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Ray Bradbury

Author, short-story writer, screenwriter (1920–2012)

During World War II Bradbury’s vision problems caused his local draft board to deem him ineligible for military service, but he went on to write radio spots for the Red Cross and scripts for the Los Angeles Department of Civil Defense.

Charlie Chaplin

Actor, director, writer, composer (1899–1977)

Throughout World War I Chaplin was harassed by British journalists and citizens, who assumed that he hadn’t attempted to enlist in the British Army. Chaplin had, in fact, registered for military service in the United States but was rejected for being undersized and underweight. This didn’t appease his critics, however, and he continued to receive white feathers—meant to shame men as cowards—for years after the war.

Julia Child

Cook, author, television personality (1912–2004)

During World War II Child tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the Women’s Army Corps, but she was rejected by both of them for being too tall (she was six feet two). Undaunted, Child instead joined the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and soon rose to become a top-secret researcher for Major General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, the chief of the OSS.

Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

U.S. Army general (1912–2002)

In 1934, at the start of his junior year at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, Davis applied for the Army Air Corps but was rejected because it did not accept blacks. He was instead assigned to the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1942, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the War Department to create a black flying unit, Davis became the first black officer to solo an Army Air Corps aircraft.

Walt Disney

Film producer, entrepreneur (1901–1966)

A year after the United States entered World War I, Disney tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was turned down for being too young (he was 16). He then volunteered for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, but by the time he arrived in France the armistice had already been signed.

William Faulkner

Author (1897–1962)

In 1918, after the U.S. Army rejected him for being underweight and too short (he was five feet five), Faulkner enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps—and later in Britain’s Royal Air Force—but saw no action in World War I.

Errol Flynn

Actor (1909–1959)

The Australian-born Flynn became a U.S. citizen in 1942 and tried to enlist in every branch of the service during World War II. He was rejected by all of them on medical grounds, including, reportedly, heart problems, recurrent bouts of malaria, chronic back pain, chronic tuberculosis, and various venereal diseases.

Ernest Hemingway

Novelist, short-story writer, journalist (1899–1961)

Hemingway tried to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1918 but was rejected because of a defective eye. He then volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross, and in 1918, while running a mobile canteen dispensing chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire. Despite his injuries, Hemingway carried a wounded Italian soldier to safety and was injured again by machine-gun fire.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Film director, producer (1899–1980)

Hitchcock was called up to serve in the British Army during World War I but was ultimately excused from military service because of his weight. In 1917 Hitchcock managed to join a cadet regiment of the Royal Engineers (he’d left a Jesuit boarding school some years earlier to study marine engineering and navigation).

John F. Kennedy

U.S. president (1917–1963)

In 1940, following his graduation from Harvard University, Kennedy tried to enter the U.S. Army’s Officer Candidate School but was rejected on medical grounds, including ulcers, asthma, venereal disease, and chronic back problems. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., then persuaded Captain Alan Goodrich Kirk, the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence, to allow a private doctor to certify his son’s health so that JFK could enlist in the U.S. Navy.

D. H. Lawrence

Novelist, journalist, poet, playwright (1885–1930)

Lawrence, who had chronic tuberculosis throughout his adult life, was seriously ill early in 1916 and was rejected for military service on health grounds in June of that year.

Bruce Lee

Actor, martial artist (1940–1973)

Lee was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1963 but reportedly failed his pre-induction physical and was classified as 4-F because of an undescended testicle, poor eyesight (he wore contact lenses), and a sinus disorder. He had already been wearing a uniform as a member of the ROTC squad at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was a student from 1961 to 1964.

Audie Murphy

Soldier, actor (1925–1971)

In 1942, seeking an escape from poverty, Murphy tried to enlist in the Marines by lying about his age (he was 16). As it turned out, though, he was rejected for being too short (he was five feet five). The U.S. Army Airborne and the U.S. Navy also rejected Murphy because of his height. On his 17th birthday his older sister falsified his birth certificate to show that Murphy was 18; he was then able to enlist in the U.S. Army. Murphy went on to receive every available combat award for valor.

Paul Newman

Actor (1925–2008) 

Newman had dreams of becoming a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II but was ultimately rejected because he was color blind. In 1943 he managed to join the U.S. Navy and became a rear-seat radioman and gunner for torpedo bombers, and by 1944 he was posted as a turret gunner on a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.

Norman Rockwell

Artist, illustrator, author (1894–1978)

In 1918, with World War I raging in Europe, Rockwell tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was turned down because, at 140 pounds, he was deemed eight pounds underweight for someone six feet tall. The night of his rejection Rockwell gorged on bananas, doughnuts, and liquids until he’d put on enough weight to be able to enlist the next day.

Mickey Rooney

Actor (1920–2014)

Rooney, drafted for military service in World War II, was initially classified as 4-F for high blood pressure. But in 1944 he was drafted into the U.S. Army; he spent the next 21 months entertaining troops and was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones.

Frank Sinatra

Singer, actor, producer (1915–1998)

In 1943 Sinatra was officially classified 4-F by his draft board because of a perforated eardrum. But Sinatra’s FBI files, made public after his death, disclosed that was he deemed “not acceptable material from a psychiatric viewpoint” and that his emotional instability was hidden to avoid “undue unpleasantness for both the selectee and the induction service.” Toward the end of World War II Sinatra entertained troops during several successful overseas USO tours.

Jimmy Stewart

Actor (1908–1997)

In 1940 Stewart was drafted by the U.S. Army but was rejected for being five pounds under the weight requirement for new recruits of his height. To get up to 143 pounds, he sought the help of Don Loomis, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s muscleman and trainer, who was legendary for helping stars add or subtract pounds in his studio gymnasium. Stewart then attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but he still came in underweight. After persuading the enlistment officer to run new tests, he passed the weigh-in and on March 22, 1941, was inducted into the army, becoming the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.

Orson Welles

Director, producer, actor, writer (1915–1985)

During World War II Welles was initially classified 1-B (unfit for active duty but available for limited duty), but in February 1943 his status was changed to 1-A (available for immediate duty). Shortly after that, following an army physical examination, Welles was reclassified as 4-F for medical reasons—which it was later disclosed, included myoditis, bronchial asthma, arthritis, and inverted flat feet.

this article first appeared in military history quarterly

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