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Christopher John George (February 25, 1931 - November 28, 1983) was an American television and film actor who was perhaps best known for his starring role in the 1966-1968 TV series The Rat Patrol. He was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1967 as Best TV Star for his performance in the series The Rat Patrol. He was also the recipient of a New York Film Festival award as the Best Actor in a Television Commercial. George was also the long-time husband of actress Lynda Day George.

Biography

Early life

George was born in Royal Oak, Michiganmarker, the son of Greek immigrants John and Vaseleke George. John George was born in Thebes, Greecemarker and was a veteran of World War I, and Vaseleke was born in Athensmarker. Christopher George could not speak English until he was six years old, since only Greek was spoken in his home. His father was a traveling salesman during his childhood. George accompanied his father on selling trips to cities such as Akronmarker, New York Citymarker, Chicagomarker, St. Louismarker, Memphismarker, and Detroitmarker. From Michiganmarker, the family moved to Mountain Lakes, New Jerseymarker. Once George began learning to speak English, his father enrolled him in Greek school in addition to his regular school so that he would not forget the Greek language; by that time he had moved to New Jerseymarker. That is where George first got interested in acting, since at Greek school they did Greek plays and recited Greek poetry. When George was age 14, he and his family moved to Miamimarker, Floridamarker. As a child, George lived in the Coconut Grove section of Miamimarker and attended Shenandoah Elementary School and Miami Senior High School. During school, George was athletic; he played soccer, football and baseball and was in track. While growing up in Floridamarker, he used to hunt for alligators in the Evergladesmarker. After obtaining his driver's license, Chris worked for his father driving trucks between Miamimarker and other cities along the Eastern seaboard. When he was young, he felt guided to enter the Greek Orthodox Church and his family prepared him for it; his brother Nick said that all through his childhood Chris was the altar boy and the choir boy and that his parents and the priest were trying to groom Chris to enter the church and become a priest. He served as an altar boy at St. Sophia Church in Coral Waymarker, Floridamarker.

Military Service

He served in the military as a flying Marine during the Korean War. George attributed his enlistment in the US Marine Corps to being inspired by John Wayne, saying "You know, he caused the enlistment of hundreds of kids in the Marines and I was one of them." He entered the United States Marine Corps on October 13, 1948 at Jacksonville, Floridamarker. According to his military record at the National Personnel Records Center, George attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Islandmarker, South Carolinamarker and graduated boot camp with a meritorious promotion to Private First Class (Pfc) on 31 December 1948. His first duty unit of assignment was Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Quanticomarker, Virginiamarker, where he served as a Private First Class. In April 1950, he transferred to Aircraft Engineering Squadron 12 (AES-12), also located at MCAS Quanticomarker. AES-12 maintained the aircraft for school pilots and used them also as a demonstration squadron for members of the United States Congress, demonstrating new rockets and bombs. One famous Marine who was briefly assigned to AES-12 while Christopher George was in the unit was then 2nd Lt. Paul X. Kelley, who later went on to become the Commandant of the Marine Corps. While assigned to AES-12, Christopher George rose to the rank of Sergeant. He had forced landings in airplanes while he was in the Marines, and while he was stationed at Marine Corps Base Quanticomarker, Virginiamarker, was very sick, lying in the hospital with "a 110-degree fever." During the Korean War, George skippered a Marine Corps crash boat, as well as served as a gunner aboard the type of rescue aircraft that were used to fly wounded out of Koreamarker. During George's time stationed at Marine Corps Base Quanticomarker, he was joined by his younger brother Nick, who left the family home in Miamimarker and joined him at the base, until he was discovered and sent off-post. While in the Marines, George earned his high school diploma by passing a high school equivalency exam. George completed a three-year enlistment in the Marines, rose to the rank of Sergeant, and stayed for a fourth year of service before asking for a discharge and returning home to Miamimarker. He left active Marine Corps service on August 29, 1952. After that, as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, he joined Marine Fighter Squadron 142 (VMF-142) of the Marine Air Reserve Training Command (MARTC), Marine Corps Air Station Miamimarker, Floridamarker. He also served in the 4th Supply Company, in Stockton, Californiamarker. Finally, he reverted to inactive reserve status where he was assigned to Headquarters, 6th MCR&RD, Atlanta, Georgiamarker, until completing his enlisted service and receiving a discharge on September 3, 1956, with his location of separation listed as Atlanta, Georgiamarker. While on active duty in the Marines, George was encouraged by his superiors to apply for flight school and a commission, however he chose to request a discharge so that he could return to school. His military record shows that he satisfactorily completed a four week long Motor Vehicle Operator Course at Fort Belvoir, Virginiamarker. During the summer of 1976, George again linked up with the Marines, this time appearing in television advertisements for the Marine Corps Air Reserves. On May 5, 2009, the Marine Corps flew a flag over the Iwo Jima Memorialmarker in honor of his service in the Marine Corps.

Aircraft Incidents while in the Marines

The forced landing that Chris experienced while stationed at Marine Corps Base Quanticomarker, occurred while he was a passenger in an aircraft flown by one of AES-12's officers. The weather was clear and sunny that day as they were flying at approximately 8,000 feet above the Carolinas when both of the aircraft's engines "conked out." Both pilots worked to get the aircraft engines restarted, dipping to an altitude of about 1,000 feet before the engines restarted and they proceeded back to Marine Corps Base Quanticomarker. Another time, Chris was in an aircraft that caught on fire and he had to bail out, making his first parachute jump of his life and hitting the ground successfully.

Military Awards

While in the Marines, George earned the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. These awards are documented in his official military personnel file available via the National Archives and Records Administrationmarker.


Civilian education

After completing his enlistment in the Marine, he attended the University of Miamimarker from 1953-1958, where he secured a Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA) degree from their school of business. He was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, along with his brother Nick, who also attended University of Miamimarker.

Early career

Non-acting jobs

Christopher George held down a variety of jobs before he began acting for a living. He also worked as a private investigator and ran a bar before pursuing acting. George worked as a bartender in a Miamimarker bar. He served as the owner and operator of eateries and beer joints, one called the Dragnet Drive-In which was in Miamimarker and another one in Stockton, Californiamarker which was off-limits to members of the military. The inn in Stockton, Californiamarker where he worked for five months during a break from college had been owned by a late uncle for seven years and was off-limits to Marines. He worked as a bouncer in tough restaurants and held a pilot's license. He also hired on with a friend who owned a 110-foot converted Canadian gunboat and transported cargo through the Caribbeanmarker for two years. Before graduating from the University of Miamimarker, George had a job lined up with a big investment company; however he instead turned to acting after completing a vocational test battery that indicated that he should work in drama.

Acting in New York City

After graduating from college, George began acting in New York Citymarker, where he performed on the stage and in television commercials. His big break came when he was working as a bouncer at a New York waterfront bar and producer Robert Rafelson convinced him to begin an acting career. He studied acting under Wynn Handman and landed roles in off Broadwaymarker productions of popular plays of the day. Small theater productions in which he appeared while he was studying drama included All My Sons, The Moon is Blue, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Stalag 17, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?. Under drama coach Wynn Handman, he landed a sixteen week engagement in the play 'Mr. Roberts' with actor Hugh O'Brian; parts in Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams followed., George's career took off after he made a 60-second TV commercial for shaving cream, where he played the young chap in the "Good morning, Mr. Gray" shaving spot, and won the New York Film Festival Award for best actor in a commercial. During this 1962 shaving-cream commercial, George played a groom lathering up before his first honeymoon night, with a line where he said, "It's all for you." The commercial earned him over $30,000. He also appeared on TV in roles on Naked City and Bewitched television series shows. While in New York Citymarker, George played in the Lemos Greek Repertory Theater because he could speak Greek fluently.

First Appearance in a Film

George first appeared on the screen when he landed a role in the film, "In Harm's Way," playing a dying sailor for 30 seconds. The film, "In Harm's Way," directed by Otto Preminger, provided him with his first opportunity to meet and work with John Wayne, who had been his boyhood idol and who would become a life-long friend.

Career

George first rose to prominence in 1967 playing a supporting role in the Howard Hawks-directed western film El Dorado, starring John Wayne. George and Wayne became friends while shooting the film and would co-star in additional westerns including Chisum in 1970 and The Train Robbers in 1973.

Rat Patrol Days

From 1966 to 1968 over the course of two seasons and 58 episodes, George played the lead role of Sergeant Sam Troy in The Rat Patrol. The show followed the exploits of four allied soldiers who were part of a long range desert patrol group in the North African campaign during World War II. Along with fellow Rat Patrol members, George appeared in the April 1967 Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade in Washington, D.C.marker. While filming a scene of the Rat Patrol on Wednesday, 4 January 1967, George, as well as two other members of the cast Justin Tarr and Gary Raymond, were injured when the jeep they were riding in overturned as they made a tight turn. The accident happened when Tarr was driving the jeep on a dry lakebed at Rosamond, Californiamarker, near Edwards Air Force Basemarker, and resulted in George sustaining a concussion, tearing something in his neck and injuring his back. Doctors at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Californiamarker were able to determine that his back had been badly sprained, not fractured as they had initially feared. While starring in The Rat Patrol, Chris also served as an awards presenter at the 1966 Washington, D.C.marker local version of the Emmy Awards, hosted at the Washington, D.C.marker Sheraton Park Hotel.
USO Tour in 1967
George also joined actor Lawrence Casey on a USO tour of Vietnammarker, Japanmarker and Thailandmarker, which lasted for almost a month and which started on 12 November 1967 and went into December 1967. During the tour of Vietnammarker, he visited III Corps Headquarters at Bien Hoamarker Army Base and used the III Corps signal switchboard to place a telephone call to his girlfriend and future wife, Lynda Day. While in Vietnammarker, George did not confine himself to the rear echelon, but instead pressed his escorts to allow him to go as far out into the field as they would permit; at one time they were even pinned down by the Viet Cong. In November 1967, the USO and the Air Force sent Chris George and several other Hollywoodmarker celebrities to visit a military hospital in San Antoniomarker, where military personnel returning from Vietnammarker with serious burns were being treated. The visit, to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antoniomarker, was arranged by Johnny Grant, a Hollywood radio personality who had taken troupes of performers to Vietnammarker; during the visit George and some of the actresses, including his future wife Lynda Day George, spent over an hour with a wounded veteran who had been previously uncommunicative and they miraculously got him to talk.

Post Rat Patrol Works

Following cancellation of The Rat Patrol, George played the lead role in several genre films of the 1960s including Tiger by the Tail (1968) co-starring Tippi Hedren; Project X (1968), directed by William Castle; and The Devil’s 8 (1969) co-starring Fabian. He narrated a documentary about the careers of Craig Breedlove and Lee Breedlove, a husband and wife auto racing team, which was entitled 'The Racers: Craig and Lee Breedlove,' in 1968. Then, in 1969, George portrayed Ben Richards in the pilot movie for The Immortal which ran on ABC Movie of the Week. The film was picked up as a TV series and ran for 15 episodes from 1970-1971. During this time, he also portrayed Dan August in the television film House on Greenapple Road (1970), which evolved into the 1970-71 series Dan August starring Burt Reynolds.

George continued his television work throughout the 1970s with guest roles on many popular series including Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, Police Story, S.W.A.T., Charlie's Angels. and Fantasy Island. He also surprised fans by posing nude for Playgirl magazine in the June, 1974 issue. In 1976, George played a supporting role in the all-star World War II epic Midway. That same year, he would play the lead role of Ranger Michael Kelly in the Film Ventures International independent film Grizzly. A thinly-veiled Jaws clone, the animal horror thriller became one of the most popular films of George's career earning more than $39 million at the box office.

George followed that success with a busy string of horror, action, splatter and slasher B-movies over the next seven years including Dixie Dynamite (1976) co-starring Warren Oates; Day of the Animals (1977) co-starring Lynda Day George and Leslie Nielsen; Whiskey Mountain (1977); Filippo Ottoni's Last Night Of Christmas aka Questo sì che è amore with Sven Valsecchi and Gay Hamilton (1978); City of the Living Dead (1980) directed by Lucio Fulci; The Exterminator (1980); Graduation Day (1981); Enter the Ninja (1981); Pieces (1982) co-starring Lynda Day George; and Mortuary (1983) co-starring Lynda Day George and Bill Paxton. Many of these works have since achieved cult film status.

Marriage to Lynda Day George

George first met actress Lynda Day in New Yorkmarker where they were doing a fashion layout; she was modeling the bride's outfit and he was the groom. They met again later when they starred together in the 1966 independent film The Gentle Rain. They would star together again four years later in Chisum, where they fell in love and soon married. Chris and Lynda were married in May 1970; they were married in an Episcopalian ceremony in a judge's chamber in Palm Beach, Floridamarker. The following day, they left for their honeymoon in St. Croixmarker the Virgin Islands. Thereafter, Lynda became Lynda Day George and co-starred with Christopher in multiple television films over the next 10 years including Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976) and Cruise Into Terror (1978). They also worked together in episodes of The F.B.I. (1970), Mission: Impossible (1971), McCloud (1975), Wonder Woman (1976), Love Boat (1977) and Vega$ (1978). Christopher and Lynda Day George had two children, a son and a daughter.

Death

Soon after completing Mortuary, George died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Tuesday, November 28, 1983. He died at Westside Hospital in Los Angeles, Californiamarker, while under the care of his cardiologist, Dr. Pearl McBroom. A contributing factor in his death is believed to have been a 1967 mishap suffered on the set of The Rat Patrol when his jeep flipped over and pinned him beneath the vehicle. The accident left George with a bad heart that contributed to his death.A Greek Orthodox rosary service was conducted at Westwood Memorial Parkmarker and a private funeral was held at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, Californiamarker. At his funeral, the Marine Corps provided an honor guard to render military honors. His death devastated his wife, Lynda, and afterwards she only worked sporadically in television guest roles until her retirement in the early 1990s. He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemeterymarker in Los Angelesmarker.

George's niece is Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White.

References

  1. Cumberland Evening Times, 'TV Cameos: Chris George, Career Rolls Into High Gear On Video,' by Ed Misurell, p. 9, 12 November 1966.
  2. Motion Picture, 'Don't Cross Chris,' by Nikos George, p. 64, May 1967.
  3. Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 38, November 1967.
  4. Boxoffice Magazine, 'Former Miamian Chris George has been at the Four Ambassadors Hotel in Miami to Plug his latest Film,' p. SE7, 12 March 1973.
  5. Winona Daily News, 'TV Mailbag' by Steven H. Scheuer, p. 7, 26 March 1967.
  6. TV Radio Mirror Magazine, article p. 54, by Evelyn Fern, August 1967.
  7. Screenland, 'Christopher George of Rat Patrol: Why His Wife Thinks He's Perfectly Cast!' by James Gregory, p. 61, March 1967.
  8. Bridgeport Sunday Post, 'TV Mailbag', p. C-18, 26 March 1967.
  9. TV Guide Magazine, 'Go to the Heart of Danger,' by Edith Efron, pp. 10-12, 20 May 1967.
  10. T.V. Picture Life, 'Father, I want to become a priest', by Paul Denis, p. 30, March 1967.
  11. Anderson Daily Bulletin, 'Hollywood: Sammy Davis Jr. will have co-star role with Sinatra," by Dorothy Manners, p. 26, 18 January 1968.
  12. The Galveston Daily News, 'Actor Tells What John Wayne is 'Really Like',' by Earl Wilson, p. 5B, 17 November 1971.
  13. The Edwardsville Intelligencer, 'Chris George in One Scrape After Another,' by Dick Kleiner, Hollywood Correspondent. Newspaper Enterprise Association, p. 11, 26 January 1967.
  14. The News, Port Arthur, Texas, 'Former Private Eye', p. 9, 1 February 1973.
  15. The Daily Herald, 'Sudden Heart Attack Kills Actor Christopher George', from Herald news services, section 1-7, 30 November 1983.
  16. TV Guide, 'A Most Unhappy Warrior,' by Arnold Hano, p. 28, 14 November 1970.
  17. TV Picture Life, '...Become a Married Priest', by Paul Denis, p. 58.
  18. TV Radio Show, 'The Girl Who Haunts His Bachelor Home,' by Rodger Winelander, p. 67, November 1966.
  19. The Sentry, 'Marine-Turned-Actor Tours Quantico,' by GySgt Don H. Gee, 9 July 1976.
  20. Screen Stories, 'Chris George: I live on the brink of disaster,' by Dora Albert, p. 62, May 1967.
  21. Photoplay, 'I Saved My Brother's Life,' by Helen Martin, p. 94, February 1967.
  22. Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 82, November 1967
  23. Independent Star News, Pasadena, CA 'Chris George- Rat Patroller Par Excellence', by Marian Dern, p. 9, 19 March 1967.
  24. Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 82, November 1967.
  25. The Fresno Bee, 'Former 'Rat' Is Signed For Film,' p. 15-TV, 14 September 1969.
  26. Photoplay, 'Why We Waited So Long,' by Lisa Reynolds, p. 98, November 1970.
  27. TV Star Parade, 'Rat Patrol,' p. 51, November 1967.
  28. The Titusville Herald, 'TV Cameos: Christopher George, Series Deals With Problems of Immortality,' by Bill Dunn, p. 8, 23 October 1970.
  29. The Washington Post, 'Actor Christopher George dies at 52,' UPI press release, p. B12, 1 December 1983.
  30. The Abilene Reporter-News, 'Where War is a Job: All Lathered Up for Rat Patrol,' p. 7-D, 10 August 1966.
  31. The North Adams Transcript, 'ABC's Rat Patrol a Big Break for Chris George,' by Bill Byers, p. 13, 20 August 1966.
  32. More Magnificent Mountain Movies (The Silver Screen Years) 1940-2004, by W. Lee Cozad, First Edition, published 2006, p. 254.
  33. The Washington Post/Times Herald, Radio and Television 'Rat Patrol is in Town', by Lawrence Laurent, p. C4, 8 April 1967.
  34. Salt Lake Tribune, AP article, 'Rollover of Jeep injures TV Stars,' p. 6B, 5 January 1967.
  35. Newport Daily News, (Newport, RI), 'Accident Almost Ends Rat Patrol,' by Bob Thomas, AP, p. 13, 13 January 1967.
  36. TV Picture Life, 'Christopher George: The Girl Who Nursed Him Back To Health,'by Jeanne Allen, p. 48, May 1967.
  37. 'Local 'Emmy' Fete Tonight,' by Lawrence Laurent, The Washington Post/Times Herald, p. D21, 22 October 1966.
  38. The Washington Post/Times Herald, 'George Peppard Lived Like a Sultan in Rome', by Dorothy Manners, p. D11, 25 December 1967.
  39. Sheboygan Journal, (Sheboygan WI), 'Swaggering 'Rat Patrol' Chief Rugged Individual in Real Life', by Vernon Scott, UPI Hollywood Correspondent, p. 21, 22 February 1968.
  40. Photoplay, 'Why We Waited So Long,' by Lisa Reynolds, p. 100, November 1970.
  41. Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 'Hollywood Closeup: From Star to Saleslady', p. 8, 24 November 1967.
  42. Photo Play Magazine, 'Chris George, George Morris and the Man Who Came Back from the Dead', p. 59, April 1968.
  43. 'TV critic's choice,' The Washington Post/Times Herald, p. D10, 22 June 1968.
  44. 'On the Air with Leona Pappas TV Editor,' Express and News, San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, p. 151, November 15, 1970.
  45. Movie Mirror, 'Chris George-Linda Day: Confessions of a Man Who's Had His Day!' by Ken Jackson, p. 66, December 1970.
  46. The Associated Press, 'Actor Christopher George Dies of Heart Attack,' 30 November 1983.
  47. United Press International, 'Actor Christopher George Dies at 52,' 30 November 1983.
  48. The Galveston Daily News, 'It was totally unexpected- Actor Christopher George dies at 54', by Associated Press, p. 4A, November 30, 1983.
  49. More Magnificent Mountain Movies (The Silver Screen Years) 1940-2004, by W. Lee Cozad, First Edition, published 2006, p. 255.
  50. United Press International Press Release, 'Rosary will be said tonight for actor Christopher George', 1 December 1983.


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