The new film Act of Valor opens in theaters Friday, Feb. 24, and stars real active-duty military SEAL Special Warfare team members from the US Navy and features real military tactics and equipment in a fictional story. But while AOV may be one of the first films to actually enlist the services of active-duty actors, Hollywood has a long history of veterans who have made the transition from soldier/sailor to the silver screen.
Audie Murphy is probably the most decorated soldier to have gone on to movie stardom. He was a Medal of Honor winner and one of the most famous soldiers of World War II. After the war he went to Hollywood and in 1955 starred as himself in To Hell and Back, a Hollywood version of his own experiences in the Army. Murphy would go on to star in 44 feature films.
There are many other well-known actors that served in the military during war time, including James Stewart, Clark Gable, Charles Bronson, George C. Scott, Lee Marvin, Charles Durning and director Oliver Stone. But there are a handful noteworthy military veterans that went on to play especially ‘nerdcentric’ roles.
Charlton Heston was a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force and was an aerial gunner during World War II. In addition to his iconic roles as Moses and Ben Hur, he would go on to star in some of the greatest science-fiction classics of all time, including Planet of the Apes, Omega Man and Soylent Green.
James Doohan was an officer in the Royal Canadian Artillery and saw combat during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II. He killed two snipers before being shot six times, including a bullet in the chest that was deflected by his silver cigarette case. He would go on to become a military pilot before becoming an actor as the Starship Enterprise’s Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the television and film series Star Trek.
Before becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Alec Guinness served in the British Royal Navy and operated a Royal Landing Craft during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in World War II. During the war he was granted a leave of absence so he could star in a Broadway production of Flare Path, a play about the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.
Before playing Dr. Sam Loomis in the Halloween films and the classic James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, actor Donald Pleasance was a British Royal Air Force pilot and was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Germans during World War II. On a further James Bond note, Sean Connery joined the Royal Navy when he was only 16 years old, but was discharged after three years due to medical issues.
Not an actor, but still a military nerd of note, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an officer in the British Army during World War I and saw combat with the British Expeditionary Force during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the assault on Schwaben Redoubt. Later J.R.R. Tolkien would go on to author The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Here’s a salute to all of these fine actors who worked to save the world for real before they went on to save it on the big screen, and to our current heroes in the military. It will be interesting to see who among them will go on to become celluloid heroes as well.