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The Sullivans

The Sullivans(1944)

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This film was retitled The Fighting Sullivans two months after its initial release. According to a April 4, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, after the picture failed to attract large audiences, Twentieth Century-Fox executives changed its title, emulating "a successful New Jersey showman with a genius for redundancy." The film is based on the lives of the Sullivan brothers-George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert-who were killed in action during the battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942 while serving aboard the cruiser Juneau. George and Francis, who had served a previous tour in the Navy, enlisted with their younger brothers after the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to avenge a lost friend. The brothers obtained special permission to serve together, but after their deaths, for which the entire nation mourned, the Navy officially declared that family members could not serve on the same vessel during wartime. Only ten seamen survived the attack on the Juneau. The brothers' parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sullivan, traveled extensively after their sons' deaths, visiting defense plants and selling war bonds. On April 4, 1943, Mrs. Sullivan christened a destroyer named in honor of her sons, and in August 1995, Al's granddaughter christened another destroyer named after the Sullivans.
       A March 15, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item announcing producer Sam Jaffe and director Lloyd Bacon's intention to make the film indicated that writer Jules Schermer would also be the picture's producer. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was made with the cooperation of the Navy and the Sullivan family. A July 12, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the Sullivans would "share in the proceeds of the picture." Later news items and press releases indicate that Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, their daughter Genevieve and daughter-in-law Katherine Mary, who was Al's widow, were all present during parts of the filming and acted as technical advisors. According to a October 28, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, Jaffe also secured the services of Chaplain William Muenster to supervise the wedding sequence. The news item further stated that in real life, Muenster had officiated at the marriage of Al and Katherine Mary. A studio press release noted that Lt. Charles N. Wang, who was George's superior officer when the Juneau was sunk, would be acting as a technical advisor, along with Guadalcanal veteran Dr. J. A. Wickstrom, of the Marine Corps.
       Due to the shortage of available actors during the war, producers Jaffe and Robert T. Kane conducted an extensive search for the film's leads, and actors considered for parts included Dane Clark, Richard Crane, Hank Patterson and Jimmie Martin. According to a August 5, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, the producers limited the initial tests to fifty feet in order to conserve film, and grouped the actors in fives. Jaffe also announced that he was "combing the ranks of discharged servicemen to play the adult characters, feeling that their military experience [would] give reality to the yarn." Actresses considered for the role of Mrs. Sullivan included Phyllis Povah and Dale Winter. A September 27, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Roger Clark, Sally Yarnell and Gerrie Noonan had been added to the cast, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. John Alvin was borrowed from Warner Bros. for the production, which was largely filmed on location in Santa Rosa, CA. A October 24, 1943 New York Times article reported that by agreement with the Chamber of Commerce, the studio would not employ Santa Rosa residents as extras on the film unless they "carried cards from the Chamber testifying that they had volunteered to help in the harvesting of Santa Rosa's seasonal crops." The production company also had to agree to give at least three days notice for large purchases of food. According to a November 9, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, the producers canceled a location shooting trip to the San Diego naval base when they decided to limit the war scene footage to the sinking of the Juneau, and not include any other scenes of the brothers in uniform. Another November 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the filming of the ship's sinking was shot on the first anniversary of the actual event. The picture marked the screen debuts of John Campbell, James Cardwell, Nancy June Robinson, Marvin Davis and Billy Cummings.
       According to the New York Times review, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan attended the film's opening in New York and sold war bonds in the lobby. The Hollywood premiere, which benefitted the Naval Aid Auxiliary, was attended by Juneau officer Lt. Cmdr. Roger O'Neill, according to a Los Angeles Times article. O'Neill offered a "splendid tribute" to his lost shipmates. The picture received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Original Motion Picture Story) category.