Facts About Classic Actors We Learned In 2021 That Made Us Say 'Whoa'

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Vote up the facts about these old school Hollywood stars you never knew before.

We learned a lot of cool facts about the entertainment industry in 2021, from the dating lives of the rich and famous to behind-the-scenes trivia about our favorite actors. We also uncovered interesting details about one of our favorite historic eras: The Golden Age of Hollywood. 

Read on to discover how Marion Morrison transitioned from prop boy to legendary lawman, which silent film star inspired the most notorious DC villain, and why you never tell Katharine Hepburn what to wear.

  • James Doohan Was Shot At Least Six Times On D-Day
    Photo: Star Trek / NBC

    On June 6, 1944, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history. Among the 156,000 American, Canadian, and British soldiers was future Star Trek actor James Doohan.

    Doohan, a lieutenant with the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landed on Juno Beach and took out two German snipers. "I don't know if they were killed or wounded," he later wrote, "but it shut them up."

    Doohan described his experience in a 1998 New York Times article:

    We landed safely, thank God, through those Y-shaped steel barriers you see in the film, tracer bullets, all that, none of our men hurt, and dashed 75 yards to the 7-foot tall dunes.

    Crossed a minefield, found out about it later: It was meant to blow up tanks, and we weren’t heavy enough. Moved up through a town – hardly a town just a village – called Graye Sur Mer, saw a church tower that was a machine-gun post, firing off to our left. 

    Doohan and his unit secured their position by noon, but later that evening, he was shot - not by the Germans but by one of his fellow Canadians. The nervous sentry blasted Doohan with either six or eight bullets (the figures vary by source). Four entered his leg, one hit his chest, and at least one destroyed the middle finger of his right hand. The finger was later amputated, and the bullet to his chest might have ended his life - had it not been stopped by a silver cigarette case.

    Doohan walked a quarter-mile to reach the regimental aid post, aware only of the wounds in his hand and chest. When he arrived, the medic said, "You also have four bullets in your left knee."

    To which Doohan replied, "Well, I walked here."

    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1920-2005)
    • Birthplace: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Jimmy Stewart Flew 20 Combat Missions In WWII
    Photo: US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Jimmy Stewart was not only an established actor when he signed up to serve in WWII, but also an Academy Award winner (he took Best Actor for 1940's The Philadelphia Story). The last film he made before shipping out was 1941's Ziegfeld Girl. From there, he entered the Army Air Corps as a private, flew 20 combat missions over Germany leading a squadron of B-24s, won several medals (including two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre), and finished the war at the rank of colonel.

    The very first film Stewart made upon returning to Hollywood? 1946's It's a Wonderful Life.

    Stewart's career in the military continued after WWII. He served in the Air Force Reserves, where he attained the rank of Brigadier General.

    • Age: Dec. at 89 (1908-1997)
    • Birthplace: Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Katharine Hepburn liked wearing pants, and she didn't give a damn what anybody else thought of that. In the modern era, this seems like an odd statement, but back in the 1930s, it was considered quite radical. As the Guardian explains, Hepburn's iconoclasm was seen as a liability by RKO Pictures:

    They had been spun a red-haired, east-coast, high-society goddess by the studios and so were somewhat surprised to find a makeup-free woman striding around between takes in a pair of dungarees. The RKO publicity department asked her to stop wearing them. She refused. The next day, when she found them vanished from her dressing-room she walked around set in her knickers until they were returned to her.

    • Age: Dec. at 96 (1907-2003)
    • Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut, United States of America
  • Clark Gable Tried To Scale A Mountain To Recover His Wife’s Body
    Photo: dearmrgable.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    Gable was unashamedly madly in love with his wife Carole Lombard, so it’s unsurprising that he took her death incredibly hard. He was enjoying a vacation after filming the movie Honky Tonk and was eagerly awaiting his wife’s return. Lombard had left on a war bonds tour to raise money for WWII.

    According to reports, Gable had gone to the airport waiting to fetch Lombard when he was told the flight had not yet arrived because it had to make an unexpected stop. He returned to his house and awaited confirmation that her flight had arrived. Shortly after, he was told to quickly make his way to the airport, he turned on the radio and learned that his beloved wife had died.

    Upon arriving at the airport, he was devastated but retained hope that she would be found alive. When it became clear no one had survived, Gable wanted to know how they would retrieve his wife’s body, which remained with the crashed aircraft on the mountain. The answers he received were unsatisfactory, and he pled his case to try and scale the mountain himself to retrieve his wife. However, he was told that he could not climb the mountain because of the incredibly rough terrain, and professional personnel could get his wife’s body for him. It was her death that ultimately led to him joining the war efforts.

    • Age: Dec. at 59 (1901-1960)
    • Birthplace: Cadiz, Ohio, USA
  • Mr. Rogers Narrated Himself Feeding His Fish For The Benefit Of His Blind Audience
    Photo: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood / PBS

    There's a reason Fred Rogers would always tell the audience of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood when he was feeding his fish. He received a letter from a blind viewer named Katie who asked him to. Katie's letter reads:

    Dear Mister Rogers, Please say when you are feeding your fish, because I worry about them. I can’t see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud. Katie, age 5.

    (Father’s note: Katie is blind, and she does cry if you don’t say that you have fed the fish.)

    • Age: Dec. at 74 (1928-2003)
    • Birthplace: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, United States of America
  • Over the course of her eight decades in Hollywood, it comes as no surprise that White has received some of the highest accolades any actor can win. In fact, she's been nominated for a total of 21 Emmys and one honor. Throughout her career, she's been nominated for her roles as a supporting actress, lead actress, guest actress, and host for many of the projects she's been involved with. 

    Of these 21 Emmy nominations, White has won five for her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, The John Larroquette Show, and Saturday Night Live. As an absolute powerhouse in the comedy entertainment business, she was also inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 1995. Clearly White has had a long and fruitful career, but receiving this number of nominations has put her in a league of her own. She's actually received nominations for an Emmy in six different decades, starting with her first in 1951.

    • Age: 101
    • Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States of America