A SALUTE TO CHRIS NOEL & OTHER 60s STARLETS WHO WENT TO VIETNAM
Watched the entire 18 hour PBS documentary series The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. It was a time investment but overall really worth it. Great job showing a balanced look at the war from U.S., South Vietnam and North Vietnam perspectives as well as personal stories from military men and civilians from all three countries. Powerful, moving, and informative. However, I was surprised that the celebrities who went to Vietnam to entertain the troops were given such short shrift including Bob Hope. Only Hanoi Jane was really talked about and that was because of her blunder to go to North Vietnam.
So I would like to salute my 60s starlets that gave up their time to go to Vietnam. Most were not part of Bob Hope’s big USO tours that played the major military bases in safe zones and instead went solo as Chris Noel did or with Johnny Grant (the unofficial mayor of Hollywood) to smaller fire bases in-country with enemy fire all around.
Chris Noel (of Girl Happy; Beach Ball, Wild Wild Winter fame) must lead this list. She was a DJ on Armed Forces Radio with her show “My Date with Chris” and journeyed to Vietnam many times.
Excerpt from my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema:
After she began doing the show, Chris received a letter from the Department of Defense that asked her if she would volunteer to go to Vietnam to help build the morale of the troops. She jumped at the chance without even considering the danger. But unlike Joey Heatherton, Raquel Welch, Jill St. John, and others who were part of Bob Hope’s entourage, Chris traveled on her own to hospitals, fire bases, and remote outposts. Clad in the shortest of mini-skirts (“my fatigues”), Noel would sing, dance, comfort, and bring joy to many servicemen. It is no wonder she became the favorite pin-up of GIs in Vietnam. “It was the most courageous thing I ever did,” remarks Chris. “All I had with me was a tape recorder and a portable record player. I would play all the latest music for the guys and I would dance with them. I also would tape messages from them to their families. I eventually traveled the entire scope of South Vietnam many times and was shot at on more than one occasion. I probably had one of the most unusual experiences of the Vietnam War.” The Vietcong however did not take too kindly to Chris. “They put a bounty on my head,” says Chris laughing. “Bob Hope’s head was worth $25,000. Mine was only worth $10,000.”
While Noel’s personal life was being fulfilled aiding the servicemen in Vietnam, her acting career was suffering. Hollywood in the late sixties was anti-Vietnam and Noel received a backlash from the acting community for doing her radio show and for visiting Vietnam. “My family and friends thought what I was doing was neat,” says Chris. “People I knew casually just started to hate me for going to Vietnam. I never expected the backlash I received. And I’ll tell you it’s bothered me ever since. But at the time I was so absorbed in it that I just threw my hands in the air and said, ‘What will be, will be.’ I believed in supporting my country. Since I was asked to visit Vietnam, I felt it was my duty to go. Reporters would always question me if I were a hawk or a dove. And I would refuse to answer. I wouldn’t discuss the war. I would only speak about my work and the needs of the GIs. I would not take sides. Now however I believe we were all told a lot of lies in the beginning and most of us bought it.”
Today Chris Noel manages Vetsville Cease Fire House, Inc. which she founded in 1993. Her organization consists of halfway houses in three Florida cities that provide shelter, food, clothing, and counseling for homeless Vietnam vets. “I had a desire of doing this about five years before I did it. As a leader in the national Veteran’s community, I’ve always been on top of the needs of the vets. As I traveled around, people would tell me of vets that killed themselves. I had a real feeling for that because my husband [a Vietnam vet] had killed himself. And I started to see that many vets were suffering from PTSD or the effects of Agent Orange. Many were living on the streets because they couldn’t afford to even rent an apartment. So one day I just decided to go out and rent a house for homeless vets. I began this using my own money until we started fundraising.” Though the Vietnam War is long over, Chris Noel’s commitment to the men who served there is unwavering.
Other starlets that I interviewed that went to Vietnam to boost morale and deserve to be saluted: