These Classic Actors Served During World War I And Became Huge Hollywood Stars

(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

While it was still a new phenomenon, studios were cranking out movies in the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, many of the early stars of the Silver Screen had served in the First World War. Below is a list of the most prominent stars of classic cinema who also serve their country during the Great War.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – US Army

Bill Robinson appeared alongside Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930's
Bill Robinson appeared alongside Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930’s (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Bill Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1878 and was raised by his Grandmother after both his parents were killed in an accident. He joined the Army in 1898 when the Spanish American War broke out. By the time World War I began, he was already a major star on the vaudeville circuit. He volunteered to perform free of charge for the American Expeditionary Forces and received a medal of commendation from the war department.

Robinson became an even bigger star following his time in the service. He starred in a series of movies in the 1930s alongside child star Shirley Temple. In 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, a film loosely based on the story of his life.

Randolph Scott US Army

Randolph Scott sports a western outfit in 1935
Randolph Scott sports a western outfit in 1935 (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Randolph Scott was born into a wealthy family in 1898. His father was the first licensed CPA in the state of North Carolina and his mother came from a well-to-do family. In 1917, he joined the North Carolina National Guard after the US entered World War I. Scott’s battalion was shipped off to France and saw combat in the Toul and Thiaucourt zones.

After some time appearing on stage, Scott broke into the movies in the 30s. He soon became one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood often starring in westerns. With his 6-2 frame and his burnished features, Scott became an early model of the strong silent type.

Bela Lugosi – Austro-Hungarian Army

Bela Lugosi enjoys a beer in 1940
Bela Lugosi enjoys a beer in 1940 (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Bela Lugosi was born in Lugos in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1882. During the First World War, he joined the Austro-Hungarian Army. Lugosi served from 1914-1916, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. The actor was wounded on the Russian front and received the wound medal for his service.

Lugosi was acting prior to the war and continued to do so when back from the service. In 1927, the Hungarian moved to the United States to star in the Broadway production of Dracula. The play was a smash and Lugosi later starred in the movie adaptation of the play. While he became an icon, the actor was also upset about the way he was typecast and had trouble finding roles for the rest of his life.

Spencer Tracy – US Navy

A publicity still of Tracy from the film Looking for Trouble
A publicity still of Tracy from the film Looking for Trouble (Photo via Getty Images)

Spencer Tracy was born in 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was a hyperactive child who had difficulty in school but soon became obsessed with acting and movies. When he turned 18, looking for some excitement in his life, he joined the United States Navy. He was assigned to the Naval Training School in Illinois, but the war ended before he ever went to sea.

Tracy spent a number of years working on stage before breaking into the movies in the 1930s. He had a legendary career in what was considered the Golden Age of film. Tracy became the first actor to ever win back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor and was nominated for the prize nine times.

Humphrey Bogart – US Navy

Acting legend Humphrey Bogart sporting a trench coat and a fedora
Acting legend Humphrey Bogart sporting a trench coat and a fedora (Photo via Getty Images)

Humphrey Bogart was born to a very wealthy family in New York City. He was a terrible student with discipline issues and had little choice but to enlist in the Navy as a teenager. Bogart joined the Navy as a coxswain and served for 2 years. It was during his time in the service that he received his famous scar above his lip. According to his official website, Bogart was smacked in the mouth by a prisoner he was escorting who was wearing handcuffs.

Following his time in the service, Bogart went on to become one of the most legendary actors in the history of film. His most remembered role was as Rick Blaine in Casablanca for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Buster Keaton – US Army

Buster Keaton appears in the film The Navigator
Buster Keaton appears in the film The Navigator (Photo via Getty Images)

Buster Keaton was born into a Vaudeville family in Kansas. By the time he was 3 years-old, he was already performing with them. He joined the US Army Expeditionary Forces and was sent off to France. While his unit was in reserve ready to serve if needed, it was close to the end of the war and they were never called.

Upon his return, Keaton became a huge silent movie star. Many of his biggest films were collaborations with fellow star Fatty Arbuckle. Orson Welles said Keaton’s 1926 movie The General was, “the greatest comedy ever made…and perhaps the greatest film ever made.”