In The Boys We Knew, Jimmy and Elizabeth take in a movie entitled, Reveille With Beverly in which the title character, played by Ann Miller, connives her way into becoming the morning disc jockey at a radio station near an army base. Heretofore, the regular disc jockey, Vernon Lewis, played by Franklin Pangborn (whom old movie fans will recognize in an instant) has played classical music, but when Beverly takes over the show, she plays the music the soldiers enjoy the most—swing. This causes great consternation, but of course is wildly successful and the movie features some outstanding performances including Count Basie playing “One O’clock Jump,” Duke Ellington performing “Take the A Train,” and Frank Sinatra singing “Night and Day,” classics all. What is most remarkable of all, however, is the true story behind the movie.
Jean Ruth Hay was 24 and a graduate of the University of Colorado when she got her start in radio. It was her idea to play “the stuff that makes you swing and sway” for soldiers at Fort Logan, a base near Denver. Reveille With Beverly—Jean adopted her radio name for obvious, rhyming reasons—debuted in October of 1941 and by 1942, with the war in Europe having exploded into a true world war, she took a job at a CBS station, KNX-AM, in Hollywood. The Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast her show, which ultimately reached 11 million people around the world.
Jean was popular for more than just her radio show. According to her obituary, “Ms. Hay posed for pinup shots, and troops voted her ‘The girl we’d most like to be trapped in the turret of a B-17 with.’”
She began each show with “Hi there, boys of the U.S.A.” and one can only imagine what a thrill those words must have been to men fighting in the North African desert or the jungles of Guadalcanal. Reveille With Beverly was released in February, 1943 about a month after Casablanca, and while we rightly honor the latter as a movie classic and one of the quintessential World War II movies, we should at least salute the former and the young lady who brought a little bit of home to servicemen and women all over the world.
The following trailer for the movie is quite special in that it features Jean Hay introducing the movie.