Christopher George

Christopher George

Christopher George as Sgt. Troy in The Rat Patrol, 1967.
Born Christopher John George
(1931-02-25)February 25, 1931
Royal Oak, Michigan, U.S.
Died November 28, 1983(1983-11-28) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Years active 1965–83
Spouse(s) Lynda Day George (1970–83; his death); 1 child

Christopher John George (February 25, 1931 – November 28, 1983)[1] was an American television and film actor who was perhaps best known for his starring role in the 1966–68 TV series The Rat Patrol. He was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1967 as Best TV Star for his performance in the series. He was also the recipient of a New York Film Festival award as the Best Actor in a Television Commercial. George was married to actress Lynda Day George.

Early life

Christopher George was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, on February 25, 1931, the son of Greek immigrants John and Vaseleke George.[2] John George was born in Thebes, Greece and was a veteran of World War I,[3] and Vaseleke was born in Athens.[4]

Christopher George could not speak English until he was six years old, because his family only spoke Greek at home.[5] His father was a traveling salesman during his childhood. Christopher George accompanied his father on selling trips to cities such as Akron, New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, and Detroit.[6] From Michigan, the family moved to Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.[7] 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.[8] That was where George first became interested in acting; at Greek school they performed Greek plays and recited Greek poetry.[8] When George was 14, he and his family moved to Miami, Florida.[2] As a child, George lived in the Coconut Grove section of Miami and attended Shenandoah Elementary School and Miami Senior High School.[5] In school, George played soccer, football and baseball and ran track.[8] While in Florida, he used to hunt for alligators in the Everglades.[5] After obtaining his driver's license, Chris worked for his father, driving trucks between Miami and other cities along the Eastern seaboard.[9]

When he was young, Christopher George felt bound to enter the Greek Orthodox Church and his family prepared him for it; his brother Nick said that all through his childhood, Christopher was an altar boy and a choir boy and that his parents and the priest were trying to groom him to become a priest.[10] He served as an altar boy at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami.[11]

Military service

Christopher George enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) on October 13, 1948, at Jacksonville, Florida, at age 17. He lied about his age on his recruitment form by giving his year of birth as 1929, which then stuck with him for most of his adult life. George attributed his enlistment 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."[12] According to his military record at the National Personnel Records Center, George attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina and graduated with a meritorious promotion to private first class on December 31, 1948.

His first duty station was Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Quantico, Virginia. In April 1950, he transferred to Aircraft Engineering Squadron 12 (AES-12), also located at Quantico. AES-12 maintained the aircraft for school pilots and also used them as a demonstration squadron for members of the United States Congress, demonstrating new rockets and bombs.[13] While assigned to AES-12, George rose to the rank of sergeant. He had forced landings in airplanes while he was in the Marines, and while stationed at Quantico, was very sick, lying in the hospital with "a 110-degree fever."[14]

While stationed at Quantico, Christopher George was a passenger in an aircraft flown by one of AES-12's officers[14] The weather was clear and sunny that day when both of the engines failed at approximately 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above the Carolinas.[15] Both pilots worked to get the engines restarted, dipping to an altitude of about 1,000 feet (300 m) before they succeeded.[15] Another time, an aircraft caught fire; he had to bail out, in the first parachute jump of his life.[15]

During the Korean War, George skippered a Marine Corps crash boat, and served as gunner aboard the type of rescue aircraft used to fly wounded out of Korea.[16][17] He completed a three-year enlistment with the Marines and stayed for an additional year, before requesting an honorable discharge and returning home to Miami.[18] He left active 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, Marine Corps Air Station Miami, Florida. He also served in the 4th Supply Company, in Stockton, California. Finally, he reverted to inactive reserve status and was assigned to Headquarters, 6th MCR&RD, Atlanta, Georgia, until completing his enlisted service and receiving a discharge on September 3, 1956.

While in the Marine Corps, his superior officers encouraged him to apply for flight school and a commission; instead, he chose to receive a discharge so he could return to school.[19] George passed a high school equivalency exam.[8][20]

During the summer of 1976, George appeared in a recruiting film made for the Marine Corps Air Reserves.[21] On May 5, 2009, the Marine Corps flew a flag over the Iwo Jima Memorial in honor of his service in the Corps.[22]

Military awards

Christopher 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 at the National Archives and Records Administration.

University education

After completing his enlistment, Christopher George attended the University of Miami[23] from 1953–1958, where he earned a Bachelors in Business Administration degree from the school of business. He was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, along with his brother Nick, who also attended the University of Miami.[24]

Non-acting jobs

Christopher George held down a variety of jobs before he began acting for a living, including working as a private investigator and as a bartender in a Miami bar.[25] He owned and operated eateries and beer bars, one called the Dragnet Drive-In in Miami and another in Stockton, California.[26][27] The inn in Stockton 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.[28] He held black belts in karate and judo. George worked as a bouncer in tough restaurants and held a pilot's license.[29] He also hired on with a friend who owned a 110-foot converted Canadian gunboat and transported cargo through the Caribbean for two years.[28] Before graduating from the University of Miami, 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.[2]

Acting career

After graduating from college, Christopher George began acting in New York City, 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.[30] He studied acting under Wynn Handman and landed roles in Off-Broadway productions of popular plays of the day.[2] 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 Woolf?.[31] 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 works followed.[24][32] George's career took off after he made a 60-second TV commercial for shaving cream, where he played the young man in the "Good morning, Mr. Gray" shaving spot, and won the New York Film Festival Award for best actor in a commercial.[33][34] 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."[20] The commercial earned him over $30,000.[20] He also appeared on TV in roles on Naked City and Bewitched television series shows.[31] While in New York City, George played in the Lemos Greek Repertory Theater because he could speak Greek fluently.[24]

Christopher George first appeared on the screen when he landed a role in the 1965 film In Harm's Way, playing a dying sailor for 30 seconds.[35] This gave him his first opportunity to meet and work with John Wayne, who had been his boyhood idol and who would become a lifelong friend.[36]

George first rose to prominence in 1966 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.

The Rat Patrol

From 1966 to 1968 over the course of two seasons and 58 episodes, Christopher George played the lead role of Sergeant Sam Troy in The Rat Patrol. The television 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.[37] Along with fellow Rat Patrol members, George appeared in the April 1967 Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade in Washington, D.C.[38] While filming a scene on January 4, 1967, George, as well as fellow cast members Justin Tarr and Gary Raymond, were injured when the jeep Tarr was driving overturned on a dry lakebed at Rosamond, California as they made a tight turn.[39] George sustained a concussion, tearing something in his neck and injuring his back.[40] Doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California were able to determine that his back had been badly sprained, not fractured as they had initially feared.[41] While starring in The Rat Patrol, Chris also served as an awards presenter at the 1966 Washington, D.C. local version of the Emmy Awards, hosted at the Washington, D.C. Sheraton Park Hotel.[42]

USO Tour in 1967

Christopher George with fellow Rat Patrol actor Lawrence Casey and 2LT David Coupe, US Army Signal Corps, at III Corps HQ, Bien Hoa, Vietnam in December 1967.

George also joined actor Lawrence Casey on a USO tour of Vietnam, Japan and Thailand, which lasted for almost a month and which started on November 12, 1967 and went into December 1967.[43][44][45]

During the tour of Vietnam, he visited III Corps Headquarters at Bien Hoa Army Base and used the III Corps signal switchboard to place a telephone call to his girlfriend and future wife, Lynda Day.[46] While in Vietnam, 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.[47]

In November 1967, the USO and the Air Force sent Chris George and several other Hollywood celebrities to visit a military hospital in San Antonio, where military personnel returning from Vietnam with serious burns were being treated.[48] The visit, to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, was arranged by Johnny Grant, a Hollywood radio personality who had taken troupes of performers to Vietnam; during the visit George and some of the actresses, including his future wife Lynda Day, spent over an hour with a wounded veteran who had been previously uncommunicative and got him to talk.[49]

Post-Rat Patrol

Following cancellation of The Rat Patrol, Christopher 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, The Racers: Craig and Lee Breedlove (1968).[50]

Then, in 1969, Christopher 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 1970-71, based on a pilot movie of the same name, which aired in September 1969. The pilot is based on the science fiction novel The Immortals, by James Gunn. Although the series was canceled at midseason, episodes were rerun by ABC in the summer of 1971. It was later shown in reruns on the Sci Fi Channel.

During this time, he played Dan August in the television film House on Greenapple Road (1970), which evolved into the 1970-71 series Dan August starring Burt Reynolds. In addition, he starred in an unsold TV series pilot, "Escape" with Avery Schreiber and Huntz Hall, which ABC released in 1971 as a TV movie. In it, he portrayed Robin-Hood-like escapologist and nightclub owner Cammeron Steele.

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. In 1973, George starred opposite of Jim Brown in I Escaped from Devil's Island. He also surprised fans by posing nude for Playgirl magazine in the June, 1974 issue.[51] In 1976, George played a supporting role as Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky 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.[52]

Christopher 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); City of the Living Dead (1980); Graduation Day (1981); Enter the Ninja (1981); Pieces (1982); and Mortuary (1983).[53][54]

Recruiting film for the United States Marine Corps Reserve

In the summer of 1976, prior to returning to MCAS Quantico for a visit, George traveled to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to appear in a recruiting video for the US Marine Corps Air Reserves.[21][21] This video featured Marines assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 and they had just returned from their annual training tour as reservists. The commander of the unit at the time was LtCol Charles McLeran.[55] It was filmed by the J. Walter Thompson advertising company and provided to recruiters in 1978. Archive records show that George was on contract with J. Walter Thompson for this work.[56]

Marriage and later work

Christopher George and Lynda Day George on Mission:Impossible in 1971.

Christopher George first met actress Lynda Day in New York where they were doing a fashion layout; prophetically, she was modeling the bride's outfit and he was the groom.[57] 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.[58] In May 1970, they were married in an Episcopal ceremony in a judge's chamber in Palm Beach, Florida.[30][59] They had a son and a daughter.[60][61]

Lynda Day George co-starred with her husband 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). One of his last film roles was a supporting part in Mortuary. Released in September 1983, it was actually filmed in 1981 more than two years prior to his death.


George died of a sudden heart attack on the late evening of November 28, 1983[62] in a Los Angeles hospital, aged 52. His age at the time of his death was listed as 54 due to an incorrect year of birth as 1929 which he listed on his military recruitment form for the US Marines. After having dinner at home with his wife, he soon felt sudden chest pains and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He later went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at 10:35 p.m., over three hours after he was admitted, while under the care and observation of his cardiologist, Dr. Pearl McBroom.

Despite the fact that he was a frequent smoker of cigars as well as a heavy drinker, a contributing factor in his death is believed to have been the 1967 Rat Patrol mishap as mentioned before, which resulted in an internal injury to his chest. The injury was later revealed during an autopsy to be a cardiac contusion, which never properly healed, and scar tissue subsequently developed on his heart.[63]

A Greek Orthodox trisagion service was conducted at Westwood Memorial Park and a private funeral was held at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, California, on December 1, 1983.[64]

He was survived by his wife Lynda, a daughter and a son.[65] On May 5, 2009, the Marine Corps flew a flag over the Iwo Jima Memorial in honor of his service in the Corps.[22]

George's niece is Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White.[66]

Partial filmography



George's niece is Vanna White.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Christopher George.
  1. "Find A Grave Website, Christopher George". Retrieved 2009-04-11.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Cumberland Evening Times, 'TV Cameos: Chris George, Career Rolls Into High Gear On Video,' by Ed Misurell, p. 9, November 12, 1966.
  3. Motion Picture, 'Don't Cross Chris,' by Nikos George, p. 64, May 1967.
  4. Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 38, November 1967.
  5. 1 2 3 Boxoffice Magazine, 'Former Miamian Chris George has been at the Four Ambassadors Hotel in Miami to Plug his latest Film,' p. SE7, March 12, 1973.
  6. Winona Daily News, 'TV Mailbag' by Steven H. Scheuer, p. 7, March 26, 1967.
  7. TV Radio Mirror Magazine, article p. 54, by Evelyn Fern, August 1967.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Screenland, 'Christopher George of Rat Patrol: Why His Wife Thinks He's Perfectly Cast!' by James Gregory, p. 61, March 1967.
  9. Bridgeport Sunday Post, 'TV Mailbag', p. C-18, March 26, 1967.
  10. TV Guide Magazine, 'Go to the Heart of Danger,' by Edith Efron, pp. 10-12, May 20, 1967.
  11. T.V. Picture Life, 'Father, I want to become a priest', by Paul Denis, p. 30, March 1967.
  12. The Galveston Daily News, 'Actor Tells What John Wayne is 'Really Like',' by Earl Wilson, p. 5B, November 17, 1971.
  13. "Korean War Educator: veteran's memoirs, James Albert Vittitoe". Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  14. 1 2 The Edwardsville Intelligencer, 'Chris George in One Scrape After Another,' by Dick Kleiner, Hollywood Correspondent. Newspaper Enterprise Association, p. 11, January 26, 1967.
  15. 1 2 3 Screen Stories, 'Chris George: I live on the brink of disaster,' by Dora Albert, p. 62, May 1967.
  16. The News, Port Arthur, Texas, 'Former Private Eye', p. 9, February 1, 1973.
  17. The Daily Herald, 'Sudden Heart Attack Kills Actor Christopher George', from Herald news services, section 1-7, November 30, 1983.
  18. TV Picture Life, '...Become a Married Priest', by Paul Denis, p. 58.
  19. TV Radio Show, 'The Girl Who Haunts His Bachelor Home,' by Rodger Winelander, p. 67, November 1966.
  20. 1 2 3 TV Guide, 'A Most Unhappy Warrior,' by Arnold Hano, p. 28, November 14, 1970.
  21. 1 2 3 The Sentry, 'Marine-Turned-Actor Tours Quantico,' by GySgt Don H. Gee, July 9, 1976.
  22. 1 2 "Flag Honoring Christopher George flown by Marine Corps over Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial on May 5, 2009". Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  23. "Christopher George- Rat Patroller Par Excellence". Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  24. 1 2 3 Photoplay, 'I Saved My Brother's Life,' by Helen Martin, p. 94, February 1967.
  25. Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 82, November 1967
  26. Independent Star News, Pasadena, CA 'Chris George- Rat Patroller Par Excellence', by Marian Dern, p. 9, March 19, 1967.
  27. "Christopher George- Rat Patroller Par Excellence". Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  28. 1 2 Photoplay, 'Chris George: I Married My Best Friend,' by Milburn Smith, p. 82, November 1967.
  29. The Fresno Bee, 'Former 'Rat' Is Signed For Film,' p. 15-TV, September 14, 1969.
  30. 1 2 Photoplay, 'Why We Waited So Long,' by Lisa Reynolds, p. 98, November 1970.
  31. 1 2 TV Star Parade, 'Rat Patrol,' p. 51, November 1967.
  32. The Titusville Herald, 'TV Cameos: Christopher George, Series Deals With Problems of Immortality,' by Bill Dunn, p. 8, October 23, 1970.
  33. The Washington Post, 'Actor Christopher George dies at 52,' UPI press release, p. B12, December 1, 1983.
  34. The Abilene Reporter-News, 'Where War is a Job: All Lathered Up for Rat Patrol,' p. 7-D, August 10, 1966.
  35. The North Adams Transcript, 'ABC's Rat Patrol a Big Break for Chris George,' by Bill Byers, p. 13, August 20, 1966.
  36. More Magnificent Mountain Movies (The Silver Screen Years) 1940-2004, by W. Lee Cozad, First Edition, published 2006, p. 254.
  37. ", The Rat Patrol Episode List". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
  38. The Washington Post/Times Herald, Radio and Television 'Rat Patrol is in Town', by Lawrence Laurent, p. C4, April 8, 1967
  39. Salt Lake Tribune, AP article, Rollover of Jeep injures TV Stars,' p. 6B, January 5, 1967.
  40. Newport Daily News, (Newport, Rhode Island), 'Accident Almost Ends Rat Patrol,' by Bob Thomas, AP, p. 13, January 13, 1967.
  41. TV Picture Life, 'Christopher George: The Girl Who Nursed Him Back To Health,'by Jeanne Allen, p. 48, May 1967.
  42. 'Local 'Emmy' Fete Tonight,' by Lawrence Laurent, The Washington Post/Times Herald, p. D21, October 22, 1966.
  43. The Washington Post/Times Herald, 'George Peppard Lived Like a Sultan in Rome', by Dorothy Manners, p. D11, December 25, 1967.
  44. Sheboygan Journal, (Sheboygan WI), 'Swaggering 'Rat Patrol' Chief Rugged Individual in Real Life', by Vernon Scott, UPI Hollywood Correspondent, p. 21, February 22, 1968.
  45. "An 'Interview' with Larry Casey of the Rat Patrol". Retrieved 2008-12-15.
  46. "Co A44/36th Signal Bn, 1st Signal Bde". Retrieved 2008-12-15.
  47. Photoplay, 'Why We Waited So Long,' by Lisa Reynolds, p. 100, November 1970.
  48. Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 'Hollywood Closeup: From Star to Saleslady', p. 8, November 24, 1967.
  49. Photo Play Magazine, 'Chris George, George Morris and the Man Who Came Back from the Dead', p. 59, April 1968.
  50. 'TV critic's choice,' The Washington Post/Times Herald, p. D10, June 22, 1968.
  51. "BookRags, Playgirl History". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
  52. "William Girdler". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
  53. "The Unknown Movies, FVI: What You Didn't Know". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
  54. "Eccentric Cinema, City of the Living Dead". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
  55. "A History of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321" (PDF).
  56. "Inventory of the J. Walter Thompson Company. Legal Department Records, 1936-1979". Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.
  57. 'On the Air with Leona Pappas TV Editor,' Express and News, San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, p. 151, November 15, 1970.
  58. "Christopher George and his family". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
  59. Movie Mirror, 'Chris George-Linda Day: Confessions of a Man Who's Had His Day!' by Ken Jackson, p. 66, December 1970.
  60. The Associated Press, 'Actor Christopher George Dies of Heart Attack,' November 30, 1983.
  61. United Press International, 'Actor Christopher George Dies at 52,' November 30, 1983.
  62. The Galveston Daily News, 'It was totally unexpected- Actor Christopher George dies at 54', by Associated Press, p. 4A, November 30, 1983.
  63. More Magnificent Mountain Movies (The Silver Screen Years) 1940-2004, by W. Lee Cozad, First Edition, published 2006, p. 255.
  64. United Press International Press Release, 'Rosary will be said tonight for actor Christopher George', December 1, 1983.
  65. "Christopher George, 54, Dies; Appeared in TV's 'Rat Patrol'". New York Times. December 1, 1983.
  66. "Larry King Live: Pat Sajak and Vanna White Spell out the Secret to their Success". Retrieved 2009-01-13.
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