The journeys that people take to success never cease to amaze me. We rarely find out how celebrities, artists, and athletes rise to fame. And yet, as evidenced by these 12 Marines, so many of them are influenced by the experiences and opportunities of their youth. After reading about them, it’s hard not to see how the Marines shaped their future careers as actors. Don’t miss out on the first series featuring 10 more!
Lee Powell- The Lone Ranger
Lee Powell was the first actor to portray The Lone Ranger on the big screen. He also originated the role of Captain Roka in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Sadly, as a Marine serving in World War II, Powell died on Tinian Island in the Pacific Theater. Having survived a battle, Powel’s unit celebrated with a homemade alcoholic concoction. Powell became violently ill, was hospitalized, and died, most likely from the drink as another Marine also became sick and went blind temporarily.
Robert Remus “Sgt. Slaughter” in WWE
Robert Remus earned his now-famous title Sgt. Slaughter while serving as a Marine, and is one of the most recognizable wrestlers of all time. In 2004, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and is the first real-life person to become a G.I. Joe figurine.
One of TV’s greatest dads of all time, Ralph Waite, better known as the patriarch of the Waltons in the wildly popular TV series The Waltons, served for a time in the Marine Corps. He was also an editor and a Presbyterian minister before he began studying acting and landed roles in films including Cool Hand Luke. He also acted on stage and in TV and miniseries, including an Emmy nomination for his role in Roots.
Comedian, actor, and writer Jonathan Winters joined the Marines as a senior in high school during World War II. He served as a gunner on the Bon Homme Richard in the Pacific. After being discharged, he met and married his wife, Eileen, with whom he was married for more than 60 years. In film, Winters is known for his role in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. On TV, he is recognized for a role on the popular show Mork & Mindy. He lent his voice and personality to many more projects throughout the years before passing away in 2013.
Perhaps the most visible Marine veteran in popular culture today, Rob Riggle is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. Serving in Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, he has earned more than 19 medals and ribbons. Known by most as a correspondent for The Daily Show, Riggle has also made appearances in many films and TV shows including The Other Guys, The Hangover, Pitch Perfect 1 & 2, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development.
George C. Scott
Joining the Marines and serving for 4 years in the 40’s, George C. Scott taught English literature at the Marine Corps Institute and was an honor guard for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. After his service, Scott became an actor, director, and producer and is known for his iconic, classic role as General Patton in Patton. He also played the starring role in Dr. Strangelove and is the first actor to refuse the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Enlisting in the Marines as a microwave radio relay technician, Jim Beaver served in South Vietnam as a radio operator and then as a supply chief. Discharged as a corporal, he served in the Reserves for five more years. Beaver is known for his role as a prospector in Deadwood but is also a playwright, screenwriter, director, and film historian.
Better known as Captain Kangaroo, Bob Keeshan enlisted in the Reserves in 1945. He went on to be the star of one of the most popular children’s programs in American history.
Medically discharged less than a year after joining the Marines in 1941, Bob Bell served in the Pacific with the Navy during World War II. He is best known for Bozo the Clown, a comedic character for children’s programming.
As a young woman, Bea Arthur enlisted in Marine Corps’ Women’s Reserve and served as a typist and truck driver during World War II. Bea Arthur is most famous for her roles in The Golden Girls, All in the Family, and Maude. She was also a renown Broadway star, stage actress, and comedienne and is also remembered for her work as an animal rights activist and advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness.
The quintessential frowning, screaming drill instructor of modern American cinema, R. Lee Ermey is best known for his role in Full Metal Jacket as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, for which he was given a Golden Globe nomination. Ermey earned his demeanor well as he served in the Marines for 11 years including a 14-month stint in Vietnam and two tours in Okinawa. Ermey was cast in Filipino films before his American break as a helicopter pilot in Apocalypse Now. The director, Francis Ford Coppola, also used him as a technical adviser for the film. He has appeared in many other films, including comedies, and is visible on The History Channel’s TV show, Mail Call.
Handsome Hollywood loner Steve McQueen joined the Marines in 1947 and, much like most of the characters he played on film, had troubles with insubordination. He was demoted 7 times and spent 41 days in confinement after going AWOL. His most popular movies, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and The Towering Inferno cemented his devil-may-care attitude and helped to influence generations of male actors.
This isn’t a definitive list of Marines-turned-actors. There are many more who wore the uniform and found their way on to the big (and small) screen. Who would you add to the list?
Jo is the author of Jo, My Gosh! a blog about her journey as a newlywed military wife. When she’s not working from home, she’s writing, reading, trying new recipes, watching sports or cross stitching. Catch her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook and say hi!