Last night on Brad Meltzer′s Lost History, aired on the History Channel, H2, we have the incredible tale of George Hjorth who actually filmed the D-Day invasion landings at Omaha Beach in color. What makes his D-Day footage so remarkable is that it is from the German perspective, as George had been parachuted into France just two nights before to have a ring-side seat at Normandy. We then have the story of how the original recording by NBC reporter Herbert Morrison of the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster was stolen from the National Archives. The last story of theft concerns the 1957 Les Paul guitar used by George Harrison in the song, ″While My Guitar Gently Weeps′. This one you fans of Rock-n-Roll will love!
But first, let us turn back the clock to 1944. Actually, a bit before that. George Hjorth became a child actor at the age of 4 under the name George Ernest. He appeared in some 60 films, including many ′Our Gang′ and ′Little Rascal′ features. But as he grew older, acting jobs became scarce, so George went behind the scene and became a cameraman. When America entered World War 2, Hjorth decided to join the Army, but he got a phone call and was recruited by the legendary, Hollywood director, John Ford. He talked George Hjorth into joining is special film detail which was part of the Office of Special Services, or OSS, the forerunner to the CIA.
Hjorth′s first combat assignment was being parachuted into Nazi-occupied France and to make his way to Paris. There, he was to film the city’s buildings which were of architectural significance, as well as the art of the Louvre in order to determine if any paintings had been looted. After that mission, George was sent back to France in early June, 1944, but he was not informed what his mission would be. After parachuting in, he was met by a unit of the French Resistance. Two nights later, they escorted him to a sand dune along the Normandy coast. There, he was told to wait and to start filming when something would happen. George still did not know what.
As dawn broke, George could see dots on the horizon. He quickly realized that they were warships and landing craft! The invasion of Europe was on and George Hjorth was right in the middle between the Germans and Americans on Omaha Beach! Talk about being an eyewitness to history! After two hours, George ran out of film. He somehow made it through the fighting and joined Americans on the beach. Hjorth returned to England, alive and well and carrying seven reels of color footage of the D-Day landings. But the film was classified as so secret, that George was not allowed to view what he had filmed. In fact, he was under oath not to even talk about it for 50 years. However, he did share some of his adventures with his son, Craig, when he turned 18.
In 1998, a mass of OSS documents were declassified and now historians learned that there was color film footage of the Omaha Beach landings taken on D-Day by an American spy. Unfortunately, nobody knows what happened to the footage or where it is? Is it buried in some National Archives warehouse in an unmarked or mislabeled box? Does somebody have it in their attic? Who knows? If you know something about it, then visit the history.com website and submit a tip, You may earn $10,000.
Our next story concerns the famous radio recording of NBC news reporter Herbert Morrison who was on hand when the zeppelin Hindenburg exploded while landing at Lakehurst, NJ on May 6, 1937. ″Oh, the humanity!″ Remarkably, 62 of the 97 passengers and crew managed to survive the tragedy. Morrison′s broadcast was recorded on a thick, wax album disc. But, many years later, it turned up missing, stolen from the National Archives. In 2010, David Golden, a radio historian and collector, noticed that a 1937 interview with Babe Ruth was being auctioned on eBay. What got Golden′s goat was that he had owned that recording and had donated it, along with many other recordings, to the National Archives. So what was it doing on eBay?
Golden searched eBay and quickly found many other items being auctioned off by the same person. He contacted the National Archives to verify that the original recordings were missing. The FBI then got involved while Golden set up a sting on his own, buying an item from the seller. Turns out that the seller was a retired employee of the National Archives. The FBI raided his home and found some 4,800 items that he had stolen! Worse yet is that he had already sold over a thousand. Luckily, among the recovered items was the Hindenburg recording.
Another stolen item of historical significance was the 1957 Les Paul guitar used by George Harrison in the song ″While My Guitar Gently Weeps″. On April 13, 1973, the Los Angeles home of Harrison was broken into and robbed. Among the items stolen was the guitar, which had quite the pedigree. It was first owned by John Sebastian, who traded it away to Rick Derringer. Rick had given the guitar a red coat of lacquer, and the guitar picked up the nickname of ′Lucy′ after Lucille Ball. Derringer later sells the guitar to a music shop in New York City, where it is purchased by none other than Eric Clapton.
Clapton, as it turns out, was having an affair with George Harrison′s wife, Patty Boyd. Later, as a peace offering, Clapton gave George the guitar. Shortly after which, Harrison invites Clapton to the studio where George plays Lucy while recording ″While My Guitar Gently Weeps″. But in 1973, the guitar is stolen. A few days after the break-in, a man sells the guitar to a music shop in Hollywood. Its purchased quickly by one Miguel Ochoa, a musician from Mexico. However, the store requires an American address for its bill of sale, so Ochoa gives them the address of his friend, local L.A. musician, Tony Baker. A few days later, after Ochoa returns to Mexico, Baker gets a phone call from George Harrison, who wants his guitar back!
Now the story gets a bit kooky. Baker calls Ochoa to tell him about the guitar and who it belongs to, but Ochoa doesn′t believe him. He figures some guy with a British accent is just pretending to be George Harrison. So Baker has to meet with George in person to verify his true identity. Which he does, but when Tony tries calling Miguel, Ochoa does not answer the phone. Now, George Harrison is getting angry! He wants his guitar back! After some doing, along with help from master guitar seller, Norman Harris, Baker goes to Mexico and swaps two guitars with Ochoa to get Lucy back to George Harrison. A happy ending indeed!