11 obscure stories about Marines who became celebrities
They say “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Marines can do anything, in and out of uniform. Many can’t wait to get into the Marines, and some can’t wait to get out. The one constant is no one ever seems to regret joining when they look back on their lives and careers. Here’s how some Marine Corps’ more famous alums fared before and after they took off the Globe and Anchor.
Listen to the WATM podcast to hear how these veteran celebrities spent their time in service:
1. Gene Hackman lied about his age to enlist
Gene Hackman’s Hollywood career spanned forty years but his adult life started early when he lied about his age and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He spent more than four years as a field radio operator. Now 85 years old, he is still a Marine at heart. In 2012, a homeless man threatened his wife, so Hackman slapped the hell out of him.
2. Steve McQueen was busted down to private seven times
McQueen spent much of his youth bouncing around from job to job. He worked in a brothel, as a Merchant Mariner, oil rig worker, a carnie, and a towel boy in the Dominican Republic before joining the Corps as a tank driver from 1947 to 1950.
He spent a lot of time in the brig, most notable for extending a weekend pass into a two week vacation. In a biography, McQueen said of his time in the Marines,
“The only way I could have been made corporal was if all the other privates in the Marines dropped dead.”
3. Bea Arthur was a truck driving Devil Dog
Before she became Bea Arthur, Dorothy Sbornak, or just “Maude,” she was Bernice Frankel, an enlisted Marine Corps Women’s Reserve truck driver and typist who was regarded as “Over aggressive,” “Frank and Open,” and “Argumentative.” She met her husband, Private Robert Arthur during her two-year enlistment. She was honorably discharged in 1945.
4. George C. Scott taught English Lit as a Marine
The guy who brought George S. Patton, one of the Army’s greatest generals, back to life and post-mortem glory and eerily exemplified the Cold War-Era Air Force generals with his role as Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove, was actually a U.S. Marine from 1945 to 1949. He taught at the Marine Corps Institute and was in the Honor Guard for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
5. Legendary newsman Jim Lehrer corrected his Drill Sergeant on his first day as a Boot
In his own words:
6. Harvey Keitel ribs Christopher Walken about serving
Keitel was in the Marine Corps from 1956-1959 and was deployed as a fire team leader to Lebanon for Operation Blue Bat, the U.S. mission to protect the Lebanese government from falling to Communism. At a Vanity Fair party, Keitel once shouted to his friend Christopher Walken, “Hey, Walken were you in the Marines?” Drinking his red wine, Walken replied “I was but no one ever believes me.” (It was a joke, he never was.)
Keitel told CorpsStories: “For me, the Marine Corps was a spiritual journey. It’s not about war. Our duty is to protect those who do not have the means to protect themselves.”
7. James Carville was nicknamed “Corporal Cueball”
That was his nickname before he became the “Ragin’ Cajun” as Bill Clinton’s campaign manager in 1992 and later a Democrat cable news pundit. His brother served in the Army in Vietnam. These days, Carville works with Paralyzed Veterans of America to raise money, awareness, and help rehabilitate Veterans who are paralyzed for life.
8. Shaggy’s MOS is the reason for his song Boombastic
The reggae artist’s joined the Marine Corps to avoid a life of getting shot or locked up. His MOS was 0811, Field Artillery, which gave him the inspiration for his hit Boombastic. He served in Desert Storm and the liberation of Kuwait.
Although he didn’t know how hard the Marines would be when he enlisted, he later told Marine Corps Times it was the best thing he could have done for his life.
“That whole structure of being in the military was good for me. I honestly think it was destined, to prepare me for what I had to do in music. The discipline that is required to do music, I could only get that from being in the Marines.”
9. Rob Riggle is a retired Lieutenant Colonel
The comedian spent 23 years in service and is now a retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel. He served in the Balkans and Afghanistan, as well as a a deployment to Iraq (but that was for the USO). His military humor is spot on for its authenticity.
10. Drew Carey got into comedy because the Corps didn’t pay enough
The comedian and Price is Right host was a Marine Corps reservist from 1980-1988. While in, he needed to make more money and found a comedy club which would pay $10 per joke. He loved the military but told Military.com if he hadn’t had such a great break, he’d still be a Marine. His crew cut was once a signature part of his persona. He contributes time and money to the USO to this day.
Drew Carey competed in the 2001 WWE Royal Rumble. He eliminated himself.
11. Montel Williams was the first African-American enlisted Marine to graduate from the Naval Academy
Williams enlisted in 1974 and was sent to Twenty-nine Palms after basic training. His skills as a Marine and a leader impressed his superiors so much they sent him to the Naval Academy Prep School in Rhode Island and then to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He learned Mandarin Chinese at the Academy and for his career as a Navy Cryptological Officer, he was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he learned Russian. He was a Submariner and Cryptological Officer for the rest of his career. All in all, he spent 1974 through 1989 in uniform.