An American actor born in New York City, James Caan is one of those rare actors to use his real name. His acting career started when he was 21, with roles in off-Broadway productions. Within three years, he was getting regular work as a character actor on tv and in the movies, and the size of his roles increased as fame slowly found him.
Throughout the Seventies, he continued to act, and wound up doing some of his best known roles, notably as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” I and II. He also appeared in such films as “Rollerball”, “A Bridge Too Far” and “Alien Nation”.
Born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez, the man whose stage name is Martin Sheen was the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother, who emigrated to the United States prior to his birth. Good Catholics both of them, they gave him eight brothers and a sister.
Sheen adopted his now familiar stage name in order to counteract racism among those casting for acting jobs, although the choice was not one he made without certain regrets. In his own words:
“Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I’d get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. It’s still Estevez officially. I never changed it officially. I never will. It’s on my driver’s license and passport and everything. I started using Sheen, I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn’t keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.“
At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Holland had declared itself neutral, just as it had done during World War One. This time, it didn’t work – Nazi Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940. The battle was one-sided.
The German forces outmassed the Dutch in every particular – they had more than six times as many aircraft, more than twice as many soldiers, and 759 tanks to Holland’s 1 (yes, one) tank. The decisive incident was the fall of Rotterdam, the last major city still free, on May 14, after a sustained bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe. The Dutch surrendered on the following day, although elements of the Dutch military continued to fight in the Zeeland region (with French assistance) for another 12 days, and the Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, along with her family and government, escaped to England, where they would become symbols of Dutch resistance for the rest of the war. Holland would remain under Nazi rule until May 5, 1945 (only three days before Germany’s final surrender).
The Battle of Britain is virtually unique in the annals of wartime history for being one of the few extended campaigns to be fought almost entirely in the air – most other aerial conflicts named battles were single engagements, but the Battle of Britain lasted for nearly five months.
What it was, basically, was the way that air supremacy was decided in the Western European theatre of World War Two. The Axis forces launched an all-out aerial assault on Britain, bombing both civilian and military targets in what became known as The Blitz. Much has been written about the tactical superiority of the British, and there’s certainly truth in that – the Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by 2 to 1 in raw numbers, for example. But in the end, the British simply outlasted them. If the Luftwaffe had been better equipped in terms of manpower and aircraft, they might have succeeded in the end, but the RAF was perhaps the pre-eminent air force in the world in 1940, and they demonstrated this here, in their finest hour.
It would be another two years before the momentum of World War Two turned decisively against the Germans, but this was the first major victory of the Allies, and Germany’s inability to conquer Britain at this point would lead Hitler – never that interested in invading the British Isles to begin with – to turn his attentions eastward, leading inexorably to the twin defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, and finally, to the unconditional surrender of his nation after he committed suicide in despair.