Four Jills in a Jeep
Cast & Crew
William A. Seiter
When actress Kay Francis acts as mistress of ceremonies for a broadcast of the Command Performance radio show, which goes out to military troops around the world, also appearing on the show are Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra, actresses and singers Betty Grable and Carole Landis, comedienne Martha Raye and dancer Mitzi Mayfair. After the show is over, Dorsey announces that he is going on a USO tour, and Kay reveals that she also has received permission from military officials in Washington, D.C. to gather a troupe of entertainers. The perpetually blustery Martha tells a visiting colonel from the British Foreign Office how much she would like to be with the fighting men, and he suggests that Kay form her troupe with Martha, Carole and Mitzi. The three women agree, and soon Kay has organized everything for their trip to England. After their arrival in England, American soldier Sgt. Eddie Hart drives them to the military base, where they make the best of their muddy, cold surroundings. Eddie quickly develops a crush on Martha, while Carole is attracted to American flier Capt. Ted Warren. Kay is impressed by the good manners of an English doctor, Capt. Lloyd, while Mitzi is surprised to meet her former partner and boyfriend, Lt. Dick Ryan. The women have little time for romance, however, as they travel the country with their show and work hard to entertain the troops. Carole arranges to see Ted at a Red Cross benefit given at the luxurious home of Lady Carlton-Smith, and despite the attentions paid to Carole by a general, she and Ted find time to declare their love for each other. Later, the women return to Ted's camp, and Kay, Martha and Mitzi try to cheer up Carole when Ted is late returning from a mission. The men also try to entertain the hard-working performers, and together they listen to a Command Performance broadcast featuring George Jessel, Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda. Carole's anxiety is finally relieved when Ted returns safely. The couple are married shortly after, but are denied a honeymoon when the women receive orders to ship out to North Africa. Kay is bewildered by the new orders until Martha confesses that she caused the problem at the Red Cross party, when she boasted to an admiral about the entertainers' determination to visit men fighting in an active war zone. Upon their arrival in North Africa, the women are nonplussed by the hard conditions, but eagerly pitch in and help the nurses. Kay is especially pleased to find Capt. Lloyd assigned to the unit and does all she can to help him, even scrubbing floors. With their tenacity and cheerfulness, the American celebrities force the gruff head nurse to admit that she was wrong in her opinion that they would be hindrances, and they top off a long day by putting on a show for the troops. During Carole's performance, the lights go out due to a power failure, but the soldiers illuminate the stage with their flashlights and Carole continues. The show is then interrupted by a German bombing raid, and the women take cover in the trenches with the soldiers. Dick and Mitzi declare their love as they duck for cover, while elsewhere, Eddie cuddles with Martha. After the all-clear is sounded, an officer tells the women that they can now leave for the rear lines, but they refuse to leave the men while they are shipping out for the front lines. Soon after, the women wave to the soldiers as they drive away.
William A. Seiter
B. S. Pully
Betty Jean Orth
Jesse T. Bastian
Col. Phillip W. Booker
George M. Cohan
Edmund L. Gruber
R. L. Hough
Fred Niblo Jr.
Maj. Ralph J. Watson
Four Jills in a Jeep
It was Lou Irwin, Mayfair's agent, who first suggested to Fox that the women's touring experience would make a good film. According to the Fox legal records, only Francis and Mayfair actually worked with the writers to craft the storyline. Froma Sand and Fred Niblo, Jr. developed the original story, with the screenplay adapted by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan and Snag Werris. Co-star Phil Silvers would later claim that each of the women had different versions of what happened during the tour and wanted the script to reflect her point of view.
Writer Snag Werris enjoyed working on Four Jills in a Jeep especially with Kay Francis. "This was a true fun assignment. They were swell gals. Kay was a real pro and a joy to work with." Knowing that Francis had trouble pronouncing the letter "r," Werris later recalled writing a sentence in the script as a gag, "something like 'I ran into Ralph in Roanoke and rapidly wrung his neck.'" As Francis came across the line, she yelled, "Where is that son of a bitch Snag? I'll kill him!" But it was all in fun, as Werris recalled, "none of the four took herself too seriously. They got along well." William A. Seiter directed the film, which had the working titles of Camp Show and Command Performance, named after a popular radio show at the time in which members of the armed services would send in requests, like hearing the sizzle of a T-bone steak cooked by Lana Turner.
The film begins with Francis appearing on Command Performance with Jimmy Dorsey. After the show, Dorsey tells her he is about to go on a USO tour and Francis says that she has been given permission to form her own troupe. Mayfair, Landis, and Raye join her and they go to England and North Africa, where the women all fall in love. Landis falls in love with Capt. Ted Warren (John Harvey) mirroring her real-life marriage to Thomas Wallace. Production began on October 18th and lasted until early December 1943. The Fox files at UCLA hosts studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck's notes, which included a demand that Raye tone it down. "Martha Raye usually talks too fast and too loud. Try to make her play Martha-Raye-off-stage and not Martha-Raye-on-screen." Also in the film was popular singer Dick Haymes, making his credited film debut, and Fox stars Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda who played themselves in cameos to help boost the film at the box office. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Jack Oakie had been floated for a comedic lead and Cornel Wilde would appear in a juvenile role, but neither appeared in the final film.
On her return to the United States, Landis wrote a book with Edwin Seaver about her experience during the tour, which was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from December 18, 1943 - January 15, 1944. Fox let Landis use Four Jills in a Jeep for the title to help promote the film, still in post-production, although it was not the basis for the screenplay. The book was published later in 1944.
Four Jills in a Jeep was criticized on its release because it was felt that the women hadn't merited the attention when others had done more for the troops (a criticism that was unfair in Francis' and Raye's cases, at least), and that it over glamorized the real experience (which, according to Francis' diary, included being bombed and shot at). Four Jills in a Jeep was Mayfair's last film. She married Fox music executive Charles Henderson on April 7, 1944 and happily retired from public life. Francis's warning to Landis proved prophetic, as the marriage to Capt. Thomas Wallace would not survive the war. After another marriage and an affair with Rex Harrison, Landis would commit suicide in 1948. Francis, who had been a major film star a decade before, dedicated much of her time during the war to entertaining the troops and working long hours as the head of the Unit of the Naval Aid Auxiliary, earning the respect of Bob Hope, who said in a 1997 interview "Nowadays people forget what a trouper Kay was. She did a lot for the USO and gave her all to many patriotic causes. She was a real class act."
Francis only made three more films for the low budget Monogram studios and two early television appearances before retiring a very wealthy woman in 1951. Raye would be the only one of the Four Jills to continue performing in a career that lasted well into the 1980s. She would be the first "honorary captain" of WWII and continued to tour with the USO, and aided wounded servicemen in the Korean and Vietnam wars. President Bill Clinton gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Martha Raye in 1993. She died the next year and was buried with special permission at Fort Bragg with the veterans she loved.
By Lorraine LoBianco
The Internet Movie Database
Kear, Lynn, and Rossman, John Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career
"Mitzi Mayfair Weds Music Chief Tonight" The San Jose News 7 Apr 44
Four Jills in a Jeep
The working titles of this film were Command Performance and Camp Show. Before the film's opening credits, an onscreen written prologue reads, "This story is based on the experiences of four of the many performers who take entertainment to America's men in uniform in the theatres of war as well as in the camps at home. Actors who serve in this global entertainment program consider it a privilege to lighten a little the hardships endured by our fighting men and to share, in a measure, their experiences in combat zones. The producers gratefully acknowledge the work of USO-Camp Shows, Inc., the Hollywood Victory Committee and the Special Service Division of the War Department." As noted in the onscreen credits, the picture was based on the actual experiences of Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair, who, as the members of the Feminine Theatrical Task Force, entertained American and British troops on a tour of England, Ireland and North Africa. The women left the United States on October 16, 1942 and spent approximately three months in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. During their sometimes difficult tour, the women performed several shows a day for the troops. They also presented a command performance for the Queen of England.
After leaving England, the women spent approximately three weeks in North Africa, which marked the first USO tour of that area. Francis and Mayfair then returned to the United States. Landis flew back to England to join her husband. As depicted in the film, Landis met U.S. Army Air Force pilot Capt. Thomas C. Wallace in England in November 1942 and married him on January 5, 1943. The couple divorced in July 1945. Raye, who was "the first honorary captain created in World War II," according to a Los Angeles Examiner article, continued touring with other USO groups. The experience marked the beginning of Raye's long association with the USO, and her many visits to the troops during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as her service as a nurse, earned Raye many awards, including a Purple Heart, the USO's Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. [In 1994, Raye attempted to sue actress Bette Midler and the producers of the 1991 picture For the Boys, which told the story of a USO entertainer. Although Raye claimed that the 1991 picture was plagiarized from an autobiographical outline she had written, her case was dismissed.]
According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Landis and Edwin Seaver wrote a book about her travels while the film was in pre-production at the studio. Although Landis' material was not used in the screenplay, the studio agreed to let her use the film's title as her book title for the publicity value. Her book, which was published in 1944, first appeared as a serial in Saturday Evening Post (18 December 1943-15 January 1944). The legal records indicate that, while the film was based on the experiences of all four performers, only Mayfair and Francis directly contributed to the screenplay. The legal records also indicate that Mayfair's agent, Lou Irwin, was the first person to suggest the idea of the film to the studio. Studio records reveal that Waldo Salt worked on an early draft of the film's script, but the extent of his contribution to the completed picture has not been determined.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Islin Auster was originally scheduled to produce the picture. The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also kept at UCLA, contains conference notes with studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who planned for John Sutton to play "Capt. Lloyd." Zanuck also commented to director William A. Seiter, "Martha Raye usually talks too fast and too loud. Try to make her play Martha-Raye-off-stage and not Martha-Raye-on-the-screen, if possible." An August 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Jack Oakie had been set for the comedy lead, and that Cornel Wilde was being considered for "the juvenile spot." Although a October 21, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Raye would sing "Jeep, Jeep, Listen to the Soldiers Sing," which she had written herself, the song does not appear in the completed picture. The picture marked the screen debut of singer Dick Haymes. Dance director Don Loper was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, which marked Francis' first film appearance since the 1942 Universal production Between Us Girls. Mayfair had not appeared in a feature film since the 1930 musical Paramount on Parade, and Four Jills in a Jeep marked her last screen appearance.
According to an April 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, Landis, Raye and Mayfair were also scheduled to make a short film recreating their act. Twentieth Century-Fox loaned Harold Schuster to the Army to direct the short, which was "to be exhibited only before Army groups, and is not for public showing." According to the news item, "The short opens on the set of [Four Jills in a Jeep], from which point the girls go into their act."