DALLAS — The characters in the new George Clooney film “The Monuments Men” were inspired by real people who worked to save cultural treasures across Europe during World War II. Filmmakers fictionalized some of the characters, but the Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, founded by Robert Edsel, who wrote the book the movie is based on, matched some of the cast with the real people they were based on.
MATT DAMON: Damon plays James Granger, inspired by museum director James Rorimer. After graduating from Harvard, he went to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Largely responsible for developing the Met’s medieval collections, he became curator of the building that housed them, known as the Cloisters, when it opened in 1938. He became Cloisters director after the war in 1949, and became director of the museum in 1955, a position he held until his death in 1966 at age 60 from a heart attack.
GEORGE CLOONEY: Clooney plays Frank Stokes, inspired by George Stout, a Harvard art conservationist who had served in World War I. Edsel said it was Stout’s idea to create the group that eventually became the Monuments Men. “Every time they would find discoveries, the word went out to find Stout because he was such an even steady hand. And he was methodical and he was calm,” Edsel said. Stout left Europe in July 1945 and was sent to Japan in October, where he volunteered his services as a Monuments Man there. He later resumed his position as head of the conservation department at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum. In 1947, he became director of the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In 1955, he became director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he remained until 1970. He died in 1978 at the age of 80.
CATE BLANCHETT: Blanchett plays Claire Simone, inspired by Rose Valland, a French art expert who managed to secretly record where artworks stolen by the Nazis in France were being shipped. During the German occupation of Paris, the Nazis used the Jeu de Paume museum as headquarters for their art looting operation. The Germans kept Valland on, but unbeknownst to them, she spoke German. She died in 1980 at the age of 81.
BOB BALABAN: Balaban portrays Preston Savitz, a character based on Lincoln Kirstein. Before the war, Kirstein co-founded the School of American Ballet. After the war, he co-founded what became the New York City Ballet and served as its general director until 1989. He died in 1996 at age 88.
JOHN GOODMAN: Goodman portrays Walter Garfield, inspired by sculptor Walker Hancock. After the war he returned to his post as head of the sculpture department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he remained till 1967. He also continued to create sculptures, including a bust of President George H.W. Bush for the rotunda of the Capitol. He died in 1998 at the age of 96.
DIMITRI LEONIDAS: Leonidas portrays Sam Epstein, inspired by Harry Ettlinger, one of a handful of Monuments Men still living. He fled Nazi Germany with his family the day after his bar mitzvah in 1938 and returned to Europe in 1945 with the U.S. Army. Ettlinger volunteered to be a Monuments Man when he learned they needed someone who spoke German. His first assignment was to help interview Adolf Hitler’s personal photographer. After the war, Ettlinger earned master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration and went on to be deputy program director of company that produced guidance systems for submarine-launched nuclear weapons.
Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art: http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.