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Hollywood and the USS Yorktown

Waring Hills Nov 20, 2009

As we approach the holiday season many in our nation and the world will be escaping with their friends or loved ones to the movies.  We escape into adventure, romance and other emotions of the human experience. The USS Yorktown has an extensive tie with the dreams of Hollywood and we now take a look at her association with the movies and television.

The first film associated with USS Yorktown is the 1944 Academy Award winning documentary The Fighting Lady narrated by Robert Taylor and directed by Edward Steichen with Charles Boyer, Joseph J. Clark,  and Dixie Kiefer.  There was evidently some trouble in getting the film released by the Navy censor at the time, but former commanding officer Jocko Clark was able to persuade the Navy captain to release the film and Hollywood was grateful. Here we see Jocko with Bob Hope on his trip to the west coast for the movie’s release…

Watch it here on YouTube…

1954 would be the year that 2 films would appear on the USS Yorktown. First was a  short documentary film produced by Otto Lang entitled Jet Carrier.  It was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Documentary Short and the other for Best Two-Reel Short.

The next movie made more of a splash and was entitled Men of the Fighting Lady (1954), but it was filmed aboard a sister Essex carrier, CV-34, USS Oriskany.
Stars were big names, Van Johnson and Walter Pidgeon. F9F Panther jets from US Navy squadron VF-192 were used and they were also used to film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954). After the filming of these two movies, the squadron name was changed from “Golden Dragons” to “World Famous Golden Dragons”.

After Van Johnson brings in a blind pilot and lands safely on the carrier, he mutters “I should have found a home in the Army”.

Dick Van Dyke and Nancy Kwan star in Lt. Robin Crusoe (1966) about a Naval aviator who crashes and ends up on a deserted island that, of course, is not deserted. Van Dyke finds a chimp named Friday in this film.

Thought the ship was not used in the filming, USS Yorktown was host to the world premiere of this film. Van Dyke, Buddy Ebsen, Fred MacMurry, Eva Gabor and other stars attended.

Television came to the Yorktown in November 1968 when TV’s  Get  Smart series had an episode filmed onboard in San Diego. Here is a copy of the ship’s newpaper coverage of the filming.

During the filming in November 1968 of Tora Tora Tora (1970) warplanes painted with a Japanese insignia were lifted onto the USS Yorktown at San Diego and then transported to Hawaii for use in the film.

Government assistance on this film resulted in a 60 Minutes investigation. The Yorktown had her flight deck repainted as the Japanese flagship of Admiral Nagumo, Akagi. Below is the ship’s newspaper article on the filming…interestingly the ship carried Japanese painted aircraft as it a transited the Pacific to Pearl Harbor in December…Even with the movement of Hollywood into space with the Star Trek series the name USS Yorktown continues with NCC-1717 USS Yorktown which is mentioned in multiple Star Trek episodes…

Fitting that descendants of the Fighting Lady would go into…Space… the Final Frontier…  to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…

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