James E. Wise, Jr., Anne Collier Rehill. Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999. x + 246 pp. $28.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55750-949-9.
Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb (National Endowment for the Humanities)
Published on H-PCAACA (November, 1999)
Hollywood Stars and Their Service in the Marine Corps
This unique, well-written, and fascinating volume is a companion to Wise and Rehill's Stars in Blue: Movie Actor's in America's Sea Services, published by the Naval Institute Press in 1997, which was also assessed by your current reviewer. See http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=12705884375164
Like its predecessor, Stars in the Corps is a valuable resource for scholars and aficionados of motion picture films, military buffs and historians, and students of American popular culture. This volume is the equal to and in several ways surpasses its earlier companion and is itself a valuable reference. Structurally, the volume contains a preface and introduction, two parts comprising 28 short biographies, four appendices, and 101 black-and-white images. A very useful Bibliography lists 92 books and periodicals, thirteen reference works, twelve interviews or correspondence, five major official records or archives, and five other sources. A six-page double column index lists, in the main, proper nouns and is an appropriate finding aid.
The senior author, James Wise, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy, served as a naval aviator and intelligence officer, and is the author of four other books concerning naval topics. His co-author, Anne Rehill, a magazine writer and editor, is a former acquisitions editor for the Naval Institute Press, and professes English at Penn State University. In his initial remarks, Wise reminds us that the USMC was founded in 1775 and since that time has participated in 171 wars and expeditions (with 40,000 Marines killed and 189,000 wounded), and that since 1862, 301 Marines have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The authors also point out that many of the actors they interviewed were extremely proud of their Marine experience and that their service had benefited them in their professional lives -- indeed Semper Fidelis ("always faithful") to the Corps. Actor Hugh O'Brien and comedian Jonathan Winters are exemplars.
Some of the biographies are upbeat and heart warming and others pensive and melancholic. Known to many film fans as actors rather than as Marines are actors Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Tyrone Power, and George C. Scott. Perhaps less well know are Sterling Hayden, Peter Ortiz, Lee Powell, and Tad Van Brunt. There were troubled youths (Hayden, Marvin, and McQueen); Yale scholars (Bradford Dillman and George Roy Hill); Hollywood and Broadway stars before their service (Hayden, Louis Hayward, Powell, and Ty Power); OSS -- Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA --operatives (Hayden and Ortiz); combat photographers (Hayward and Bill Lundigan); aviators (Jock Mahoney, Ed McMahon, and Power); and aircrew (Brian Keith). Several earned high-school equivalency diplomas in the Corps (Gene Hackman and Harvey Keitel), others went to OCS - Officer's Candidate School -- (Dillman, Dale Dye, Hayden, and Power), or took advantage of the GI Bill for acting school (Dillman, George Peppard, and Robert Ryan). On the negative side, military service resulted in several nervous breakdowns (Hayward and Jonathan Winters), alcoholism (Macdonald Carey, Powell, Power, and Van Brunt), or lung disease and death from chain smoking (McQueen and John Russell).
The biographies begin with six Marines who made various contributions in Hollywood, then, in alphabetic order, 22 others - some well known to film or television devotees. The authors lead off with Dale Dye, an enlistee who served two tours of duty in Vietnam (Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts), became a Chief Warrant Officer, attended OCS, and was a Captain in Beirut in 1982-1983. Dye has written five military novels, and because of his expertise became a motion picture technical advisor for Oliver Stone, Brian DePalma, and Steven Spielberg, and also appeared in more than 15 films -- notably Platoon (1986), The Last of the Mohicans, (1992), Forrest Gump (1994), Outbreak (1995), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Sterling Hayden (1916-1968), a schooner commander at age 22, was established film star and a graduate of the British Commando Training School, but was injured in a parachute jump and discharged. He then enlisted as a boot in the Corps in 1942, changed his name to John Hamilton, and served in the Balkans during World War II commanding 400 Yugoslav partisans in guerrilla warfare against the Nazis. A flirtation with Marxism nearly ended his movie career but he cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and had a distinguished career in motion pictures, including the role of General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964).
Louis Hayward (1909-1968), a star of swashbucklers in the 1930s who became a naturalized American citizen on 6 December 1941, joined the Corps in 1942 and became a combat cinematographer, filming With the Marines at Tarawa (1944), the Academy Award best documentary for that year. The trauma of that invasion led to depression and a complete physical collapse, but Hayward starred in twenty films and three television series. Child actor Brian Keith served as a rear gunner in a SBD Douglas Dauntless dive bomber during missions against the Japanese naval base at Rabaul during World War II, and returned to the stage, radio, films, and television. He has made fifty films and starred in nine television series.
Lee Marvin (1924-1987), a true "wild one," enlisted in August 1942, served in the Marshall Islands (Eniwetok and Kwajalein), and was in the June 1944 Saipan invasion force. His company was ambushed and only six of 241 men survived. Marvin was, as he stated "shot in the ass" (a 9x3x3-inch wound), hospitalized 13 months, and discharged. Disabled and underemployed, he discovered summer stock acting, and progressed to Broadway plays, and motion pictures. For Cat Ballou (1965) he earned the best actor Academy Award, starred in television's M-Squad, and the classic war films The Dirty Dozen (1967), director John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968) with Toshiro Mifune, and The Big Red One (1979). He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery beside Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing champion.
Multilingual Pierre "Peter" Ortiz (1913-1988), of French-Spanish parentage, had an extraordinary military record and was the most decorated man to serve in to OSS. He spent five years with the French Foreign Legion in North Africa in the 1930s and rejoined the Legion in 1939, although his ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic before he reached Morocco. Captured by the Germans in North Africa in 1941 he became a POW in Austria, escaped, made his way through Portugal and back to the United States, enlisting in the Marine Corps in June 1942. Ortiz was sent to Morocco where he was wounded and promoted to Captain before being sent to France by the OSS to work with the maquis in 1944. A German battalion at Centron, France trapped Ortiz and four of his men, but he negotiated his own surrender in order to spare retribution by the Gestapo against the village. Again he escaped, was recaptured, escaped again and finally "liberated himself" in April 1945. Ortiz was in training for OSS work in Indochina when the war ended. Two films (13 Rue Madeleine, 1946, starring Jimmy Cagney, and Operation Secret, 1952) were modeled after his exploits, and he worked in a dozen films prior to his death in 1988.
World War I Marine veteran and comedian Bob Burns (1891-1956), inventor of an unusual musical instrument he called the "bazooka," had that name "commandeered" by the U.S. Army in 1943 to designate its new, portable antitank rocket launcher. Macdonald Carey (1913-1994), known in the post-war era as a stage, radio, and television soap opera star, appeared in the 1942 film Wake Island. Inspired, he and other cast members actually joined the Corps immediately thereafter, and he served in the South Pacific. Barry Corbin, son of a Texas state senator, served as a Marine from 1962-1963 but "never left California." His distinguished theater, film, and television career as an actor is enhanced by his screenwriting abilities, and he has fond memories of the Corps. Brian Dennehy, a student-athlete at Columbia University, joined in 1962 and served on Okinawa; he later discovered acting in theater, motion pictures, and television. Actor and writer Bradford Dillman, a Yale literature and drama graduate, enlisted in the USNR in 1948, was selected for OCS, and as a Marine 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to teach communication skills to Marine veterans rather than being sent to Korea in 1951.
Gene Hackman, a high-school dropout who served two hitches in the Marines and left as a PFC in 1954, had the distinction of serving in China in 1948-1949 keeping Japanese war materiel out of Communist hands. He later aspired to the office of U.S. Secretary of State in the film No Way Out (1987). George Roy Hill, a Yale history and music graduate, joined the Corps in 1943, earned aviator's wings, and piloted transports in the South Pacific. Recalled to duty in 1951, he flew F4F Panther jet fighters during the Korean War. As a story editor and film director, he is known for his stellar direction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973). Harvey Keitel was a Marine enlistee in 1956 and served in Beirut before embarking on his film career (15 so far, including Taxi Driver, 1976, and Pulp Fiction, 1994). Bill Lundigan (1914-1975) had been a pre-law student and radio announcer, and was a film star before joining in 1943. He became a combat photographer and served in the bloody invasions at Peleliu and Okinawa, where the Marines experienced "staggering casualties." Renowned stunt man Jock Mahoney (1919-1989) was a civilian instructor in the U.S. Army Air Corps but enlisted in the Marines in 1943, earned his wings, and flew F4U Corsairs but missed out on actual combat. He worked in many film and television Westerns, and is known for starring in two Tarzan films (1962, 1963).
Better known as an announcer, straight-man and/or sidekick initially for TV's Dick Clark and then for Johnny Carson (1958-1992), silvery-voiced Ed McMahon started his career in the Navy's V-5 Program, transferred to the Marines, and was a flight instructor in F4U Corsair fighters prior to his discharge in 1946. While at Philadelphia's WCAU radio and television he was recalled to active duty and Captain McMahon flew 85 reconnaissance missions in an unarmed Cessna 180 observation plane in Korea (1951-1952). Steve McQueen (1930-1980), a wild and rebellious farm boy from the Midwest who had worked in brothels as a youth, enlisted in the Marines in 1947, was a crewman on tanks and amphibious tractors, and served in the guards assigned to President Truman's yacht, Sequoia. Odd jobs and Actor's Studio led to Broadway and television (Wanted Dead or Alive, 1958-1961), a distinguished career in motion pictures, and respect as a professional motorcycle and racecar driver. The Magnificent Seven (1960), The War Lover (1962), The Great Escape (1963), Bullitt (1968), and Papillon (1971) are among his well-known films.
Hugh O'Brian, born Hugh Charles Krampe, son of a Marine captain, enlisted in 1943 and became a Drill Instructor at age 18 when he met John Wayne who became a life-long friend. O'Brien has the distinction of being the last man Wayne "killed" in cinema (The Shootist, 1976), but had also starred as television's Wyatt Earp (1955-1971) and is respected widely in Hollywood for establishing HOBY - the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Program - in 1958.
Gerald O'Laughlin enlisted in 1942, was a commissioned officer, trained for the invasion of Japan, and served in the occupation forces in Nagasaki (1945-1946). Completing a degree in mechanical engineering, he attended Actor's Studio and became a distinguished actor, director, and teacher. George Peppard (1928-1994) enlisted in the Corps in 1946 and took amphibious training. His interests in civil engineering were sidetracked for drama and the Actor's Studio, leading to memorable television series (Banacek 1972-1974, and A-Team, 1983-1987) and films (Breakfast at Tiffany's with Audrey Hepburn in 1961, and Operation Crossbow, 1965). Lee Powell (1908-1944), who was the first Lone Ranger in pre-war serial films, enlisted in 1942, served in the South Pacific as a Sergeant in the 2nd Marine Division, but died of acute alcohol poisoning at age 35 on the island of Tinian.
Tyrone Power (1914-1958) was already a Hollywood megastar (A Yank in the RAF, 1942, and Crash Dive, released in 1943) when he joined the Corps as a boot in April 1942. He, qualified for OCS, received his commission, became an aviator, and served as a command transport pilot flying R4D Dakotas and C47s in the Pacific, notably, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Returning to his film career, he made Captain from Castile (1947) with former Navy Chief Boatswain's Mate Cesar Romero, and a dozen other motion pictures (Abandon Ship, The Sun Also Rises, Witness for the Prosecution, all 1957) but died of a heart attack at age 44. Television's Lawman (1958-1962) at six feet four inches, John Russell (1921-1991) was initially rejected for service because of his stature, but he served on Guadalcanal as a Marine 2nd Lieutenant in 1942 before a medical discharge, and would make a dozen motion pictures - many with Clint Eastwood. Holding a degree in English literature, Dartmouth College-educated Robert Ryan (1909-1973) was also a heavyweight boxing champion for four years before enlisting and becoming a Camp Pendleton Drill Instructor. A committed pacifist after 1945, he starred in films including The Dirty Dozen (1967) with fellow Marine Lee Marvin, and Sam Peckenpaugh's classic, The Wild Bunch (1969).
George C. Scott's service on Arlington National Cemetery's grave detail in the mid-1940s made a lasting impression. Graduating from the University of Missouri, Scott taught at nearby Stephens College, and then moved from stage to memorable screen and television appearances - especially as General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), as the lead in Patton (1970), and portraying Hemingway in Islands in the Stream (1977). Tad Van Brunt (1921-1977) was born and raised in Japan of Dutch-American and British parentage so that his fluency in the Japanese language led to assignments in Guam and Okinawa as an interrogator of enemy troops. He was so popular among the native Okinawans that they asked that he be allowed to stay as governor of their island in 1945. This, of course, did not happen, and he had bit parts in three films before rejoining the Marines in 1948 and participating in the Inchon, Korea landings as an intelligence officer in 1951. A career in advertising and sales preceded his death from alcoholism. Comedian Jonathan Winters served on the Marine Detachment on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard off the coast of Japan in 1945 and was in the occupation force at Yokosuka. After finishing high school and graduating from Dayton Art Institute in Ohio, Winters parlayed a local humor contest into features on the Jack Parr, Steve Allen, and Gary Moore television shows and success in films and as a writer.
The authors also include brief essays on a number of Corps-related topics: Parris Island, Saipan, Camp Pendleton, Peleliu, Okinawa, Camp Elliott, and "Learning Japanese." The four appendices also provide enlightening information. "A Few More Good Men" lists 36 other actors who served in the USMC - quite a few comedians - from Don Adams to Burt Young, with surprises such as Drew Cary, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), and former "presidential candidate" Pat Paulsen, to the not so surprising television and cinema actors Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H), Glenn Ford, Scott Glenn (The Right Stuff, 1983), Warren Oates, and Bo Svenson. James Whitmore is also on this list but your reviewer wishes that he had been accorded a full profile -- could anyone forget "Mac" in Leon Uris's Marine Corps classic film Battle Cry (1955)? A second appendix, "Lillian Russell and Women in the Marines" documents World War I Recruiting Sergeant Russell and traces the history of women in Corps through 1997, noting that Marine second lieutenant Sarah Deal became the first woman naval aviator in 1995. (What ever happened to Ensign Casey "Sugar Britches" Seeger from the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman who wanted to "fly jets"? She must have washed out.) Another addition is "The Swinging Sounds of Bob Crosby's Bands" profiles George Robert "Bob" Crosby, band director of the Fifth Marine Division in the South Pacific, 1944-1945. Lastly, "Entertaining the Troops includes 21 images and captions illustrating Hollywood stars who assisted or visited the troops - from Marion Davies in World War I through Charlton Heston in Vietnam. Mary Pickford, Joe E. Brown, Gary Cooper, Randy Scott, Danny Kaye, Jane Russell, Bob Hope, Martha Raye, and even John Wayne are among these luminaries.
The book is well written and very entertaining, and the biographies are compelling, often revealing little-known facts, and are accompanied by many never-before-published photographs, making the volume a worthy companion to Stars in Blue as another "Who's Who" in Hollywood and the USMC. A trip to the videotape rental store will be in order for some film buffs, but scholars of military history will find much to enjoy and to inform.
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and not of his employer or any other federal agency.]
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Charles C. Kolb. Review of Wise, James E.; Jr.; Rehill, Anne Collier, Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines.
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