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Shoreline Stars: Carl Holmstrom and the Shoreline Trolley Museum

A James Cagney movie was once filmed in East Haven, and a Branford resident helped inspire the film "The Great Escape." Do you know about these Hollywood connections?

At least two big-screen films are connected to Branford and East Haven. The Great Escape, a 1963 film based on the heroic escape of a huge group of prisoners of war during World War II, had a character based on a conglomeration of real-world forgers, one of whom was Branford resident Lt. Carl Evert Holmstrom. The other film, discovered thanks to some trivia known by Patch contributor was James Cagney's final film: Ragtime.

Back in June 2011, I watched The Great Escape for the first time, inspired by an exhibit at the James Blackstone Memorial Library, dedicated to the art of Lt. Holmstrom. Shot down over Tunisia during World War II, Holmstrom spent two years as a prisoner of war, during which time he captured the world around him in a series of sketches. The film, The Great Escape, is in part based on the experiences of Holmstrom and others like him – he and other forgers created the papers used by the escapees after they fled Stalag Luft III.

I covered the exhibit for Patch back when it occurred, and since then, I've had the pleasure of being updated by Lt. Holmstrom's family about the recognition their father has received. Lt. Holmstrom and his art were featured in the January/February 2012 issue of World War II magazine. Several full spreads of his artwork reveal details of POW life. In addition, The Great Escape Museum in Zagan, Poland, is arranging to exhibit a display of Lt. Holmstrom's work, for the anniversary of the Great Escape on March 24, 2013. In addition, Carlisle Army Museum in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is dedicating a room to Holmstrom's art. So in addition to being connected to the Hollywood film for his work, Holmstrom is becoming well-known as an artist, more than thirty years after his death. You can read more about Holmstrom and his work in the original Patch article.

In addition to The Great Escape, Tom Grantland revealed that scenes from James Cagney's final film, the 1981 Ragtime, were filmed at East Haven's Trolley Museum. Due to Cagney's great age at the time (he was 81, and his health was poor even while he was working on set), Ragtime was the only film exempted from the Actors Strike of the 1980s. Thanks to Tom for pointing out another Hollywood connection!

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