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FILM: Fact, fiction overlap in ‘Monuments Men’

PROVO, UT—To celebrate the release of the movie “The Monuments Men” [in theaters Friday], looked into the family histories of the movie’s award-winning stars and found inspiring ancestral ties to the real-life war heroes their characters are based on.

Featuring Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, the film brings to the screen the true story of an unlikely platoon of soldiers brought together to save priceless pieces of art from being destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

“With any historical film like ‘Monuments Men,’ it is interesting to see the links between the actors and the characters they are portraying on the big screen. But what’s fascinating about family history as a whole is that you don’t have to be a George Clooney or a Matt Damon to find these kinds of connections,” said Michelle Ercanbrack, family historian for

“Everyone has a story, and by researching your family history you can learn more about the times in which your ancestors lived, and get a better sense of a historic event a family member may have been involved in or impacted by.”

While researching inspirations for the characters of “The Monuments Men,” discovered connections between the stars who portray them.

By George! According to the family historians, a love for the arts runs in George Clooney’s family as he is second cousin, three times removed, with George Leslie Stout, the man his character is based on.

A Harvard art conservation expert and museum director who gave lectures and created pamphlets on how to protect European art before the United States entered the war, Stout was one of the first men recruited for the “Monuments” program and supervised its efforts in both Europe and Japan.

Cate the Great: The woman Cate Blanchett’s character is based on, Rose Valland, served as a spy for the Allied Forces, keeping her fluent German skills a secret and spying on the Nazis during her time as the volunteer museum curator of the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Blanchett has a connection to art conservation through one of her ancestors, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. Lee was responsible for securing the silver plate and paintings at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate, before the Civil War broke out.

Heroes Connected by Harvard: Matt Damon’s character is based on James Rorimer, a Harvard graduate, curator and director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rorimer worked directly with Valland as well as the Director of the French National Museums to locate the Nazi’s main repository for stolen artwork, furniture, silver and jewels—Neuschwanstein Castle.

Damon and Rorimer share a Harvard connection. Another coincidence is Damon’s great-uncle, Lt. Col. Kent Fay, part of the 5th Armored Division of the Army—likely in Paris at the same time as Rorimer.


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