Home ] Up ]


Armed Forces Radio After World War II

 By Edward A. Sharpe Archivist SMEC 
From SMEC Vintage Electrics Vol.#3m issue #1 1991 ( Now SMECC)

Seated at the microphone at radio station KTOK at left, Col. John P. Dicks,
Chief Southern California Sector XVI Corp, during an interview by the 201st
AFRTS(USAR). Middle standing is Lt. Col. Harry Sharpe, Commander 201st AORS and on the right M/Sgt. Arthur Sheets, who is the announcer for the station. This interview was held at Fort MacArthur California July 16, 1958.



After World War II, as mentioned by Ivan Saddler, in his article, people really did not know if the Armed Forces Radio Service would be continued or mothballed until the concept  was needed again. Several reasons that the service did continue were; to provide on-base entertainment in remote places of the world, in case there was ever  another large war they would be units that were easy to activate.

One way to keep the service alive at a minimal cost was to set up reserve units. These units would train periodically, but not cause the overhead of full time units. In this manner the cost was low, but should the need arise, America had trained  personnel that could be activated on a moments notice.

My father, Major Harry A. Sharpe, was to join one of these reserve units after World War II. It was an area that interested him, as it combined hisBeginning or the End movie poster skills in the electrical and technical areas, with his interest in acting and broadcasting. For a brief period after the war, Harry Sharpe went to New York City and had made an attempt to establish a career in acting. I have indeed seen him show up in late night movies, one in particular had a plot that centered around the development of the atomic bomb. I remember the name being, The Beginning or the End (1947-USA-War Drama). It was a small part, but I was completely thrilled as I saw my father dressed as a scientist walk into a room dressed in a white lab coat with a group of others scientists and then walk out of the room.

While in New York he joined the Army reserves although not in the AFRS, to keep  a reserve standing in the Army. With a combination of active duty and reserve time, he figured it would be good to add to his retirement.

In 1949, following his attempts in New York to start a profitable acting career, Harry Sharpe returned to California where he married my mother Mildred Gerber. He was attending the Geller Theatrical School in Los Angles under the GI Bill, and then joined the 6447th AFRS Training unit located in Los Angles California in October 12, 1949. The unit then changed designation to the 6261 ARAAU Army Overseas Radio Station With detachments 1,2 and 3.  I was my parents first born son on December 21, 1951, to be followed by my brother Richard and sister Victoria. Knowing what little work he was able to find in part time acting and real estate sales was going to support a family, my father  began a career at Hughes Aircraft Company in April of 1952.  Then in April 1954 the unit was again renamed to Army Overseas Radio Station Network Hq. (Key Station) 201st ARAAU with three network stations the 203ed, 204th, and 205th. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel in November of

I remember that summer camp was held at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California. During the early days, while the family lived in Westwood (a suburb of Los Angles) my father brought home the 'pup tent' that they used at some point during exercises during camp. To a young kid, such as myself, a real army tent just like in the movies, was indeed a great thing to play in out in the back yard! I also have a recollection of a OD colored can of tuna noodle casserole, and how neat it was to eat the contents of that can my mother cooked up for me, as it was 'real Army food'!

I remember as a child questioning my father about this broadcasting station KTOK. I was most curious if I too could receive it on the standard radio in my room but as he explained "We really don't transmit to other radios, just into a dummy load for training." As a child once I was in the building where the unit was housed on 5161 Suplivida Blvd. in Van Nuys California, but this was when my father needed to pick up some paperwork, not during the time they all met there, and of course I didn't see any broadcasting activities going on in the building at that time.

My father retired from the Army Reserves August 12, 1962 and the command of the unit was assumed by Major Walter Dundon. I was still very young and although I have some memories of that period in my life, they are a bit sketchy.

Harry Sharpe retired from Hughes in April 1973, were he and my mother moved to Santa Rosa California.

My only other contact with what became AFRTS was while stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix Arizona. I was to encounter AFRTS transcription discs at the Office Of Information, which took care of base public relations as well as producing the base news paper. This office was responsible for  a 'wired system' of broadcasting music to the chow hall. Although I helped out, on a volunteer basis, with photography for the base newspaper, this wired scheme did not interest me terribly much, as it was not 'real' radio broadcasting. Had they actually had a radio station on base I am sure that I would have spent all of my spare time there!

In preparation of this article, I became acquainted with AFRTS in Sun Valley California when attempting to  find someone to give us permission to use these photos of my father for this issue of VINTAGE ELECTRICS. Not only was AFRTS going strong, but they had an archives and a most wonderful Archivist named  Dorothy McAdam! Dorothy and her husband worked with Frank Capra during his film efforts through the Second World War mentioned in the previous article by Ivan Saddler. It was a most fortunate time to meet Dorothy, as the AFRTS has it's 50th anniversary coming up in May of 1992. Anyone who was connected with AFRTS is welcome to participate and needs to contact Dorothy McAdam at AFRTS (818-504-1313) for further information on the reunion to be held in Los Angles.

AFRS changed it's name to AFRTS to encompass television broadcasting as
well, and now sends programming all over the world via satellite. They have their own 'earth station' that is able to transmit directly to communications satellites and the facility occupies a city block!

Army Reserves Get Radio Tests

Los Angeles' 6261st Army Reserves Administration Area Unit opens two weeks of active training duty today at the Armed Forces Radio Service in

Under command of Maj. Harry A. Sharpe, 28 members of the Army Overseas Radio Station Unit will study worldwide operations of AFRS and receive general training in radio production.

(A newspaper clipping from my father's file. Date and place published is unknown.)

A group of officers at radio station KTOK, 201st AFRTS (USAR), confer with Col. John P. Dicks, seated third from left, during an interview with Col. Dicks Chief Southern California Sector XVI Corps July 16, 1958 at Fort MacArthur CA. Seated, from left to right are, Lt. Col. Harry Sharpe, Commander 201st AORS, Lt. Col. G.E. Forest, Col. John P. Dicks, Maj. C.E.
Bilyeu. Standing, from left to right are, Lt. Robert Stein, Lt. Frank Rowley, Capt. John Valentine, Lt. Noland West, Major Walter Dundon. (U.S.Army Photograph)

Lt. Col. Harry Sharpe (right) seated with unknown person on the left. Caption on the back of the photograph reads "Members of the 201st ARAAU AORS Ft. MacArthur on active duty training 19 Aug 60."  (U.S. Army Photograph)


FOURTEEN DAYS of active duty began today for 28 members of the 6261st Army Reserve Administration Area Unit's Army Overseas Radio Station Unit.

Headed by Maj. Harry A. Sharpe, they'll study the worldwide operations of
Armed Forces Radio Service, 1016 N. McCadden Pl., and receive radio
production training in their duty at that headquarters.

During a trip to Columbia Broadcasting System's Hollywood headquarters, they wll take part in a seminar on, radio dramatics, news editing and reporting, radio engineering, radio acting, and station relations. Teachers will include newsmen Frank Goss and Jack Beck and Sean McClory of the Abbey Players.

In a mobilization, the 33-man radio reserve unit could establish and operate an AFRS Station overseas. Some of the reservists in civilian life are in commercial radio and television production here.

(A newspaper clipping from my father's file. Date and place published is unknown.)

...My Father Was Spock's First Commander....

My brother and I would kid each other about this..  actually Leonard Nimoy was in my father's AFRTS Reserve unit during the Korean war era. Many people from Hollywood participated in guard and reserve units during the Korean War.  Ironically I remember my father telling us they felt they were close to being called up to active status but then the war was over...


It is funny how a line on a unit roster and  a father's recollections give you the edge on information game! -es says...

Nimoy served in the U.S. Army Reserve, receiving final discharge in November, 1955 as a Sergeant. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, Nimoy's U.S. Army service record was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives Fire.





wpe2.gif (142050 bytes) 

Joseph Dowdy
Talks About AFRTS
In The 90's

In 1989, I started volunteering at the Armed Forces Radio and Televisions Services outlet, a part of the Far East Network, at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. I had already served about five years and was working a Personal Financial Records Clerk Course in a Disbursing Office known in Army and Air Force parlance as "Finance." I had this vision that when I got out of the Marines that I could go to work in the entertainment industry, so I thought I would get some exposure and experience there.

As one of several volunteers, I learned various aspects of the roles that they needed filled. One was as a TelePrompter operator, one was for operating a television camera and the other was for floor directing. They already had volunteers which were mostly high-school-aged boys from military families stationed there. They only needed two volunteers each time, which was always for the live news show at 6PM.

One day, I was approached by the Station Chief who had called me into his office and asked me if I were interested in making a lateral move, which meant that I could leave my clerk job and become a broadcast journalist. I was thrilled. He helped me with the paperwork and we had done an aircheck of my voice to see if I were satisfactory or untrainable. I passed and started training on the job (this was called OJT). While working there and learning the ropes of almost every role, I had acquired extremely valuable skills useful for a future career in the entertainment industry.

I started off learning one of the more difficult but essential jobs at the station, which meant that no one else wanted it basically, which was on-air switching. This required that the shift operator, on weekends, be the one to change the on-air product from program to PSA to sneak peak to program again. Every minute of on-air product had a schedule and the on-air switcher made sure everything got on the air on time. This was using a Grass Valley Group switcher and it was big. It had all the effects built in for fading from one source to another. Mostly, it was from product to black to product again. However, at this station, we got a lot of music videos from AFRTS headquarters, so some of the guys had an MTV-style show on Friday nights.

One of my additional duties was to edit promos of upcoming movies and TV shows using a 3/4" cuts-only edit bay. We also had an Abakas (A-52?) that we used for the station bug (the station icon in the lower-right corner) which included many key-frame effects as well.

After I had started and got completely trained in my on-air switcher position, which I meant my shift was from noon Friday to midnight Friday and the same on Saturday and Sunday, an unusual thing had happened. The Station Chief that had got me there had been canned. He had created a program that became highly controversial immediately. It was a kids show but with an adult subtext to it. The playful characters who interacted with the kids had names like "Fertile Fred" who was a farmer. Well, considering that many of the higher-ranking people at the base were very Christian, that did not fly very far or very fast. We got a new Station Chief in a couple weeks later. Oddly enough, this was the same guy who had turned me down years before when I visited the FEN outlet in Okinawa to see if I could get a lateral move; instead of an aircheck, he gave me a journalism test which he said I had failed (and he was a broadcaster?).

Working at the station was great, but I had gotten a greater sense of resentment from my co-workers at the station as time went along, presumably because I was very good at every thing that I did and I hadn't attended the prestiged and high-washout school normally required for all broadcast journalists: DINFOS. I made sure that I would go to DINFO (Defense Information School) as part of my lateral move. I'm sure that some of it had to do with the new Station Chief as well. One day he pulled me aside and told me that he had no idea why the previous Station Chief had let me work there. What was really funny was that not once had I made any screw-ups.

I think they really did want me to screw up as well. I was working a 36-hour shift on weekends and a new assistant Station Chief had arrived. I don't remember if his role was new or if he had replaced someone. Anyway, he obviously didn't like me much, either. He sat me down one day and told me that I had to make-up for that extra 4 hours per week that I wasn't working. He told me that I had to do a radio show. What was interesting is that I remember that another crew member there had a radio show, but she was terrible and got transferred, so I don't know if they planned to try the same thing with me. So, they gave me about two hours of training and let me sink or swim. I did a great job actually. However, the tiniest thing that "might" be a screwup was highly scrutinized. What was really interesting is that my radio show was Monday through Friday...that meant I worked seven days a week.

Honestly, I was so thrilled that I didn't care what they threw at me. On another day, the assistant Station Chief called me into his office again and said that I needed to make up the other time as well because my show was only one hour long. So I was called into a meeting where we were all given new assignments to help the base commander to do public service announcements (PSAs). I was told I would be working on a spot to help reduce the number of cross-walk pedestrian incidents. So I came up with a "Twilight Zone" parody which included green-screen effects. It's sad that I never kept a copy of this. It was so popular that one day I was in the shopping center on the base and was publicly praised for being the "Crosswalk Zone" guy since I played a Rod Serling character in my own spot.

Another assignment that I had been given was to help reduce the bicycle accidents. So, I went out and shot video of how aggressive that bicyclists are. These guys blow through stop signs and they don't drive on the right side of the road and they are just plain thrill-seeking at times. Some of them bike faster than some cars that drive cautiously. When I edited the video of these guys on bicycles on the streets from just one vantage point, and added a narration about how dangerous it is and how they could be ticketed just the same as an automobile driver by the military police, the aggressive bicyclists stopped their risky behavior. I got a half-hearted thanks from the Station Chief when he told me that the base commander called and was thrilled with the results.

When I shipped off to DINFOS, I got trained on the same equipment essentially, but just before I left FEN Iwakuni, they received a digital editing bay for non-linear editing. It wasn't assembled before I left so I couldn't get trained on it.

I have one interesting anecdote about working in Japan. One day I got a parking ticket in Hiroshima, which was not far from Iwakuni. When I went to pick up my car, I had to pay the ticket. While paying the ticket, I had to fill out a form that would be forwarded to my base commander and it had a field which asked for the unit that I worked. Of course I put "FEN" in the blank, but you should have seen the guy's face when he read it. He turned around and told everyone that I worked at FEN and they almost all stood up as a silent greeting to me. They all said, "F-E-N" out loud like "Wow, it's a movie star." The reason why is because FEN is so popular to Japanese that they even have a magazine dedicated to it and it sells very well. In the magazine, you will see the transcripts of what the stateside radio DJs are saying which helps them with their Japanese and keeps them in tune with American culture. FEN is also well-liked because they broadcast the cream of the crop of TV shows for free to the Japanese public that are in the reach of an FEN signal.

Joseph Dowdy
joseph - at -


Chapter I:  M.G.M. Sets Out on A Great Film Adventure
Chapter II: The Beginning... A Letter That Startles Hollywood
Chapter III:  The Idea Takes Shape... Presidential Approval Is Granted
Chapter IV:  The Cast, Another Hollywood Record
Chapter V:  Two Presidents, Three Great Scenes
Chapter VI:  Hollywood's Top Secret Filmed at Top Speed
Chapter VII:  An Imposing Picture, An Important Subject
Chapter VIII:  Atomic Experts Come to Hollywood
The Main Title Credits
The Cast
The Billing



This booklet is designed
primarily for editors and writers and should be of practical help in dealing with one of the most important pictures ever made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or by any other company, "The Beginning Or The End".
Essential facts about the production are in the booklet, with many background details, which can be the source of feature stories, shorts and fillers.
It will be the job — and the pleasure — of the M-G-M- publicity department to co-operate with you in furnishing any further information and material you may require.

Editor’s note: from left to right the characters’ names are: Leslie R. Groves, Jeff Nixon, Jean O’Leary, Anne Cochran, and Matt Cochran. See “The Cast” for more information.
"The timeless moment that gives all of us a chance to prove that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God"


 Chapter One Illustration
Chapter One


the story of the atom bomb today, as the Atomic Age is still in its infancy and while the atom bomb is contemporary history, marks an event unprecedented in the motion picture industry.
From time to time, pictures of outstanding significance have come from Hollywood visually to entertain and enlighten film audiences throughout the world. But, their subjects have been ripened by age, tested by the judgement of time.
It was inevitable that the story of the atom bomb should one day reach the screen. But, today it marks the stoutest challenge ever placed upon Hollywood's film making ingenuity. It is the human story of half a million Americans, little men and big men, all doing their job in the biggest, most complex task of all time.
From the moment an atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, it became the greatest news story ever to break upon the consciousness of the civilized world. To this day, with discussions raging everywhere as to its possible influence on the world's future... if any... it remains a vital topic to every living person.


It is in recognition
of this fact that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has assumed a rare responsibility and acted with remarkable dispatch. In "The Beginning Or The End", it is bringing to the screen the important, timely story of the atom bomb. And despite the immensity of the undertaking, filming of the picture's final scene was announced less than one year following the date of Hiroshima's devastation.
In the intervening period, Hollywood met and solved a staggering miscellany of problems — all bound to arise when dealing with America's "top secret".
Not the least serious obstacle was the obtaining of all approval from dozens of living personalities to be portrayed in the picture, including the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. When a completed screenplay was achieved, the White House joined the War Department in officially approving it.
Paving the way for one of the rare instances that a living President has been portrayed on the screen, consent was achieved to depict Mr. Truman as he made his historical decision to use the atom bomb against Japan.
Without such official approval and without the government cooperation tendered Hollywood throughout, the true story of the atom bomb never could have been filmed.


 Chapter Two Illustration
Chapter Two


behind the filming of "The Beginning or The End" actually begins back in 1939, in the small Iowa town of Denison. It was about the time when the world's scientists were beginning to make headway in their study of nuclear "fission", a process involving the bombardment of uranium with neutrons.
Important experiments in this country, as well as Germany, France, Denmark and England, proved that a neutron striking a uranium nucleus caused that nucleus to split with the release of tremendous amounts of energy. These were the experiments that led to the first nuclear chain reaction in history, at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1942.
But, the story beginning to unfold in Denison was much more typical of Hollywood than was the story of scientific achievement going on elsewhere. It had all the elements of a Cinderella story.
There was a pretty girl, a high school student. There was a young professor, her chemistry teacher. It was of no apparent importance at the time, but the friendship begun in that classrom was to continue even when the girl went on to become a movie star, and the small town teacher rose to become a brilliant atomic scientist. While each took separate roads to success, they continued to write each other news of their progress and adventures.


The school girl who became an actress was Donna Reed. Her teacher, turned scientist, was Dr. Edward Tompkins.
The first indication Miss Reed had that her friend was associated with the atomic project was the newspaper headline revealing the bombing of Hiroshima, and the story telling of the important research done at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. A previous letter from Dr. Thompkins had been postmarked "Oak Ridge".
The actress promptly sat down and wrote a fan letter to the scientist. He responded with a letter telling of his work and then setting forth a startling suggestion. As a member of the Association of Oak Ridge Scientists, he was anxious to acquaint the people with the potentialities of the weapons they had helped create. This understanding was necessary for a quick and sure control of the bomb, they felt.
"News releases, magazine articles, pamphlets and even a book have been or are being prepared by our members," he wrote. "We have made a good start but much remains to be done. We are still largely failing to reach the 'man on the street.' "
With this in mind, he proposed a motion picture. "Do you think a movie could be planned and produced to impress, upon the public, the horrors of atomic warfare, the fact that other countries can produce atomic explosives and the vulnerability of civilization to attack by these explosives?"
Donna Reed read the letter. Then she showed it to her husband, Tony Owen, a former agent well versed in the ways of picture making. He saw in it the idea for not only an important. but also an outstanding motion picture. Fairly leaping to the telephone. he called his close friend, Producer Samuel Marx at Metro. Goldwyn .Mayer. The next morning, they sat down to breakfast together at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Dr. Tompkins' letter spread out before them.
Thus did a high school friendship in Iowa result in a motion picture being filmed that has been labeled by government officials. military leaders and scientists as the most important undertaking in Hollywood history. 

"Good luck — I'll be six miles further away"
"Good luck — I'll be six miles further away"


 Chapter Three Illustration
Chapter Three


the eventful breakfast, developments came fast. Samuel Marx carried the idea to Louis B. Mayer, M-G-M studio head. Other studio executives were called into session, and the enthusiasm was unanimous. There was just one stumbling block. It was realized at once that such a picture could not be filmed in its proper scope without cooperation from government, military and scientific leaders who formed an integral part of the story.
Marx was dispatched immediately to Oak Ridge, accompanied by Owen. They were met at their plane by Dr. Tompkins, who greeted them with, "I'm glad you're here. I hope M-G-M wiII want to make this picture because we scientists are frightened to death!".
The visitors from Hollywood were fingerprinted, photographed and questioned. From a meeting of scientists, they were given an outline of the exciting events leading up to the atomic discovery. They went from one key figure to another. Each gave his personal approval of the film, but declared that official approval should come from someone in higher authority.
The same was true in Washington, D. C. where they went next. Major General Leslie R. Groves and Brigadier General Thomas Farrell recounted the higher phases of the project's military side. But, authority for such a picture still had to come from higher up.
Finally, they reached the President of the United States!.


Mr. Truman, following an uninterrupted hour of discussion,
gave his enthusiastic approval. "As we left the President's office," Marx recalls, "he stopped us at the door to say, as near as I can remember it, 'Make a good picture. One that will tell the people that the decision is theirs to make. ...this is the beginning or the end!' Outside the door, we realized that we had not only what we had come for but also a title for the motion picture.
"The President had named it… 'The Beginning or the End'. "
When Marx returned to Hollywood, after further research at such atomic centers as the University of Chicago and Columbia University, and a discussion of the film's religious aspects with Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, he reported that he had found the most amazing and most human story he had ever heard. Particularly at Oak Ridge. where he had talked to scientists, wives and laborers, had he been impressed with the fact that, the atom bomb story is largely their story.
In Hollywood with the picture now definitely on the schedule, Norman Taurog, remembered for his "Boys' Town" and other outstanding pictures. won the directing nod over a host of top bracket candidates. The picture was given a No. 1 priority at M-G-M -- first call on Hollywood's most extensive list of stars and featured players, first call on the vast production resources of the world's largest studio.
Next step was the assignment of writers. Bob Considine, famed war correspondent, responsible for "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo", was named to write the original treatment. Commander Frank Wead, U. S. Navy ( retired), was selected to do the screenplay. His latest had been the highly successful , "They Were Expendable". Considine continued the research begun by Marx. From the East, where he maintained a constant contact with the real-life players in the atomic story, he wired his material page by page to Hollywood where Wead took over.
As soon as the story outline began to reveal itself, camera crews branched out from Hollywood to all parts of the country. Quietly but earnestly, filming began on Hollywood's atomic drama -- in the Pentagon Building and the White House in Washington. D. C., at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Alamafordo, New Mexico, University of Chicago and Columbia University -- wherever any portion of the real-life atomic drama had been enacted.
"We'll meet again after the war"
"We'll meet again after the war"


 Chapter Four Illustration
Chapter Four


task facing the film makers was the immense one of casting the story's record-making 212 speaking roles. A few months earlier, before the return from service of many of Hollywood's leading actors, it would have been impossible, All but four of the roles are played by men.
Adding to the difficulty of this job twas the fact that a majority of the roles were depicting living personalities, the largest number ever arrayed in one film story. Even the fictional characters had to be cast with great care. because of what they represented.
Prominent persons to be portrayed on the screen ranged from two Presidents of the United States ~ Harry S. Truman and the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt - to leaders of every phase of the vast atomic project. These included Generals Brehon Somervell. W. D. Styer, Groves and Farrell, Rear Admiral William S. Parsons and Colonel John Lansdale on the armed forces side: Professor Albert Einstein, Professor Enrico Fermi, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, brilliant University of California physicist who headed the Los Alamos development and supervised the New Mexico bomb test, Dr. Vannevar Bush, director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
Dr. Arthur Compton, director of the Metallurgy Project at the University of Chicago, Dr. James B. Conant, President of Harvard University, Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence, director of the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California and inventor of the famed cyclotron and many others from the world of science; K. T. Keller of Chrysler Motors, W. S. Carpenter, Jr.. of the du Pont Company, James A. Rafferty of Union Carbide Company and Harry A. Winne of General Electric among the industrialists.
In every case, the script was shown to I these men and approved. Frequently' they proffered suggestions for augmenting scenes and these were incorporated into the screenplay, Almost without exception,. actors were selected of the same physical make-up and type as the men they were to depict. although the first requirement always was proved acting abilitty.


As stars of the picture, Brian Donlevy was named after weeks of careful consideration to play General Groves. Army chief of the atomic project, and Robert Walker. fresh from his portrayal of the late Jerome Kern in "Till the Clouds Roll By," was selected to appear as the general's aide.
Tom Drake, following his spiritually keyed performance in "The Green Y ears," was decided upon as the ideal type to symbolize Arnerica's youthful scientists on the screen. Beverly Tyler, introduced so successfully as Drake's sweetheart in the previous picture. was chosen as his young bride, experiencing the hardships suffered by the wives and families of the men on America's top secret undertaking.
Audrey Totter, another brilliant young actress, won the role of Jean O'Leary, General Groves' confidential secretary who later ,.was decorated by Congress as a woman who knew the secret - and kept it. Hume Cronyn , was picked for the important Dr. Oppenheimer role, .Joseph Calleia as Professor Fermi,. Jonathan Hale as Dr. Bush,. Henry O'Neill as General Farrell, Warner Anderson as Admiral Parsons (a Navy captain at the time depicted in the film), and Barry Nelson as Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the B-29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
England and Canada were represented in their participation in the project by Hurd Hatfield and Richard Haydn, two of Hollywood's most distinguished performers, in the roles of the British scientists called to America on atomic research, and Damien O'Flynn. as C. D. Howe, Canadian Minister of Munitions.
In its effort to tell the full story, Hollywood sought to present the project not only as an all-out, all-American development, but also as the perfectly coordinated Allied triumph that it represents.
"The bomb position is designated zero"






 Chapter Five Illustration
Chapter Five


of the film's outstanding dramatic scenes revolved around two American Presidents. and two of the most delicate problems of casting in Hollywood history. The first shows the late President Roosevelt as he launched America on its two billion dollar atomic project., often termed the biggest gamble of all time. Mr. Roosevelt at the Little White House in Warm Springs Georgia, on the final day of his life. The third, as the re-enactment of the fateful meeting in Potsdam, Germany, when Mr. Truman gave his order for the use of the atom bomb against Japan.
Half-a-dozen skilled actors were considered for the role of Mr. Roosevelt before the final choice was made. Then Godfrey Tearle, who was born in New York but attained his greatest prominence in the English stage and screen, was flown in from London to Hollywood for the role. Although a brother of the late star f silent films, Conway Tearle, the actor never had previously visited the motion picture capital.
His startling resemblance to the famed American leader created an unusual stir wherever he went in Hollywood, just as it had in New York on his last appearance on l3roadway, in "The Flashing Stream" in 1939, and during the war when he entertained American troops in England and in Italy.
An interesting sidelight, and still another challenge to the filming of the picture, was the duplication of the President's office on an M.G.M. sound stage. To do a faithful job of it, the studio obtained permission from the White House to photograph various sections of the office. .even pictures on the walls were photographed, then blown up to their original size in .Hollywood and colored. In addition to White House permission, releases then had to be obtained from the copyright owners of each painting, which included several received by President Truman from the National Museum, and an oil painting of Mr. Roosevelt.
Recreating the same room as it was five years ago was more difficult, but it was achieved with the same fidelity , after careful scrutiny of photographs made of it at that time.
An unusual commentary on the habits of two Presidents was revealed in the picturing of the President's desk in the two sequences. For the scene of Mr. Truman, the desk was shown with scarcely more than a dozen objects neatly. placed on its surface. During the term of Mr. Roosevelt, the desk top contained ninety-eight articles. including six ashtrays, six boxes of matches and countless miniature elephants, dogs. horses, donkeys and other animals, all souvenirs sent by admirers.


"You will take the bomb to the Marianas — and use it!"


 Chapter Six Illustration
Chapter Six


letter to Donna Reed suggesting the film on the atom bomb was dated October 23. 1945. Within a month, studio executives had waxed enthusiastic over the plan, Marx had made his trip to Oak Ridge and visited President Truman, General Groves. Dr. Oppenheimer and a multitude of other atomic leaders. Shortly after, the official announcement came that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ,was preparing to film "The Beginning or the End," the story of the atom bomb.
At the turn of the year, the tremendous research campaign was under way. but not a line of screenplay was on paper. Considine and Wead now \were ready to start writing, however. Within four months, their job was completed. So., too, was the research delving into top secret developments at hundreds of atomic installations, demanding contacts with close to a thousand different people who had been connected in some degree with the project. In five months, Hollywood had achieved a task that ordinarily would have taken the film makers between one and two years..
The finished script approved all around, cameras began turning on the sound stages. Eleven weeks later, Director Taurog said 'Cut" to his final scene several days ahead of his schedule. "This speedy handling of a difficult assignment," he declared, "can be attributed only to the interest and enthusiasm displayed not only by all the actors involved but also by every man on the picture's crew. Everyone ,who has been engaged on this picture seems to have caught the spirit of it , and responded accordingly.".
From the start of filming, despite the tremendous interest throughout Hollywood in the picture, the sets for "The Beginning or the End" were tightly closed to visitors. Only working press members were allowed entrance, and then only on designated days. A sign on the stage door announced the rescinding of all regular studio passes, and a studio police officer was on hand to make it stick.
This "security measure," installed by the studio, served a double purpose. Although the script had been approved by the White House and the War Department, it still was required that the completed picture be shown to government officia1s in Washington, D.C. before being released, and in addition, the size of the cast and the difficult nature of many scenes made a closed set advisable in view of the demand for speed.
With film cutting and musical scoring being pushed even while the picture was being made on the sound stages, studio officials announced that the picture detailing the story of the atom bomb would be presented to the public as soon as the machinery of distribution would permit.


 Chapter Seven Illustration
Chapter Seven


has been described as the story of the atom bomb. It is also the story of the men and women who solved the atomic mystery, and who helped American win a life and death race to become the first nation to build an atom bomb. And, possibly most important of all, it is a story that tells all the peoples of the world just what they face today - the crucial problem of whether atomic energy is to be used for good or evil.
It is a story of our own times that is so vital and so spectacular that no fiction could match.
Yet, Hollywood has not made a straight documentary film story of it. Believing that an entertaining drama will carry far more influence and appeal to audiences in general, a handful of fictional characters have been introduced to give the story a cohesiveness that might otherwise be lacking. Each of these characters, however, is in actuality a composite figure drawn from real-life persons who served their country in its greatest crisis. Each has a distinct significance.
Tom Drake, for example, representing the young scientists in his role, can be interpreted as expressing the conscience of mankind faced with releasing atomic energy in wartime. His character was drawn from dozens of young scientists interviewed at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos by the studio officials. Robert Walker, as a young military officer, can be regarded as typifying the duty of man in wartime. His is the job to end a terrible conflict as quickly as possible.
Through these two and their contrasting impulses, the whole drama is told from the earliest atomic research in Europe and America to the bombing of Hiroshima and the return of peace.
Included in the exciting highlights are the arrival of British scientists in America to work on the project, the appeal by Professor Einstein to the late President Roosevelt for government support of atomic development, the historic Chicago "brickpile" test that saw the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction known to man, the combining of scientists. military men and industrialists on the vast project, the growth of Oak Ridge, the New Mexico bomb test, the exciting take-off of B-29s from Tinian and the blasting of Japan.


The filming of many scenes will be long remembered in Hollywood. For instance, the reenactment of the "brickpile" test underneath Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, an event which one atomic expert, Dr. Henry T. Wensel, prophesied would "2000 years from now, when all our present sources of energy are exhausted. become recognized as possibly the most important date in all history."
Keen interest also was displayed by workers and actors alike in scenes taking place in such famed atomic laboratories as those at Columbia University. the University of Chicago and Los Alamos. for these. actual atomic equipment valued at more than $100,000 was rented by the studio, and additional thousands spent in duplicating instruments that could not otherwise be obtained. Included in the rented equipment were various types of Geiger-Muller counters. for detecting radioactivity, and a cathode ray oscillograph for measuring energy and indicating fission.
The greatest excitement on the set came with the filming of the New Mexico bomb test at Alamogordo. and the Hiroshima raid. To depict the blinding flash of the atom bomb, greater than mid-day light, it is estimated that over two-and-a-half million watts of light were used for each scene, the equivalent of more than 42,000 average house bulbs. More than a million watts powered a battery of huge skylights surrounding the set with a million-and-a-half watts coming from 100 spot lamps. An intricate system demanding ten miles of cable connected the set with the studio's main generator, bringing a simultaneous blinding flash from all the lamps and throwing a maximum load on the generator..
For these and all other scenes showing the atom bomb, iall persons not directly connected with the film were barred from the stage. The one exception was Dr. Oppenheimer, who visited Hollywood at the precise moment when Actor Hume Cronyn was depicting him in one of the most dramatic events of the New Mexico test. The young, thinnish physicist, in distinct contrast to the popular conception of bearded. dignifieJ scientific genius, saluted his screen prototype by doffing his hat and tossing it to Cronyn, shouting as he did so, "Hello, Oppy!"
"It's equal to the destructive power of 20,000 tons of TNT!"
"It's equal to the destructive power of 20,000 tons of TNT!"


 Chapter Eight Illustration
Chapter Eight


who piloted the B-29 "The Great Artiste," that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. was just one of many men closely associated with the atom homb who visited Hollywood during the making of "The Beginning Or The End,' and commented on the imperativeness of the film story. Others included General Groves, when he inspected ships in Southern California as they were about to leave for the Bikini Atoll tests, Dr. Harold C. Urey of the Institute of N Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, Dr. Leo Szilard, prominently connected with the early stages of the project, and Dr. Oppenheimer.
In addition to Col. Sweeney, seven other atomic experts came to Hollywood as technical advisors on every phase of the atomic development. They were the assurance of an authentic film.
The first to arrive was the man whose letter had started the whole thing, Dr. Edward Tompkins. the scientist who had written his suggestion for an atom bomb picture to Donna Reed, was sent to Hollywood by the Association of Oak Ridge Scientists. He remained ten weeks, rendering advice throughout the writing of the script. Joining him at the studio was another scientist, Dr. W. Bradford Shank of the Federation of American Scientists, who was associated with the development at Los Alamos.
Just prior to the start of filming, two new arrivals from Washington. D. C. were Dr. Henry T. Wensel, on leave from the Bureau of Standards, and Col. William Consodine. who, as a deputy in charge of Security and Public Relations, served as an aide to General Groves. Later they were joined by a fourth scientist, Dr. David Hawkins, an associate of Dr. Oppenheimer at the University of California and at Los Alamos. His advice on the filming of the atom bomb explosion on the New Mexico desert, as well as on vital research scenes in the Los Alamos laboratories, was considered invaluable.
An Army foursome to work alongside scientific advisors, in much the same cooperative manner that they did during the war, was completed with the appearance of Major Glen W. Landreth, who was on Tinian when the bombers took off for Japan, Major Paul Van Sloun, who visited Hiroshima and viewed what remained of the Jap city, and Col. Sweeney.
This corps of technical advisors, believed the largest ever employed on a motion picture. was unanimous in commending Hollywood for its all-out effort to make a picture in keeping with the importance of its subject. Dr, Wensel, who as Chief of the Technical Division of the Manhattan District and Technical Aide to the Chairman of the Office of Scientific Research and Development toured every major atomic installation in the country, was particularly impressed, both with Hollywood's effort and with the urgent need for such a film..


"Any attempt to give a clearer conception of just what an atom bomb is, of the magnitude of the job required for its construction and of its tremendous destructive force, cannot help but be of value to the world today."
"I may be prejudiced, as a scientist who feels very close to this subject, but to me this is the most important motion picture ever made. Its subject is one that every American should be conscious of, and thinking about. The atom bomb is in their laps, it is their job to get a workable solution to the problem it has posed to the world today."
"During my four months' association with this picture, I have become convinced that it can be expected to give the average person his clearest understanding to date of the most lethal weapon ever devised by man. and the essential problems of atomic energy now confronting the world."
"That, to me, makes the picture of unique value to all humanity."

Col. Sweeney expressed a similar feeling when he commented, "It is a public service to make and distribute to the world a picture of this nature. Having seen two of the atom bombs dropped, and what they did to two Jap cities, I can assure you that their tremendous power has not been exaggerated, and from all I can gather, the two bombs I saw were only firecrackers compared with the bombs that can be made in the future."

Dr, Shank augmented these views by saying, "The atomic question is the most vital one before the whole world today. Whether we are alive ten years from now or not, whether we live in caves or in cities, depends upon how many average people concern themselves with this problem.
"It is my opinion, and that of the men of the Federation of American Scientists with whom I have talked that this motion picture will do a definite good in helping to inform the people of the destructive potentialities of the atom bomb, and in highlighting the possibilities for peace time application of atomic energy. Its value, too, is that it will reach the mass of the people -- and they, not just a handful of leaders, will solve the problem if it is to be solved."

It is in recognition of a duty to mankind, as well as of a human story of rare significance. that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with unique attention to authenticity has filmed .'The Beginning or the End."

 Nuclear Blast Illustration


The Main Title Credits




GODFREY TEARLE  As President Roosevelt

ART BAKER  as President Truman
LUDWIG STOSSEL  as Dr Albert Einstein

Screen Play by FRANK WEAD
Original Story by ROBERT CONSIDINE
Director of Photography RAY JUNE, A.S.C.
Recording Director DOUGLAS SHEARER
Set Direction EDWIN B. WILLIS
Montage Effects by PETE WALLBUSCH
Costume Supervision IRENE
Make-Up Created by JACK DAWN

Scientific Technical Advisors:


Oak Ridge, Tennessee
DR. DAVID HAWKINS Los Alamos, New Mexico
W. BRADFORD SHANK— Los Alamos, New Mexico

Military Technical Advisors:

Manhattan Project
With Acknowledgements to Mr. TONY OWEN
for his Cooperation

Produced by SAMUEL MARX



The Cast

Major General Leslie R. Groves BRIAN DONLEVY
Colonel Jeff Nixon ROBERT WALKER
Matt Cochran TOM DRAKE
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer HUME CRONYN
President Roosevelt GODFREY TEARLE
Dr. Vannevar Bush JONATHAN HALE
General Thomas F. Farrell HENRY O'NEILL
Captain William S. Parsons WARNER ANDERSON
Colonel Paul Tibbets, Jr. BARRY NELSON
President Truman ART BAKER
Dr. Albert Einstein LUDWIG STOSSEL
Dr. Harold C. Urey JOHN HAMILTON
Dr. James B. Conant FRANK FERGUSON
Dr. E. .P.. Wigner TOM STEVENSON
Charles G. Ross EDWARD EARLE
Dr. Arthur H. Compton MORONI OLSEN
Dr. Troyanski NORMAN LLOYD
Pilot at Tinian JIM DAVIS
Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. CHARLES TROWBRIDGE
General Brehon Somervell HENRY HALL
Lieut. General W. D. Styer PAUL HARVEY
VEY Quaker Scientist LARRY JOHNS
Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence JAMES BUSH
Colonel John Lansdale WILLIAM WRIGHT


The Billing






Screenplay by FRANK WEAD
Original Story by ROBERT CONSIDINE
Produced by SAMUEL MARX




Black and white 8x10 glossy photo of MGM's THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1947) with Robert Walker, Tom Drake, Beverly Tyler, Audrey Totter and Brian Donlevy.  


wpe15.gif (1093600 bytes)    wpe18.gif (77545 bytes)

Bridlington's Time Capsule
(from (The UK)


Somewhat ambitiously for Bridlington, the town was looking forward to the year 2197 when a time capsule was buried in the path leading to the Town Hall. A stone tablet marks the spot stating that the capsule was buried in 1947, “marking the beginning of the Atomic Age.”

Councillor F. F. Millner, the Mayor, said at the ceremony that it was a “peculiar experience writing to someone who would be mayor of this borough in 250 years time.”

He went on to add: “I do not fear the atomic age from the viewpoint of destruction. I believe we are at the beginning of a very great scientific movement in that we can use atomic energy in nature to do good and to do our work. During the 250 years which will pass before the capsule is opened there will be great scientific advances.”

It was at 12.15pm on Saturday, November 11, 1947, that the capsule was buried. It was 12in x 9in x 9in in size (300 x 230 x 230mm) and completely weatherproof. Mr D. Bowden, the manager of the Regal Cinema (on Promenade; at the time of writing, February 2000, it is the Gala Bingo Hall), had arranged the scheme, assisted by Mr S. Tenser, assistant manager. No-one knows what the mayor wrote to his future counterpart, but along with his message went the following:  

  • a photograph of the mayor and members of the council and chief officials
  • a street plan
  • an aerial photograph of the town
  • the municipal year book
  • an official guide
  • a Bridlington guide for 1939
  • the electoral register for 1947
  • the Medical Officer for Health’s report
  • the annual report of the public library
  • Rock’s print of the entrance to the harbour
  • “The Dissolution of Bridlington Priory” by J. S. Purvis
  • a negative film of civic buildings and other places, including the prefabricated houses
  • a copy of the corporation accounts
  • engravings by J. Stephenson from drawings by G. Bulmer of the harbour
  • three maps of Bridlington and district
  • new coins of 1947
  • a book of the film “The Beginning or The End”
  • picture postcards of the town
  • a typical cafe menu of the day
  • a schedule of the Chrysanthemum Show
  • “The Roman Villa of Rudston” by F. R. Pearson (known to the writer as “Clippy,” he was history master at Bridlington School in 1948)
  • “Bridlington Charters” by J. S. Purvis
  • Prickett’s “History of the Priory”
  • Thompson’s “Sketches of Bridlington"
  • George Hardwick’s “What to See in Bridlington”
  • and a triangle badge of Associated British Cinemas Ltd.

The writer's copies of the last five books are illustrated here and it is likely that additional copies of the books are with other collectors in Bridlington. These books, as well as many others of local historical interest, are available for reference purposes in the Bridlington Room at the library. The only title not known to the writer is “The Beginning or The End.” Perhaps this dealt with atomic energy.

The film of the civic buildings will not be much use in 2000 without the relevant projector and even less use in another 200 years time.

The prefabricated houses referred to, of course, were constructed just after the war to provide emergency accommodation. To the best of the writer’s knowledge, they lasted many more years than intended. They were erected where part of the Gypsey Road estate is now and on Jubilee Avenue. No doubt many Bridlington residents will remember them with either affection or disgust.

The one item the writer would like to see is the cafe menu from 1947. What would it consist of? Starter: Bowl of Brown Windsor Soup or Pea Soup? Main course: Fish and Chips with Bread and Butter or Meat Pie and Boiled Potatoes? Sweet: Spotted Dick and Custard? It’s fairly certain that the meal would end with a Pot of Tea for Two.
If we were to bury a time capsule today, what would be put in it? There are several books about Bridlington currently available, many of them with illustrations of days gone by. But what about how Bridlington looks today? There’s a multitude of picture postcards, some videos (remember to put a video player in the capsule - and simple instructions!), and, of course, the current Bridlington guide.
Copies of the local newspaper should go in too. Funny how there was no mention of either the Bridlington Chronicle or the Bridlington Free Press in the capsule buried in 1947.
To celebrate the Millennium, perhaps Bridlington should plan burying a second time capsule this year to last the thousand years to the next millennium. Now that would be something! Anyone out there willing to sponsor the idea?

Mike Wilson



Everyday we rescue items you see on these pages!
What do you have hiding in a closet or garage?
What could you add to the museum displays or the library?



DONATE! Click the Button Below!

Thank you very much!


Material © SMECC 2007 or by other owners 

Contact Information for
Southwest Museum of Engineering,
Communications and Computation 

Talk to us!
Let us know what needs preserving!


Postal address - Admin. 
Coury House / SMECC 
5802 W. Palmaire Ave 
Glendale, AZ 85301 

Electronic mail 
General Information: