Gene Hackman is an American retired actor, known for his rugged looks and his emotionally honest and natural performances. During his acting career spanning over 49 years, Gene was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two of them. Hackman has starred in some of the most iconic films in Hollywood history, including The French Connection, The Conversation, and Unforgiven. However, before he made it big in Hollywood, Hackman served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Gene Hackman’s career and his military service.
Gene Hackman’s Early Life
Gene (Eugene Allen Hackman) was born on January 30, 1930, in San Bernardino, California, USA. He was the eldest of three children born to Eugene Ezra Hackman and Anna Lyda Elizabeth. Hackman’s father was a newspaper pressman and his mother worked as a waitress. The family moved frequently during Hackman’s childhood, and he attended numerous schools before finally settling in Danville, Illinois, where he graduated from high school. Hackman’s father operated the printing press for the Commercial-News, a local paper. Hackman’s parents divorced in 1943, and his father left the family. The actor often talked in later life about the “hurt and disappointment” of the memory of his father waving from the car as he drove past him on the street. Hackman knew that he wanted to become an actor when he was ten years old, but the road to acting was not a straightforward one.
Gene Hackman Joins The Marines
Hackman left home at the age of sixteen and lied about his age to enlist in the US Marines. In 1947, he completed boot camp and was quickly sent off to serve in China as a field radio operator. He spent four and a half years as a field radio operator and was stationed in China for a time before being assigned to Hawaii and Japan.
Hackman’s unit assignments were:
1947: Signal School Battalion, San Diego
1947-48: Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
1948-49: 3rd Marine Regiment
1949-50: Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division
1950-51: 2nd Signal Battalion, 2nd Marine Division
1951: 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion
1951-52: Fleet Marine Corps Reserve
During his time in the Marines, he got into trouble for fighting and was demoted from the rank of corporal three times for leaving his post without permission.
Hackman missed the Korean War due to injuries from his motorcycle accident. Hackman crashed a motorcycle into a tractor that had no lights, breaking his right leg, right shoulder, and left knee and leaving him unfit for active service. By age 20, he was back home in Illinois, discharged as a disabled veteran.
Gene Hackman’s Acting Career
Once he left the military, Hackman moved back in with his parents, found work at a music store, and used the GI Bill to study journalism and TV production at the University of Illinois. His wife Faye Maltese convinced him to move back to California, and in 1957, he was a 27-year-old married man attending the Pasadena Playhouse acting school. There, he befriended another aspiring actor, Dustin Hoffman. Already seen as outsiders by their classmates, Hackman and Hoffman were voted “The Least Likely To Succeed”, and Hackman got the lowest score the Pasadena Playhouse had yet given. Determined to prove them wrong, Hackman moved to New York City.
He found work in a number of summer stock and Off-Broadway plays in New York, as well as a bit part as a policeman in the film Mad Dog Coll. He landed his first Broadway role in 1964 as a young suitor in Muriel Resnick’s Any Wednesday. His performance attracted the attention of Hollywood agents, and Hackman was subsequently cast in the film Lilith, which starred Warren Beatty.
Hackman got his breakthrough role at the age of 37, in the famous film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. From there, Hackman’s career took it up a notch after winning an Oscar Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the 1971 classic The French Connection. Interestingly, the actor almost didn’t get the lead role for the film but was chosen because of the low budget.
Lesser-Known Facts about Gene Hackman
Here are some lesser-known facts about Gene Hackman:
- Before pursuing an acting career, Hackman worked as a radio announcer and a soda jerk.
- He was initially rejected by the Pasadena Playhouse, but later became one of the school’s most famous graduates.
- Hackman was almost cast as Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch but was turned down in favor of Robert Reed.
- He has a passion for painting and has exhibited his artwork in galleries.
- Hackman turned down the role of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a part that eventually went to Anthony Hopkins.
- Hackman has written several novels, including Wake of the Perdido Star and Justice for None.
- He was offered the role of Coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers on the condition that he loses weight, which he did by cutting out alcohol and jogging.
Gene Hackman and We, The Marines
After his retirement, Hackman voiced “We, The Marines,” a large-format documentary made by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and funded by Boeing Co. for permanent exhibit in the Medal of Honor Theater at the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Va. The 37-minute film is structured around the locations and experiences that mold a Marine, from boot camp to amphibious assault to mountain warfare to live-fire drills.
Throughout the documentary, Hackman’s voice is heard narrating the compelling and inspiring story of the Marine Corps, as well as highlighting the challenges and hardships that these brave men and women face every day. This documentary is an ode to the grit, resilience, and unyielding spirit of the Marines, and a tribute to their service and dedication to our country. With a captivating narrative, this film is a must-see for anyone interested in military history, or for those who simply appreciate excellent storytelling. It is a testament to the strength and courage of the Marines, and a reminder of the sacrifices they make to protect our country and its freedoms.
TogetherWeServed pays tribute to Gene Hackman’s dedicated service to our country and outstanding contributions to the entertainment industry.
Learn About Other Celebrities Who Served
If you found this account of Gene Hackman’s military service interesting, we think you may enjoy the military service stories of other celebrities who served on our blog. You will also find military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog. If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.
A great bit of unlikely history about a down to earth human being. History you never see come out of Hollywood. Someone who was not easily intimidated or afraid of a little work – good Marine material. This coming from an old AF vet.