For every actor or entertainer who interrupted a lucrative career to serve their country during wartime—Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable among them—several others were denied the opportunity. Here are a few notable personalities who never got the chance to suit up.
1. Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock was known for his pear-shaped appearance and droll delivery he used to great comedic effect in interviews and in segments for his television anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (His famous sketched silhouette originated with that program.) But that well-fed physique didn’t always work to his benefit: During World War I, the young filmmaker tried to enlist in the British service, but his weight prevented him from being called up.
Hitchcock would later do his part during World War II, supervising a documentary that highlighted the atrocities of wartime concentration camps. Never completed, the lost footage was assembled into a film, Night Will Fall, which premiered on HBO in January 2015.
2. Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen’s landmark “Born in the USA” was the singer’s reflection on the plight of American veterans returning home from Vietnam. He would have been among their number, save for the fact that he failed his Army physical. At 19, Springsteen, who was already working as a musician, was called up but given a status of 4-F (unfit for duty) owing to a concussion from a motorcycle accident. In 1984, he told Rolling Stone that he had also tried to give “crazy” answers on the induction forms to further ensure he wouldn’t be drafted.
3. Orson Welles
Following his career-defining work in Citizen Kane, director/actor Welles became a regular presence in the Hollywood trade papers—and in Hearst publications, which had allegedly been incensed by Kane’s loose portrayal of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Increasingly, Hearst’s pages questioned why the 28-year-old wasn’t following other performers into service during World War II. Exasperated, Welles showed up for a physical in Los Angeles that he subsequently failed for undisclosed reasons. (It was later rumored skeletal inflammation and asthma were among the complications.) Exiting the exam room, Welles was so agitated by the presence of reporters that he threatened to throw one out of a window.
By all accounts, the influential Lee was a physical specimen who was far from being a glorified stuntman: He trained rigorously in several different martial arts and was rumored to have several real altercations in Hong Kong. In 1963, prior to the 22-year-old Lee finding fame on The Green Hornet series, he was called in by the U.S. Army for a physical. Doctors refused him entry based on poor eyesight, a sinus disorder, and the fact that one of his testicles was un-descended.
5. Julia Child
At 6-foot 2-inches, the celebrated chef found her height to be an obstacle when she attempted to enlist in both the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and Women’s Army Corps during World War II; both rejected her owing to her height. Child eventually found a home with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and even helped develop shark repellent to keep underwater bombs from going off prematurely.
6. Paul Newman
Renowned for his philanthropic efforts, it comes as little surprise that Newman was itching to defend his country during the second World War. But his hopes of being put to work as a pilot were dashed when a physical revealed he was colorblind. Not wanting to throw in the towel, he accepted a position as a radio man and later as a turret gunner. Despite the early obstacle, Newman returned home to Ohio with several military honors to his credit.
BONUS: Clark Kent
While comics enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity in the 1940s, creators often struggled with how best to acknowledge that any one of their super-powered characters could end World War II in a matter of moments. To explore that theme would be to minimize the role of real, active soldiers. To help alleviate reader curiosity, a comic strip published by the McClure Syndicate had Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, attempt to enlist. He was rejected when his x-ray vision mistakenly forced him to read an eye chart in another exam room.
After weeks of mailing out this year’s holiday cards, postage might be the last thing you want to think about. But the U.S. Postal Service has just given us a sneak peek at the many iconic people, places, and things that will be commemorated with their own stamps in 2018, and one in particular has us excited to send out a few birthday cards: Mister Rogers.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers’s groundbreaking PBS series that the USPS says “inspired and educated young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty,” the mail service shared a mockup of what the final stamp may look like. On it, Rogers—decked out in one of his trademark colorful cardigans (all of which were hand-knitted by his mom, by the way)—smiles for the camera alongside King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Though no official release date for Fred’s forever stamp has been given, Mister Rogers is just one of many legendary figures whose visages will grace a piece of postage in 2018. Singer/activist Lena Horne will be the 41st figure to appear as part of the USPS’s Black Heritage series, while former Beatle John Lennon will be the face of the newest Music Icons collection. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, will also be honored.
Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
With his meme-worthy eyes, tireless work schedule, and penchant for playing lovable losers, Steve Buscemi is arguably the king of character actors. Moving seamlessly between big-budget films and shoestring independent projects, he’s appeared in well over 100 movies in the past 30 years. But if you think he’s anything like the oddballs and villains he regularly plays—well, you don’t know Buscemi. In celebration of the Brooklyn native's 60th birthday, here are 15 things you might not have known about the Golden Globe-winning actor.
1. HE WAS BORN ON A FRIDAY THE 13TH.
It only seems appropriate that Buscemi, who dies on screen so frequently, would be born on such a foreboding date. Growing up in Brooklyn and Valley Stream, New York, Buscemi also experienced plenty of real-life misfortune. As a kid, he was hit by a bus and by a car (in separate incidents). On the plus side, he used the money from the legal settlement following the bus accident to attend the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York City.
2. HE WAS A NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER.
As a teenager, Buscemi worked a series of odd jobs: ice cream truck driver, mover, gas station attendant. He even sold newspapers in the toll lane of the Triborough Bridge. When Buscemi turned 18, his father, a sanitation worker, encouraged his son to take the civil service exam and become a New York City firefighter. Four years later, in 1980, the future star became a member of Engine Co. 55, located in New York City's Little Italy district. While he answered emergency calls during the day, at night Buscemi played improv clubs and auditioned for acting roles.
After four years working for the FDNY, Buscemi landed one of the lead roles in Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986), a drama set during the early days of AIDS in New York. Buscemi took a three-month leave of absence during filming, and afterwards decided not to return.
3. HE FORMED A COMEDY DUO WITH SONS OF ANARCHY’S MARK BOONE, JR.
For a brief while, Buscemi tried his hand at stand-up comedy (he bombed). In 1984, he met fellow aspiring actor Mark Boone, Jr., and the two began performing together. Part improv, part scripted comedy, the two would often carry out power struggles that pitted thin-man Buscemi against the larger Boone. The New York Timescalled their act “theater in the absurdist vein.”
4. HE DID NOT AUDITION FOR THE ROLE OF GEORGE COSTANZA.
Like any hard-working actor, Buscemi has had his share of failed auditions. His tryout for Alan Parker’s Fame lasted less than 30 seconds. In the late ‘80s, Martin Scorsese brought him in four different times to read for The Last Temptation of Christ. (Buscemi ended up reading every apostle’s part before being turned away.) He also auditioned for the part of Seinfeld’s George Costanza—at least according to numerous sources, including Jason Alexander himself. But it turns out this tidbit—fueled, no doubt, by the thought of a very twitchy, bug-eyed Costanza—isn’t true. On a recent episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buscemi addressed the rumor in his typical good-natured way: “I never did [the audition] and I don’t know how to correct it because I don’t know how the Internet works.”
5. TREES LOUNGE WAS BASICALLY HIS LIFE AT 19.
After gaining momentum with roles in Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Barton Fink, and other films, Buscemi took a turn behind the camera with 1996’s Trees Lounge. The movie, which he also wrote, follows a bumbling layabout named Tommy who spends most of his time at the title bar in the town where he grew up. It’s a classic flick for Buscemi fans and, according to the actor, it was pretty much his life as a teenager living on Long Island. “I was truly directionless, living with my parents,” Buscemi said in an interview. “I was driving an ice-cream truck and working at a gas station… The drinking age was 18 then, so I spent every night hanging out with my friends in bars, drinking.”
6. HE IS FULLY AWARE THAT HIS CHARACTERS OFTEN DIE.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
He’s been shot numerous times, stabbed with an ice pick, riddled with throwing knives, tossed off a balcony, and fed to a wood chipper. Yes, Buscemi’s characters have died a variety of deaths, and the actor isn’t without a sense of humor about the whole matter. He’ll often joke in interviews that he’s living longer and longer as the years go by. Before the 2005 release of The Island, in which the aforementioned balcony-tossing occurs (and into a glass bar no less), Buscemi said he was happy his character lived almost a third of the way through the movie. Buscemi admitted that he will actually read ahead in any script he receives to see when and how he dies.
7. HE HAS A FAVORITE DEATH—AND IT ISN’T FARGO.
For connoisseurs of Buscemi's movie deaths, the demise of Fargo’s Carl Showalter by way of axe then wood chipper is the crème de la crème. But when asked about his own favorite onscreen death, Buscemi references another Coen brothers film: The Big Lebowski. In that movie his character, Donny Kerabatsos, succumbs to a heart attack. It’s a surprise for viewers, and so out-of-the-blue that Buscemi can’t help but be tickled at the randomness of it. “They thought, ‘Well, Buscemi’s in it, so we’ve gotta kill him,'" the actor said in an appearance on The Daily Show.
8. HIS CHARACTER IN CON AIR WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR HIM.
In Con Air, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action movie filled with muscled-up prisoners, Buscemi played the most dangerous con of them all. His Garland Greene—a serial killer whose exploits “make the Manson family look like the Partridge family,” according to one character—enters the film strapped to a chair, Hannibal Lecter mask affixed to his face. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, a friend of Buscemi’s, wrote the part with him in mind, and was tickled when Buscemi accepted the role. To this day, fans will still serenade the actor with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
9. HIS CHARACTER IN DESPERADO IS NAMED AFTER HIM.
Although he inevitably dies (courtesy of Danny Trejo’s throwing knives), Buscemi commands the opening of Desperado, Robert Rodriguez’s stylish revenge movie, regaling bar patrons with the story of the title gunslinger, played by Antonio Banderas. Because his character’s name is never mentioned, Rodriguez decided to have some fun and name him "Buscemi" in the credits.
10. HE WON’T FIX HIS TEETH.
Buscemi’s crooked smile has helped him portray lowlifes and losers throughout his career. Dentists have offered to fix the actor’s teeth, but he always turns them down, knowing how valuable those chompers are to the Buscemi brand. In a guest starring role on The Simpsons, Buscemi poked fun at the matter after a dentist offers to straighten his character’s teeth: “You’re going to kill my livelihood if you do that!”
11. THERE’S SOME CONFUSION OVER HOW TO PRONOUNCE HIS LAST NAME.
Many people pronounce his last name “Boo-shemmy,” but it turns out Buscemi himself pronounces it “Boo-semmy.” In interviews, Buscemi says he’s following his father’s pronunciation, and says he doesn’t begrudge anyone who says it differently. It turns out, though, that his fans have it right—or at least mostly right. On a trip to Sicily to visit family, Buscemi recounted recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he noticed everyone saying “Boo-SHAY-me.”
12. HE GOT STABBED IN A BAR FIGHT.
On April 12th, 2001, while filming Domestic Disturbance in Wilmington, North Carolina, Buscemi, co-star Vince Vaughn, and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg went out for late night drinks at the Firebelly Lounge. After Vaughn traded insults with another patron (whose girlfriend had apparently been flirting with Vaughn), the two stepped outside, and a brief scuffle ensued before the two were separated. Buscemi, who was among the crowd that had gathered, was then confronted by a man who, after a brief exchange, attacked the actor with a pocketknife. Buscemi suffered stab wounds to his face, throat, and hands, and had to return to New York to recuperate. His attacker, Timothy Fogerty, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. In typical good-guy fashion, Buscemi declined to press additional charges and instead insisted Fogerty enter a substance abuse program.
13. HE REJOINED HIS FIRE ENGINE IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.
After the horrific attack on New York City’s Twin Towers on September 11, Buscemi—like many Americans—was desperate to help. Although it had been nearly 20 years since he had strapped on his fireman’s gear, the actor reunited with his Engine 55 brethren and for days scoured the towers’ debris for survivors. Buscemi didn’t want his actions publicized; when people asked to take his picture, he declined. It took more than 10 years, in fact, before word got out, thanks to a Facebook post from Engine 55. “Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble,” the post read. “This guy is a badass!”
14. HE NARRATES THE AUDIO TOUR AT EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY.
People who take a tour of the historic Philadelphia prison may notice a familiar voice coming through their listening device. So how did Buscemi end up lending his talents to such a seemingly obscure place? It turns out Eastern State is a popular location for film and photo shoots. Scenes from Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys were filmed there, as were album covers for artists like Tina Turner. In 2000, Buscemi scouted the penitentiary for a film project. The location didn’t work out, but the actor fell in love with the history and grand architecture of the 190-year-old prison. When officials asked for his help to celebrate the prison’s tenth year running tours, he agreed.
15. HE DIDN’T BELIEVE TERENCE WINTER WHEN HE OFFERED HIM THE LEAD IN BOARDWALK EMPIRE.
After years of playing disposable villains and losers on the periphery, Buscemi had grown accustomed to being passed over for leading roles. So when Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter offered him the part of corrupt politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the award-winning HBO series, Buscemi offered his usual reply. “When Terry did call me and he said that he and Marty [Scorsese] wanted me to play this role, my response was, ‘Terry, I know you’re looking at other actors, and I just appreciate that my name is being thrown in,’" Buscemi recalled. "He said, ‘No, Steve, I just said we want you.’ It still didn’t sink in.” Eventually, of course, reality did sink in, and Buscemi went on to win a Golden Globe and Emmy Award across the show’s five seasons.