Many famous actors and entertainers achieved their fame on stage or in Hollywood, but some had eventful and remarkable lives before they entered the public spotlight. Various artists and musicians had already spent years in the military before they began the careers that made them famous.
From Allied troops on the D-Day beaches to Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe, here are four celebrities who risked their lives in war.
Before he became known as the comedic genius of The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks worked on the front lines of WWII. He served in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division, as a combat engineer. He defused land mines in active war zones, risking death on a daily basis.
Brooks also faced active combat, fighting at the famous Battle of the Bulge. In later years he credited much of his dry wit to his time in the war, and while in military service his sense of humor was evident. When German soldiers began playing propaganda recordings through loudspeakers, the young Brooks set up his own speakers and blasted the music of Al Jolson, a Jewish singer, right back at them.
Before Breakfast At Tiffany’s cemented her place as an iconic Hollywood figure, Audrey Hepburn worked as a courier for the Dutch resistance against the Nazis.
It was not uncommon for children in the Netherlands to act in that role; they smuggled money, papers, and information with less likelihood of being noticed by the authorities.
Hepburn’s parents were staunch supporters of the Nazi party, making her willingness at a young age to support the resistance all the more impressive. When she was not running messages and carrying packages, she was donating what little money she had earned to the cause.
In later years, her remarkable story was promoted and her courage acclaimed, but her parents’ support for the Nazis was usually written out of the narrative.
When it is remembered, however, it makes Hepburn’s bravery all the more striking.
The star of It’s A Wonderful Life was first drafted in 1940, only to be rejected for being underweight. While others might have been relieved not to be sent into danger, Stewart actively set out to gain the required weight. As soon as he had, he headed back to be re-evaluated by the military and was accepted.
At first, due to his already established celebrity status, his commanding officers kept him away from the conflict. They used him for promotional videos or in training pilots, as Stewart already had extensive experience in that field.
Eventually, he managed to convince his superiors to move him overseas, to face real action in Europe. There he rose quickly through the ranks, often flying at the head of his unit to inspire the soldiers under his command. Four years after he joined the Army as a Private, Stewart was promoted to the rank of Colonel.
James Doohan is widely remembered for his role as Scotty in the Star Trek series. The Canadian partook in active conflict long before he took to the screen.
When WWII broke out, Doohan joined the Canadian military and went to England for training. His first taste of combat came on D-Day, on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy.
Taking part in the largest amphibious landing in history, Doohan led his troops up the beach, shooting two snipers and finding defensive positions beyond a field of mines. Later that night, he was shot six times by a Bren Gun. Four of the rounds struck him in the leg, and one tore through his finger. The sixth would have penetrated his chest, had it not been blocked by a silver cigarette case his brother had given him some time before.
Doohan survived, although he lost the finger. He went on to become a beloved figure in television history.