#5. Bob Ross Was a Drill Sergeant
Aside from maybe Jesus, famed painter Bob Ross was pretty much the nicest person who ever lived. His Joy of Painting show, featuring Ross and his happy little clouds and trees, was the greatest art tutorial/electronic babysitter/sleep aid one could ask for.
When we said he was nice, we fucking meant it. He was always smiling, always full of positive reinforcement for any viewers trying to paint along. His voice never rose above that of a gentle lullaby, everything he did on the show was for free, and he donated his art to various PBS stations that aired his show, in order to help raise funds. Oh, and he bottle-fed orphaned baby animals, on the air. The man was, for all intents and purposes, a saint.
As it turns out, there was a very good reason he was so mellow: He spent 20 years screaming his lungs out, as a drill sergeant for the United States Air Force … and hated it. He was said to be “the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” That’s right. The sweetest, kindest, most lovable character on TV this side of Mister Rogers spent half his life cosplaying as Sgt. Slaughter.
No photos exist of Sgt. Ross back in those days, and the man 100 percent liked it that way. He had said that the reason he ultimately told the military to go screw off was because he was forced to be “a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.”
Fortunately for him, Ross spent much of his non-screaming time speed-painting the Alaskan wilderness around him. Soon, he became really good (and fast) at it and found that he could make more money selling his paintings than yelling at cadets for not having their boots properly spit-shined. He promptly quit the military, vowed to never scream again, and focused solely on breezy paintings and baby animals.
So there you have it. All those gentle drawings of fluffy clouds and serene landscapes actually stemmed from two decades of rage, anger, and hatred. But you know what? We think that was all still there, to the very end. If you don’t believe us, just remember: The man painted with a goddamned knife.
#4. Jimmy Stewart Took a Break from Acting to Bomb the Germans
Jimmy Stewart was America’s Everyman, the Tom Hanks of his day. The star of It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a reputation as a loveable scamp who always tried to do the right thing. His positive karma was such that President Harry Truman once declared, “If Bess and I had a son, we’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart.”
Though many of his later roles were darker in tone (he did several Hitchcock films and played a troubled trial lawyer in Anatomy Of A Murder), the public’s perception of him remained that of a swell guy who wouldn’t have harmed a fly, mainly because he didn’t have the strength to do so.
Except he did; Jimmy Stewart was an extremely decorated war hero, with a military career spanning three goddamned decades, from 1940 to 1968. That’s right — before Pearl Harbor made fighting Japan the cool thing to do, Stewart had made history as the first major American actor to join the war effort. And if you think this was just some PR stunt so he could get some easy street cred with middle America, think again.
See, Stewart would have had an easy excuse to avoid any actual danger — he actually failed the Army’s height and weight requirements when he tried to enlist. But he was determined to fight for his country and decided to do so as a combat pilot. He swiftly gained 10 pounds, joined the Army Air Corps, and logged more than 300 hours of flight training, just to prove he could do it. Even then, he had to constantly fight to get anything but an instructor or desk job, both due to his age (he was in his 30s) and his superiors not wanting to risk a beloved celebrity getting blown to bits on their watch. But he kept pushing and eventually was deployed to active duty over England. He quickly established himself as his squadron’s leader, due to equal parts bravado, expertise, and conveniently having more Oscars than anyone in the room.
Stewart led many bombing runs on Nazi factories and military production centers and led a squadron of bombers in the Battle of Berlin, which would later be referred to as “Black Thursday,” due to the excessive number of American casualties suffered. All of this led to an impressive chest of medals by the time he was mustered out of active duty in 1946, due to the war ending and him being damn near 40.
But Stewart didn’t just win a war and then go home to play pretend for the rest of his life. No, he remained in the Air Force Reserve for an additional 22 years, worked on a military base during the Korean War, and even flew a non-combat mission in Vietnam. By the time Stewart finally retired, he had reached the rank of Brigadier (one-star) General. Ironically, he only appeared in a couple of war movies (The Mountain Road and Malaya) as he claimed they were “almost never realistic.” Also, let’s face it: After conquering the military for real, merely pretending to do so would’ve been too damn boring.
#3. Steve Buscemi Became Part of the 9/11 Rescue Effort
Steve Buscemi is the go-to actor for when you need a whiny, loudmouthed schnook who always gets his muscular friends to do his fighting for him. He’s usually cast as one of two things: a snaky criminal or snarky comic relief. Neither role requires he be a physically intimidating man, only a slightly unhinged one. In short, not badass at all, right?
Wrong. As it turns out, Steve Buscemi isn’t snarky, unhinged, or whiny. In fact, he’s a goddamned 9/11 hero.
He had the skills for it. Where many actors will wait tables, work as studio go-fers, or perform one of a hundred other degrading jobs while waiting for their big break, Buscemi took the less-traditional route of becoming a New York City firefighter. He did that until 1985, when he started getting gigs that didn’t involve running into gigantic open flames on the regular. But he never forgot his roots, and this was never more evident than on September 11, 2001.
Many celebrities “helped” after the terrorist attacks by organizing fundraisers, handing out water and coffee, or recording horrible music that was no less horrible just because it was “for the heroes.” Buscemi, again, bucked the trend by going right back into firefighter mode, returning to his old firehouse and volunteering for service. Right alongside the decidedly non-famous crew of FDNY Engine 55, he busted ass for up to 12 hours at a time, shoveling out debris and rubble and pulling survivors out of the wreckage. Countless people who might otherwise have perished can now say, without hyperbole, that Mr. Pink saved their lives.
There’s a real good chance you didn’t hear about this in the aftermath of the attacks, but it’s not because the media ignored it. Rather, Buscemi wanted us to ignore it. He refused to talk about it in interviews, simply saying, “these are my brothers.” He showed absolutely zero interest in turning his duty into a publicity stunt. That’s why there are only a couple of pictures of Buscemi hard at work; here, he’s the dapper chap in the upper-left corner.
After 9/11, Buscemi went back to showing off his crazy eyes on the big screen, but he has never forgotten his firefighting roots, even when it gets him in trouble. In 2003, less than two years after 9/11, Buscemi’s old firehouse was deemed useless by the NYC government and was slated to close. Buscemi showed up with a bunch of other firefighters to protest this decision, with the entire group ultimately arrested for their efforts. He continues to support firefighters and their struggles to this day, proving that he only acts because he’s too old to work his dream job any longer.
© 2013, agentleman.