Featuring Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, and Matt Damon, the film Monuments Men 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. Now researchers at Ancestry have turned up some unlikely family ties between the actors and the real-life war heroes their characters are based on.
Apparently, a love for the arts runs in George Clooney’s family. It turns out Clooney is a second cousin, three times removed, to 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, kept her fluent German skills a secret and spied on the Nazis during her time as the volunteer museum curator of the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Blanchett has a connection to wartime 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 Nazis’ main repository of stolen artwork, furniture, silver, and jewels: Neuschwanstein Castle. Like Rorimer, Damon also attended Harvard. Another interesting coincidence is Damon’s great-uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Kent Fay, who was part of the U.S. 5th Armored Division, which was likely in Paris at the same time as Rorimer.
Want to check out some of the Nazi loot? Try the Looted Valuables page, part of Holocaust-Era Assets Collection at the military website Fold3.