The continued disinformation helped construct one of the most life-saving fictions of the war: that D-Day was just a feint. The real attack was still scheduled for Calais. Hitler believed it and kept his main Panzer divisions in Paris.
"I hope it helped," says Landis, eyes watering, "and that we saved lives."
During the war, Landis and deLannoy attended many a West End show and got serious about starting a community theater. "Bill sold me on the allure of San Diego, even though they already had a theater there, the Old Globe. While I was in Indiana getting released from the service, Bill said 'Come visit.' You heard of love at first sight?" He beams. "Well, guess what...?"
In 1945, Landis crossed the country in a 1940 Buick sedan. He reached Los Angeles and turned left on the old El Camino Real. At South Del Mar, where the hill slopes down to Carmel Valley Road, he saw "Torrey Pines (state reserve), Sorrento Valley, whitecaps on a blue-blue ocean, and La Jolla off in the distance. God! It was gorgeous!
"I had no job waiting for me, just pure faith that something good would happen." Landis got work at the Union-Tribune and eventually became manager of advertising.
Landis, deLannoy, their wives Gini and Lois, and Norman Johnson founded the Footlights Theatre in 1947. For a while, it was the only local theater in San Diego, since the Navy requisitioned the Old Globe as a hospital annex and wouldn't remove the clinic and cots for some time.
Footlights produced seven shows a year, for seven years, in the 700-seat Roosevelt School Auditorium north of the zoo on Park. Their inaugural show commemorated their first Broadway experience: Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth. Since there were no national touring productions in those days, Broadway released the rights to plays one year after they opened. "We did them as soon as we could, and the New York promotion helped sell tickets."
Ask people who saw Footlights to name their favorite show, and two things happen: five-decade-old memories spring to life, and few can choose one. Candidates include Dark of the Moon, Joan of Lorraine, Pygmalion, or The Man Who Came to Dinner.
In the early '50s, Landis and deLannoy dreamed of buying an acre in Mission Valley and a Quonset hut -- "a big one, seat 200, maybe 250" -- at war surplus. They'd open a theater amid the dairy farms. But in 1953, a new summer company in San Diego -- the La Jolla Playhouse -- acquired the latest Broadway releases. "Our source dried up. In essence, the La Jolla Playhouse put us out of business. I don't blame them. We were worn out, and it was time to fold our tents."
Along with being a loyal Charger fan -- do NOT speak ill of the Bolts in his presence! -- Robert Landis remains an unconditional lover of theater. When he retired from the Union in 1982, he joined Project Vanguard in Point Loma, where he directed, acted, and had five of his plays produced. His subjects range from Chekhov (Anton's Lovers) to presidential dirty tricks (The Illusion Factory). The Canaris Enigma, about spymasters in London and Berlin in WWII, came from his experiences in the war.
In February 2007, Landis expressed his passion for play-making once again. Vanguard staged his Au Revoir, Cyrano, a Play with Music -- 60 years, almost to the day, after the founding of Footlights Theatre.