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36 Celebrities Who Served Our Country

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While we honor all of the men and women who have served the United States in uniform, here are a few famous faces who also defended the red, white, and blue.

1. PETE ROSE

Rose was in the Ohio Army National Guard. He served at Fort Knox for six months, where he was a platoon guide. Then he spent parts of the next six years balancing his burgeoning baseball career with time as part of a Reserve Unit at Fort Thomas, where he was a company cook.

2. GLENN MILLER

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Miller really wanted to serve his country. Because he was too old (age 38 at the time), the Navy turned down his services. The noted band leader and composer actually had to convince the Army Air Forces to accept him, by saying he wanted to lead a "modernized army band." And it worked. He and his band would go on to do a weekly radio broadcast that was so successful, he was upgraded to a special 50-piece band that traveled all over the world playing for troops. In England alone, he and his group gave 800 performances. On December 15, 1944, Major Glenn Miller was on his way to Paris when his plane disappeared. Neither Miller or the plane have ever been found. 

3. ELVIS

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Elvis was drafted for a two year stint on December 20, 1957, completed basic training on September 17, 1958, and then served in Friedberg, Germany (where he met Colin Powell) from October 1, 1958 through March 2, 1960. He was eligible for the "Special Services," which basically would have allowed him to receive special treatment because he was Elvis. But he preferred to serve just like everyone else, and the guys who served with him have said that he just wanted to be one of the guys. He was honorably discharged as Sergeant Elvis Presley.

4. JIMMY STEWART

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Stewart was born to a family of military men—both of his grandfathers were in the Civil War and his dad served in the Spanish-American War and WWI. He was an accomplished pilot before the war even broke out, so when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 (after first being rejected for being underweight), it was no surprise that he began pilot training immediately.

Jimmy Stewart ended up going from private to colonel in only four years, something only a handful of Americans have ever done. In 1959, he was named Brigadier General. His honors included the Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six battle stars, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. In 1968, he retired from the Reserves as a brigadier general, making him the highest-ranked entertainer in the American military.

5. CLARK GABLE

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After his third wife, Carole Lombard, died in a 1942 plane crash while returning from a war bond rally in Indiana, Gable insisted on enlisting and ended up serving in five high-profile combat missions. He was honorably discharged as Captain Clark Gable after D-Day and awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

6. BEA ARTHUR

Before her days as a Golden Girl, Bea Arthur served as a truck driver and typist for the U.S. Marine Corps for two-and-a-half years. When she enlisted in 1943 at the age of 21, she was among the first members of the Women's Reserve. Remarks from her enlistment interviews described her as "argumentative," "over aggressive," and "officious—but probably a good worker—if she has her own way!" 

7. TED WILLIAMS

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The baseball player not only served in WWII, he was also involved in combat in the Korean War. His first stint saw him as a fighter pilot and a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. Although he was no longer on active duty after WWII, he did stay in the reserves and was called back to duty in 1952 and served in the same unit as John Glenn. And don't think that his celebrity status let him sit back at a cushy desk job—Ted flew a total of 39 combat missions and even received an Air Medal for bringing his damaged plane back to base. In fact he was so revered by Army higher-ups that when he turned 40, General MacArthur sent him an oil painting and personalized it with this:

"To Ted Williams - not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Doug MacArthur. General U.S. Army."

8. HENRY FONDA

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The actor famously enlisted in the Navy with the quote, "I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio." He served for three years, first as a seaman and then rising to a Lieutenant. He received a Presidential Citation and the Bronze Star.

9. GENE AUTRY

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During a live broadcast of his radio show on July 26, 1942, the musician was inducted into the Army Air Forces as a technical sergeant. While running the radio show remained a part of his Army duties, he also set out to upgrade his private pilot's license to Flight Officer credentials. He succeeded on June 21, 1944. His chief duty as a pilot was to haul fuel and other necessities, and he eventually worked with the USO. He was honorably discharged in 1946. His awards included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

10. DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR.

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As a lieutenant, junior grade in the Navy Reserves during World War II, Fairbanks was assigned to Lord Mountbatten's staff in England. It was an appointment that gave him access most reserve officers didn't have. As a result, he came extremely proficient in military deception skills. So, he used those skills to form the Beach Jumpers.

The mission of the Beach Jumpers was to land on beaches and lure the enemy into believing there were the force to be worried about, when in fact the real attacking unit was landing elsewhere. For his ingenuity, Fairbanks was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Legion of Merit, the Croix Guerre with Palm, the Legion D'Honneuer, the Italian War Cross for Military Valor, and was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.

11. GENE RODDENBERRY

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It's fitting that the creator of Star Trek was a combat pilot on 89 mission for the U.S. Army Air Corps, starting in 1941. He was part of the 394th Bomb Squadron that referred to themselves as the Bomber Barons. Like Ted Williams, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart, he also received the Air Medal. And, also like Stewart and Gable, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as well.

12. DREW CAREY

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He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years and has said it’s where he first acquired his signature black glasses and buzz cut look. 

13. KURT VONNEGUT

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The novelist enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was sent to study engineering at what is now Carnegie Mellon University a year later. After the Battle of the Bulge, Private Vonnegut was captured as a prisoner of war. In fact, he survived only because he was part of a group of Americans held captive in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). Because they were underground when the city of Dresden was airbombed, they were saved. 

14. STEVE MCQUEEN

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Steve McQueen became a tank driver for the Marine Corps in 1947. But the film star had a rebellious streak during his tour. After he was promoted to Private First Class in the Marine Corps, he was reportedly demoted back to Private seven times, including once when he stayed out long after a weekend pass had expired and had to be hauled back by the shore patrol. But he was also heroic—he saved the lives of five Marines when he pulled them out of a tank just before it broke through ice and fell into the ocean. He was discharged in 1950.

15. PAUL NEWMAN

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The future leading man joined the Navy in hopes of becoming a pilot—until his color blindness was discovered in training. Instead, he took on the job of aviation radioman and aerial gunner. Newman and his aircrew were assigned to be at Okinawa, but his pilot developed an ear infection and they were delayed.

It was an ear infection that changed cinematic history: had Newman and his pilot gone when they should have, they likely would have been killed—the rest of their detail was. In 1946, he was discharged with a number of honors including the Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Area Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.

16. BOB KEESHAN

The Captain Kangaroo star enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1945, but never saw combat. There's long been a story floating around that Lee Marvin once said he and Bob Keeshan served together at Iwo Jima, but much like the Mr. Rogers myth, this one is false—World War II ended before either could take part.

17. ED MCMAHON

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Johnny Carson's Tonight Show sidekick was a Marine Corps flight instructor for two years before finally getting his orders to fly in combat in 1945. They were canceled, however, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pushing Japan to surrender. He did end up flying 85 combat missions during the Korean War, earning six Air Medals and retiring as a Colonel. 

18. JOHNNY CARSON

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Speaking of Ed, there's a rumor that McMahon was Johnny's commanding officer in the military, but there's no truth to it. The pair met for the first time in 1958. Johnny enrolled in the Navy in 1943, also hoping to be a pilot; he was assigned to be a midshipman instead. He reported for duty in 1945, the same year that Japan accepted surrender terms, marking the end of the war. As you might imagine, Carson's military career was pretty quiet after that—he has said the highlight of the whole thing was getting to perform a magic trick for James Forrestal, then-Secretary of the Navy.

19. MONTEL WILLIAMS

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You'll never think of Montel Williams as a mere daytime talk show host again. He's actually an incredibly accomplished veteran, serving 22 years in the military before leaving as a Lieutenant Commander. He started his career in the Marines, then was discharged when he was accepted to the Naval Academy. After earning a degree in General Engineering there, he spent years as a cryptology officer, notably during the invasion of Grenada. He has a slew of awards and medals under his belt.

20. CLINT EASTWOOD

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This actor may have the Army to thank for his movie career. Eastwood was drafted into the Army in 1950 during the Korean War, stationed at Fort Ord in California. An Army friend, Chuck Hill, had contacts in Hollywood and thought that he might do well in the movies. Before then, though, Eastwood narrowly escaped death when a military plane he was flying in crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He managed to use an inflatable raft to swim to shore, and testifying at a hearing about the incident prevented him from serving overseas in Korea.

21. CHARLES BRONSON

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You know Charles Bronson for his roles in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and Death Wish (1974), but did you know he probably never would have become an actor if it weren’t for the military? Bronson, whose last name was Buchinsky before he changed it during the Red Scare of the 1950s, grew up in poverty—so much so that as a child, he once had to wear his sister’s dress to school because there were no other clothes for him in the house.

In 1943, Bronson was drafted into the Army Air Corps, where he started out working as a truck driver, but eventually became a tail gunner in a B-29. After the war was over, he was awarded a Purple Heart for an injury he received in the service and used the GI Bill to study acting, which eventually helped him become the action hero we are all familiar with.

22.  SUNNY ANDERSON

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Future Food Network personality Sunny Anderson got her start in broadcasting in the U.S. Air Force. After growing up an Army brat, Anderson decided to continue her family's military tradition and enlisted in 1993. She traveled the world working as a radio broadcaster and journalist for the Air Force, and her experience there paved the way for her to host her own cooking shows like Cooking for Real

23. JAMES ARNESS

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Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke over five decades, as the show spanned from 1955 to 1975 and then there were five more made-for-TV movie follow-ups shot in the eighties and nineties.

Arness (or Aurness before he started acting) enrolled in the US Army in 1942. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but with a height of 6’7”, there was no way that was going to happen – the maximum height of pilots at the time was 6’2”. So instead he served as a rifleman. Unfortunately, his height made him a good candidate for one of the most dangerous jobs, walking point. He was one of the first off the boat to test the water depth for the other men and look out for enemies, leaving him to be the first target. As a result, Arness was injured less than a year into his service during an invasion on Anzio, Italy, when he was shot in the right leg.

On the upside, his time in the hospital led to his work in television… eventually. While he recovering, his brother came to visit him and encouraged him to study radio drama. After he returned home from service with a Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star, he got a job as a disc jockey in Minneapolis, which is where he finally decided to try his luck as an actor in Hollywood.

24. ROD SERLING

If you’re a big fan of The Twilight Zone, then you might be interested to know that it might never have been created if Rod Serling was never injured in WWII. The future writer was eager to enroll in the war to help fight the Nazis, but he was instead sent to the Philippines to fight the Japanese. He was put into one of the most dangerous platoons in the area, nicknamed “the death squad” for the high number of casualties suffered in the group. Serling was lucky enough not to be killed in combat, but he hardly came out unscathed. He was injured a few times in battle, but more dramatic was the severe trauma he experienced by serving in such a violent area. As a result, he was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of his life.

The events he experienced reshaped his world view, and with them he was inspired to create The Twilight Zone and write many of the show’s most famous episodes.

25. DON ADAMS

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Don Adams was best known for his portrayal of the bumbling Agent 86 in the classic '60s 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.

26. SHAGGY

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The dance-hall superstar also known as Orville Burrell partially credits his stint in the Marines for his successful music career. "Being in the Marines didn't influence my musical career artistically. I think it did it as far as discipline, as far as preparing me for the rigorous schedules that was gonna come with doing music because I had no clue," he said in an interview for The Grammys in 2011. He served in Desert Storm and though he has called himself "a skater" and "not your model Marine," he would eventually serve as a Field Artillery Cannon Crewman.

27. DON IMUS

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Before embarking on a long and occasionally controversial career in radio, Imus quit school and joined the Marines at the behest of his mother, who hoped it would keep him out of jail. He served from 1957 to 1960, most notably as a bugler in the Marine Corps band.

28 and 29. 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 six-month stint with the Corps, two of their songs—“Crying in the Rain” and “That’s Old Fashioned (That's The Way Love Should Be)”—cracked the Top 10, but they were unable to tour or otherwise capitalize on their success, due to their military commitments. Though Don and Phil had racked up 12 Top 10 hits by that time, they would never crack the Top 10 again.

30. 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 young 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 nearly seven year tour of duty with the seminal punk band.

31. EILEEN COLLINS


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Eileen Collins is famous for being the first woman astronaut to pilot and command a space shuttle. But before entering NASA, Collins served as a member of the U.S. Air Force. She joined the military with dreams of serving as a pilot at a time when opportunities for women to do so were just starting to open up. At the age of 23, she became the Air Force's first female flight instructor and went on to fly C-141 cargo planes overseas. 

32. NATE DOGG

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Best known for his guest appearances on pretty much every G-funk track known to man, the West Coast rapper, 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 before he went AWOL and was dishonorably discharged.

33. ED WOOD JR.

The B-movie legend signed up for the Marines in 1942, just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He claimed that 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.

34. GEORGE CARLIN

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The comedian dropped out of high school in 1954 and joined the Air Force. He was stationed in Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and became radar technician. Carlin later used the GI Bill to cover the cost of broadcasting school. 

35. JIMI HENDRIX

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Hendrix joined the Army in 1961, but it wasn't necessarily by choice. After being caught stealing cars in Seattle, the police gave him a choice: Join the Army or go to jail. He joined the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served for one year before being discharged. The musician claimed he parted ways with the organization after a parachuting accident, but decades later, biography Room Full of Mirrors by Charles R. Cross claimed that he was dismissing for "homosexual tendencies," a lie the star concocted to get out of his service and focus on his career.

36. HUGH HEFNER

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Before becoming a publishing titan, Hefner enlisted in the Army in 1944 as a writer for the military newspaper. He was stationed at Camp Adair in Salem, Oregon, and Camp Pickett in Virginia, where Hefner would draw comics for the Army newspaper. It wasn't all desk work though—during his two-year tour, Hefner won a sharpshooter badge in basic training. 

BONUS: BUGS BUNNY

Really. Warner Brothers produced a cartoon called “Super-Rabbit” where Bugs says, “This looks like a job for a real Superman!” then jumps into a phone booth to presumably change into his Superman costume. When he emerges, though, he’s in a Marines uniform singing the Marines' Hymn. The Marine Corps loved the homage so much they officially inducted the fictional rabbit as a private, even producing real dog tags for him. He was officially discharged at the end of WWII as a Master Sergeant.

A shorter version of this story ran in 2015.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
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In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
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When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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