Some people were so affected by a Beatles movie that they became rock’n’roll musicians. Others were encouraged by Gene Kelly to become dancers. And some may be inspired by a George Clooney movie to rob Las Vegas casinos.
Future President Ronald Reagan was the reason I joined the Navy. It happened way, way back in 1943 when I saw the movie, “This Is The Army”. Almost age 18 and into my freshman college year, I bought a ticket at Philly’s elegant, first-run theater, the Earle, for the high price of a dollar.
The big Technicolor production was based on a musical that had run on Broadway with an all-Army cast. On screen, soldier Reagan was the stage manager, and along with the patriotic World War II story line, there were many song and dance numbers. With music by Irving Berlin, the show included classics, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “This is the Army, Mr. Jones”.
Halfway through one of the scenes, during an Army-themed musical number, it was interrupted by shouts from the onscreen audience. Then, a bunch of white-uniformed sailors swarmed down from the balconies and ran up the aisles. It was all part of the script, as the costumed sailors took over the stage with, “How About a Cheer for the Navy!”
To me, that Navy-themed humor and song routine was the most enjoyable part of what was primarily rah-rah Army recruiting propaganda. Of course, it was needed then, because the U.S. had suddenly been thrust into a world war. A peacetime Army of 500,000 had to be quickly built up into a force that eventually totalled 16 million strong.
As I left the theater, my thoughts were on my older brother, in the Army Air Corps and serving in the Pacific. I had planned to join up right after my 18th birthday, and assumed until then I would enlist in the Army.
To this day, I believe that one musical number in the movie caused me to change my mind. The next morning I went to the Navy recruiting station at Philly’s 13th and Market Streets and signed up.