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It isn’t often that you get a long-term inside view of a government propaganda office, but that’s what I’ve got for you today. In this bumper episode we look at reports from the Marine Corps entertainment liaison office covering 1974 to 1982, featuring everything from Rocky III, Happy Days and Playboy (and Playgirl) to The Cat From Outer Space. We analyse how the military-Hollywood relationship has changed in the last 50 years but also the ways in which it has stayed the same.

Longer-term listeners might remember ClandesTime 157 – Two Years Inside the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs. We looked at a document covering approximately 2014 to 2016, including the CIA’s work on 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi among other entertainment products.

Today we’re going to do something similar, but larger in scope, and historical. I imagine most of you will be familiar with the ELO reports I’ve been mentioning for years both on this podcast and on my site. I first became aware of these sometime in the 2000s, the decade some people call the noughties, even though looking back they were quite innocent times in some ways. In the 2010s I had quite a lot of success obtaining thousands of pages of these reports from the various military branches, and some from the DOD’s entertainment liaison office at the Pentagon, all via FOIA requests.

These formed the basis for the appendix in National Security Cinema and some of the graphics in Theaters of War that list or show hundreds and hundreds of film and TV productions that have benefited from military support to Hollywood, and in terms of demonstrating the sheer scale of the entertainment liaison operations, they’re by far the best source material.

However, I also have copies of monthly ELO reports from the Marine Corps archive at their history division in Quantico, covering 1974 to 1982, and because lately we’ve mostly focused on more recent or current propaganda productions, I felt it was time to delve into these older files. I deliberately titled this podcast like an academic thesis that arbitrarily only covers a specific period of time – the geopolitics of Yugoslavia 1960 to 1983, the cinema of the door to door salesman 1922 to 1942, the history of masturbation from 1496 to 1871 – you get the idea. This is solely because this is when the files begin and stop – I’m not one of those pricktease intellectuals who only tells you part of the story, only shares parts of his knowledge in order to appear smarter than he really is. When you’re as smart as me the problem is not appearing intelligent, it’s finding the time and energy to explain all the shit you’ve found out.

Having compressed the files and then merged them together it comes to over 550 pages, which I’ll make available for ease of download via Spy Culture. We won’t be going page by page, but we’ll divide this into sections based on the reports as they were organised in the archive. There’ll be a few things in here that are already familiar to you, but most of this should be new information and hopefully by the end you’ll have an in-depth snapshot (as paradoxical as that phrase is) of what is in these files, and what those lads in the Marine Corps were up to.

The Marine Corps in Hollywood 1974-1976

Let’s start with the 1974 to 1976 reports. They are monthly update reports sent from the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office in Los Angeles to the office of the Commandant, as well as higher ups in Public Affairs. This is back when the entertainment liaison offices were housed at 11000 Wilshire Blvd, before they moved to 10880 in the late 90s. The Marines actually shut down their LA office and reduced their entertainment liaison to just a couple of Marines, operating out of Camp Pendleton, in the mid 2010s. While they were due to move back to LA, it seems the shut downs and budget restraints have delayed that move, so right now in early 2024 I don’t actually know where they are. But they are still working on movies – for example Mending the Line from 2022 is about a wounded Marine learning to fly fish, and was made with their help.

While the 2008 to 2015 activities reports mostly cover film and TV, these earlier ones from the 70s and 80s cover a wider range of PR activities. On the very first page we read about the 10th Annual Public Affairs Clinic, which we’ll come back to shortly. There is also an entry on the Toys for Tots program, which features quite heavily throughout these documents. This is where they collect up toys and give them to needy kids, often in collaboration with other local government agencies looking for a PR win. Not something I’m massively critical of, but all the references to exploiting it through publicity leave a bit of a sour taste.

Under the Radio and TV section we read about them arranging reunions on the show Truth or Consequences. This is something they love doing – whether it’s a child and a parent, a soldier and their bomb-sniffing dog, or in this case two pairs of husbands and wives. Obviously that’s one husband, one wife in each pair, because at this point the military were very much still ‘it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’.

Under Movies they provided information to Bob Stabler, a movie and TV producer researching the Marine Corps in WW2, the producers of The Great Adventure withdrew their request for support, and the TV movie Pray for the Wildcats, starring William Shatner, came out and was aired as ABC’s Movie of the Week. The Commandant and Camp Pendleton were notified.

There’s a bunch of stuff under Community Activities which isn’t very interesting, but their Internal USMC Activities contain some curious entries, including providing information to the bosses on Unicorn Films – a small studio that dissolved later that year without, it seems, actually making any movies.

They also ‘Relayed names of newlywed individuals submitted by PAO at Camp Pendleton and Barstow to the talent coordinator for the “Newlywed Game”.’ This is an early example of what has become a constant working relationship with reality TV. While this was, on paper, a gameshow the format is what we would now consider reality TV, with a fresh-faced young Marine couple front and centre. They still do this – gather up names of people they think would suit the particular format and submit them, whether it’s a singy dancy show or something more like the Newlywed Game.

Another entry caught my eye:

OIC attended a meeting with Channel 13, KCOP’s Program Advisory Board to discuss specific problems or areas of concern within their individual expertise and future public affairs programming on Channel 13 on 30 January.

KCOP is a local Los Angeles station, that still exists, and evidently this was some kind of overall thematic and strategic discussion, which for some bizarre reason involved the Marine Corps. We read about these sorts of meetings in the ELO reports from the 2010s, but evidently even back in the 70s they were already starting to do this. They weren’t discussing a specific project or request for help, but something more general about the station’s future content.

One more:

Assisted in arranging lunch and free tickets to the 9 January taping of Truth or Consequences for 140 Marines from 1st Bn, 7th Marines, Camp Pendleton who were in Los Angeles to donate blood to a 12 year old boy dying of leukemia. The lunches were paid for by the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association.

Again, I certainly have no problem with people donating blood to a dying 12 year old (though it does depend on the 12 year old), but why all 140? And did they really need to go and watch the taping of Truth or Consequences? I guess it beats hanging out on base getting shouted at for no reason.

That’s the January report – and we won’t be breaking down each month in this much detail, don’t worry. The February report isn’t as exciting, though it does show that they were forwarding scripts for potential projects to the office of the Commandant. Why would the highest ranking Marine have to see scripts? It’s one thing to send these monthly reports so they at least know what their LA people are up to, but why send scripts?

In March we get an update on the big annual event:

The 10th annual West Coast Public Affairs Clinic was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel from 17-22 March, with a banquet held at the Sportman’s Lodge on 21 March, with 230 personnel in attendance at the banquet and 40 students at the Clinic. This year’s Clinic concentrated on techniques involved in the collection of information, the formulation of the story and the dissemination of the finished product covering all media.

Maybe it wasn’t just a dubious use of resources, but a get-together for uniformed personnel and military students to learn how to better form and exploit stories. There are more reunitings (it seems this was a regular thing on Truth or Consequences) and the Assistant Officer in Charge of the office appeared on a discussion show about Women in the Services, for the Ad Lib TV series. I’m assuming this is because the AOIC was a woman, but it doesn’t say, only that representatives from the other branches were also on the show.

And then, a truly dubious use of resources:

Info Chief attended a luncheon in Hollywood with Chief John Samuelson, president of a Hollywood public relations firm, honoring Universal Studio’s retiring director of makeup, Ben Lane, on 7 March.

Keeping the nation safe, one luncheon with a tiny static PR dick at a time. April saw yet more reunitings on Truth or Consequences, and another weird, amusing entry:

Assisted producer of Variety for Children Telethon 74 (KTLA-TV) in getting 12 Marine volunteers in full dress blues to accept telephone pledges for a handicapped children’s benefit on the 0200-0300 shift on 21 April.

I shouldn’t have to say this but naturally I don’t object to telethons for handicapped children. My question is why the military agreed to cover the lucrative two to three in the morning shift? What’s the PR value? No one’s watching, I’m sure nowhere near enough people are pledging at that hour to necessitate a dozen highly trained Marines manning the phones.

Another amusing note jumped out at me:

OIC attended Moose Lodge dinner/meeting for the purpose of presenting a framed picture to Lester LeVitt, in appreciation for his support, on 11 April.

I get a visual in my head of this senior Marine, presumably in full dress, turning up to a meeting of drunken idiots dressed as moose. The things you have to do in government service.

The following month, the AOIC was back on Ad Lib, the ‘local talk show for women’, there was another reuniting on Truth or Consequences, and the following month an appearance on LA Woman, another local talk show for women. I have to say, Ad Lib and LA Woman are good titles for roundtable or panel discussions, much better than Loose Women. I assume the quality reflected the titles, but as I’m sure you can tell, I don’t watch this sort of TV. There was another luncheon for the Info Chief, this time with the Public Relations Director of Universal Studios, and as part of their community outreach they ‘Provided numerous school children with tie tacks, key chains and information on the Marine Corps.’

I imagine you’re noticing some of the recurring patterns – content aimed at women, events aimed at children, lots of meetings and lunches and banquets designed to make friends and gain influence, as well as gather information. As mid-century feminism found its way into TV formats, the Marine Corps and other military branches were right there, getting involved. As we saw with Lassie and Dennis the Menace, children are targeted because they’re the cannon fodder of the future, while women are both potential recruits and potential advocates. None of these are recent developments.

Then, something I was not expecting:

Per request from Recruiting Station, Los Angeles (RSLA), provided background information check from FBI files regarding an individual who requested a color guard from RSLA. Information was requested due to adverse telephone calls received from friends of the Corps.

This is highly improper. Firstly, who phones up the Recruiting Station to request a Color Guard, which is either a team who guard the colours, i.e. the flag, or is a performance troupe for ceremonial events? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding but this seems like the wrong request to the wrong office. Evidently, there were other phone calls, suggestive of a slightly perturbed person, and for some reason they got the FBI involved.

In August ‘74 they provided half a dozen Marines to act as a drill squad in an episode of Happy Days, which I imagine most of you remember – it’s the one where Henry Winkler plays a sex offender, riding around on a motorbike with girls who look 13. They also arranged for Marines to appear on Name that Tune.

In September it seems that meeting with KCOP bore fruit, as the office:

Received a request from Ralph Coonfield of KCOP-TV for Marine American Indian to appear on the American Indian segments of Minority Community program. Master Sergeant Joe HUERTA of PAO Camp Pendleton was asked, and appeared with distinction on the show aired 17 August.

Herein lies a cruel truth about American society, and wider Western society. The progressives, the people who apparently want to foreground indigenous peoples and give a voice to the marginalised and so on, will only do so within existing strictures. It’s what Michel Foucalt described as seeking recognition and approval from a system that oppresses you – and whether that’s a marriage, a family, an employer or anyone else, a lot of people do this. Of course, in this case Joe probably didn’t have much choice, I’m not blaming him, but you see how this culture is manufactured. We need a Native American Marine, the Marine Corps rustles one up. We need some recently married Marines for a gameshow, the office finds some for you. We need a story about female FBI agents arresting Mexican men who are trafficking women, the FBI finds some for you to interview. It’s targeted, shaped, specific, and the government plays along with all of this, if not outright encouraging it.

In September and October the office got embroiled in a tricky project – a movie adaption of the novel Meanwhile, Back at the Front. It was written by Gene L Coon, perhaps best known for working on the original TV version of Star Trek and for coming up with the idea for The Munsters. He’d also worked on Dragnet and McHale’s Navy, two very state-sponsored productions, and wrote an episode of The F.B.I. in the 1960s. The novel is about the adventures and exploits of the Public Information Section of the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War. It features a mobile cat house – essentially a brothel on wheels serving the front line of the war – and the antics of a bunch of war correspondents dealing with the military’s PR department.

They had three meetings in September to discuss script and production problems, and over the following year there are updates saying they were still waiting for a completed script, before the file was closed. We’ll come back to this, too but it probably won’t surprise you that the film was never made.

Highlights from the remainder of 1974 include helping on an episode of Planet of the Apes, more reunitings on Truth or Consequences (with one episode filmed with dozens of female Marines and members of the Officers’ Wives Club in the audience), and the first mention of the Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds.

Moving into 1975, the Marines realised Hearts and Minds was ‘anti-Vietnam’ and began sending out information about it to highers up in the Corps. However, they were helping to make Guadalcanal Odyssey, a documentary fronted by Leslie Nielsen retelling part of the story of the Marines in WW2, so it wasn’t all bad news.

Also in the January document is an entry:

OIC hosted first in a series of periodic West Coast PAO conferences at Camp Pendleton on 11 December. Matters discussed included Bicentennial coordination, West Coast Public Affairs Clinic, Freedom of Information, IG inspections.

Attending this conference were dozens of PAOs from different bases and units, and note that they discussed both FOIA requests and Inspector General’s investigations. I keep saying this – if these military PR people aren’t doing anything wrong then why have they spent so much time and effort, over many decades, minimising and covering up what they’re doing and manipulating people’s perceptions of what they do?

Alongside Frank Drebin talking about WW2, they supported Baby Blue Marine and Goodbye Norma Jean, a film about the life of Marilyn Monroe, both of which came out in 1976. They helped a former Marine get tickets to not one, not two, but three filmings of TV shows in Los Angeles, and organised tickets for a Sgt Major in the Corps, again for three different filmings.

In spring 1975 they approved the concept for Baa Baa Blacksheep, a TV show that was also broadcast under the name Blacksheep Squadron, and which IMDB describes as ‘The dramatized World War II adventures of U.S. Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and his U.S. Marine Attack Squadron 214, (The Black Sheep Squadron).’ Never seen it, sounds completely generic, someone let me know if it isn’t.

At the same time, another entry you will probably recognise the importance of:

Assisted Army Information Office in obtaining Marines for a Joint Service Color Guard for the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce where Postmaster General Benjamin F. Bailar will be dedicating a commemmorative postage stamp honoring motion picture pioneer, D.W. Griffith on 27 May.

You see, this is what a color guard is supposed to be for – attending the launch of a postage stamp celebrating the man who made Birth of a Nation – a racist origin story not just for the United States but for the American empire that followed. And did so with the US military’s help.

By May the shooting at Camp Pendleton for Baby Blue Marine was taking place, but they were still waiting on a script for Meanwhile, Back at the Front, and maintaining a holding pattern on another project called The Welsh Retrace. I can find no reference to this film anywhere. I even checked encyclopaedias of film and TV, but nothing.

Another thing that keeps coming up in these reports is where they mention providing information to writers for possible screenplays – mostly historical research, for example:

Provided screenwriter Steve Hayes with information on Marines in Haiti in the 1920’s for a possible screenplay.

Now, there’s no evidence they were pitching this information and these ideas (not quite yet, we’re coming to that), but that they were helping on screenplays before a word has even been written shows how upstream they were in the creative process. And this is in the middle of 1975, before I was even born. Many of us were born into this world, where all of this was already going on without our knowledge.

Another entry in this one makes me laugh:

Provided Western Costume with information on Marine uniforms during the 1930’s for an unknown character in an unknown film.

If this seems a little lax and like it probably didn’t need to be included in this report back to HQ, that’s because it is, and because it didn’t. Then, a curiosity:

OIC attended luncheon with Col Ernest Frankel and John Milius in reference to Milius’ prospective application for USMCR Specialist commission and membership in PAU 12-99 on 8 April.

John Milius was a screenwriter, who had volunteered to fight in Vietnam but was rejected for medical reasons, and went on to write the original drafts of Apocalypse Now based largely on stories told to him by veterans. He was evidently trying to join the US Marine Corps Reserve, and get posted to PAU 12-99, a Public Affairs Unit. It doesn’t seem this ever happened, though Milius did visit the Hollywood office in August that year.

We do know that Ernie Frankel, who was in the Marine Reserve, was back the following month with a script for the TV series Movin On, titled The Toughest Men in America. It was approved because it was ‘highly complimentary to the Marine Corps and DOD’ and Frankel went on a liaison visit to Camp Lejeune. We also know that 12-99 produced films for the Marine Corps, including one celebrating their Bicentennial, and that the commanding officer of the unit was Ernest Frankel.

So, while I don’t know exactly what this unit was, it was led by a TV writer/producer who was evidently working for both 12-99 and in the industry at the same time, and recruiting other writers like Milius to get involved on the Marine Corps side of things. How is this not a massive violation of US laws against the government producing domestic propaganda?

Filming for The Toughest Men in America took place in July, but there was some bad news. A TV special called Marines at 200, designed to air around the time of the celebrations in November, hit the skids:

Inability to find a Sponsor has all but killed network interest in this Frankel-written television Special.

However, Angie Dickinson did agree to be national chairperson for Toys for Tots ‘75, so it wasn’t all bad.

Much of the rest of the year was dominated by the Bicentennial events and activities, so let’s jump forward to 1976. Throughout 1975 they’d been discussing with PAU 12-99 the possibility of remaking The Story of Old Glory, and in January ‘76 a crucial update came in:

Continue to assist PAU 12-99 on “The Story of Old Glory” project. Bill Hendricks (Col., USMCR (Ret.)) of Warner Brothers has located the master and sound tracks of the original film. Plans currently underway by Code PAB for possible re-release after minor editing and updating by PAU 12-99.

For those of you who don’t know, the film they’re referring to is actually called Old Glory, it’s from 1939 and it stars Porky Pig.

The story in this cartoon is that Porky is being made to learn the Pledge of Allegiance, but doesn’t want to, becomes bored, falls asleep. Uncle Sam appears to him in his dream and teaches him the importance of nationalist sentiment and made-up American history, and by the end Porky becomes a full on flag-shagger. Sadly, from what I can tell the Marine Corps re-release never happened.

Also, on Col Bill Hendricks – he went into the film industry in the late 40s, immediately after leaving the Marine Corps. He founded the Toys for Tots program, and was given an honorary Academy Award for the 1961 short documentary about the Marines, A Force in Readiness. He also made other shorts about NASA astronaut John Glenn, and promoting the FBI. Unsurprisingly, he comes up repeatedly in these documents, with one entry recording:

Coordinated luncheon meeting on 30 December of all service PAO’s and Bill Hendricks of Warner Brothers for a special screening of a DoD-funded film entitled “Us in the U. S. A.” produced for I.A.F..

IAF are the Inter-American Foundation, essentially a foreign aid quango invented by the US Congress but which is entirely independent of the CIA and the State Department and anyone else who might want to use such a foundation as a front for more nefarious things. Which is why they decided to illustrate their independence by having the US military fund and produce a film for them to distribute, obviously.

The following month, we get another oddly-phrased entry:

Just a Few Good Men. Telephone conversations indicated potential production/financial support for Messrs. Shefter and Virnig for their proposed television series. Now awaiting further information on storyline and their request for DoD assistance.

This is a project they’d been mentioning for a while but I am not sure what to make of this. Shefter and Virnig were two film archivists, but they evidently wanted to break into production so they approached the Marine Corps about supporting their series Just a Few Good Men. Not to be confused with A Few Good Men, the stageplay by Aaron Sorkin that then became a movie and may now be getting reworked as a limited series.

This show by Sheftner and Virnig was never made, but at this point – early 1976 – things were looking positive. The entry doesn’t make clear whether the Marines themselves were in on these phonecalls, trying to drum up financing and network support for the project, but they had been involved since day one so it wouldn’t surprise me.

A film that was made, Universal’s Two Minute Warning starring Charlton Heston, was also supported by the Marines, as was the original Rocky, sort of:

Received approval to cooperate with Chartoff-Winkler Productions in providing off-duty Marine volunteers for background filming of feature movie “Rocky”. Numbers of local Marines available were so small that project was dropped.

The same month, Angie Dickinson got a plaque, and Ernie Frankel was presented with the Legion of Merit. The following report contains another telling entry:

We Are Woman. Provided technical advice on 2 February for this movie being made for DoD by Avanti Films, during the re-shooting of two scenes involving Women Marines.

So, we have the DOD funding a film for the Inter-American Foundation, and now Avanti Films making a film for the DOD. Incidentally, Avanti also made the 1968 film Marijuana, where Sonny Bono tells you about the perils of smoking weed, while seemingly high as a kite. Good watch.

The March and April report also mentions some movies – Chesty, starring John Wayne, Blown Cover, an FBI thriller that does not appear to have been made, and the writer and producer of Meanwhile Back at the Front went on a tour of Camp Pendleton to do research for the screenplay. The report also mentions:

Assisted Universal Studios in arranging, through the Defense Property Disposal Officer at Camp Pendleton, for the possible loan of 4500 rounds of M-60 brass for use in a proposed film about Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Moving swiftly on from the Corps loaning live ammunition to Universal Studios, by August Blown Cover has disappeared from the reports, despite getting Marine Corps and Navy approval. A new film is listed – MacArthur, about the famous General, and a new chairman found for this year’s Toys for Tots program – Henry Winkler.

Later that year there are a string of short entries that are worth dwelling on:

Internal Relations
a. Provided 30-minute brief to Lt Gen. Leslie E. BRONX U.S. Marine Corps Chief of Staff, on mission and major projects including “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, “Toys for Tots”, film “MacArthur” and PAU 12-99 of Marine Corps Public Affairs Office of Los Angeles at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Also present were MGen. O’DONNELL and BGens. DAVIS and BLAHA.

b. Staff members attended meetings with PAU 12-99.
Provided one hour lecture: Duties/responsibilities of PAU member who suddenly becomes a Public Affairs Officer.

d. BGen. MALONEY visited this office during 22-23 September.
Itinerary included meeting with PAU 12-99 and meeting at Universal Studios where he received an update on the movie “MacArthur” and NBC-TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.

This is something we find in the more recent reports – senior military brass turning up and wanting to be shown around Hollywood and told about the various things they’re working on, visiting the set of NCIS and all that. But the way they were referring to PAU 12-99 is as though it operated out of the Los Angeles Public Affairs Office, i.e. was an adjunct of the entertainment liaison office itself. And yet, it was run by civilian reservists who were themselves also working in the entertainment industry at the same time.

The November report elaborates:

Colonel GRAVEL attended Public Affairs Unit 12-99’s public affairs clinic 17-22 Oct. He also received first hand look at “Baa Baa Black Sheep” Indian Dunes location, and “MacArthur” Coronado location.

The 1976 Public Affairs Unit 12-99 Public Affairs Clinic appeared to be very successful with the attendance of 30 students most of whom were On-The-Job Trainees.

The highlight of the weeks training was the OJT day in the field with the professionals. An after-action report will be filed under separate cover from PAU 12-99.

I’m sure you’re starting to get the idea – the 12-99 unit was there to handle some of the industry outreach, training, liaison activities so it wasn’t current, full-time military personnel doing it, but people from the industry themselves. But it was seemingly housed at the entertainment liaison office and filed after-action reports to the Corps hierarchy.

As the year came to a close, Vietnam films started cropping up. The war was over, the withdrawal executed with true military precision, and there was an uptick in studios wanting to make stories about the war. Some basic costume and uniform assistance was provided on Coming Home, and actor Drew Michaels, a former Marine, went on a tour to refresh his memory in preparation for The Boys in Company C.

Interestingly, both of these films were denied production support. The DOD database says of Coming Home:

MARINES REFUSED TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE ON STORY WHICH CONTAINED REFERENCE TO LEATHERNECKS IN VIETNAM CUTTING EARS OFF DEAD VIET CONG, PORTRAYING AN OFFICER SUFFERING A BREAKDOWN FROM HIS WAR EXPERIENCES AND COMMITTING SUICIDE, AND A PARALYZED VIETNAM VET ATTACKING THE MARINES.

And on The Boys in Company C:

FIRST MAJOR COMBAT FILM ABOUT VIETNAM TO REACH SCREEN AFTER END OF WAR. WASHINGTON LOBBYIST, RAY BELL, ADVISED COMPANY NOT TO SEEK ASSISTANCE FROM MARINES OR DOD BECAUSE OF PLOT AND PORTRAYALS, LACK OF DISCIPLINE WITHIN UNIT, INSUBORDINATION, INCOMPETENT LEADERSHIP, EXCESSIVE VULGARITIES. FILM ULTIMATELY SHOWED SOME OF THE WORST THINGS REAL AND IMAGINED THAT MAY HAVE HAPPENED IN VIETNAM.

The Marine Corps in Hollywood 1977-78

1977 starts with a bang, with the first report mentioning that Meanwhile Back at the Front had a new writer, who was going to be shown around Camp Pendleton for possible filming locations. The Marines attended a press party for Baa Baa Black Sheep, and this is where Good Guys Wear Black enters the conversation – the film about the Phoenix Program. Perhaps even more stunningly, Capricorn One is listed as a ‘DOD approved, Air Force supported movie dealing with American astronauts.’

Anyone who has seen the film – which stars OJ Simpson, among others – will know that this is a very charitable view of Capricorn One. In reality, it’s a thriller about NASA and the wider US government faking a landing on Mars in an elaborate conspiracy. However, I have no file on the film, it isn’t mentioned in the database, it isn’t mentioned in David Robb’s Operation Hollywood, it isn’t mentioned in Larry Suid’s Guts and Glory.

So, the only source we have that even shows this rather odd movie (and, in my opinion, slightly goofy but extremely watchable and quite tense in places movie) was supported by the military are these documents from the Marine Corps. Hopefully you’re all rushing out and either reading about or watching Capricorn One either now, or as soon as you’ve finished listening to this podcast, if you have not already.

Another entry shows how certain celebs, once they get inside the military-Hollywood circle, become part of the furniture:

Office provided names of agencies for actors Robert Blake, Ron Howard, and actress Lynda Carter to Major THOMAS of Camp Pendleton. Maj. THOMAS plans to invite one of the above to opening of the Base’s Youth Baseball season.

Lynda Carter is best known for playing Wonder Woman in the 70s TV series, which did have military support and is mentioned in earlier reports. Ron Howard, the actor turned director had starred on Happy Days while Robert Blake had appeared in any number of TV shows, movies, TV movies supported by government agencies. Indeed, both Howard and Blake appeared on The F.B.I., the long-running show co-produced by J Edgar Hoover.

By March Coming Home’s request for help was denied, ‘on the basis of non-DoD support of the film’, Good Guys Wear Black was off pestering the US Army for a helicopter and news came in that MacArthur was coming out on July 4th. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apocalypse Now slides into our DMs at this point, with an entry recording:

Received request from production staff of “Apocalypse Now” requesting information on ‘Donut Dollies’ during Vietnam era. Informed caller USMC did not have information and recommended that the American Red Cross be contacted. (As a note of interest, ARC would not cooperate with film company.)

OK, I know this sounds a little pornographic but trust me, the Donut Dollies were quite innocent. They were women who made donuts and other baked confectionery and delivered them to men fighting in WW2 and beyond, including in Vietnam. Evidently Coppola had his eyes on some fresh, hot, sweet baked goods. But his corporal desires were shut down by the Marines and the American Red Cross, and no donuts were harmed in the making of Apocalypse Now.

One of the other paragraphs in this report is quite serious, and illustrative of how broad the mission of the Public Affairs Office was:

Staff member attended demonstration at local Hari Krishna Temple where Marine Staff Sergeant Sammy L. BEAM, MCAS, El Toro demonstrated for the return of his 7-year-old daughter. BEAM’s former wife belongs to the sect and is alleged to have abducted her from the father who had legal custody of the child. Approximately 50 demonstrators participated. Two other demonstrators looked like they could be Marines. Two TV crews were there; KNBC channel 4 and KFWB an independent local station. During BEAM’s address to the media, no mention of the Marine Corps was made.

So, this is a Marine protesting (likely with other Marines) about his daughter being kidnapped by his looney tunes wife who has joined a cult. You might say this is just another Tuesday in Los Angeles, and you’d be right, but the fact someone from the Marine Corps PR machine was there to check if there was anything potentially negative for the Corps in this event shows just how careful these institutions are.

Then, an even more disturbing note:

Staff member escorted Mr. James Tadevic of Walt Disney Studios to MCAS, El Toro to take still photos of the LTA hangars located there. Tadevic has requested the use of one of the two hangars for filming a scene in an upcoming Disney motion picture, “Cat from Outer Space.” Filming is scheduled to begin in July.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, The Cat from Outer Space is a masterpiece. It’s about a cat, from outer space no less, with telekinetic powers. It can literally move objects with its mind, thanks to alien technology in the form of a collar around its neck that lights up when it’s doing its telekinetic thing. A true dream for any cat, because it can knock things off the table without even getting out of bed (this is, more or less, what happens in multiple scenes in the film). It culminates with the cat using its power to fly multiple biplanes as they try to escape the bad guys who are trying to capture the cat.

As I am sure you can understand, and empathise with, I was very upset when I first discovered that The Cat from Outer Space might have been supported by the US military. This film holds a very special place in my heart, next to Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World, which is about a secret military research project run by NATO that accidentally creates a giant dog. Called Digby.

Much to my relief and to the relief of everyone, The Cat from Outer Space did not go ahead with the filming – after a tour of MCAS El Toro an update says:

Disney’s proposed motion picture “Cat From Outer Space” will not continue with request for use of location at MCAS El Toro. Alternate location has been found.

A few other things from the early months of 1977 – they tried to leverage Bill Hendricks’ involvement in the Toys for Tots program to get him a humanitarian award, but the panel chose someone else. There is a mention of some black Marines who appeared on a radio show talking about the ‘KKK incident’, which is where Marines who were also member of the Klan were abusing black Marines at Camp Pendleton. And even though they’d rejected Coming Home they were still keeping an eye on the production, noting when Bob Ginty, one of the stars of Baa Baa Black Sheep, took a role in the movie. They also got a request from the makers of The Deer Hunter, another Vietnam movie, asking about rental costs for military equipment. The report says, ‘No request for DoD support anticipated’ and sure enough, no support was provided.

As we get into the summer of ‘77, The Great Santini makes an appearance. This is a Robert Duvall drama about a Marine pilot struggling with drink and with his life. It barely broken even at the box office, which means ultimately it lost money, but it was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards and generated positive reviews. In the Pentagon file on the movie they admit that the changes they demanded would make it less funny, less entertaining, and it is one I want to do a focus episode on so we can do an autopsy and figure out where it went wrong. As the database summarises:

APPROVED USE OF MARINE AIRCRAFT, PERSONNEL, AND INSTALLATIONS. NEGOTIATIONS EXTENDED OVER A LONG PERIOD DUE TO PROBLEMS WITH PORTRAYAL OF MARINE OFFICER AS WIFE AND CHILD ABUSER, A PATTON-TYPE WARRIOR, NEEDED IN WAR BUT LOST IN PEACETIME.

Also in this report, a reference to a protest demanding the freeing of the Camp Pendleton 14. These were 14 black Marines who, sick and tired of the abuse from the KKK Marines, went into a room they believed was hosting a KKK meeting and kicked the living shit out of six Marines they found in there, sending them to hospital. The problem was that they had the wrong room – the Klan meeting was next door, and a search found knives, clubs, an unlicensed .357 and racist literature. So the 14 beat up half a dozen innocent guys, but because of the context it became political.

And just so we don’t lose track of them, 12-99 are still getting regular mentions, mostly in connection with Toys for Tots, and their bi-monthly meetings were being not only attended but hosted by the LA office.

Another film that turns up in the middle of ‘77 is Big Wednesday, a coming of age drama about a group of young surfers in the 60s who are trying everything to dodge the draft and avoid being sent to Vietnam, including faking homosexuality. One of their friends is killed in the war, and then one of the three is conscripted and sent out there. It was written and directed by John Milius, based on his own experiences growing up in the 1960s.

It was also around this time that the reports start to distinguish between updates from the TV liaison and those from the Motion Picture liaison, whereas previously they’d been lumped under one heading. It seems as they got busier in the entertainment industry they started dividing up the responsibilities. One report mentions four different movies – MacArthur, which was coming out, The Great Santini and Big Wednesday which were being developed, and one called Wham. No, not that Wham, this was an idea from Walter Doniger, a director who had made films with the US Army in WW2 and more recently directed an episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep. Like many of the projects mentioned, it seems it was never produced. On top of these four movies, they were also working on nine TV shows of varying kinds, hence the need to start breaking things down and dividing them up.

They were dealing with other issues as well, of course. In this report they note how a public affairs officer at El Toro had to be spoken to after they invited a Playboy playmate to participate in the Navy’s Annual Relief campaign. The report states, ‘Subject visit was cancelled’.

The September document reveals that Wham stands for ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ and was another Vietnam movie, while the OIC went to a preview screening of a cut of The Boys From Company C. At the same time, the producers of The Swarm, a Warner Bros film supported by the Air Force featuring killer bees, wanted a little technical help. Negotiations on The Great Santini continued, Big Wednesday withdrew its requests for off-duty Marines but continued getting other support, and another entry in the film section says:

OIC met with former Marine Marshal Breedlove concerning “Reckless,” the horse adopted by Marines in Korea. Mr. Breedlove wants to do a motion picture about Reckless. This is not his first attempt at this film.

Since animals are the predominant theme of this podcast episode, we need to explain this. Sgt Reckless was a military horse who served in Korea, she was twice wounded in action, was promoted to corporal and then sergeant, and became the first horse to participate in an amphibious landing. She was awarded two Purple Hearts, various citations including the Medal of Bravery, the Korean Service Medal and the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. After the war she retired from the military, moved to the United States and had four children.

It’s a good story, albeit not an easy one to film because you need a horse that looks the part and at least two stunt doubles, so you can see why Mr Breedlove was never able to make this movie. Indeed, it seems there has never been a film about Sgt Reckless – some TV, plenty of media coverage and youtube videos and there’s even a website dedicated to her that says she wasn’t a horse, she was a Marine. I’m just taking a stab in the dark that this website is run by Marines.

Some other movies that turn up in these documents include Cindy, a re-telling of Cinderella set in WW2 with an all-black cast, and 9th Configuration. In the latter case no formal request was made for filming support, just general research help, and the film is described on IMDB as, ‘An ex-marine psychiatrist attempts to rehabilitate his patients by indulging their fantasies, and seeks to prove the existence of a loving God to one especially troubled inmate.’ Yet another was Meteor, the Sean Connery movie where the West and USSR must join forces to destroy a meteor that threatens planet earth.

Then, another fun incident. Chuck Barris, creator of the Gong Show and self-confessed CIA assassin wanted a Marine band to play on an episode, but this request was denied. Later in the same report they reference a letter sent to the Commandant, which led to further contact with Barris. Reading between the lines, after they turned down his original request Barris got a friend in the Corps to write to the Commandant on his behalf, leading to this rebuke for both Barris and his friend.

The 1978 reports open with yet more films – Raise the Titanic, a Disney production that wanted footage of military involvement in disaster relief and a project titled ‘Ripe’. I’m unsure whether Ripe was ever made, or if it became the TV movie Zero to Sixty, which is about a divorced guy who gets together with a 16 year old car thief. Then there’s another very funny moment:

Denied a request from D. Jim Lucero, owner of the “Udder Delight” yogurt stand, for the 1st Marine Division Band to perform at a “Toys for Tots” event in which free yogurt would be given in exchange for a new toy. Lucero claimed that Gov. Jerry Brown, actor Telly Savalas and actress Farrah Fawcette-Majors would be in attendance. Gov. Brown’s office claimed no knowledge of the event.

As the year went on the request for support on Meteor was denied by the DOD. They were only asking for use of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, but evidently a story of the USSR and NATO saving the world together was not acceptable to the Pentagon. Hurricane gets a mention for some minor support, and then another telling moment:

Born on the Fourth of July: Provided information to Mr. Don Baruch, OASD(PA), on upcoming motion picture biography on Mr. Ron Kovic, Vietnam paraplegic veteran.

This was the first time Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic tried to make the film, but due to endless problems with it switching studios and investors pulling out, fearful that it would be overshadowed by Coming Home, the project was canned. But this is interesting – there was no request for support but they were still forwarding information to Baruch, keeping tabs on the film.

A page or so later and they mention Lassie The New Beginning, where they provided stock footage, and how they were only providing limited technical advice on Blacksheep Squadron, a.k.a. Baa Baa Black Sheep. Something must have gone array in the relationship, before the order came down from on high to scale back on assistance to the series.

In March we get another movie, Hair, the adaptation of the stage play. The scale of support was considerable – a bunch of Marines and ‘approximately 700 U. S. Air Force and guardsmen from California National Guard.’ They also rejected a TV special who requested ‘use of active duty Marines to appear in a segment in which “Captain’s” hat is buried by a military funeral detail. Request was also denied by other service PAOs.’

Project U.F.O., Hawaii Five-0, Bermuda Triangle and Wheel of Fortune all make an appearance in the mid-1978 reports. They weren’t as busy as at their height in the last decade or so, but the sheer range of TV and film productions is broad. Not so many documentaries and fly on the wall reality shows, but some others that were still appearing in the documents 35 years later, albeit reboots and relaunches of old titles and formats.

Lloyd Haynes, an actor who appears in Good Guys Wear Black, got some research help and access to a Brigadier General for his project No Bugles No Drums, about ‘a black pilot and his return from a Vietnamese POW camp’. Shockingly, this film was never made but to be fair, it seems the Marines did provide some help as he tried to get his script together, possibly because Haynes was another former Marine.

Another interesting TV project was the mini-series From Here to Eternity, based on the 1953 movie of the same name. In the 70s, after someone invented the TV mini-series or what we now call a limited series, all kinds of films and novels were turned into multi-episode TV movies. The original movie was supported, but it wasn’t straightforward. As the database tells us:

ARMY DESPERATELY DID NOT WANT TO COOPERATE ON PRODUCTION. HOWEVER, COLUMBIA ENTERED INTO A LONG SERIES OF NEGOTIATIONS. ULTIMATELY, FILMMAKERS SOFTENED PORTRAYALS OF BRUTALITY IN STOCKADE AND HAD A REPELLENT OFFICER FACE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.

It seems there were no such problems with the TV remake – having blunted the problematic parts during the film’s production, a TV copy of that same story was easy going. Another example of them monitoring potentially objectionable cultural products comes a few pages later:

Responded to query from actor/former Marine John Russell re article appearing in 8 August issue of the Hollywood Reporter which claimed Japanese to produce a motion picture with story treatment about mutiny of black Marines in Japan during Korean Conflict. CMC (Code HD) found no historical basis for proposed story.

I don’t know if this film exists, not being an expert in Japanese cinema, so if anyone knows more about this then please get in touch. As 1978 went on, the office got a bit quieter. The ongoing help on The Great Santini is referred to month-on-month, and Meanwhile Back at the Front comes back into the picture, but with no meaningful progress. Robert Duvall went on a visit to MCAS El Toro, the OIC went to the premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica, and a Marine Band played a salute to Mickey Mouse on his 50th birthday.

John Barnwell and Bud Fensler met with the office in November, looking to remake Guadalcanal, another WW2 era movie telling a story which has been retold many times. Even back then there had been at least 10 films, documentaries and TV episodes on this specific topic. Since then there’s been at least a dozen more, but Bud Fensler doesn’t even have an IMDB page, so evidently his version never happened. Yet another Vietnam film – Yesterday, which came out in 1981 – is referenced, with the head of the office being appointed technical advisor. However, at this point at the end of 1978 they’d only just made contact with the producers.

Two observations before we move onto the next batch of reports. One, the 12-99 unit appears to have been replaced, it is no longer referred to by the end of ‘78 and a different unit is doing the Public Affairs Clinics. Whether this was just a renaming or a reorganisation, I don’t know. The other thing is how often the reports read like the office initiated contact with the producers of a film or TV show or documentary. They do mention requests coming in, but most of the entries don’t mention this, leading me to wonder how much of this was being done pro-actively, even back in the Happy Days days.

The Marine Corps in Hollywood 1979-80

1979 begins with continuing involvement on The Great Santini, and a film called Green Card (not the one with Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell), which is another where I’m unsure if it was actually produced. On the TV side we have Quincy, and the pilot of the TV show of Westworld, the Michael Crichton novel about a robot cowboy theme park. This is the 70s version, obviously, not the recent remake. Also, Blind Ambitions, another mini-series.

You see how, regardless of emerging genres whether it be the mini-series in the 70s, the reality show in the 2000s, the streaming service true crime documentary anthology in the 2010s, the superhero movie in the 2000s and 2010s, the US military is always present and correct.

This report also has reference to a magazine liaison, distinct from film, TV, community relations, newspapers and so on. They reached out to the editor of New Women to try to plant a story about lady Marines, and the editor was receptive. There’s also a newspaper story about a former Marine running a Church in LA that was suspected of being a front for Scientology.

Also in this file there are some copies of letters from Captain Coulter, who had just taken over as OIC – i.e. head of the office. He sent out the same letter, introducing himself and inviting contact to the President of Warner Bros, the editor of the LA Times and similar figures. Not unusual in itself, but it highlights how on the button these PR chiefs are.

In March a request came in from a producer looking to make a movie about Corporal Anthony Casamento, a Marine at the Battle of Guadalcanal in WW2 who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Ditto, from TV producers making a pilot of a TV adaptation of the movie Heaven Can Wait, itself a remake of a film from the 1940s, itself an adaptation of a stageplay. Keep this in mind for later.

There’s a fun entry under the Press Liaison section about a former Marine who wanted to jog along the Great Wall of China in a USMC t-shirt, though it seems unlikely the Chi-Coms would have given him permission for that. Also this month, they went on a tour of the American Film Institute HQ, with the report noting how ‘MCPAO LA has frequent contact with students and graduates of the Institute.’

The following month, another surprise:

Raging Bull: Contacted by Chartoff-Winkler Productions (“Rocky”) re upcoming feature starring Robert De Niro which may include some Marines in crowd scene.

There was also an approach from Terence Young, the director of the early James Bond films (so someone familiar with working with the US military), himself a military intelligence veteran from WW2, and also the director of Triple Cross, from 1966, the movie about Eddie Chapman. He was looking for help with his Korean war film, Inchon, which has a 2.8 rating on IMDB. I’ve never seen it, but given that IMDB ratings rarely drop below 4, even for truly awful movies, it may be worth a look.

From Warner Bros this month we have 416th, a TV pilot about a reserve unit called into active duty in Vietnam. It was a failed pilot, never went to full series, as so many of these TV projects were.

My point being that these days the military rarely, if ever, work on TV pilots. It’s only when the show is more or less assured of a full series commission as long as the pilot is good, and hence you need the battleship for the pilot that you want to use throughout the full season, then you might get an exception. But many, many projects that have approached the DOD or the individual branches in recent years have been rejected due to being pilots with no guarantee of a full series. It makes me wonder – how many of these pilots were either never filmed, or were filmed but failed to get the greenlight because of these rejections? Back in the 70s you could turn up with any old military-themed piece of crap and as long as you met their PR requirements, they’d help you shoot the pilot. But they eventually cottoned on to this being a waste of time, and in truth the TV industry stopped commissioning as many pilots and are now focusing more resources on promoting the shows they do commit to a full series.

When it came to Toys for Tots, the Marines finalised two co-chairmen of this year’s campaign: actor Gavin McLeod from Love Boat and Benji, a famous dog. The next report includes a good entry about Inchon, Terence Young’s film:

MCPAO LA has not seen a copy of the script which we understand to be substantially different from the version approved by DoD. Sir Laurence Olivier has been cast to play MacArthur in this film.

The Final Countdown, the time travel Pearl Harbor film, is also reported mentioning that one of the Marines in the movie had a speaking part, while just as with Rocky, Raging Bull didn’t get its Marines, though this time it was due to ‘last minute changes’ by the producers. However, the new game show Good Vibrations did get some help, in the form of helping the producer get in touch with Medal of Honor recipients.

Another little note struck me as interesting – they arranged a screening of the film Breaking Away, which is nothing to do with the military, it’s about a bunch of boys in a cycling team vying for the affections of a girl. Kind of a young woman’s fantasy story, having men fight over her, but for some reason the Corps decided this was suitable for Marines and their supporters.

A Rumor of War, another Vietnam movie, gets a mention the following month as does the TV movie Enola Gay. By this point The Great Santini was in post-production and several staff attended a viewing of the workprint (or rough cut). In June we get another unexpected, but hilarious, entry:

The Blues Brothers: Assisted Mr. Michael Milgrum, Universal Pictures, in locating an M-202 flamethrower for upcoming feature.

Buck Rogers also makes its first appearance in this report – you can see why I love reading through these, as long as it might take. So many classic names that you might or might not expect to find, and while I’m sure you’re not taking in every detail I’m confident this is reminding you of things you’d forgotten, just as it is with me. The screening of Breaking Away took place, in a theatre provided by 20th Century Fox with around 250 people in attendance, including recruiters. This was during the first run of the film, so it was a nice bonus for those people.

NASA also enter the story here, with a letter from the Vice President of a Public Relations firm on Wilshire Blvd, to Mr. Harold Stall, Director Public Affairs at NASA, inviting their involvement in the Toys for Tots program, saying ‘We have secured the services of Gavin Macleod, star of the ABC television network series, “The Love Boat,’ and Benji, probably the most well known and popular dog in movies or on television today.’ I thought we settled this shit in the Lassie episode but apparently not.

The letter goes on:

Rona Barrett, on a segment of ‘Good Morning America’ announced that Benji’s upcoming film will be entitled ‘Oh Heavenly Dog,’ and will star Chevy Chase along with a major female star.

Note, they name the dog but not the woman appearing in the film. The letter continues:

In essence, we suggest flying Benji down to Houston and in about 20 minutes time make a formal presentation to a Marine Corps astronaut before members of the local and national press. We think this kind of public relations would be mutually beneficial and would place Benji, the Marine Corps, and NASA on the pages of newspapers across the country in a very favorable light.

They were really milking this Benji thing, and it’s shockingly cheesy and childish. The whole letter is worth reading but we need to move on, so one more quote before we do:

We would like to create, entirely at our expense, a replica of a NASA space suit for Benji. Naturally we would make it very clear to the press that this space suit was not created for Benji at the taxpayers’ expense. Let me assure you that we are very sensitive to the implication that ‘NASA is spending money on space suits for dogs,’ and we would make it perfectly clear to all concerned that this is simply not the case.

As the year goes on we get more films, some made, some not. Private Benjamin, which was rejected by the Army, was offered courtesy support. Thin Blue Line and But Not For Shame – The General Wainwright Story make me think of the time they named films properly, as does Borderline. As the year closed out, they got an approach from the producers of Galactica 1980, the spin off from the original series.

1980 kicks off with another very funny entry:

“Nine to Five”: Contacted by producers of this 20th Century-Fox production to provide a Marine familiar with trick drill with a rifle. The movie deals with three corporate secretaries, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, who takes over the corporation. The movie is not military related. However, there is a scene that calls for one of the secretaries (Jane Fonda) to do tricks with a rifle. Camp Pendleton provided the Marine.

I wonder, given Jane Fonda’s history with being very anti-war and one of the most famous faces in the anti-Vietnam war movement, whether they only provided this support because she’s the one wielding the gun. One to consider. This year’s reports also include another mention of something that comes up repeatedly – someone trying to make a film about Navajo code talkers in WW2. Several different attempts were made throughout the years we’ve already covered, presumably wanting to tell the story of the Navajo using their native language in radio transmissions, which foxed the Japanese because they couldn’t speak Navajo, and couldn’t understand the intercepted transmissions.

This story is partly told in the 1959 movie Never So Few, which is a Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen movie about the OSS, but wasn’t picked up again until Windtalkers in 2002. That’s the one where the DOD and Marine Corps heavily edited the script, including the removal of a character called The Dentist, who prises gold teeth from the mouths of dead Japanese soldiers. My point being that despite Native Americans playing key roles in WW1 and WW2, this isn’t something that’s reflected by Hollywood, even though they’ve made hundreds of films and TV shows and 2-hour specials and TV movies and limited series about those wars, especially WW2. From these documents we can say that it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of writers and producers, because the Corps kept getting requests for research help for someone writing a script on this topic.

But none of them got made. Why not?

Up until the 60s the only character Native Americans were allowed to play was the bad guys in a cowboy story, or maybe there’s one or two good Natives working with Clint Eastwood. Just like Mexicans in cop shows and Muslims in spy shows. There’s evidently a distinct prejudice in the culture industries, even when it comes to a story about Natives working for the military and intelligence agencies to help win WW2.

Illustrating a different kind of prejudice, this is also the month where the tale of Sgt. Bambi Lin Finney comes into view. I use that phrase because she posed in the April 1980 edition of Playboy, was the cover model and posed fully nude. There was a storm of media coverage, as noted in the reports, before she was kicked out of the Marines. However, a male Marine (an officer, rather than an enlisted person) named Alastair Livingstone had also posed for Playboy, and he wasn’t subject to the same disciplinary action. Naturally, you can look up the images of Bambi and Alastair in your own time, if you so choose.

Spring 1980 also saw the OIC get in touch with James Webb, the author of Fields of Fire (a fictionalisation of Webb’s experience in Vietnam that was popular among Marines). Webb ‘advised he has sold movie rights to Mr. Jim Sullivan, a Denver, CO businessman. Expect to begin screenplay in near future.’ Jim Sullivan never saw any return on that investment, because Webb’s screenplay was rejected by Phil Strub, and Fields of Fire was never made. Nor was Thin Blue Line, but for quite a different reason. The report notes:

Update – Because of situation in Iran, CBS has placed a one year “hold” on this project.

For anyone not keeping score, the Iranian revolution evidently scuppered this movie. The Incredible Hulk, the TV show, turns up the following month, as do a couple more films that were never made. That summer they also reached out to the producers of Chesty, about LtGen Chesty Puller, to offer their support. This is another one of those situations where they seem to have heard about the film and proactively gone to the film makers to try to get involved.

The Harrier jump jet made an appearance on That’s Incredible, Marines continued to appear on Wheel of Fortune, and the press office responded to ‘numerous queries’ about a Marine who was injured during the attempted rescue of hostages in Tehran. Requests for help on more films were coming in, including Personal Effects and The Right Stuff, the movie about astronauts. Then, in August 1980, there’s an entry on Third World War, the Soviet-NATO nuclear war movie that was never made, and which we’ve also looked at in a previous episode.

It also seems that at this point the Marine Corps were fully in favour of Fields of Fire being made, because they had multiple meetings with the executive producer, Jim Sullivan, while the script was getting written. Over a decade later, when Jim Webb tried to get the film made himself (either having bought back the rights, or whatever deal he had with Sullivan had expired) the Marines were still in favour, but it was Strub and the DOD who said no.

Yet another odd film that gets an entry is Four Friends, also known as Georgia’s Friends. They were negotiating over the script with higher ups in Marine Public Affairs and there are some acronyms and references to memos that I don’t quite understand. This is unusual, they often notified the bosses and forwarded news stories to them and let them know about various projects. But it’s rare that such high-ups would be involved in the script negotiations themselves, especially on another counter-culture coming of age story. We will have to look more into this, because it’s the only entry on the movie that I can find.

Kill Squad also wanted some help, but the Marines felt otherwise:

Script reviewed and discussed with writer, director and producer. Film is not appropriate for support.

In truth, Kill Squad is quite awful and the premise is summarised on IMDB as:

After their ex-platoon leader is paralyzed and his wife is raped and murdered, his former squadron of five soldiers reunite to seek revenge. But an unknown figure in black is personally hunting the squadron down too.

Meanwhile, yet more Marines were posing nude – nine servicemen including three Marines posed for a Men of the Military issue of Playgirl. A UPI story outlines how one of the Marines, a reservist, was kicked out, while Petty Officer 3rd Class Billy Jack Tibbett received a stern verbal reprimand. He said, ‘I asked for a discharge, but they said ‘no’ because of the publicity a discharge would generate… The admiral told me I was a disgrace to the military, a disgrace to the medical profession, a disgrace to the hospital corps, a disgrace to the uniform and a disgrace to myself.’ Tibbett apparently suggested that his posing might help with female recruitment, but the admiral laughed in his face.

Diane Grosskopf, Playgirl vice president and executive editor said, ‘I can’t believe it is going on, that people can’t do what they want with their own bodies. It seems so dictatorial. It doesn’t harm the national defense or anything.’ She elaborated that the Men of the Military edition was the first in a series focusing on ‘men in power’, adding, ‘One of the things we have always been wanting to do is the whole fantasy thing about men in uniform – even milkmen. Our ultimate would be to get a CIA agent baring all.’

Rounding off our look at 1980, the OIC had ‘numerous discussions with Don Bellisario’ about Magnum P.I., we have The Winds of War, Stripes, Annie and a film that was never made, written by a female screenwriter about a female MP. No prizes for guessing why that didn’t make it out of the blocks, even in the era of endless lady cop shows.

The Marine Corps in Hollywood 1981-82

1981 sees a very telling entry on page 1 of the reports. A fly on the wall series called That’s My Line, looking at different people and their lines of work, was evidently being developed with a lot of input from the Corps:

“That’s My Line”: Continuing to work with producer of this new NBC-TV series to plant story ideas ie: Barber at MCRD, WM Drill Instructor and Harrier Plots.

The Harrier jump jet had made its TV debut the previous year, and here they were trying to plant it in this new major network show, which IMDB actually classifies as reality TV.

This is the earliest document that I’ve seen that openly talks about pitching or planting story ideas in entertainment products. Earlier entries in these documents show the office initiating contact with producers, sometimes at the request of Don Baruch or the Marine Corps public affairs hierarchy, but this is the first time they explicitly mention planting material they want to see in film and TV. And yet, even today the overall head of military propaganda in Hollywood, Glenn Roberts, insists they don’t even pitch ideas.

Other entries in this early 1981 report are also indicative of a new, more aggressive approach.

“That’s Incredible”: Research/discussion with producers on several ideas for their program ie: Mountain Warfare Training Center; MCDEC Parachute Test section and Recon Marines.

“Recon Marine”: Developing story idea with Jay Benson (producer of “Torch of Love”) for TV movie on recon Marines. Project given to writers to prepare story treatment and first draft of script.

“Barbara Mandrell Show”: Liberated this project from USAF. Provided 20 Marines for honor guard and 4 man color guard for show to air on 7 Feb 81.

I particularly love them stealing a project from the Air Force, but you see, I’m sure, how the previous two entries were clearly very early on in pre-production, and the Marines were already having input on the content. The following month we see something similar, on the movie An Officer and a Gentleman they ‘made strong move to change the theme of this movie from USN to USMC-OCS’ and the script was forwarded to the higher-ups, but the conclusion was ‘Script rewrite would be too extensive.’ Further down the same document, on the show Americans Aboard they say:

At request of DepDirPA, imitated contact with producer, this new series — still in idea formulation stage.

And on the following page:

Arranged to have four Marines from I-I Encino appear as extras on a CBS television movie of the week – “One From the Heart.” The movie is a love story and does not deal with the military in any way. The Marines will appear to be on liberty in Las Vegas.

So, they were pushing to make an Officer and a Gentleman into a Marine Corps Officer Candidate School movie, instead of a Navy movie, were contacting a producer who was still developing the idea for his show, at the request of their boss, and planting Marines in a TV movie that had nothing to do with the military. Then, the following month, April 1981:

“Rocky III”: Five-man color guard provided for five days to Chartoff-Winkler productions… AOIC present during entire rehearsal and filming process to assist and advise as necessary. Similar participation anticipated for additional scenes.

Chartoff-Winkler finally got their military support, having arranged for it on the first Rocky film and on Raging Bull. Man on Fire and Wrong is Right also turn up in this document, though it seems the Marines had no idea what Wrong is Right was about, or that it was based on a novel by a former CIA officer. Again, this is one that has previously been reviewed on this podcast. In May there is a weird entry:

AOIC escorted Walt Disney Productions to CAMPEN 27 Apr to scout locations for 15-min non-theatrical film for the Kodak Pavilion at Disney World, Fla. Content of picture is non-military.

If it was a non-theatrical and non-military film then what, exactly, was it? On Officer and A Gentlemen they note:

Continue to provide courtesy assistance in the production of this film. HQMC (Code PAM) briefed on each new development.

Why, when they were only providing basic assistance were they informing the bosses of ‘each new development’? This may be a film we have to return to because the full story will take too long to divert onto right now. Some Kind of Hero and Off the Wall also get a mention, though in the latter case they say ‘Script rewrite would be required’, and I’m not sure if the movie ever got military support. It was also this month that the AOIC enrolled in a ten week scriptwriting course at UCLA.

The following month, on Officer and a Gentleman, they record:

Continue to provide courtesy assistance and monitor progress as much as possible on this Non—DoD film.

This is truly odd – they were essentially using their access via the courtesy support (which is things like photographs of uniforms for the costume department) to spy on the production. Why didn’t they just get the FBI to spy on the movie, like any normal person would? Also this month, AOIC attended a full day seminar titled ‘Getting it on the Air’.

By July a bunch of new projects had turned up, including old friend Bill Hendricks who was trying to make a film showing how the military was a ‘Force in Readiness for the 1980s’, which is at odds with Reagan’s rhetoric about the military being run down and needing extra investment, and it seems was never made. Firefox, an Air Force movie, also gets a mention, the Sgt Reckless movie was back, and they were still spying on – sorry, ‘maintaining contact with the producers’ of Officer and a Gentleman and providing telephone updates to the public affairs bosses.

It also seems they’d made their peace with porn magazines because another entry tells us:

Phil Caputo, writing for Playboy Magazine, interviewed OIC and AOIC 4 June re: Hopkins and Viet Vets for future article in Playboy.

They also responded to numerous media queries, including from Hustler magazine, on James Hopkins – a Vietnam vet and former Marine who crashed his jeep through the doors of a Veterans Administration medical centre, fired rifle shots into the walls and ceiling, then apparently killed himself later that day in a drug overdose. Needless to say, they didn’t pitch this story idea to any film or TV makers.

In August they met with the producer of Officer and a Gentleman and briefed their superiors on the results of the meeting, and in September:

Associate producer informs us that the first cut of the film has been completed. Length is about 2 hours, 30 minutes. Will be further cut to about 2 hours. Expect to release film in summer of 1982.

They seemed to be getting more updates on this film than any of the ones actually using their helicopters or filming at Camp Pendleton or starring any of their employees. Why? Wavelength, not the first Robert Carradine film to appear in these documents, and further unmade projects round out the year.

1982 included a couple of rejections that seem to have prevented films from being made. Bill Hendricks was still trying to make a followup to his 1961 A Force in Readiness film, and for many months there have been updates on various meetings between him and the office as he developed his script. However, in early 1982, ‘HQMC advised that expected support will not be forthcoming.’ As I mentioned, Hendricks’ film ran contrary to the rhetoric coming out of the White House, and when the White House talks about the need for more military budget, more expenditure, the military never contradicts them. It’s my supposition that this is why they didn’t support this film, and without their support it couldn’t be made.

Ditto To Keep Our Honor Clean, where the files say:

Received request from Tom Claggott, Mary Tyler Moore Productions, for DoD approval. AOIC reviewed script and determined it to be inappropriate for support. Fictional script deals with abusive drill instructors.

This film was also never made, and couldn’t be made without Marine Corps support. As they became more aggressive, poaching projects from other military branches, getting the number 2 in the office trained as a screenwriter and pitcher, planting ideas in new TV shows and shaping ideas before they’d even been fully formed, they were also stopping films from being made because they didn’t have the right content, the right messages. Yet another indication of this aggression came in April, when:

“A Rumor of War” — OIC testified at arbitration hearing on behalf of actor Chris Mitchum re: reasons why USMC insisted a certain scene be included in this film.

I do not know what this arbitration hearing was about, or why Chris Mitchum needed the Marine Corps to testify to this, or indeed why they insisted this scene be included in the mini-series. But insist they did, it says it right there in their own documents.

In May they attended a preview screening of Officer and a Gentleman, and briefed the higher ups once more, and arranged for a pre-release screening of Rocky III for Marines. AOIC attended a screening of the film at MGM and arranged for the sequences including Marines to be sent to the public affairs mothership. It was also in 1982 that the Marines attempted to get permission to use the Rocky III theme music for use in recruitment ads, but the producers said no.

In July John Landis came in with a request to support his Vietnam movie The Twilight Zone, but this too was rejected. While Landis did make a film called Twilight Zone: The Movie, it wasn’t about Vietnam, but instead was an anthology film re-telling four classic stories from the TV show, with four different directors (including Landis). So, that’s another movie that was never made due to the military rejecting it.

In August, on Officer and a Gentleman they wrote:

Prepared memo for DirPA dated 22 July on extent of Marine Corps participation in the production of this film. Also set up private screening of film for Marines in Whidby Island/Bangor, WA area.

They were helping out on The Right Stuff and Deal of the Century, and also a film on Howard’s Hill that it seems was never produced. The Great Santini was being turned into a TV pilot, and they were even monitoring re-airings of old movies of the week they’d worked on in the past. Deal of the Century – a comedy about an arms dealer – was turned down a couple of months later, and The Great Santini TV show didn’t make it beyond the pilot stage. How ironic. Also amusing is a development on a movie called Pegasus, also never made, where a report from November says:

“Pegasus” – Spoke with screenwriter Michael Regan, who had written $100,000 check for Toys for Tots as advance on profits for film. Appears this project has all but died. Said check was no good, he has moved to New York and run out of money. Recommended he contact MCPAO-NY for further assistance.

However, the most interesting document in the entire 550 pages covering 1974 to 1982 is an annual activity review for 1982. Given that this report was submitted to the Director for Public Affairs on January 12th 1983, which is about two weeks after I was born, it is quite significant for me in terms of its timing. But coincidence aside, the contents of this 6-page memo are startling.

It outlines each part of the office’s activities – public information, community relations and so on, and defines each. Under Motion Picture and Television Liaison it says the mission is:

To provide varying degrees of assistance to film and TV projects, to include script research, review and approval; location scouting; wardrobe, grooming and physical appearance advice and assistance; negotiation on levels of support; and to provide recommendations to USMC/DOD, as well as representation of the best interests of the USMC and DoD. Also to seek out and initiate projects that will provide an opportunity to present a positive image of the Marine Corps to the American public.

There you have it – they’re explicitly talking about initiating projects, i.e. pitching and planting content. As to their aggression, under Media Relations they list some of the major topics they’d been involved in throughout 1982, including:

LCpl. Richard Kash — Local Marine sentry killed on guard duty in South Carolina, whose death was publicly questioned by his family and challenged by the media. This office launched an aggressive media plan to combat initial negative press, including live radio talk show and newspaper rebuttals.

There you have it – aggressive is their word, not mine. In the full summary of Motion Picture and TV activities they say:

Responded to requests for or initiated interest in USMC assistance/support on more than 30 motion pictures intended for theatrical release, and 10 films for industrial/educational purposes. Upon review of the proposed screenplay, several films were determined as inappropriate for support.

They list some examples, including:

ROCKY III — Official support. Initiated contact with producer generating request for Marine color guard in the ring. Additional negotiation resulted in appearance by the MCAGCC Drum and Bugle Corps playing The Marines’ Hymn as Rocky and his opponent enter the ring. This office coordinated all Marine participation, with technical advisor on location for three weeks. Film was one of top five films (box office) of 1982.

So, the office initiated the contact (albeit after prior contact with the same studio and movie franchise), and negotiated a role, then a greater role for the Marines in one of the most popular movies of the year. Their words, not mine. They also list some of the in-development or in-production movies, including:

PART OF THE TEAM — Extensive consultation with writer and producer in research and script review. Project has tremendous potential, but little interest within film industry. Have introduced producer to several potential backers.

For a film they liked, but which couldn’t get funding, they were trying to help them find financial backing. And another example:

PURPLE HEARTS — Vietnam story of Navy doctor assigned to Marine battalion from same producers, director and writer of “Boys of Company C.” Not seeking official support, but by interjecting ourselves into preproduction efforts, have had major impact in correcting significant script flaws.

There we have it – the same people who made Boys of Company C, who were advised not to seek DOD assistance on that one, were making another Vietnam film and this time, even though they still weren’t asking for help, the Marine Corps entertainment liaison office ‘interjected themselves into preproduction efforts’ in order to ensure they didn’t make another Boys of Company C.

And again, this was happening, this was all common practice over 40 years ago, before some of us were even born. In sum, by the 1970s the entertainment business had mostly run out of ideas, and were reduced to remaking classic movies as limited series, or TV movies, or as straight remakes for theatrical release. Into this creative void stepped offices like the one we’ve looked at today, providing ideas to an industry which ran out of ideas decades ago. You only have to look around you to see the result.