 by George C. Marshall, the APS counted among its most important tasks the visual documentation of the war.
In January 1943, director George Stevens joined the Army and was later selected to head the Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit (SPECOU) of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Working under the auspices of the Army Pictorial Service, the SPECOU group was responsible for capturing some of the war’s most enduring images. Stevens’ unit was involved in pivotal moments in the European Theater such as D-Day and the liberation of Paris, and was commended for its efforts by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevens is depicted below at work in France with several members of his company, which included cinematographer Joseph Biroc, screenwriters Ivan Moffat and Irwin Shaw and dramatist William Saroyan.
In the spring of 1945, Stevens and his crew were among the first to arrive at the newly-liberated Dachau concentration camp. As shown here, each day they would create caption sheets to describe the footage they shot so that news stories could be transmitted around the globe. Their riveting images introduced the world to the atrocities that had taken place there and have served to educate subsequent generations about this dark moment in history. The photographs and documents showing the extraordinary work of the Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit form part of the George Stevens papers, which are housed in Special Collections at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library.
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