Revealed: Military careers of the American icons

When they were soldiers, Steve McQueen was a bad boy and Jack Kerouac was a mad boy. That at least is the suggestion of long-archived military records of some of America's best known stars of music, film and literature to be released tomorrow.

Revealed, for instance, is the quandary faced by the Army when it received into its ranks a young inductee who was already famous, Elvis Presley. On the one hand fans were furious that he should be diverted from his entertainment calling. On the other, there were claims he would receive preferential treatment.

"Dear Mamie," a California couple wrote to then-first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, "will you please, please be so sweet and kind as to ask Ike [President Dwight Eisenhower] to please bring Elvis Presley back to us from the Army. We need him in our entertainment world to make us all laugh."

But in time the Army learned to reap a rich public relations harvest from having Presley in its ranks.

When Private First Class Presley was first inducted, there was considerable adverse public reaction, alleging that he would receive preferential treatment in the Army. According to an army memo: "This impression has been largely replaced by a public impression of a good soldier serving his military obligation. ... Many teenagers who look up to and emulate Private First Class Presley will ... follow his example."

The Army saw a similar opportunity when Clark Gable enlisted to serve in 1942, six months after his wife, Carole Lombard, was killed in a car crash. He was joined by his cameraman, who was given the same training to ensure that he could film any heroics that Lt Gable might perform as an airborne gunner.

All these and other glimpses of the military service of actors, musicians, writers and politicians - all deceased for 10 years of more - will be available in a mass of documents to be made public tomorrow by The National Personnel Records Centre in St Louis.

If McQueen is remembered from his acting career in films such as The Great Escape and Bullitt as a man prone to rebellion, speed and cars, the same traits seem to be on display from his real-life military career, where he trained as tank driver and mechanic. Most notably, however, he was confined by officers for 30 days and fined $90 for being absent without leave from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Kerouac, meanwhile, who later became the author of On the Road, was once referred to an army psychologist in 1943 to determine a possible mental impairment - better known now as a bad temper. As one memo notes: "Patient's father, Leo A Kerouac, states that his son has been 'boiling' for a long time."

Other American icons mentioned in the records include the actor Humphrey Bogart, the former president John F Kennedy, the aviator Charles Lindbergh and the heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'