A Walk in the Draft

by Dr. Dan Desmond

Danny with Lloyd Bridges

For the past 50 years the majority of film critics and historians have voted A WALK IN THE SUN the best picture produced and directed about World War II.

Then along came Stephen Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and film reviewers started publishing their lists of the best World War II motion pictures ever made. A WALK IN THE SUN was not on anybody's list. These reviewers were either too young or had never seen the film.

Next came the Beachwood Voice and an article by Bruce Tabor who listed his favorites and much to my happy surprise, A WALK IN THE SUN was on his list.

At the same time A WALK IN THE SUN was being shot at Samuel Goldwyn Studios and on location, 20th Century Fox was producing A BELL FOR ADONO. Both companies were racing to see who could get their film out first. It so happened that the producers of "SUN" got into trouble with the Government about taxes and they 'skipped the country fleeing to Mexico. The releasing rights of the picture went with them.

20th Century-Fox bought up the rights, released A BELL FOR ADONO and held A WALK IN THE SUN until late in 1945 or 46. The war was over in Europe and the country had enough of war films and wanted to get back to a "normal" life style with the home, white picket fence, kids and 2 cars in the garage.

Bruce Tabor remembers seeing A WALK IN THE SUN when he was a young boy and
so thought it was one of the best scripts and films about war ever made.

I called the Beachwood paper and got Bruce's phone number to thank him. Why my interest in the film? I was in it! A small part, it turned out, smaller than I had originally expected because I got DRAFTED for the Army and I couldn't t finish my part; particularly the death scene in which I get killed.

Norman Lloyd, who was my buddy in the film, is seen in a "two shot" looking down and saying "Poor Trasker, they got him in the middle of a sentence ." In the book, written by Harry Brown, Trasker, that's me, says as the German airplane flies over with machine guns blasting, "For Christ sake, etc." In those times one could not say "Jesus Christ" in a film.

A WALK IN THE SUN was directed by the same genius who directed the best World War I picture, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, Lewis Milestone. Being in awe of Milestone, I felt I was working for or with a God!!!

What happened you ask? Why couldn't I finish the film. I was classified 3A in the Draft. For those young folks reading this - that means I was supporting people who were dependent on my income (my mother and grandparents.)

While working on the motion picture, my vaudeville agent, Mark Leddy, who later booked the Ed Sullivan Television Show exclusively, got me a job to go overseas with Marlene Dietrich to entertain the servicemen in Europe and Africa.

In order to leave the country I had to get permission from my Draft board. The man in charge said to me "If you can go overseas to entertain, you can go overseas to fight." They proceeded to change my classification to 1A (available for service) and sent me my notice to report.

The producers thought I had just quit on them. When most of the credits came out my name was left off. In New York City and a few other places my name was included; it's also in the videocassette that was produced from the film.

When the film was first cast, Dana Andrews was the only big name they had. But many of the actors became NAME actors and directors in a very few years. To name just a few, there was: Richard Conte, Herbert Rudley, George Tyne, John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges, Norman Lloyd, Richard Benedict, Steve Brodie, Matt Willis, Alvin Hammer, Jay Norris and John Kellogg. Sterling Holloway was already well known, as was Huntz Hall from the "Dead End Kids."

While they were filming my death scene, I was up at Camp Roberts in basic training, although, I always said that I had received my "basic training" from Lewis Milestone, the director of the motion picture.

Joey Faye, a Burlesque comic in New York, took my place with Marlene Dietrich. Those are the "breaks" in Show Business and in War!

When the war was over in Europe and I was once again a civilian, my agent booked me in the biggest cast ever sent overseas to entertain the occupation forces that stayed in Europe for many years. I had the comedy lead in the musical GOOD NEWS. There was a chorus line of 16 girls and 16 boys plus other actors and crew equaled out to 54 people plus four 21/2 ton trucks of sets and stage equipment, costumes, props and orchestra. We toured Germany, France, Austria and Bavaria for 6 months.

For me, it was a long WALK IN THE DRAFT but it all turned out for the best. After returning to New York City, I was directing in early television. I felt that making $40.00 or $50.00 per show was not my idea of a good living, that is, until I returned to Los Angeles and discovered that most men were directing on television for nothing, just to get the experience!

My return to Los Angeles was motivated by my desire to get a formal education and with my GI Bill I could go to College.

I have always been proud of having worked in A WALK IN THE SUN and also proud that I am the only person in the United States who headlined in vaudeville and has an earned Doctor's Degree!

Editor's Note: This year Dr. Desmond (a Beachwood Canyon resident) celebrates 40 years of teaching acting classes in the evenings at Los Angeles City College.

Beachwood Voice, Winter, 1998 , Volume I, Number 4

- Last Updated: 4/4/09