The Real People Behind Clooney's 'Monuments Men'

Dallas-based foundation matches movie characters to real-life art experts who helped save Europe's artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

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A Dallas-based foundation managed to match between the characters on the new George Clooney film "The Monuments Men" and their real life inspirations, men and women who helped save Nazi-looted artwork from World War II Europe, Anchorage Daily News reported.

The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art's key sheds a light on the later exploits of the art experts who inspired the movie, some of whom went on to found and head some of the U.S's most prestigious art institutions.

The 400 member strong Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program was established by the Allies in 1943 to protect cultural property during the war. As the conflict drew to a close, the group worked to retrieve artwork and cultural artifacts stolen by the Nazis.

The role of James Granger, played by Matt Damon, was inspired by Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York director James Rorimer. A Harvard graduate, he was largely responsible for building up the Met's medieval collections. He became the curator of the Cloisters, housing the collection, in 1938, and the museum's director in 1955, a position he held until his death in 1966 at the age of 60 from a heart attack.

Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney, is based on Harvard art conservationist George Stout, who is credited with coming up with the idea for the group which will become 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," Robert Edsel, who wrote the book the film is based on, said. After leaving Europe in July 1945 he was sent to Japan where he continued to act in his role as Monuments Man. He later took back his position as the head of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum's conservation department. 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.

Claire Simone, played by Cate Blanchett, was inspired by Rose Valland, a French art scholar who covertly kept track of where the Nazis in France shipped stolen artworks. Valland worked in the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris during the Nazi occupation, which was used as the German base of operations for the looting of Europe's art treasures. Unknown to the Nazis, Valland spoke German, using her knowledge to record the operation. She died in 1980, aged 81.

Preston Savitz, played by Bob Balaban, was based on Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the School of American Ballet. After the war, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and was its general director until 1989. He died in 1996, aged 88.

Walter Garfield, played by John Goodman, was inspired by sculptor Walker Hancock. After the war he took back his post as head of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' sculpture department, working there until 1967. Among his sculptures is the bust of President H.W. Bush displayed at the Capitol's rotunda. He died in 1998, aged 96.

Sam Epstein, played by Dimitri Leonidas, was inspired by Harry Ettlinger, one of the few living members of the Monuments Men. A Jew, he fled Germany with his family in 1938 to return in 1945 with the U.S. Army. A German speaker, Ettlinger's first assignment was to question Adolf Hitler's personal photographer. After the war, he went on the become the deputy program director for a company producing guidance systems for submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

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