For every actor or entertainer who interrupted a lucrative career to serve their country during wartime—Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable among them—several others were denied the opportunity. Here are a few notable personalities who never got the chance to suit up.
1. ALFRED HITCHCOCK
Alfred Hitchcock was known for his pear-shaped appearance and for the droll delivery he used to great comedic effect in interviews and in segments for his television anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (His famous sketched silhouette originated with that program.) But that well-fed physique didn’t always work to his benefit: During World War I, the young filmmaker tried to enlist in the British service, but his weight prevented him from being called up.
Hitchcock would later do his part during World War II, supervising a documentary that highlighted the atrocities of wartime concentration camps. Never completed, the lost footage was assembled into a film, Night Will Fall, which premiered on HBO in January 2015.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Bruce Springsteen’s landmark “Born in the USA” was the singer’s reflection on the plight of American veterans returning home from Vietnam. He would have been among their number, save for the fact that he failed his Army physical. At 19, Springsteen, who was already working as a musician, was called up but given a status of 4-F (unfit for duty) owing to a concussion from a motorcycle accident. In 1984, he told Rolling Stone that he had also tried to give “crazy” answers on the induction forms to further ensure he wouldn’t be drafted.
3. ORSON WELLES
Following his career-defining work in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles became a regular presence in the Hollywood trade papers—and in Hearst publications, which had allegedly been incensed by Kane’s loose portrayal of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Increasingly, Hearst’s pages questioned why the 28-year-old wasn’t following other performers into service during World War II. Exasperated, Welles showed up for a physical in Los Angeles that he subsequently failed for undisclosed reasons. (It was later rumored skeletal inflammation and asthma were among the complications.) Exiting the exam room, Welles was so agitated by the presence of reporters that he threatened to throw one out of a window.
4. BRUCE LEE
By all accounts, Bruce Lee was a physical specimen who was far from being a glorified stuntman: He trained rigorously in several different martial arts and was rumored to have several real altercations in Hong Kong. In 1963, prior to the 22-year-old Lee finding fame on The Green Hornet series, he was called in by the U.S. Army for a physical. Doctors refused him entry based on poor eyesight, a sinus disorder, and the fact that one of his testicles was undescended.
5. JULIA CHILD
At 6-foot 2-inches, the celebrated chef found her height to be an obstacle when she attempted to enlist in both the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and Women’s Army Corps during World War II; both rejected her owing to her height. Child eventually found a home with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and even helped develop shark repellent to keep underwater bombs from going off prematurely.
6. PAUL NEWMAN
Renowned for his philanthropic efforts, it comes as little surprise that Newman was itching to defend his country during the second World War. But his hopes of being put to work as a pilot were dashed when a physical revealed he was colorblind. Not wanting to throw in the towel, he accepted a position as a radio man and later as a turret gunner. Despite the early obstacle, Newman returned home to Ohio with several military honors to his credit.
BONUS: CLARK KENT
While comics enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity in the 1940s, creators often struggled with how best to acknowledge that any one of their super-powered characters could end World War II in a matter of moments. To explore that theme would be to minimize the role of real, active soldiers. To help alleviate reader curiosity, a comic strip published by the McClure Syndicate had Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, attempt to enlist. He was rejected when his x-ray vision mistakenly forced him to read an eye chart in another exam room.