The 1941 movie “Sergeant York” told the life story of one of our greatest World War I heroes and inspired Americans in the isolationist days before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that December. The movie won Gary Cooper an Oscar for Best Actor and cemented Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York’s legacy in American history.
TCM celebrated the 10th anniversary of its annual Film Festival in Los Angeles in early April as it also celebrates the network’s own 25th anniversary. The festival debuted a new venue this year, the lovingly restored theater at American Legion Post 43.
“Sergeant York” was the first movie TCM showed there, and it invited York’s son Andrew Jackson York and grandson retired Army Col. Gerald York to Hollywood for an onstage interview with network host Dave Karger. Andrew has worked as a guide at the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park, and Gerald served in Vietnam as part of a 31-year career in the Army. Andrew is Gerald’s uncle.
“Sergeant York” still resonates today as one of Hollywood’s great war movies. Gary Cooper’s performance stands as one of his finest roles, alongside “The Pride of the Yankees” and “High Noon” (which won him a second Best Actor Oscar in 1953).
Director Howard Hawks also used the movie to make an unapologetic plea for the United States to get involved in World War II. In the film, Alvin York enters the war as a pacifist and conscientious objector candidate and becomes a battle hero when confronted by the actions of a despicable enemy. No one predicted that Japan would attack the country when the film was released, so it’s sometimes easy to forget that the movie was unapologetically making a case for war in 1941 to a doubtful nation.
Both Andrew and Gerald York took the time before the screening to speak with Military.com about Alvin York, the movie and how it all influenced their family.
ANDREW: I was 11 years old in ’41. I was born in ’30. My father took us to Jamestown to a theater, and I think cost 20 cents or 15 cents to get in. You just don’t think until later on, and you realize what it’s all about, really what he’d done. The movie made it a little harder on you at school because they picked on you all the time, think you’re better than everybody. We weren’t.
So, you didn’t come out to California for any big Hollywood premieres?
ANDREW: I was at California when the Sergeant York tank came out, and that was in ’83, I think. Irvine, California.
GERALD: That’s the first time my grandmother flew on an airplane.
GERALD: And the last time she flew.
ANDREW: First time I had flown, I guess.
GERALD: In 1983, they had the rollout of the Sergeant York DIVAD System, and they brought the whole family out. And my grandmother passed away the year after that.