35 Celebrities Who Served Our Country

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Express/Getty Images

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. JIMMY STEWART

Jimmy 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.

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.

2. ELVIS PRESLEY

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Elvis Presley 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.

3. 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!"

4. PAUL NEWMAN

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Paul Newman 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. The future leading man 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.

5. PETE ROSE

Pete 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.

6. CLARK GABLE

Clark Cable
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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.

7. KURT VONNEGUT

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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. TED WILLIAMS

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Ted Williams not only served in WWII, he was also involved in combat in the Korean War. The baseball player's 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."

11. GENE AUTRY

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.

12. 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.

13. DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR.

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.

14. GENE RODDENBERRY

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.

15. 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.

16. CLINT EASTWOOD

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This actor may have the Army to thank for his movie career. Clint 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.

17. ED MCMAHON

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.

17. JOHNNY CARSON

Host Johnny Carson sits with an Emmy award on his desk, as announcer Ed McMahon looks on, in a still from 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,' 1963
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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. DREW CAREY

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.

20. 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.

21. GLENN MILLER

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.

22. 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.

23. SUNNY ANDERSON

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.

24. 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.

25. C.J. RAMONE

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.

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. 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.

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. JAMES ARNESS

James 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.

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. GEORGE CARLIN

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 a radar technician. Carlin later used the GI Bill to cover the cost of broadcasting school.

33. JIMI HENDRIX

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 dismissed for "homosexual tendencies," a lie the star concocted to get out of his service and focus on his career.

34. NATE DOGG

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.

35. 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.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

20 Things to Look for While Watching John Carpenter’s Halloween

Compass International Pictures
Compass International Pictures

Horror movies don’t come simpler or more effective than Halloween, director John Carpenter’s 1978 classic that helped revitalize the slasher genre and, of course, created one of the most popular costumes of all time. Halloween sends chills down your spine with nothing more than a few piano notes and long shots of the masked Michael Myers looming in the background, stalking his victims. (Today’s masters of horror could learn a thing or two from its less-is-more potency). To paraphrase Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis talking about Myers, this is a story about a man made up of pure evil.

After countless sequels and franchise reboots, including David Gordon Green's new Halloween sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis (which, strangely enough, was co-written by comedian Danny McBride), it can sometimes feel like there’s no fresh ground in Myers. But it’s worth revisiting the movie that started it all to see how many deeper nuances were hiding just below the surface of Carpenter’s sublime terror. We rounded up the strange facts, goofs, and hints to catch next time Halloween inevitably pops up on a TV screen near you.

1. THE HALLOWEEN THEME SONG IS ITS OWN CHARACTER.


The opening credits set the mood with an image of a jack-o’-lantern and the movie’s theme song, which instantly communicate that Michael Myers is on his way and you should not underestimate him. The thing about that theme song: John Carpenter, who scored the movie himself as he did with many of his movies, clearly understood its power. It plays six different times throughout the film, along with variations on it (enough to make its own drinking game).

2. HALLOWEEN HAPPENED THANKS TO ONE RICH MAN IN THE CREDITS.


After seeing Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Syrian American financier Moustapha Al Akkad put up the $300,000 budget for the director to make a movie about a psychopath who stalks babysitters. Today, the Akkad family is still involved with production of movies in the franchise.

3. JAMIE LEE CURTIS WAS A NOBODY WHEN HALLOWEEN CAME OUT.


It seems hard to fathom now, but Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis’s feature film debut. Curtis, of course, is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who had one of the most memorable roles in a scary movie ever with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. If you look closely, Myers’s knife of choice even resembles the one from Psycho.

4. THE TOWNS IN HALLOWEEN DON’T EXIST, THOUGH THEY’RE (SORT OF) BASED ON REAL PLACES.


Halloween is mostly set in Haddonfield, Illinois, the sleepy Midwestern town where young Michael Myers begins his murderous mayhem. He later escapes from a hospital in Smith’s Grove, Illinois. Both places are fictional, but Smiths Grove, Kentucky, is close to where John Carpenter grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Haddonfield is a reference to co-writer and producer Debra Hill’s hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey. And the shooting location for the haunted Myers home was actually Pasadena, California.

5. MICHAEL MYERS HAD AN EARLY OBSESSION WITH MASKS.


We watch a six-year-old Myers put on a clown mask that’s been discarded on the floor in the earliest Halloween scene, before he tragically kills his own sister Judith. The masks help make Myers seem human-like, yet somehow beyond human thought and reason. “The idea was to make him almost humorless, faceless,” Hill said.

6. MYERS CLEARLY HAS A TORTURED RELATIONSHIP WITH SEX.


All of the murders we see happen in the original Halloween are tied to sexual activity: Myers stabs his sister to death after she’s been fooling around with a boy. Later Annie, Lynda, and Bob all suffer similar fates after they’ve disrobed or slept together.

7. LAURIE, HOWEVER, SEEMS DOWNRIGHT CONSERVATIVE FOR 1978.


According to common horror movie logic (which Halloween helped usher in), the more of a prude you are, the more likely you are to make it through the night. So it is here: Curtis’s Laurie, especially for her age in the late 1970s, stays covered up and doesn’t kiss a single person. She also expresses embarrassment when confronted about her feelings for a classmate.

8. DR. LOOMIS ISN’T VERY GOOD AT PARKING.


Loomis pursues Myers after the killer has escaped a hospital, using his deep knowledge of the patient to track him down. But Loomis does something un-doctorly in the process: He parks in a handicapped spot, despite not having any noticeable handicap.

9. LAURIE GETS A SCHOOLING IN FATE THAT’S AN IMPORTANT CLUE.


While she’s in a high school class and Myers is lurking outside, Laurie answers a teacher’s question about destiny. It might seem like filler dialogue, but it speaks to how Myers is constantly driven back—including in later movies—into the lives of the people in Haddonfield. She says, “Costaine wrote that fate was somehow related only to religion, where Samuels felt that fate was like a natural element, like earth, air, fire, and water."

10. A MATCHBOOK HOLDS CLUES TO MYERS’S PAST (AND FUTURE).


You can see Loomis looking at a matchbook in a car with his colleague Marion Chambers early in the movie. It says: The Rabbit in Red Lounge. Loomis later finds the same matchbook after Myers steals the car, which helps lead him to the killer. The Rabbit in Red Lounge nightclub makes an appearance in Rob Zombie’s 2007 reboot of Halloween, as the place where Myers’s mother works as a dancer.

11. THERE ARE TWO BRIEF GLIMPSES OF MYERS UNDERNEATH THE MASK IN HALLOWEEN.


We barely see Myers in profile as he jumps on top of a car outside the hospital where he’s being held early in the movie, but you get a much better look at his face when Laurie pulls off his mask near the end. That is the face of actor Tony Moran, who didn’t go on to do any of the sequels, though he still became a cult icon. The masked Myers is played by Nick Castle, who’s credited simply as “The Shape."

12. LAURIE SINGS A REALLY CREEPY SONG THAT MIGHT BE ABOUT HER AND MYERS.


While Laurie walks around town and Myers pursues her, she sings a couple lyrics that sound sweet but are haunting in context: “Wish I had you all alone / Just the two of us.” Internet digging reveals that it’s not a pop song, but rather it could be a reference to her repressed romantic feelings, or a nod to what will become her ongoing connection to Myers.

13. THE KID LAURIE BABYSITS LOOKS WEIRDLY LIKE YOUNG MYERS.


Myers as a six-year-old is played by Will Sandin, with blond longer hair. The actor playing Tommy, the boy Laurie is babysitting, bears a striking resemblance to Sandin.


It could be a coincidence, but somehow we think not.

14. MYERS’S GHOULISH MASK IS ACTUALLY JUST WILLIAM SHATNER.


As Halloween didn’t have a lot of money to go around, its art director Tommy Lee Wallace bought a cheap mask at a costume store, which happened to be of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk from Star Trek. Apparently the mask didn’t look much like Shatner, anyway, which worked for the best: The filmmakers painted it and adjusted the eyeholes to provide the unsettling visage for their maniac.

15. THE MYERS HOME MAGICALLY TRANSFORMS OVER TIME.


In the opening sequence of Halloween, we see Myers walk through his family’s home on his way to killing his sister, and there’s floral wallpaper.


In a later shot, we see Loomis and Sheriff Brackett walk through the very same area of the house, and it has a different floral wallpaper. But Brackett says no one has lived in the house since the incident in 1963. So did Myers redecorate on his trip back into town?

16. JOHN CARPENTER PREVIEWED ONE OF HIS NEXT MOVIES IN HALLOWEEN.


Halloween has two movie-within-a-movie moments: The teens and the kids they’re babysitting are seen watching The Thing from Another World (1951) and Forbidden Planet (1956), both of which undoubtedly influenced Carpenter. In fact, Carpenter went on to make The Thing (1982), an adaptation of Who Goes There, the same novella on which The Thing from Another World is based.

17. A NEIGHBOR DOESN’T HELP LAURIE WHEN SHE’S IN TROUBLE.


One of the more unnerving moments in Halloween is so brief that you could easily miss it: As Laurie is being chased by Myers later in the movie, she runs to a neighboring house and screams for help. You can see an outside light turn on and an arm of someone inside looking through a window. But the person quickly walks away, leaving Laurie in harm’s way.

18. MYERS IS HARD TO KILL—EVEN BY HORROR MOVIE STANDARDS.


It became a running joke in the Halloween franchise that Myers is impossible to kill. In fact, he seems to resurrect himself on the spot, a trope that was reused in many later slasher films. In the first movie, we watch Laurie stab him once, then again in a closet with his own knife. Then Loomis shoots him multiple times, leading him to fall off the second floor of a house. But when Loomis goes to check on the body, Myers is already gone. As little Tommy puts it best, “You can’t kill the bogeyman."

19. MYERS’S AGE DOESN’T QUITE ADD UP.


Myers is supposed to be age six when Halloween begins in 1963. In 1978, then, he should about 21 years old. Yet in the end credits, the older Myers is said to be 23, which is impossible. Except, of course, in a movie.

20. CARPENTER GAVE HIMSELF A CODE NAME.


In the end credits, the music is listed as being performed by The Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra. Well, there is no such orchestra. Carpenter is from Bowling Green, Kentucky, and decided to gussy up his music credit. (To be fair, he did get help on the songs from a few friends.)

All screenshots via Anchor Bay Entertainment.

12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi

Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—136 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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