The Glenn Miller Story

Tuesday Jul 15 2014
by Jack

Sometimes real-life mysteries can be more fascinating and intricate than those developed in the twisted brains of crime fiction writers.  The world was fascinated for weeks by the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines airplane, for example, and we still have no resolution.  A much older mystery involving an airplane was the disappearance in 1944 of the well-known bandleader Glenn Miller, who boarded a single-engine Noorduyn Norseman (a Canadian-made bush plane,  thus providing Canadian content) for a flight from England to Paris, and was never heard from again.  The lack of either a body or an aircraft has led over the years to many rumours and stories, and the case was revisited recently on PBS in a one-hour television special.  The programme explored three possible solutions to the mystery: (1) the Norseman, which had a track records of icing up of the carburetor in bad weather, stalled and crashed over the Channel; (2) The plane carrying Miller was destroyed by bombs dropped over the Channel by British bombers returning from an abortive mission to Germany; (3) Miller was involved in some sort of clandestine secret propaganda mission apparently headed by film star David Niven.  This explanation is given piquancy by the fact that despite the connection between Niven and Miller being fairly well-known, the actor never spoke about it after the war, and did not mention Miller in his autobiography.   The programme does not really resolve the mystery.  It is unable to find a smoking gun, and it drops some unexplored information in passing, including Miller’s considerable loss of weight at the time of his disappearance and his heavy smoking.  The researchers do discover that the American authorities did a thorough investigation of the disappearance in early 1945, concluding that the airplane had crashed in inclement weather.  The evidence for “friendly fire” comes from oral testimony many decades after the event, and the programme makes much of the point that no reports of the destruction of Miller’s plane were made at the time.  As for the Niven business, the film star died in 1983 and could not be reached to be interviewed for this programme.  Despite the lack of a definitive solution, this show is worth watching when it comes around again, as it inevitably will.  Meanwhile, we can make what we will of the role of Canadian technology in Miller’s demise.

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