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Life After Show Business

MILITARY SERVICE

The “Army Specialized Training Program”:
In the spring of 1943 a new Army program went into full operation around the country called the “Army Specialized Training Program” (ASTP). It was set–up to identify, train and educate academically–talented enlisted men. After basic training the Army would provide those accepted into the program with a four–year college education in either the sciences, mathematics, medicine, engineering, or linguistics, followed by additional Army training and a commission. They would then be assigned where needed until the war ended.

Sometime after finishing the filming of Best Foot Forward in March, Tommy heard about the Army program and felt that if he could pass the tests and get accepted into the program he would be able to finally receive the college education he had always wanted. Tommy easily passed the Army’s tests and was classified A–12, the military’s designation for high–school students who by pre–induction tests had established their eligibility for the ASTP.

Trivia:
– Two tests were used by the Army to identify people for the ASTP program, the “Army General Classification Test” (AGCT) that tested general learning ability, and the “General Classification Test” (GCT) that measured verbal aptitude. At first a minimum score of 110 was required for acceptance into the program (equivalent to an IQ score of 108), but the minimum score was eventually raised to 115 (equivalent to an IQ score of 112). (The conversion of AGCT scores to equivalent IQ scores can be found in the book Essentials of Psychology by Donald M. Johnson.)

Basic Training:
Entering the Army as Private Bob Navard in September 1943, Tommy left the glamour of Show Business and began his required basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Very few people knew that Bob Navard was really Tommy Dix, the star of the new M–G–M musical Best Foot Forward, and Tommy went out of his way to keep the other people in his regiment from finding out. He wanted to be just one of the guys, and he worked hard to become the best soldier he could be.

During a routine exercise on a steep, narrow path, Tommy fell over a cliff and sustained a number of serious internal injuries. Not wanting to appear weak, he didn’t tell anyone about the injuries until they were just too painful to endure. Although the doctors at Ft. Benning quickly identified and took care of Tommy’s injuries, he developed a persistent case of diarrhea and began losing weight. Nothing he did or ate seemed to help, but Tommy continued on and never complained.

One person who did discover Tommy’s real identity was Vernon Noah, a chaplain on the Army Post who was also a voice–teacher and director of the Highlands United Methodist Church choir in Birmingham, Alabama. He asked Tommy if he would consider performing at the church if the chaplain could get him a weekend pass. Like anyone else going through basic training, Tommy would do almost anything for a weekend pass and he quickly agreed.

Trivia:
– By road, Fort Benning, Georgia, is 150 miles from Birmingham, Alabama.

Singing in Birmingham:
News that Tommy was going to appear at the church in Birmingham, Alabama, somehow got out, and hours before he arrived the church began filling up with teenagers who had seen the movie Best Foot Forward. The movie had recently been released in Birmingham, and so many of Tommy’s new fans filled the church that many members of the congregation couldn’t get in.

One member of the church who did get in was W.W. “Foots” Clements, a politically influential executive of the Dr. Pepper soft drink company. After Tommy finished singing and signing autographs, Mr. Clements introduced himself and told Tommy he was also the chairman of the Jefferson County War Bond Drive. He pointed out that Tommy could be quite valuable to the war effort if he used his talents and popularity to raise money selling war bonds.

By this time, due to the impending invasion of Normandy and the need for additional manpower in Europe, the Army’s ASTP program had been disbanded and Tommy was waiting with the rest of his regiment to be deployed overseas. Taking advantage of a furlough his regiment had just been given, Tommy made some personal appearances on behalf of the War Bond Drive with amazing results. Mr. Clements was now convinced that Tommy Dix was the celebrity he needed to promote the sale of war bonds in his area of Alabama, and he convinced Tommy that Alabama was where he was needed.

After Tommy agreed, it didn’t take long for Mr. Clements to pull some strings and get Tommy transferred from his regiment to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. Using Ft. McClellan as his base, Tommy traveled around central Alabama drawing large audiences and selling a great many war bonds.

Trivia:
– Over the course of the war 85 million Americans purchased bonds totaling approximately $185.7 billion.

Tommy Falls in Love:
One of the venues where Tommy held rallies to sell bonds was the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham. During one rally a young girl was sent up to the stage by her father to purchase a $1,000 war bond. She was a striking, blonde, blue–eyed, teenager who was attending the Brooke Hill School, a college preparatory school for girls. Tommy saw her and immediately knew she was someone he had to meet.

The young girl was Margaret Ann “Maggie” Grayson, the daughter of a wealthy Birmingham lumberyard owner. Introduced to each other by Stanley Mallotte, the organist at the rally, Tommy and Maggie started dating and they quickly fell in love. After he left the Army and reentered Show Business, Tommy repeatedly returned to Birmingham to visit Maggie until she graduated from school in 1946 and they were able to marry.

Medical Discharge:
All during the time Tommy was raising money selling war bonds, the incessant diarrhea that had plagued him since basic training continued. Finally, after his weight had dropped from 130 to 96 pounds, he was hospitalized. While being questioned about his past medical history Tommy admitted to the doctor that he had been diagnosed with Celiac disease when he was a child but never mentioned it to the Army recruiter. The doctor said that the injuries Tommy had incurred during basic training had apparently caused his Celiac disease to flare up, and once again he was unable to properly digest fats and wheat protein (gluten). Since he would need to adhere to a strict diet that the Army could not provide, the doctor said that Tommy would have to be discharged as soon as they could get him back to his normal weight.

In the spring of 1944 Tommy was sent to the Batty General Hospital near Rome, Georgia, to recuperate. By summer, less than a year after joining the Army, he had regained his normal weight, been given a medical discharge, and was once again a civilian.

 

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