With the Pentagon’s Blessing: Hollywood, the Military, and Don Baruch

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives, College Park.

Americans and cinema enthusiasts the world over will be tuning in this weekend to watch who will receive the Academy Awards at the 90th Oscars ceremony. Someone from the Pentagon may also be paying attention to the broadcast beaming out of Hollywood. This is because the Department of Defense (DoD) has maintained a staff dedicated to working with the movie and television industry since 1949. Their records, which attest to a long and enduring relationship between filmmakers and the armed forces, can be found in the National Archives. And among the documents, the researcher will notice that the name Donald E. Baruch appears again and again. For four decades, Baruch served as the Pentagon’s primary liaison with the motion picture industry.

Don Baruch came from a well-known family: his father and three uncles were the famous Baruch brothers from South Carolina. The Baruchs were known for their roles in finance, statesmanship, and diplomacy, although a streak for show business ran in the family. Sailing Baruch, Donald’s father, was a financier who, according to his obituary in the New York Times, had many friends on Broadway; was credited with bringing the first jazz band to New York in 1910; introduced the fox-trot to Broadway; and was a promotor of dancing in many forms in the early 1900s. True to his name, he enjoyed sailing and yachting. The eldest brother, Hartwig, started out as a stage actor in the 1890’s under the name Nathaniel Hartwig but later joined his brothers as a financier and member of the New York Stock Exchange. Herman, a physician, served as the United States Ambassador to Portugal and the Netherlands after World War II. Last but not least, Bernard M. Baruch, the most prominent member of the family, was a famous financier and presidential advisor. The four brothers were the children of Simon Baruch who immigrated to South Carolina from Prussia in 1855 and went on to earn his medical degree and then serve as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. On their maternal side, they were descended from Isaac Rodriguez Marques, a Sephardic Jewish shipowner, Danish citizen, purported pirate, and possible slave trader, who settled in New York in the 1690’s.

Pursuing his own career path, Don Baruch found himself at the Pentagon by way of Broadway and Hollywood. In the 1930’s he produced four Off Broadway plays and then worked in Los Angeles for Hal Roach Studios and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and later for Paramount in New York. During World War II he served in Washington as an officer in the Army/Air Force office of Public Information producing training films. He continued working in this office until the formation of the Department of Defense in 1949, at which point, until his retirement in 1989, Baruch served as Chief of the Motion Picture Production Branch, and its various iterations under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (OASD/PA). In this role, Baruch reviewed movie and television scripts to make recommendations on whether or not the DoD should agree to cooperate with proposed films and television programs that sought military assistance for their production.

When Baruch’s office was created in 1949 it was stepping into an already established relationship that had been in existence between Hollywood and the U. S. Military from the time of some of the earliest movies.

Possibly the first instance of military assistance on a commercial film took place at an air show in Long Island, New York in 1911. Army Lt. Henry “Hap” Arnold (who would go on to create the Army Air Corps and command the Army Air Force during World War II), agreed to be filmed flying stunts in his army plane at the show which appeared in The Military Air-Scout, a romance movie and aviation film.

In 1915, D.W. Griffith, the pioneering filmmaker, received technical advice and vintage artillery pieces from the U.S. Military Academy for the making of The Birth of a Nation, the first feature-length film at 186 minutes and the first blockbuster, attracting long lines of movie goers. The film stirred up controversy as well. Based on Thomas Dixon Jr’s book The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation portrays the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, leading many to boycott and protest its release in theaters. Nine years later, for the filming of America in 1924, Griffith turned to the military again, and with approval from Secretary of War John Weeks received the loan of more than one thousand cavalrymen to recreate a revolutionary war battle scene.

birth-of-a-nation-battle-scene
Still image from The Birth of a Nation (NAID 97501). Motion Picture Films 1910-1945, Collection: Moviola Company Collection, 1910-1945. National Archives Collection.

In 1927, William Wellman, a former fighter pilot during World War I, directed Wings, for Paramount Productions, a drama about aviators during the war. It became a costly and drawn out investment for the War Department. In order to create the movie, Wellman made use of military air facilities in Texas and hundreds of Army pilots, troops, and technical advisors. During the course of shooting, stunts and pyrotechnics gone awry resulted in crashed planes and injuries to the pilots and soldiers involved. Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year and is remembered for its spectacular flying sequences which influenced future films.

From these early movies to the present day, the relationship between Hollywood and the military has been one of mutual benefit. In exchange for a positive image on screen the military has provided access, equipment, personnel, and technical advice to aid in the production of commercial projects. The support (from the military) grants filmmakers opportunities to film in locations that would be off limits, the use of equipment and personnel otherwise prohibitively expensive, and an authenticity that cannot be achieved by other means. The benefits reaped by the armed forces when they appear well in film include free publicity, a boost to morale, and increased recruitment to their ranks.

With the establishment of the Department of Defense in 1949, the responsibility for approving military assistance to films and overseeing the process with them came under the direction of Don Baruch’s new office. In the parlance of the DoD, the assistance given is referred to as “cooperation.” Baruch and the staff in the office acted as intermediaries between the film industry and the Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guards); recommending whether the Military provide assistance or refuse a film studio’s request for cooperation with the DoD. Instruction 5410.15 states the conditions for cooperation:

The production, program, project or assistance will benefit the DoD or otherwise be in the national interest based on consideration of the following factors:

 

1. Authenticity of the portrayal of military operations, or historical incidents, persons or places depicting a true interpretation of military life.

 

2. Compliance with accepted standards of dignity and propriety in the industry.”

 

 

Directives, Instructions, Canceled Transmittals, and Correspondence, 1964 – 1966 (NAID 12191949). Department of Defense. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Administration). Correspondence and Directives Division. Directives Branch. Record Group 330: Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1921-2008

As stated in 5410.15, the Pentagon was primarily concerned that the finished product benefited the military and be to its best interest. It also required accuracy in the portrayal of the services. The movie or television show could be purely fictional and unrealistic, yet it could still receive Pentagon cooperation if the military was presented favorably and their actions presented plausibly. The final stipulation of cooperation was for the production to be at “no additional cost to the government, on a non-interference basis.”

The following examples illustrate the cooperation and approval process between Baruch’s Pentagon with the individual services on the one hand, and with representatives of the film and television industry on the other.

Walt Disney Production – Moon Pilot

It is believed that this science fiction fantasy of trips to outer space will be amusing and popular. Although it contains little of informational value to the Department of Defense, we would like to work with you to make the film as beneficial as possible for the Services.

 

The Three Stooges Meet the Martians

 

ScriptCover_3Stooges

To qualify for this assistance, the policy states that the picture is in the best interests of the Department of Defense and the public good. THE THREE STOOGES MEET THE MARTIANS hardly fits this bill.

 

 

The Three Stooges Meet the Martians was released as The Three Stooges in Orbit.

Dawn of the Dead

As you may know, the National Guard is endeavoring to fill its ranks and it is felt that recruiting would not be enhanced by participation in “Dawn of the Dead”.

 

The New Adventures of Wonder Woman – “Trouble in Paradise”

Page 3 – delete reference to that was just a cover. Also delete reference to neutron, suggest “nuclear” instead.

Wonder Woman 1

Don Baruch’s hand written notes with changes to the script “Trouble in Paradise.”

The Six Million Dollar Man

The Studio will welcome any ideas for possible episodes involving your Service. It is believed that this is an opportunity to obtain television exposure.

 

 

Baruch’s enthusiasm is evident in his handwritten notes on the cover of the script for The Six Million Dollar Man’s “An Eye For An Eye.”

22 May 1975, DEB [Donald E. Baruch]

“Lt. Jean Simmons and a foreign prince – Steve as reserve officer back at Edwards for some tests that now training [sic] foreign pilots for test flights. [There] is a disgruntled scientist who works with foreign big wig who wants to kill the Prince, his electronic gun jams controls of plane and kills one pilot and almost gets Steve and Jean instead of the prince who is the intended victim – watch [as] Steve saves the day and a great show!!”

 

6MM$Man_Cover with notes

 

Baruch continued to review movie and television scripts from Hollywood, in addition to recruiting and training films, until his retirement. Over the course of his 40-year career with the Pentagon he was involved with hundreds of projects including From Here to Eternity, The Caine Mutiny, The Longest Day, In Harm’s Way, The Green Berets, Patton, The Right Stuff, and Top Gun. Although not every Hollywood production turned to the Pentagon for assistance, the ones that did, if they followed the guidelines, may have come across Baruch’s desk and received his blessing.


The documents above and other records of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs relating to movie and television cooperation up to 1985 can be found in the following record series:

Record Group 330: Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1921-2008

Record Relating to Motion Pictures, 1958-1985 (NAID 18252276). Department of Defense. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).

Correspondence and Scripts, ca. 1950 – 1959 (NAID 7450628). Department of Defense. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs). Office of News Service. Audio-Visual Division. Production Branch.

Subject Files, 1951 – 1953 (NAID 7077495). Department of Defense. Office of Public Information. Pictorial Branch.

Topical Files, 1950 – 1952 (NAID 6952644). Department of Defense. Office of Public Information. Pictorial Branch.

Chronological Files, 5/1949 – 8/1949 (NAID 6952642). Department of Defense. Office of Public Information. New Division. Pictorial Branch.

Records prior to 1949 can be found in:

Record Group 107: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, 1791-1948

Correspondence Relating to Motion Pictures with Military Themes, 1941 – 1946 (NAID 616757). War Department. Public Relations Division. News Branch.

Sources:

For the Hollywood-Military relationship:

Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002, by Lawrence H. Suid.

Guts and glory [videorecording]: the making of the American military image in film / Lawrence H. Suid. [Washington, D.C.] : National Archives & Records Administration, [2003]. National Archives author/lecture series. Call number: PN1995.9.W3 S8 2003

For Donald Baruch’s career and family history:

Coit, Margaret L., Mr. Baruch. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957/Beard Books.

Doug Galloway, “Donald E. Baruch,” Variety, April 18, 1977.

Ramon L. Lopez, “Helping Hollywood Get by with a Little Help From their Friends,” The Washington Post, Mar 5, 1974, pg. C2.

“Donald Edward Baruch: Film Industry Liaison,” The Washington Post, Mar 1, 1997, pg. B4.

“Hartwig Baruch, A Retired Broker,” The New York Times, March 2, 1953, pg. 22.

“Sailing Baruch, Financier, Dies,” The New York Times, June 15, 1962, pg. 27.


Thanks to Audrey Amidon in the Special Media Division for providing the still image from “The Birth of a Nation”; to Craig Haibon for editing and improving the text; and to Craig Haibon and Patty Hess for their assistance in Processing. 

2 thoughts on “With the Pentagon’s Blessing: Hollywood, the Military, and Don Baruch

  1. Daniel, this is a fascinating topic. Great job! I had been aware of the censorship board during the war but had no idea there was a permanent movie making liaison office established in the Pentagon. Can I assume something similar might have been previously established in the War Department? Donald Baruch is a new name to me. I didn’t know he was the nephew of Bernard Baruch. This essay will prove beneficial to my air activity research in the 1930’s and 40’s.

    Thank you,
    Les Kinney

  2. See the entry mentioned above in RG 107 for records related to motion pictures in the 1940s. The individual services had a lot of independence prior to 1949, it would be worthwhile to check the specific service’s public affairs office for records. However, starting in the late 1920’s the Signal Corps held responsibility in the War Department for the approval process, so that is a place to check as well. “Guts and Glory” was my source for this material.

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