Christopher George: Handsome Hero and Screen Star

Christopher George was known best for his role as Sgt. Sam Troy in The Rat Patrol, a 1960s television series that followed the exploits of four Allied soldiers in the North African campaign during World War II.

George, who would have turned 83 on Feb. 25, 2014, had his own real-life exploits in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Korean War. George had several close calls while stationed at Quantico, Virginia. Once, he was ill with a 110-degree fever. Another time, he was a passenger on a plane when both engines failed at 8,000 feet, according to Wikipedia. On another flight he had to eject –– his first parachute jump –– when the plane caught fire. He served as a gunner on a rescue plane in the Korean War before his honorable discharge in 1952.

When George died at just 52 in 1983, the Marine Corps provided an honor guard at his funeral, and the Marines flew a flag over the Iwo Jima Memorial in honor of George in May 2009.

George was born in Michigan to Greek immigrants who later settled in Miami. George and his brother Nick spoke Greek at home and George took Greek language classes. According to Wikipedia, his family had hoped he would enter the Greek Orthodox priesthood, but the handsome teen athlete (track, football, soccer and baseball) left high school and, lying about his age, joined the Marines in 1948.

After his discharge in 1952, George passed a high school equivalency exam and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami. He had a number of jobs – including bartender, private investigator, bouncer and marine cargo transporter. He had planned to join an investment firm, but after vocational testing indicated he should go into acting, he went to New York. He played in a number of off-Broadway productions, including a 16-week run in the play Mr. Roberts. But it was playing a groom on his honeymoon night in a 60-second shaving cream commercial in 1962 that won him a best actor in a commercial award at the New York Film Festival.

That success was followed by roles in several TV series, including Naked City and Bewitched. George starred in Rat Patrol for two seasons –– from 1966 to 1968 –– and 58 episodes, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for the role. 

His first film role – all 30 seconds of it – came in 1965, playing a dying sailor in In Harm’s Way, where he met his idol John Wayne. George became good friends with Wayne while playing a supporting role in the 1966 Howard Hawks-directed western film El Dorado, starring Wayne. George and Wayne went on to co-star in Chisum in 1970 and The Train Robbers in 1973. George’s other films include The Delta Factor, Day of the Animals, Tiger by the Tail and The Exterminator.

He was again playing a groom during a fashion shoot when he met actress Lynda Day, who was the model for the bride. The couple appeared together in The Gentle Rain, a 1966 indie film and again in Chisum in 1970. They married in 1970 in Palm Beach, Fla. and went on to co-star in such TV films as Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976), Cruise Into Terror (1978) as well as episodes of The F.B.I. (1970), Mission: Impossible (1971), McCloud (1975), Wonder Woman (1976), Love Boat (1977) and Vega$ (1978).

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief." Find her on Google+.