The Few, The Proud…Bea Arthur? 15 Surprising Celebrity Marines

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When you think “amphibious warfare,” is the first person that comes to mind Ed McMahon? Can you picture Bozo the Clown with a buzz cut? Say hello to these (mostly) fine men and women you might not have known were Marines.

1. Agent Maxwell Smart

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Don Adams was best known for his portrayal of the bumbling Agent 86 in the classic sitcom Get Smart. However, his stint as a Marine wasn’t quite as fun: After being shot during WWII’s Battle of Guadalcanal, Adams contracted a case of blackwater fever (a severe strain of malaria with a 90 percent mortality rate). He made a full recovery, and spent the rest of his military career rectifying the bumbling of others … as a drill instructor.

2. Shaggy

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The dance-hall superstar also known as Orville Burrell joined the Marines because it was “the one job I could get.” He served in Desert Storm, and it was his stint in the Corps that gave him the inspiration for his breakout hit, 1991’s “Boom-bastic.” Which makes sense, considering his role as a Field Artillery Cannon Crewman.

3. Bea Arthur

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She may have been one of the few, but she was not so proud: Toward the end of her life, Bea actually denied having any experience in the military. The whole truth didn’t come out until 2010, a year after she passed away, when it was revealed that Private Frankel worked as a truck driver and later married a fellow private, Richard Arthur.

4. Bozo the Clown

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One of them, anyway. Bob Bell enlisted with the Marines in the early days of WWII, despite lacking vision in one eye (he’d skirted this by memorizing the eye chart). Bell was given a medical discharge within a year and never saw action. Bell had a bit more success being in a clown outfit than a military one: He portrayed Bozo on Chicago’s WGN from 1960 to 1984.

5 and 6. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans

While better known for his persona as a Captain, Bob Keeshan only made it as far as Sergeant while in the Corps. As for his future co-star Mr. Green Jeans, Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum distinguished himself as an upright bassist in a Marine Corps band.

The two children’s show legends didn’t meet until after WWII.

7. Ed McMahon

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The world’s most famous sidekick grew up with a different ambition in mind: He had long dreamed of being a fighter pilot. He enlisted in the Marines during WWII, serving for 23 years, primarily as a reservist, before retiring as a Colonel in 1966.

8. Don Imus

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Before embarking on a long and occasionally controversial career in radio, the I-Man joined the Marines at the behest of his mother, who hoped it would keep him out of jail. He served from 1957-60, most notably as a bugler in the Marine Corps band.

9 and 10. The Everly Brothers

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The legendary rock duo enlisted in the Marines reserves in 1961 (they even went to basic training together). During their two-year stint with the Corps, two of their songs—“Crying in the Rain” and “That’s Old Fashioned”—cracked the Top 10, but they were unable to tour or otherwise capitalize on their success, due to their military commitments. They never cracked the Top 10 again.

11. Lee Harvey Oswald

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The Kennedy assassin joined the Corps in 1956, reportedly to follow in his brother’s footsteps, and to escape his overbearing mother. While there, he received lackluster grades in marksmanship, and was once court-martialed for accidentally shooting himself. Unfortunately, his aim improved by the time he got to Dallas.

12. C.J. Ramone

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When forced to replace founding bassist and legendary drug addict Dee Dee Ramone, The Ramones turned to an unlikely source: Christopher James Ward, a 22-year old Long Islander who was AWOL from the Marines at the time. Seeking a discharge from the Corps, he was first imprisoned for five weeks before serving a 7-year tour of duty with the seminal punk band.

13. Nate Dogg

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Best known for his guest appearances on pretty much every G-funk track known to man, the singer otherwise known as Nathaniel Hale had one life to give to his country. Which he did, dropping out of high school at age 16 for a three-year stint in the Corps.

14. Ed Wood Jr.

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The cross dresser and B-movie legend signed up for the Marines in 1942, two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, and later claimed he was terrified not of death, but of being injured … because he didn’t want anyone to know he was wearing a bra and panties underneath his military fatigues.

15. Drew Carey

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The comedian and Price Is Right host was a reservist in the 1980s.

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June 3, 2013 - 10:00am
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