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While George was in the Army during the war, he was assigned to the Signal Corps Movie Unit, which was run by Frank Capra. One day he was called to Capra’s office on Long Island.
“Get a cameraman and an editor, and go to the Pentagon. General Patton is back from Europe and he’d like to make a filmed statement in his office.” George duly took off for Washington, D.C., with two cohorts. At the Pentagon they were told to se up the camera and the lights in the general’s office and wait for his imminent return. Cukor took a disbelieving look around the stark quarters.
“Good Lord,” he said, his sophisticated taste affronted, “crossed swords behind the desk! How on the nose can we get? Let’s take them down, move the desk in front of the window, and see if we can get a better chair.” His two co-workers were apprehensive. Patton was a man who wore a steel helmet at all times, carried a revolver, and was not given to a lot of patience. But George was not to be swayed; after all, he was back in his element, he was directing film, and the fact that he was a buck private about to deal with the scourge of Rommel did not enter his mind. The swords were taken down and the desk was in mid-move when Patton flung open the door and walked in. His rage was instant and fearful. He screamed at the top of his voice, “What do you think you’re doing, you unspeakable Hollywood bastards!” This was only the beginning of a flow of invective of which Blackbeard the Pirate would have been proud.
George sighed deeply with resignation. He was not at all frightened. Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo–he had dealt with tantrums all his life. He walked over to the general, who was now nearing the fortissimo apex of his wrath, and put his arm around the shoulder with the four stars on it. “Now, General,” he said, soft-voiced and persuasive, “are we going to be silly about this?”
The cameraman and the editor blanched. Visions of firing squads or guillotines danced in front of them. Patton stopped in mid-threat. Never had he heard a sentence remotely like the one this private had just uttered. The insanity of the moment got to him, and he laughed and laughed. The swords were put back, the newsreel was filmed, and George Cukor went back to the Signal Corps base, innocent of the dire consequences his friends had deemed inevitable.
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George S. Patton gives a speech in Los Angeles in 1945. This clip is drawn from a Signal Corps documentary narrated by Ronald Reagan: