Last week we discussed actors who left thriving careers to join the armed forces in World War II.
Today we’re highlighting three men whose careers in Hollywood started after they’d left the service: character actors Neville Brand (above), George Kennedy (farther down below in living color) and Lee Marvin (directly below) — oh sure, Marvin became a leading man, but he was really a character actor.
As you can expect from even a cursory glance at his photo, Brand was a natural for crime dramas and various film noirs. He notably appears as a thugish gang member in 1952’s Kansas City Confidential, which led critic and tv host Eddie Muller to write that Brand’s mug made Charles Bronson look like Cary Grant.
He’d reach the height of his popularity playing Al Capone on the hit television series ‘The Untouchables.’ In reality, Brand was as far from a cowardly chiseler as you could get: he was the fourth most decorated soldier of World War II.
A Midwesterner born Lawrence Neville Brand in 1920, the actor enlisted in the U.S. Infantry in 1941, and saw action in the European Theater. In one especially fierce fire fight, he took a German bullet in his upper right arm, and nearly bled to death. Brand was subsequently awarded multiple decorations for his battlefield valor including a Purple Heart and Silver Star. (Brand died in 1992 at age 71.)
Judging by the above photo, who’d have thought he’d be a movie star?
Lee Marvin falls somewhere between grizzled combat veteran and genuine hero. Born in New York City of a middle-class family in 1924, the actor was a real troublemaker in his school days and joined the U.S. Marines before World War II.
He tasted real combat during some 20 island invasions in the South Pacific, and was wounded — taking a Japanese bullet in his posterior, severing his sciatic nerve — in the Saipan campaign. He later received a Purple Heart, and is now buried (he died in Tucson, Arizona of a heart attack in 1987) in Arlington National Cemetery.
Marvin wasn’t a star before his military service. But by the early Fifties, he certainly was grabbing everyone’s attention. If only because of director Fritz Lang’s 1953 noir thriller The Big Heat, in which Marvin’s tough guy character throws a pot of scalding coffee in Gloria Graham’s face. A shocking moment, even by today’s super-violent Hollywood standards.
George Kennedy is somewhat different in today’s context in that he almost made a career out of his Army service. Fortunately, he didn’t — leaving us to enjoy his lengthy Hollywood legacy comprising more than 200 screen and tv credits.
When he died last year at age 91, Kennedy had been the oldest living Oscar winner in the best supporting actor category — for his chain gang role as Dragline with Paul Newman in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke.
Kennedy was born in New York City in 1925, and his father was a musician and bandleader. But after high school, he joined the Army, and fought in the infantry in Europe during World War II. He stayed on, in all putting in a 16-year Army career before edging into show business (as an advisor to The Phil Silvers Show) in the late 1950’s.
A final semi-thought: Frank recalls that some 15 years ago, he visited a sleek new pharmacy in his newly adopted Arizona neighborhood, and was astonished to discover — George Kennedy in person.
Turns out that the actor was guest starring in a ribbon-cutting ceremony surrounded by executives from the pharmacy chain’s owner. Seeing Kennedy made Frank’s day.