George Erwin Diestel Jr.
PVT in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co C
Born 1921 in IL, Died 1994
County of residence at enlistment: Cook County, IL
Other residence(s): Chicago, IL; New York, NY; Hollywood, CA; Angola, IN
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: commercial artists
College education before the war: Chicago Art Institute 3 years
College education after the war: American Academy of Dramatic Arts
George Diestel was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 12, 1921.
He was interested in art, and pursued his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.
At the time he was drafted, in February 1942, he was working at the Meyercord Company, a Chicago company that specialized in advertising signage, with an extensive client list that included many breweries.
When he enlisted in the Army on August 12, 1942, he stated that he had three years of college and that he was working as a commercial artist.
In an interview many years later, George said of his Ghost Army compatriots that "it was the greatest group of men that I've ever met in my life." He also wryly described the work he did in the Ghost Army: “The trouble with camouflage is you really never know if it works, because you just simply don’t get bombed. You only know if it doesn’t work.”
After the war he moved to New York where he graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1947. After that he appeared for some years in summer stock, gradually earning his way into radio, TV, movies, and a couple of Broadway plays.
In the mid-1950s, he relocated to the Los Angeles area. He appeared in a number of well-known movies and TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, including films such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and TV shows such as Highway Patrol, Kraft Suspense Theatre, GE Theatre, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, You Are There, Gangbusters, and Studio One.
At about the same time, he and his long-time partner Roy G. Gunther started spending the summer, or part of it, at Buck Lake Ranch, near Angola, Indiana. George's sister, Eleanor Smythe, and her husband, Harry, had bought the land and built a country music center starting in 1947. Every famous country star of the time performed there, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette. George painted murals of the Old West in the ranch's Western Pioneer Town, and acted in a number of productions. He was there until at least 1963.
At some point he combined his interests in art and acting, and moved into set design, working for many years as a scenery artist for Universal.
Throughout the 1960s he also performed in local theatre productions in Sherman Oaks, Pasadena (where he appeared with Dianne Ladd), Hollywood, and elsewhere. In one interesting role, in an example of art imitating life imitating art, he appeared in a production of Reclining Figure in Hollywood as an expert in the art world.
He died on November 30, 1994 in Sherman Oaks, CA.
See 1956 Angola Herald article below
See 1986 LA Times article below
1942 draft card
1942 enlistment record
1956 article in Angola (IN) Herald about his career
1959 article in Angola (IN) Herald about his murals
1960 article in Valley Times (North Hollywood CA) re little theatre
1965 article in the Los Angeles Times re a theatrical appearance
1965 another article in the Los Angeles Times re a theatrical appearance
1986 article in the Los Angeles Times about his experience in the Ghost Army (includes photo)
1994 California death index
1994 mini-obituary LA Times
2010 article in seattlepi.com about Ann Arbor Ghost Army Exhibit