I am a Hollywood Marine. I am not a Baby Blue Marine. But this Hollywood Marine did appear as an extra in the 1976 Columbia Pictures movie, “Baby Blue Marine” starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Glynnis O’Connor (she showed up on “Law & Order” awhile back. Okay, so who hasn’t?).
I know, I know. I started to tell this story on Facebook but then yanked it. Guess I’m kinda sick of Facebook these days. Besides the overall underlying “we are just data-mined-lemmings-lined-up-to-be-Zukerberg-marketing-inventory” platform that is Facebook, I’m tired of all the negativity. So, back to my original idea. My blog is my place to write. I’ll use Facebook to see pictures of my grandkids, wish friends happy birthdays, and shamelessly promote my blog.
Onward, then. As an “edutainer,” (a newly applied label I’ve given myself), let me try to educate you about Hollywood Marines and Baby Blue Marines while also attempting to entertain you with my story.
Hollywood Marine. A somewhat derogatory term applied to those Marines who attended Boot Camp in San Diego, California rather than Parris Island, South Carolina (the only two Marine recruit training depots). Of course it’s due to MCRD San Diego’s close proximity to Tinseltown. I am a Hollywood Marine. Not that I had a choice. All recruits from Chicago west went to San Diego, at least back in the early 70’s. Of course, the implication is that somehow Parris Island is tougher than San Diego. Parris Island = sand fleas. San Diego = oppressive heat, crazy terrain, and the international airport right next door to remind us incessantly how much we wanted to leave immediately. A toughness tie. In both locations, they simply tried to kill us all.
I like being a Hollywood Marine. I wear my sunglasses with pride. But being a “Hollywood Marine” had little to do with me getting near “Baby Blue Marine.”
Baby Blue Marine. Not a reference to me, though I do have blue eyes. Also a derogatory term, it’s what a USMC boot camp washout recruit used to be called. They were sent home in a baby blue “uniform” because all recruits shipped their civvies (civilian clothes) home upon arrival to boot camp. The baby blue suit made a clear statement to all that this person was, pardon my French, a “shitbird.” That’s official Marine Corps terminology. And its meaning is obvious. Non-hacker. Failure. Disgrace. Baby Blue Marine.
I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, my first permanent duty station after boot camp. My particular job as a Marine was in supply administration. Ordering equipment, monitoring those orders, checking serial numbers for Jeeps on order, that kind of exciting stuff. Then one spring day, out of the clear blue California sky, the battalion commander called me into his office. Not a common event, thankfully. I wondered if my propensity for smiling was going to get me in trouble here as it had in boot camp. Maybe the indisputable truth that “Marines Have Nothing To Smile About” was enforced in the regular Marine Corps, too. Now, just so you know, my smiling wasn’t due to some personal internal happiness just busting out all over, though that was true on occasion. Most often, I was smiling at the many absurdities I observed as I regularly encountered examples of another truth—“There Is A Right Way, A Wrong Way, and A Marine Corps Way.” Oh the tales…
The C.O. gave me a TDY (Temporary Duty) assignment. To Hollywood. Then he smiled. I wondered what the catch was going to be. No catch. Me and a small group of other Marines were to report to the movie set of “Baby Blue Marine” as extras and do whatever the director wanted us to do. I gave a hearty, “Yes, Sir!” and could not believe this was about to happen.
This would be just be my second experience as an actor, the first coming only a year before when I first auditioned for a high school play. I was given a great role, the Prince’s Messenger, in a comedy version of “Cinderella.” I loved the experience and was so sad I waited until I was senior to try acting. From the Morton Senior High School stage to the big screen in about a year. Wow. I must be good. Nope. Still not. Just loud and unafraid. That’s why I get cast even today in community theater.
For the next three days, my Marine Corps life was suddenly different. I met the stars—Jan-Michael Vincent (later of the TV series, “Airwolf”), Michael Conrad (later known for the phrase, “Let’s be careful out there” in the TV show “Hill Street Blues”), Bruno Kirby, and Adam Arkin. Though Richard Gere is in the movie (his second screen appearance), he wasn’t part of the boot camp sequence so he wasn’t on the set. Neither was Glynnis O’Connor. Missed meeting them. Of them all, Michael Conrad was easily the most real. He seemed to like relating to us grunts.
The movie was set in World War II, so we had to be costumed with old uniforms. Had to show up hours before dawn each day to get in costume and shoot the film’s opening sequence of a Marine platoon running in formation at daybreak. We shot that thing over and over. P.T. Oooorah! We loooovvve it. Sorry. Pushed a button. Still brainwashed. The running platoon is the one clear scene where I can be spotted, in the platoon, outer column near the front, right by the camera. And I looked right at the camera! Ham salad.
And speaking of chow, one of the highlights of the three days on set was the opportunity to eat the studio-catered food on the set. We had full access once the cast had finished. Compared to the normal mess hall grub, we were in culinary heaven. We even got paid. $100 a day back in 1975. Double-dipped with USMC pay. Rolling in it. Right.
I was in several more boot camp scenes, mostly as a typical “background crowd” extra. Before it was over, I got a small non-speaking role in the boot camp graduation scene, featuring Marines graduating from boot camp and heading to war. I was “assigned” an actress “girlfriend” who ran up and jumped into my arms. We spun with a desperate joyous embrace. Not desperate enough, evidently, since my little shot at stardom ended up a casualty of the editor’s scissors. Poo.
When I tell this story, I always say it was a bad movie. Oh, it was really okay, I guess. It just never officially made it to home video. For years I just had a copy I’d taped from HBO. Now it is available through the “print to order” thing. A friend sent me one of those copies. Wish there was a “director’s cut.”
So here’s the basic plot, courtesy of Wikipedia. I appeared in act one, boot camp.
“Marion Hedgepeth (Jan-Michael Vincent), a Marine recruit during World War II who can’t cut it in boot camp, is kicked out of the Corps and sent home in a blue fatigue uniform. As recruits sent their civilian clothes home or sold
them, the Corps did not wish less than honorably discharged Marine recruits to wear a uniform they had not earned. In real life, the Marine Corps issued light blue uniforms used by Flying Cadets prior to Pearl Harbor; hence the name “Baby Blue Marine” for a failed recruit. Marion meets a Marine Raider (Richard Gere in his second big screen appearance) a young, battle-scarred war hero back from the Pacific who has aged beyond his years with prematurely gray hair. As the Raider doesn’t wish to return to the war, he knocks out Marion and trades uniforms with him. Marion enters an idyllic small town where the decorations and Raider shoulder-sleeve insignia of his uniform make him a hero to the community whose own young men are away at the war.”
So Marion is first a bum when everyone finds out about the switcheroo, then gets a chance to be a hero for real and of course, gets the girl. The best part—SPOILER ALERT—though ol’ Jan-Michael couldn’t cut it as a Marine, at end of the movie, he shows back up as an Army soldier. Hmmm. What does that imply? Now that makes me smile.
To conclude, this Hollywood Marine went to Hollywood for real. It was a genuine thrill to be a part of all that and then to see myself on screen, even for a little bit. Another log was tossed on the tiny growing fire in my heart to perform.
Happy 242nd Birthday, Brother and Sister Marines! Semper Fi!