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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Casablanca of the North

On the cover: a USAAF + OSS marriage in Stockholm. Cover design: Jason Orr.

Liberty Lady is a highly personal yet also credible and important history of both US airmen and the men and women of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Sweden during WWII.

The book title was natural, as it was also the name of the author´s father´s B-17 Flying Fortress, that crashed on the Swedish island of Gotland. The author, Pat DiGeorge, would simply not be around, had ”Liberty Lady” not landed safely in Sweden. One of the men aboard, Herman Allen, became one of the 1,218 (!) USAAF crew members interned in Sweden. These Americans are part of my own book Germans & Allies in Sweden. But Pat DiGeorge provides so much more colour and detail to their lives. For example she relates that the jitterbug was introduced to Sweden by a group of American aviators. As DiGeorge correctly states, ”The German internees were never given the freedom allowed to the British and the Americans.”

When Herman met «Hedy», a Swedish-American lady working for the OSS in Stockholm, he found the love of his life and among their children is Pat DiGeorge. Her book provides an amazing insight into the rich lives of both Herman and Hedvig «Hedy» Johnson Allen. On the road from their cradles to their graves one also gets fascinating peeks into the lives of personalities like Count Folke Bernadotte, highest responsible for all interned airmen in Sweden, and Arctic aviation pioneer Colonel Bernt Balchen, who like Herman Allen had one leg in the USAAF and one in the OSS.

Swedes of course also are a big part of Liberty Lady, and not only pro-Allied ones. It is amazing to follow the strange friendship between Herman and one of the Swedes who worked for the Germans.

It is pretty amazing that so few previous books in English have focused on wartime Stockholm, thick with espionage. German and Allied spies not seldom stayed in the same Stockholm hotels and sometimes ate side by side in the restaurants. As DiGeorge writes, the WWII American embassy in Stockholm ”sat at the centre of one of the most important listening posts of the war”. Liberty Lady solves several puzzles, providing valuable insights not only into the OSS in Stockholm but also the wartime visit by USAAF General Curtis.

DiGeorge´s book is also about the B-17 «Liberty Lady» aircraft itself, it is fascinating to read and see how parts of it to this day remain «all over the island of Gotland». Now a personal revelation, I have a rather strange family connection to the place where «Liberty Lady» went down, Mästermyr on Gotland. You see, I inherited a photograph from a relative of mine who was at Mästermyr. The photograph depicts a bomber that he himself photographed. But it is not a B-17, but a German Heinkel He 111. Yes, Mästermyr was the place where a He 111 went down in 1940, after having been hit by Swedish anti-aircraft fire. My photo of the He 111 on Mästermyr is in my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.

Finally, it was great to learn from Liberty Lady that Pat DiGeorge too had the privilege of working with the late Swedish-American historian Carl Finstrom.

In short, Liberty Lady is THE English language book about espionage and love in WWII Sweden, especially in Stockholm, the Casablanca of the north.

Monday, May 22, 2017

My Top 3 Star Wars 1977 Antiques

My three gems from 1977 - thanks dad!

The wear evident on my 1977 Star Wars publication is a testimony of my special interest in how Star Wars came about. The two records released the same year have also never ceased to inspire me.

The Movie Spectacular pictured above was published by Marvel Comics already in 1977 and features sources of inspiration like Amazing Stories magazine and Flash Gordon comic strips (that became movies from 1936), wonderful photos from both the filming and actual film as well as some background about the people behind the movie.

You can, of course, listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or a CD. But IMHO nothing beats listening to the 1977 record on a gramophone. Well, OK, a live performance by an orchestra might be better. But then I am also fortunate to have a 1977 record with the actual dialogue and sound effects. Although/because it is sound only it adds a dimension of imagination. So, in spite of 3D technology and what have you, listening to "The Story of Star Wars" still is a wonderful pleasure.

Interested in Star Wars behind the scenes and the history of Star Wars? In that case I am certain you will want to read about my top three Star Wars books.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Top 3 Star Wars Books

There is a pretty high probability that you too have drunk blue milk on May 4.

With the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first "Star Wars" (later retitled "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope"), fast approaching (this May 25) these are the Star Wars books you're looking for...

Now, if you are expecting me to include Star Wars novels in my list I will have to somewhat disappoint you, although I will say that some of the Boba Fett quotes in The Bounty Hunter Wars: The Mandalorian Armor (1998) by K.W. Jeter are magnificent. The are two reasons the following list is not about the novels, or the comics: I have not read that many of them and my main interest is the movies themselves.

So, the following is "just" a list of the three books about Star Wars that I have come to value most, after almost 40 years of being a Star Wars fan. Yes, I saw Star Wars on the big screen in 1977, at least twice and it might have been thrice.

1. I find it hard to even imagine a more complete book about how it all started than The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler. But understand that it is not about the episodes that followed.

2. To get what I believe is a strong idea what it was like making and especially designing the first Star Wars movie, turn to Cinema Alchemist by Roger Christian. Mr. Christian being the gentleman who i.a. built THE lightsaber.

3. To begin to understand the whole galaxy of films, books, comics", conventions etc that Star Wars today constitutes - go to How Star Wars Conquered The Universe by Chris Taylor.